04_Ch.14-Formation of Western Europe: The Black Plague
12th - 16th C.
How did the plague beneﬁt from pre-existing (14th C.) European conditions?
In the 1300s, Europe was torn apart by several events. Among these was bubonic plague. Like modern diseases, Bubonic Plague originated and thrived under the economic, social, and environmental conditions prevailing at the time. These included poverty, increased communication with other regions, poor sanitation, lack of knowledge (& tradition) regarding hygiene, and climatic change.
“Ring around the Rosies”. “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”
I. Vocabulary & Background Facts
Black Death: Refers to the color of the buboes that grew on the bodies of many plague victims (neck, groin, armpits=> areas near glands). Causes, as believed by many of that time, involved
Mortality: Death, in the worst case, can occur within 24hrs from onset of visible symptoms. From 1347 - 1352, 33% of Europe ’s population dies (~25 million). The mortality rate, which is different from the percentage of deaths, would be higher since not everyone contracted the disease. Some showed signs of contracting the illness, but would later survive without further ill effects.
Transmission: Vectors (carriers) were predominantly ﬂeas and rats. Humans can also be considered a vector since they could transport ﬂeas on their bodies and rats in the hulls of trade vessels.
Heretics: Members of the Christian community who challenge and/ or modify Church teaching. They do not practice the faith in accord with Church teachings. (eg. Flagellant Movement)
II. Pre-existing Conditions in Europe (leading to 14th C.)
Rising Population (Agricultural Advances- refer to earlier lesson)
Negative Impact of Exponential Population Growth
1.Clearing of forest lands for cultivation.
2.Depletion of soil
3.High Population Densities
Minor Ice Age
1.Wetter in Summer: Flooding. Crops don't ripen.
2.Colder in Winter: Glacial Expansion. Growing seasons are shortened.
The 13th and 14th centuries witnessed an average drop in temperature ~3º in Asia and then Europe. This had become a 'mini' ice-age. (We will revisit this climatic change in a future lesson focusing on Mongol expansion.)
Poor Sanitary Conditions
This involved everything from lack of sewer systems to cultural traditions impacting on personal hygiene. It should be noted here that one of the greatest advances in the ﬁght against illness was the development of public sanitation policies. The physical well-being of urban populations was closely tied to the quality of sanitation. (View the logo for NYC Sanitation Dept.)
Mongols as Carriers
Prof. Morris Rossabi [Columbia Univ., 28 Sept. '00] doesn't see any connection between Mongol expansion and the spread of plague. He attributes this belief to scholars who focus on
The four elemental qualities that make up the human body, historically comprising blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy.
When they are in balance, health results; imbalance creates sickness.
Smells from decomposing material that were believed to cause disease; poisonous or toxic atmosphere.