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The Black Death 19/07/2007 10:54:00

Origins of the plague

• The first outbreak recorded in the Mediterranean
o “The Plague of Justinian” 541-544 AD
o Pathology
 The plague takes rats and others as hosts (bacteria,
o The symptoms
 Swelling of the groin and lymph nodes
 Sub-dermal bleeding
 And final stages coughing up blood
o Spreads very quickly
 In areas that are heavily urbanized like western Europe
 Places with over-crowding
• Asia and the Islamic Kingdoms
o Central steps of Asia near Mongolia
o Before then it spread through the trade routes of china,
carried it westward to western Europe and Islamic kingdoms
o by the 14th century it was the 6th recorded outbreak in the
Islamic kingdoms
 they were familiar with the plague
 two religious explanations
 it was divine punishment for moral laxity
 some see it as a form of martyrdom that also
punish the Christian infidels
 secular explanations
 disruption of the air
• the air we breathe corrupt and diseased
• they begin to understand a sense of
• they surround their houses with herbs to
freshen the airs
• drink fruit juices to stay healthy
• they did not however, attribute the plague
to the non-Muslim minorities living in their
• Transmission to Europe
o They trace it back to Crimea (in present day Russia)
o Italian merchants transferred the plague through ships into
the Mediterranean
o They arrive in Messina, Sicily in 1347 carrying infected rats
and fleas
The Plague in Europe
• Ports of Italy
o Genoa, Venice [Jan. 1348]
• Traveling Inland
o France and Spain (summer 1348)
o Southern England and southern Germany [winter 1348-49]
o Northern German and low countries [1349]
• First outbreak of successive outbreaks
o Within two years (1348 and 1350) the plague kills about 1/3 of
Europe’s population
Responses and Impact
• Explanation and Treatment
o They assume the plague is the cause of a cosmic event
o 1350 a report is shown to the king that the plague is caused
by an alignment of the stars
o they also assume that it’s the corruption of the air
 if you are healthy and go to a place where the air is
clean then they should be fine, however, only nobility is
able to do so
o they also believe that bloodletting will cure you if you are
 the idea that the body has different fluids and they have
to be balanced
 the balance is restored by bleeding
o they also seclude themselves in communities and not letting
anybody in
• Religious Responses
o Clergy Shortage
o Many people believed this was gods wrath for moral
o Clergy are some of the hardest hit because they care for the
sick and dispose of the dead
o A lot of people maintain faith in the church, but some become
o They question the ability of the church to help individuals
o General loss of confidence in the church. A combination of the
black death and the church’s internal problems
o Flagellants
 Traveled across towns and whipped themselves as a
symbol as Christ did. Hoping that god will help the
towns since they are sacrificing themselves as Jesus did
 High turnover in the flagellants
 They are transmitting the plague from town to town
 Their numbers start being replaced by less disciplined
 Some of them are bandits
 They get instant access to towns under the cover
of the flagellants and rob the towns and are gone
the next day
• Hedonism
o Since they are dying so fast, they think, what the hell
o They go into a complete moral 180 degree
o They spend their money, drink and they don’t care because
they are going to die anyway
• Persecution
o Many people begin to believe that the Jews are responsible for
the plague
o They believe that Jews are kidnapping Christian children for
o They also believe that Jews give off a certain odor and that
odor is transmitting the plague
o Also that Jews are specifically doing this. That they are
poisoning wells
o They are distributing clothes infected with the plague
o Jews bathed more than Christians. Initially they got the plague
in lesser numbers so that led to the believe that Jews were
doing this
o People in power make an effort to counter this actions
 The pope condemns the anti-Semitism
 He says the Jews are not the cause and threatens
excommunication to those that attack Jews because of it
 The duke of Bavaria protects Jews in exchange for
 Charles IV (holy roman emperor) protects the Jews but
can’t really do much
 Albert the Duke of Austria protects Jews as well
• Peasants’ Silver Lining
o Massive depopulation helped in the short term
o Fewer workers, so higher wages, greater bargaining power
o decrease demand in manufactured and agricultural goods
o prices drop, wages increase, however, this doesn’t last long
• Landlords in Crisis
o The landlords figure out how to keep the system
o They make the governments establish certain prices and
• The Monarchy
o They gain more power
o Nobles become more dependant on them to maintain their
o The income of nobles decline more and more turn to war and
the military live as a profession
o They enter under the king as paid subordinates and not as a
• Peasant Unrest
o They are not able to turn things back in their favor
• Growth of Urban Poverty
o Cities are hit the hardest
o Taxes become to high, people are dying off in the country side
as well so its hard to maintain a farm
o They can’t afford to maintain the farms so they cities grow
o The church is unable to absorb this growth and ask the
government to supplement their efforts of charity
o Increase in crime which brings stricter punishments for
smaller crimes
o Turns away from fines to corporal punishments, public
whippings, hangings.
 The enforcement of the laws is more violent because of
the plague
o Subsequent outbreaks
 About 10 and every 20 years there are waves of the
 1721 is the last time we see of the plague
 10 years until l1520 and very 20years until 1660
(possibly wrong dates)
19/07/2007 10:54:00
19/07/2007 10:54:00

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