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In the Wake of the Black Death

Imagine, that a mere five days after having read this that all of your best friends have died
because of an illness which cannot be explained. Imagine also, that all the residents who
live on your street have died under similar circumstances in the same amount of time. If
you can conceive of such a dreaded act occurring within your experience than you may
have some glimpse into the mindset of the mid-14th century European who was
unfortunate enough to have experienced the BLACK DEATH.

In October 1347, twelve Genoese (city in Italy) trading ships put into the harbor at
Messina in Sicily. The ships had come from the Black Sea where the Genoese had several
important trading posts. The ships contained rather strange cargo: dead or dying sailors
who had strange black swellings about the size of an egg located in their groins and
armpits. These swellings oozed blood and pus. Those who suffered did so with extreme
pain and were usually dead within a few days. The victims coughed and sweat heavily.
Everything that issued from their body -- sweat, blood, breath, urine, and excrement --
smelled foul.

The disease was bubonic plague and it came in two forms. In cases of infection of the
blood stream, boils and internal bleeding were the result. This was how the plague spread
-by physical contact. In the pneumonic phase, the plague was spread by respiration
(coughing, sneezing, breathing). The plague was deadly -- a person could go to sleep at
night feeling fine and be dead by morning. In other instances, a doctor could catch the
illness from one of his patients and die before the patient.

the Black Death was ultimately responsible for the gruesome death of more than 25
million people, a figure which represented at least 30 percent of Europe's total
population. Whole villages and towns simply ceased to exist as the plague raged across
Europe at mid-century. To make matters worse, Europe suffered a series of crop failures
and famines which, while less deadly than the plague, persisted for several years. There
were three such famines which occurred just before and after the plague. These famines
were usually result of poor climatic conditions. Regardless of the cause, times were
indeed difficult for 14th century men and women.

Many people touched by the plague moved away from medieval cities and towns to
unaffected areas. This was the negative impact. On the positive side, some landlords
began to concentrate on improving the fertility of the soil. And back in the cities, the
declining population of workers meant that masters sought out new ways to produce
which required less manpower. That is, they began to construct labor saving machinery.
In other words, an act of God produced a greater need for technological innovation.