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Black Death was called the great dying or great pestilence by many writers. Writers argued that the disease was known as Black Death as a result of the black pus filled boils, called buboes, which emerged in the victim’s armpits and groin (Kidd & Richards, 2002). Kidd & Richards (2002) say that the “Black Death is important in history not only because of the number of people it killed. It gives us great insight into medieval beliefs and understanding and is also important for the changes that it brought to the society in the affected areas in that time” (p. 237). It was further established that Black Death changed people’s attitudes and freedoms.

Prestwich (2007) says that many of the chroniclers who lived through the great pestilence of 1348-9, the black death, wrote about it with a brevity that suggests they found words inadequate to depict the horrors they had seen and the grief people felt. Prestwich (2007) continues to indicate that this was the most appalling disaster, a demographic catastrophe on a scale rarely if ever seen before or since in which up to half of the population in Europe died.

Symptoms people experienced when infected. Horrox (1994) says that the Black Death plague in most parts of Europe began in a terrifying and extraordinary manner, to make its disastrous effects apparent. In East Europe it took the form in which someone bled from the nose leading to an obvious portent of certain death. Horrox (1994) also indicated that on the contrary, its earliest symptom, in men and women alike was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin or the armpit, some of which were egg shaped whilst others were roughly the size of the common apple. This was a major symptom of Black Death.

Moreover, it was noted that the swellings were large, sometimes not so large and they were referred to by the majority of the people as gavoccioli. Horrox (1994) further indicates that from the two areas already mentioned, this deadly gavoccioli would begin to spread and within a short time it would appear at random all over the body. In his studies Horrox (1994) established that “later on the symptoms of the disease changed and many people began to find dark blotches and bruises on their arms, thighs and other parts of their body” (p. 27). Sometimes the bruises were large and few in number, and other times tiny and closely spaced

Black Death symptoms were described by Geoffrey le Baker. Prestwich (2007) says that some victims had boils or abscesses which broke suddenly and when lanced proved to be hard and dry. He continues to note that a good many survived by either cutting out the boils or after a long period of illness. Prestwich (2007) indicated that other patients had small black pustules all over their bodies and hardly anyone survived the Black Death disease. Other people according to Prestwich (2007) wrote of ulcers in the groin and armpit, which killed men in three days. Another form of symptom was the presence of boils, abscesses and pustules on legs and armpits and also of a form of the disease in which men died in frenzy or vomiting blood (Prestwich, 2007).

Patients first felt cold and suffered from a tingling sensation, then followed by hard solid boils which would appear in the groin or armpit. Prestwich (2007) also indicated that this was followed by a fever and in some cases vomiting of blood. Studies indicated that the most fatal form of the disease saw the patient cough up rather than vomit blood. The smell of the victims was particularly unpleasant.     

What caused the disease?

Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens (2003) says that Black Death was caused by yersinia pests a rod shaped bacillus that was transmitted to humans in a particularly yucky way. They continue to say that Yesinia lived in fleas which settled into warm fur of the common rat. When a flea bites a plague infected rat which it did quite often because rat blood is the flea’s favorite food, it got the yersinia in its meal. It was noted that eventually the rat died of plague and the flea looked for another home. Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens (2003) indicated that if the flea bites a human the human gets yersinia and therefore Black Death plague entered human blood. The disease continued to spread by flea bites or by inhaling bacteria when an infected person coughed.

Studies showed that within few days or hours of being infected with Black Death, the human immune system reacted by alerting the lymph glands that bacteria had invaded (Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens, 2003). The glands which are distributed all over the body not far beneath the skin, scoop up the bacteria and swell into hard pus filled lumps called buboes. The buboes often burst from the pressure, spewing the blood-blackened pus that had accumulated in them.

Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens (2003) also “found out that blood leaks from broken vessels beneath, resulting in blackish bruises” (p. 6). They also said that sometimes lungs became infected which caused it to be called pneumonic plague. Besides that chills, fever, vomiting and a rapid heartbeat were the other symptoms of Black Death. It is important to note that without treatment, more than half of those infected died (Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens, 2003).             

How did it spread?

This thus indicated that wherever there were rats and fleas, there was a good chance one will also have Black Death. Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens (2003) established that one place one will actually find rats and fleas were in the cities, where large numbers of people lived close together. Ravage, Brunelle & Stevens (2003) argued that “between the 1200s and the 1700s Black Death struck the cities of Europe with regularity and therefore an estimated 20 percent of the population died of the disease” (p. 6).

According to Kidd & Richards (2002) the spread of Black Death was worsened by a mild winter in 1348-9 which failed to kill off the spread germs and then a hot summer in 1349 which allowed the disease to spread more quickly. Modern explanations indicate the spread from person to person the disease itself was passed from person to person in two ways and thus led to two different symptoms. The first form of Black Death was called bubonic plague which was spread via the bloodstream from bites from fleas. This form of plague resulted in the characteristic swellings or buboes and not everybody who contracted this type of Black Death died hence many people survived the infection (Kidd & Richards, 2002).The second type of Black Death was known as pneumonic plague which was spread via respiration that is breathing in the germs. to Kidd & Richards (2002) says that “this type of the disease was considered to be more deadly because it was highly contagious and almost always fatal” (p. 240).

What stories did people of the time create to explain the cause of the plague?

During the period in which Black Death was spread victims were given laxatives to remove blood and bad humors from the body. Kidd & Richards (2002) noted that butchery regulations were set to keep streets clean from blood and animal intestines and thus the insects and animals they attracted. According to Kidd & Richards (2002) the clothes of the victims were burnt and this was a dangerous task since the disease could be spread by contact with victims clothes. Towns were also closed to people leaving or visiting and streets were cleared of muck heaps and rotting waste of every description (Kidd & Richards, 2002).

Perry, et.al (2008) indicated that some people said that this pestilence was caused by infection of the air and waters, since there was at this time neither famine nor lack of food supplies but on the contrary great abundance.  Perry, et.al (2008) says that this theory of infected water and air as the source of the plague the Jews were suddenly and violently charged with infecting wells and water and corrupting the air. Perry, et.al (2008) says that usually only the rich had formal funerals; there were common graves or pits for the poor.

The economic, social, and political impact that the plague had on the

Black Death had many effects to the countries which were affected by the disease. Kidd & Richards (2002) says that the effect of the disease on the economy was such that since many people particularly peasants died of the disease this led to a shortage of labor. People who depended on their peasants to farm their land and as source of income became desperate and thus they were forced to pay more to each peasant worker in order to keep him or her on their land (Kidd & Richards, 2002). In the same context the labor shortage meant that working opportunities increased for women as did their wages. It was also indicated that the farming families who gradually gained land in the fourteenth century often became important smaller farmers in later centuries (Kidd & Richards, 2002). In the long term, this meant that more wealth spread to the working peasants, and they were able to spend more money on luxuries such as clothes and stone building.

Socially the effect of Black Death was that more land was available. Kidd & Richards (2002) says that some land was totally abandoned after the Black Death and some villages were deserted. It was also noted that some landowners turned their land into parkland because they had fewer peasants to work for them. As a result un-worked land was also taken over by heirs or distant family members. Kidd & Richards (2002) argued that “traded labor for rent to their landlords and so formed larger areas of land for themselves” (p. 247).

Kidd & Richards (2002) argued that the extent and speed of Black Death epidemic caused a morbid obsession with death. This means that majority of the people had absolutely no certainty in their lives- apart from the power of Death. Death was personified in art being represented as a human usually a skeleton that caused havoc.  Kidd & Richards (2002) thus says that some people became more obsessed with the religious teaching about Judgment day.

Politically it was noted that the effects of Black Death were felt adversely in some countries like England. Kidd & Richards (2002) says that the chaos in England meant that the Scots took advantage of the panic and attempted an invasion. They continue to say that the deadly disease itself stopped the political effects of the epidemic from being far worse because many of the invaders died (Kidd & Richards, 2002). There was religious hysteria, for example the flagellants processions in Europe. Prestwich (2007) says that the economic effects of the Black Death extended far beyond 1360. In actual sense the impact was delayed until the final quarter of the fourteenth century as efforts to maintain the status quo gradually failed.

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