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Living in Europe in the middle of the 1300’s would have been heartbreaking and dreadful. Not only were the living conditions very poor but there was an unknown disease that was wiping out a large percentage of European population. One cannot imagine the fear of wondering whether you or someone you loved was going to catch this deadly disease. No explanation would make a person feel safe from catching it or dying with it. The people of Europe just lived their lives as best they could realizing that nothing they do could ever stop this. They did not have the power to stop this it was far too beyond them. This unknown disease is known as the Bubonic Plague.
The plague was passed among many rodents by fleas. Most of the rodents were rats. Fleas living on the rat‘s blood would eject the disease into the rat causing it to die quickly. When there were no rats left around, the flea would search for a new host, such as a human. When an infected flea bit the human the bacteria multiplies quickly causing death within a few
Days. One a person obtains this disease they can easily spread it among other humans by bacilli coughed or sneezed in to the air or by human fleas.
The plague had struck other parts of the world before it was first reported in Europe. The disease had been found in China and throughout India around 1332. Nomadic horsemen may have carried the plague westward between China and the Black Sea, where it apparently spread into Russia. Rumors had spread to Europe about the strange and terrible things happening in the East. Europeans began fearing this plague not knowing of its origin or cause. Eventually, the same unusual things started to occur in Europe and the plague was then reported to be in Europe.
As the bubonic plague spread across Europe it was called many names. Italians were dying by the thousands so they called it the Great Death. The Spanish called it Moroccan Fever, while Moroccans called it Mountain Fever. Most Europeans called it the Italian Fever or Italian Pestilence. It was not until later when the plague was called the Black Death. Black in Latin means dreadful, unlucky, and gloomy. This and
because of black spots on the skin of many plague victims led the people to associate the word black with the plague.
There are two reasons that made Europe ripe for the spread of the plague. The negative reason was the living conditions of majority of the people. Most peasants and serfs lived in small villages of windowless thatched wooden huts. It would not be too bad if the people knew of sanitation. They dumped their wastes into rivers from which they drank. They also dumped them into nearby fields where livestock graze and livestock slept under the same roof as the people. Washing was a similar problem. People rarely washed themselves or their clothes. Fleas lice and other vermin were part of life and to be endured with. Most rats were ignored which was not good because they were major carriers of the disease.
Many of the doctors of the time were amazed at the horrible disease. Physicians were stumped about cure or even remedies of this illness. The only advice they could offer is to get away from it and start off new
somewhere else. Many physicians followed their own advice and deserted areas where the plague was to be found. Many doctors told patients that the disease came because of a corrupted or polluted atmosphere. There were a few attempts of doctors finding a remedy. Gui de Chauliac recommended a variety of pills, purges, and bleeding. These are all known as medieval remedies. Chauliac seemed to think on the brighter side of things. Others like Chalin de Vinario put his own opinion quite bluntly, “Every pronounced case of the plague is incurable.” All the doctors lacked one important connection: the spread of plague between the rats. This connection had been noticed earlier by others.
An extremely high fever, chills, and ultimately delirium and death characterize the plague. The bacilli collect in the lymph nodes, mostly the ones in the armpits and groin. The nodes swell and become extremely painful. These swellings are called buboes and that’s where they got the name bubonic. Not everyone who gets the plague dies. During the 1300’s it
was really slight to find a survivor. Sometimes the buboes will burst and drain, and the victim has a chance to recover. Medical authorities estimated
that ninety percent of untreated cases of the plague result in death. With modern medical treatment the mortality rate can be reduced by five percent.
By 1349, entire cities began to come down with plague, and their populations were thrown into panic. So many had died that many thought this was the lasts days on earth for the entire world. Soon the dead on the land was so numerous they were buried in huge pits or in rivers that were given a special blessing. Fear of catching the plague from others drove wealthy people to shut themselves inside the walls of their castles, so that they did not have to make contact with servants or even people they loved. Poor people living in crowded, dirty towns and cities fled from those who came down with the disease. Wives abandoned sick husbands; parents deserted their diseased children. The sick were left to die and the dead was left unburied. Things in Europe were getting worse by the day. Until the day that so many died off that the few left were healthy.
Before the plague, Europe had been severely overpopulated and almost in a great economic depression. Most of the land that could be farmed on had been abused. This made it difficult to grow food. After the plague ran its course food shortages grew even worse. Many of the survivors were reduced to eating cats and dogs. Some went too more extreme by eating their own children. The plague had seemed to solve the problem of population but it made worse the food and economic situation.
Life for these people went on but was not enjoyed. Changes were to come but it seemed to take forever. Fear, horror, and death was known well by most of these people and the sorrow and despair for these people will never be forgotten.
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