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The Black Plague Essay Research Paper

The Black Plague Essay, Research Paper

“The Black Plague”

The Black Plague was one of the worst and deadliest

diseases known to man in the history of the world. The Plague

originated in Italy and quickly spread throughout Europe killing

more than one hundred thirty seven million people. Early

treatments for the Plague were often bizarre but eventually came

in a vaccine and through isolation. The symptoms of the Black

Plague were swellings called buboes and dried blood under the

skin that appeared black. The Black Plague changed the world in

several different ways. It resulted in medical advances and

architectural setbacks.

In the 1300’s one of the most fearful and deadliest

diseases known to humans erupted somewhere in Central Asia; the

Black Plague. It came to England in 1348 and for over three

centuries the Black Plague remained a continual fear in the

everyday life of citizens in Europe. The Plague struck first

along the northern edge of the Black Sea in 1348, where it

killed and estimated eighty eight thousand people in less than

three months. The Plague reached southern England in the late

summer of 1348 and swept northward through the following year.

The Black Plague completed it’s journey and died out by the end

of 1351. Although the people of Medieval Europe did not know

the direct cause of the Plague, they believed without

doubt that God was responsible, judging human behavior and ready

to punish the wicked. They concluded that this Black Plague was

punishment from an angry God (Corzine 27-31).

The Black Plague had several different names. Bubonic

Plague received its name because of the painful swellings it

produced called buboes. The Black Death is another name which

was given to the Plague because of the appearance of black blood

beneath the skin. This disease became associated with the term

“plague” because of the widespread fatalities that it caused

throughout history (Platt 10-11).

The people of the fourteenth century were uneducated and

susceptible to superstitions. Some of the early treatments for

the plague were the wearing of excrement and bathing in human

urine. Other precautions were the use of leeches and the placing

of dead animals in infested homes (Zeigler 35).

Today he Bubonic Plague has a vaccine that lasts for about six

months. It is not available in the United States yet. A new

vaccine is being worked on and could be licensed later this

year. Travelers to plague infested areas should take a special

antibiotic. The most effective way to prevent plague is better


As plagues occurred regularly after the 1350’s,

preventative measures began to grow. Plague patients were

placed in pesthouses, isolated from the general population.

Ships coming in from areas where plague had broken out were

forced to stay out of the port for forty days. This stopped


infested individuals from bringing the plague ashore, and if the

plague was present on the ship, it would die out during the

forty day quarantine. Doctors wore protective gear to prevent

themselves from being infected (Nardor 53).

Among the most vivid accounts of the Black Plague’s

origins and symptoms are those of its earliest survivors. The

early symptoms of the plague include: shivering, headache,

vomiting, intolerance to light, pain in the back and limbs, and

a white coating on the tongue. The more vivid symptom in men

and women was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin

and armpit area. These swellings, called buboes, were very

painful swollen lymph nodes. From the two areas mentioned, the

deadly swellings would begin to spread and within a short period

of time they would appear at random all over the body. These

swellings, to anyone unfortunate enough to contract them, were

definite signs that they would soon die (Bunson 93).

Another common symptom of the Black Plague is the

appearance of black blood under the skin after death. Severe

hemorrhage takes place under the skin after death causing the

body to look black. This is where the plague received one of

its many names, The Black Death (Platt 101). To this day, there

is a popular nursery rhyme that arose from the plague.

Ring around the rosy,

Pocket full of poseys,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall down.

“Ring around the rosy” refers to the rosary beads that

people used to pray to protect themselves from the disease. The

smell of death was so strong, that people would carry flowers

(poseys) in their pockets to help hide the stench. “Ashes,

ashes” is a reference to the funeral pyres that were used to

burn the infected bodies, and “we all fall down” is a direct

reference to all the deaths.

There are two ways of transmitting the Black Plague. An

infected flea from a rodent who in turn transmits the disease to

humans is one way. Another way is inhaling the germ that has

been coughed out by a human or animal plague victim (Gregg 109).

The plague’s death toll was one hundred thirty seven

million victims, and at its worst it killed two million people a

year. Traders from the Italian city of Genoa carried the plague

to their homeland and in the next few years it spread with

alarming speed across Europe. In the first complete week of

July it claimed seven hundred twenty five lives; in the second

week, one thousand eighty nine lives; the third week, one

thousand eight hundred forty three victims; and two thousand ten

lives were lost in the fourth week. The immediate impact of the

Black Death was the loss of one third to one half of the

population of Europe in about four years (Gregg 126).

The decrease in population had a lasting effect on the

commercial lives of Europeans. Always the first casualty of

every recession is the building industry, and the building in

Medieval England would never again be as extravagant as it was

in the half century before the Black Plague. The loss of common

laborers contributed to the chaos. It is said that the severe

labor shortage that continued for over a century after the

plague contributed largely to the loss of buildings. The Plague

not only killed, but also stimulated people’s desire to go on

pilgrimages, therefore there was no-one to maintain the city

buildings (Platt 170-171).

Many of Europe’s most important scholars and thinkers, as

well as doctors died during the plague. Medieval medicine

failed in the face of the Black Plague. This massive failure

marked the beginning of the professionalization of medicine, one

of the most far reaching consequences of the Black Plague (Platt



Work Cited

Bunson, Matthew. Middle Ages. New York: Facts on File Inc., 1995.

Cozine, Phyllis. The Black Death. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc.,


Gregg, Charles T. Plague. New York. Charles Scribner & Sons,


Nardon, Don. Life on A Medieval Pilgrimage. San Diego. Lucent

Books Inc., 1997.

Platt, Colin. King Death. Buffalo. University of Toronto Press,


Zeigler, Phillip. The Black Death. New York. Harper & Row