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
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,
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
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