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The Black Death
Nov 09, 2003 06:04 AM 4805 Views
(Updated Nov 09, 2003 06:04 AM)

I suppose your wondering how knowing about the bubonic plague would be of any use to you in this day and age, and really there are no reasons. However, I find it simply fascinating how a tiny flea, barely visible to the naked eye, was able to systematically exterminate 1/3 of Europe’s population in the medieval times…read on…


The Symptoms of the Black Death


A pope once wrote to the King “(the) plague kills more viciously that a two edged sword. Nobody dares enter any town, castle or village where it has struck.” This statement is by no means exaggerated. The symptoms suffered by those inflicted with the Black Death sound truly terrible. Imagine this; you shake uncontrollably, sweating vast amounts of fluid while coughing up vomit and blood. Your head, back and limbs ache violently, and even the dim light in your peasant hut succeeds in hurting your eyes. Diarrhea sets in and you find it very difficult to sleep. When sleep finally manages to overcome you, you generally go into a state of delirium, speaking rapidly and talking nonsense. Soon your groin and arm pits break out into deep blue/black swellings which itch with a tearing pain, thus giving this horrible disease the sinister nick name “black death.” Once the swelling occurs, you know it’s only a matter of days before you die. The plague has no respect for a person’s station; it kills everyone.


Not a very pleasant thought is it? Never fear, there have only been very few instances of the bubonic plague since the1600s and I very much doubt any of you MS readers will be put through this type of hell in this life time.


Fourteenth Century Theories of the Black Death


v It was first thought that only wicked people got the Black Death, but a good, honest and religious priest who lived on the out skirts of Essex caught the plague and died, so that theory was abandoned.


v Paris University claimed that stars infected the sea causing it to give out a vapor which fell down as rain.


v In Switzerland people accused the Jews of poisoning water. In one Swiss town all the Jews were rounded up and burnt to death.


v In some parts of the world, people claimed that God had placed the plague on Earth to punish people. In Germany and Eastern Europe people whipped themselves mercilessly to say that they were sorry.


v It was also thought that cats and dogs were the ones who carried the disease, so many pet animals were killed to stop the spread of the plague. Many people hid their pets from the inspectors who came to check that all the animals were killed. If a person was found guilty of hiding a pet, they were branded on the chest.


What actually happened


In actual fact rats were the ones who carried the bubonic flea which was the cause of the plague. Since rats were never suspected of carrying the disease, nothing was done to stop their growth, therefore the Black Death continued to spread and more people died. The plague still exists today, but it is possible to get immunization against it.


How The Plague Spread


China was probably were the plague first hit. Since China was one of the busiest of the world's trading nations, it was only a matter of time before the outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. Within days the disease spread to the city and the surrounding countryside. By the following August, the plague had spread as far north as England. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and Medieval medicine had nothing to fight it.


A ring a ring of roses


Ring a ring roses


Pocket full of posies


A tishu, a tishu


We all fall down.


Thought this was just an innocent song sung by school children holding hands and swinging about in a circle? Well be prepared for the more sinister, underlying tale behind this seemingly innocent nursery rhyme. This song is about disease which ultimately leads to death…let me explain.


Ring-a-ring a roses refers to the tell tale blisters that were found on the body of a person who had recently caught the disease.


Pocket full of posies refers to the pointless medieval herbal medication prescribed to ill individuals. Many people also chose to carry herbs to ward off the disease, while others used herbs to help disguise the ever present smell of death.


A tishu, a tishu the illness gets gradually worse…until ultimately…


We all fall down the patient has succumbed to the illness and died as it was inevitable during that period in history.


Interesting facts


v In Winter the disease seemed to disappear, but only because the rats infested by fleas were on were hibernating. In the Spring, the rats would be out again, the fleas killing many new victims.


v With the mass culling of cats and dogs, the rat population flourished, hence there were more fleas and the disease seemed to spread at an even faster rate.


v After five years 25 million people were dead-one-third of Europe's people.


v Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years, but for centuries. The survivors lived in constant fear of the plague's return, and the disease did not disappear until the 1600s.


v Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labour shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the 1400s, peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy.


v The disease took its toll on the church as well. Christian people had prayed that God would take the dreadful plague away. Why hadn't those prayers been answered? A new period of philosophical questioning lay ahead. People began to wonder for the first time whether there was a god.


v In some towns, if one person caught the Bubonic plague in the family, everyone else who lived in the same house was locked up so that the plague wouldn’t affect anyone else in that village, though it usually did(no one was blocking the movements of the rats). The house at which the Black Death was present would have a large red cross painted on the door, and the words “God have mercy on our souls” printed above it.


v In some cases, a person would dig their own grave and lie in there waiting to die as they knew that no one would be able to save them, or everyone else would be dead, so there would be no-one left to bury them.


v A dead cart would come around daily or weekly to collect the dead. The man who pushed the dead cart was usually someone who was in the early stages of the plague or very drunk. They would walk down the streets yelling, “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!” The bodies were then taken to mass graves, where they were buried - even though it would have been more hygienic to burn them.


v Some consider the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages was the greatest disaster in history.


The information for this review came from a culmination of BBC documentaries broadcast on Australia’s ABC and SBS. These documentaries are truly fascinating and if you get the opportunity, do sit down and watch them - they are really very well done. I also got a few facts from a book called ‘The Black Death’ by James Day.


I hope you found this to be an interesting and informative review.


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