IMPACTS OF THE BLACK DEATH
The Black Death is one of the most important events in Western history and is the most famous pandemic in all of human history. A pandemic is the term used to describe the spread of an infectious disease over a wide area including the entire planet. The Black Death occurred during the 14th century and ravaged human populations throughout Asia and Europe as it spread along trade routes and through trading ports. Throughout history it has also been referred to as the ‘Great Mortality’ and ‘Great Pestilence’. It had major impacts on both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The first main impact of the Black Death was the sheer number of people that died. Historians agree that Europe’s population dropped by half in the first several decades of the Black Death, and this had a huge impact on social and family life for communities throughout Europe. For example, because people did not have a clear understanding of the causes of the plague they often went to the aid of their family members that became ill. This, of course, led to the caretakers also becoming sick after being bitten by the infected fleas. As such, people soon learned to avoid those that were showing symptoms of the plague. This situation meant that families and whole communities were often ripped apart as they tried to avoid the disease. As well, communal activities such as gathering for church and trading in marketplaces became difficult and dangerous. For example, the following excerpt from Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer who lived from 1313-1375, shows the desperate situation of the time.
“Tedious were it to recount, how citizen avoided citizen, how among neighbors was scarce found any that showed fellow-feeling for another, how kinsfolk held aloof, and never met, or but rarely; enough that this sore affliction entered so deep into the minds of men a women, that in the horror thereof brother was forsaken by brother nephew by uncle, brother by sister, and oftentimes husband by wife: nay, what is more, and scarcely to be believed, fathers and mothers were found to abandon their own children, untended, unvisited, to their fate, as if they had been strangers.”
Furthermore, the massive death tolls and the growing fear of people to deal with those that are sick meant that the bodies of the dead literally collected in homes and on streets. In particular, poor areas of towns and cities quickly became littered with the bodies of the dead and overwhelmed communities often resorted to mass burials or burning of the bodies. This had a profound effect on European cities, as the disease ravaged hole areas.
The second major impact of the Black Death was the economic loss or effect that resulted from the spread of the plague. As stated in the previous paragraph, the spread of the plague caused people to avoid crowded areas. As such marketplaces and trade in general suffered. For example, some of the hardest hit areas in Europe and Asia were trading ports along the coast of the Mediterranean. These cities were often hotbeds for the plague since this was where the rats and mice that carried the fleas arrived after having stowed away on trading ships. This reality meant that trade in these port cities slowed as merchants and traders suffered.
The third major impact of the Black Death was political. The nature of the plague meant that it impacted everyone equally. It did not matter if people were wealthy or poor, the plague spread to all people of all classes. As well, the massive death tolls put massive amounts of pressure on the monarchs across Europe to deal with the crisis. This strained the political structures of many countries and kingdoms and led to political crisis.
The fourth major impact of the Black Death was the effect it had on art. For example, the image on the side is called ‘The Dance of Death’ and was created by Michael Wolgemut in 1493. Artistic images such as this emerged out of the time period and displays the focus that art took on death, which was a common reality for the people.
In all, the Black Death was an important event that fundamentally changed life for people across Europe and Asia. It was caused by the spread of the bubonic plague and caused massive death tolls wherever it occurred. It is remembered today as one of the most important pandemics in all of human history and for its role in other major events and time periods, such as: the Silk Road, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
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