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The Bubonic Plague

The Bubonic Plague

Author: Joshua Work
Description:
  1. Students will be able to summarize how the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe and impacted the lives of millions.
  2. Students will be able to describe how people from the Middle Ages viewed the plague.
  3. Students will be able to make deductions based on primary evidence from the 14th century. 
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Tutorial

The Black Death

The Black Death was the worst plague to strike medieval Europe, leaving millions dead and irrevocably changing the social and economic landscape on the continent. The Bubonic plague emerged in Asia in the 1320s and 30s, and migrated westwards. By the year 1347 it had reached the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and from there was carried on ships to places such as Cyprus, Sicily and France. A year later the plague was in England and Germany, and continued to spread into northern and Eastern Europe.

Source: Medievalists

The Black Death

The Black Death was the worst plague to strike medieval Europe, leaving millions dead and irrevocably changing the social and economic landscape on the continent. The Bubonic plague emerged in Asia in the 1320's and 1330's, and migrated westwards. By the year 1347 it had reached the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and from there was carried on ships to places such as Cyprus, Sicily and France. A year later the plague was in England and Germany, and continued to spread into northern and Eastern Europe.

The plague was carried by fleas that would hitch rides on rats and humans, passing on the disease. Those who were infected would quickly become very ill with bleeding -- parts of the body would swell and become black. The patient would soon start vomiting blood and within two or three days be dead. 

The Black Death devastated the medieval world -- estimates of the death toll reach into the hundreds of millions. In the city of Florence the population fell from over a hundred thousand to less than fifty thousand, while one London account says that one-third of its people were killed by the pandemic. The plague hit some areas harder than others, but very few places in Europe were sparred. 

Medieval people believed that the disease was spread by 'bad air' and some scholars speculated that the problem was due to astronomical events. Most thought the real reason behind the plague was that it was God's punishment for people's sins -- and some sought to appease God by building churches and practicing penance such as flagellation. Others tried to find scapegoats, such as Jews and lepers, who the accused of poisoning the water supply. In the German city of Strasbourg over two thousand Jews were murdered by angry mobs. 

Although the disease ran its course, it would strike again over the next several decades and in later centuries. The massive depopulation provoked huge economic and social changes. Medieval historians continue to be researching this impact as well as many other aspects of the Black Death. In today's society, which is still concerned with pandemics spreading throughout the world, the Black Death is an eerie reminder the deadly consequences of pandemic disease.