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The Black Death, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 408

Essay

The Black Death, or Bubonic Plague, was an epidemic that drastically changed society in Medieval Europe. Outbreaks occurred from 1348 to the 1600s and killed approximately one third of the population. The Bubonic Plague’s brutal nature impacted the way people treated each other, their customs, and basic political structure.

Transmission was due to lice, rats, and unsanitary living conditions. The plague’s distinguishing symptoms were buboes, or painful and swollen lymph nodes in the axilla or groin. Other symptoms included headache, seizures, fever, and muscle aches. Once onset began, the disease could kill within a few hours.

Fear of the disease caused people to radically change their behavior and customs. Some isolated themselves, restricting both their diet and social interaction. Others over-indulged in food, drinking, and debauchery. People abandoned not only their cities and homes, but also their friends and family. The sick were often neglected and left to die on their own. Many physicians and clergy refused to see the sick for fear of contracting the plague. Prior to the outbreak, it was custom to die surrounded by friends and family and receive a proper funeral and mourning. During the period of the Black Death, funeral processions were discontinued. Sextons would carry the bodies to the nearest open tomb for disposal. No ceremony was given and many times the dead were thrown onto the streets.

Religious fanaticism heightened during the Black Death. Flagellates would travel throughout Europe, beating themselves to repent for sin. Witch hunts and persecution against Jews intensified.

The extreme drop in population altered the economy and class structure. As the wealth was redistributed, standards of living improved for the survivors. Due to a shortage of workers, peasants were able to demand higher wages. Many nobles were forced to free serfs, as they could no longer afford to keep them. Taxes were increased due to depleted finances and to increase funding for projects such as the Hundred Year War. The tax increases and the lack of desire to pay workers higher wages led to peasant uprisings, weakening the strength of the nobility. As the nobility weakened, the merchant class grew stronger and European society began to transform from feudalism to more of a capitalistic economy.

The severe nature of the Black Death inspired mass fear, which led to changes in the economy, government, and customs of Medieval Europe. Though pestilence took the lives of many and caused people to abandon civilized behavior, after a time, positive changes were able to develop.

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