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The Black Death

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The Black Death

The Black Death was an epidemic that spread across Asia, the Middle East and Europe, killing more that twenty million people. It caused many tribulations for farmers and the poor and resulted in the Peasants Revolt in 1381.

The Black Death or Bubonic Plague came in three forms; the Bubonic Plague, The Septicaemic Plague and the Pneumonic Plague. Each form had its own symptoms and death rates. The Bubonic Plague was the most common plague that spread across Europe. Its symptoms included painful swelling of the lymph nodes (called buboes) which occurred in the armpits, the base of the neck and the groin. These buboes oozed pus and blood. Victims experienced high fevers (38-41Ð'oC), headaches, aching joints, nausea and vomiting. The Bubonic plague had a death rate of thirty to seventy-five percent . The second most common plague that spread across Europe was the Pneumonic Plague. This plague had a death rate of ninety to ninety five percent . The symptoms of this infection included slimy sputum stained with blood. As the infection progressed however, the regurgitation of sputum became more frequent and the colouration became bright red. The Septicaemic plague was the most fatal of all three plagues. It had a mortality rate of close to one hundred percent . Symptoms included high fevers and the skin would turn deep purple because of disseminated intravascular coagulation .

The Septicemic Plague- discolouration due to disseminated intravascular coagulation

The Black Death was transmitted in two ways; The Bubonic and The Septicaemic Plague were spread through direct contact with a flea, while the Pneumonic Plague was spread through saliva. The Bubonic and The Septicaemic Plague were spread through the bite of a flea that had a build up of the bacteria Yersina Pestis inside its gut. This bacterium would block the flea’s stomach causing it to be overly hungry and unable to satisfy its hunger. The flea would begin biting a �host’, usually a rat. Once bitten, the �host’ would have the bacteria flowing through its blood stream. If another flea, that doesn’t already have Yersina Pestis in its blood stream, bites the �host’ it will contract the virus as well. The fleas infected with the bacteria would go on a feeding rampage and as the flea bit a human the plague bacteria would flow into the open wound, infecting them.

The origin of the Black Death is still uncertain, but people believe that it began to spread in the steppes of Central Asia. They believe that it was carried by the Mongol armies and traders along the Silk Road. Europe was exposed to the plague at the trading city of Caffa in the Crimea. From Caffa it spread to Sicily and to the rest of Europe. The Black Death affected Central Asia, Europe and Middle Eastern countries. The plague attacked Hubei, China in 1334. Accounts state that it spread to Jiangxi, Shanxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hena and Suiyuan. It is believed that the Mongols and merchants unintentionally brought the plague with them from central Asia to the Middle East and Europe. An outbreak of the plague was recorded in Constantinople and Trebizond in 1347. In 1347, the Genoese had control over Caffa which came under siege by Mongol warriors. During this siege it was reported that the Mongol warriors were weak because of the plague. It is believed that the Mongols used the diseased dead bodies of fellow warriors as ammunition. The Mongols catapulted these diseased corpses over the city walls infecting the population. The Genoese traders escaped Caffa using ships heading towards Europe. This in turn brought the plague to Europe. In October 1347, the Genoese trading ships made port in Messina Italy. It is alleged that most of the crew were already dead or infected with the plague. The Bubonic Plague spread to Genoa and Venice by 1347. The disease spread from Italy, northwest across Europe and effected France, Spain, Portugal and England by June 1348. It spread through Germany and Scandinavia from 1348 to 1350 and finally to Russia in 1351. The Black Death entered the Middle Eastern countries through Russia. It had affected Alexandria in Egypt by 1347 because of trading through ships. The plague affected Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine by 1348. During the outbreak of the Black Death, 75 million people lost their lives. Europe alone, lost between a third and two-thirds of its population which is equivalent to about 20 million people.

"Tell, O Sicily, and ye, the many islands of the sea, the judgements of God. Confess, O Genoa, what thou hast done, since we of Genoa and Venice are compelled to make God's chastisement manifest. Alas! our ships enter the port, but of a thousand sailors hardly ten are spared. We reach our homes; our kindred and our neighbours come from all parts to visit us. Woe to us for we cast at them the darts of death! Whilst we spoke to them, whilst they embraced us and kissed us, we scattered the poison from our lips. Going back to their homes, they in turn soon infected their whole families, who in three days succumbed, and were buried in one common grave. Priests and doctors visiting the sick returned from their duties ill, and soon were numbered with the dead. O death! cruel, bitter, impious death! which thus breaks the bonds of affection and divides father and mother, brother and sister, son and wife. Lamenting our misery, we feared to fly, yet we dared not remain."

-Gabriele de' Mussi account of the plague-

The Black Death spread quickly because of poor living conditions. People in Medieval Europe had different cleaning habits to the ones we employ today. Peasants bathed once or twice a year while wealthy people bathed more frequently as they had servants who filled their baths with water. Wealthy people could also afford to



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