Bubonic Plague Wipes Out a Third of Europe


The Black Death was one of the worst global pandemics in history. The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, was a calamitous epidemic that devastated Europe and Asia in the mid-1300’s.

The plague arrived in Europe in October of 1347 at the Sicilian port of Messina. Twelve ships from the Black Sea docked there, most of the sailors aboard were dead. The ones that were not were very ill. They were covered with black boils that were filled with pus and blood. By the time the Sicilian authorities ordered the fleet to leave, it was already too late. Before the 12 ships arrived, there was a rumor about a “Great Pestilence” that killed a lot of people across the trade routes of the Near and Far East. The disease had already struck China, India, Persia, Egypt, and Syria.

The Black Death was spread by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis, which wasn’t discovered until the end of 19th century. The bacteria travels through the air, person to person, and through the bite of infected rats and fleas. Rats and fleas were aboard all the ships, and that is why all the sailors were infected. After the Black Death had struck Italy, it spread to the port of Tunis in North Africa and France. In 1348, the Black Death had reached Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, and London. Soon, the Black Death had spread across all of Europe. Even though it was everywhere, no one knew how the Black Death was spread. One doctor said “instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick.” Physicians used bloodletting and boil-lancing to “treat” the Black Death.

The Black Death was so horrendous that doctors refused to see patients, priests did not want to administer last rites, and shopkeepers closed their stores. The disease not only affected humans, but it harmed animals too. At one point during the Black Death, a lot sheep died, resulting in a wool shortage all across Europe. People weren’t even granted their own graves, instead a hole was dug, the dead were put inside, and dirt was put on top of them. Bodies were often be seen on the streets. The Black Death brought out the worse in people and made people abandon their loved ones because they were afraid of getting infected.

Some upper-class men joined the flagellants, people who hurt themselves on purpose due to their religious ideas. They went from town to town publicly displaying then beating themselves and one another with leather straps with sharp metal. This went on for a little over a month for three times a day. Although the flagellant movement provided some comfort to people who felt powerless, the Pope started to get worried and stopped the movement.

The Black Death epidemic stopped in 1350. Even though the Black Death only lasted for three years it wiped out a third of Europe's population. But, it returned every few generations for centuries. Although the bubonic plague hasn't been completely eliminated, there is now a treatment that can successfully cure the disease, saving thousands of lives.

[Source: History.com]

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