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History of the Bubonic Plague

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The bubonic plague, or Black Death, is a terrible life threatening disease that was very common in Europe during the 1300's. During its peak in Europe the plague killed about twenty five million people, which was around half of Medieval Europe's population ("Bynum 1"). Cases of the plague date back to about 450 B.C but the European epidemic occurred in the mid 1300's. The plague first distraught Asia, however, before it came into Europe. The Bubonic Plague is a highly infectious disease that attacks the lungs, and lymph nodes of its victim. It is caused by Yersinia Pestis, a bacteria that resides in fleas and rats that have become infected. Early symptoms of the plague include shivering, vomiting, extreme headaches, intolerance to light, back and limb pain, and a white coating on the tongue. Eventually, victims develop black swellings the size of eggs filled with blood and puss under their arm pits and groins. When the disease progresses, internal bleeding leads to black spots forming on the skin of victims. A typical victim of the plague would die within three to five days. The plague spreads to humans when there are an insufficient number of rats compared to the number of fleas in an area. When the fleas don't have enough rats to feed off of the next source of food they go to are humans "Insecta 1." Due to the unsanitary conditions in European cities during the time of the plague it was very easily spread from person to person because of the high concentration of rats and fleas. There are three types of plague that exist. The most common form is the Bubonic Plague which has all of the symptoms I listed previously. The second form of the plague is the pneumonic plague. This form of plague occurs when a person breathes in infected droplets that have been coughed up by a person who already has the plague. This makes the disease go into the victim's lungs immediately which causes rapid pneumonia with high fever, chills, headaches, and coughs that are filled with blood. This form or the plague usually kills a patient within two to three days. The last and most lethal form of plague is the septicemic plague. This plague occurs when the bacteria comes directly into the bloodstream instead of the lymph nodes. The bacteria travels throughout the body and kills tissue. The victim usually will die within a day or less. ("Apocalypse 1") The bubonic plague killed millions of people while devastating Europe socially, economically, and politically which makes it one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the world.

The plague came to Europe from central Asia. It got there because of the vast numbers of trade routes established between Asia and Europe, and therefore the many encounters the people or these cultures had together. The plague first traveled by land slowly from central Asia into the land around the Black Sea. The ports on the Black Sea were stricken by this deadly disease. These ports were some of the key ports in the trading route Italy had established with Asia. In October of 1347 the first European city was struck by the plague. The city was Messina which is located on the tip of Sicily. The people of Messina had heard rumors about the plague from Asia so when they experienced it they tried to close all of their ports and stop the disease there but their efforts were not successful because of how fast the disease spread and soon all of Europe was infected.

After the plague hit Messina it spread north into the mainland of Europe into Italy. From Italy it quickly moved across the land and had reached the south end of France by January of 1348. ("Apocalypse 2") Within a year it had covered all of France and French ships carrying wine to Britain had infected rats on them so the British were victimized by the plague as well. From France the plague went into Denmark and Germany and had covered them completely by 1350 and eventually reached Poland by 1351. "Apocalypse 3" From Britain the plague was carried by wool ships into Scandinavia.

Something as horrifying as the plague causes people to create horrifying reasons for it when they don't understand what is happening to them. Doctors in the 1300's were left hopeless searching for answers to this epidemic. Since medieval doctors did not understand the germ theory or what bacteria were they had a hard time giving reason for the plague. All the doctors were able to come up with was that the air around them was simply contaminated, or that people's eating habits determined whether or not they got infected with the plague, which scientists now know are completely false statements. One statement to the Pope in 1347 concerning how to avoid the plague was:

No poultry should be eaten, no waterfowl, no pig, no old beef, altogether no fat meat. . . . It is injurious to sleep during the daytime. . . . Fish should not be eaten, too much exercise may be injurious . . . and nothing should be cooked in rainwater. Olive oil with food is deadly. . . . Bathing is dangerous. . . . ("The Black Death 1").

Some doctors even stated that an earthquake had let this bad air out or that the wind was blowing from Asia and bringing the poisonous air. A group of highly educated scientists at the University of Paris "cited a conjunction of the planets Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter on March 20, 1345, as having caused 'pernicious corruption of the surrounding air'. ("Apocalypse 4")

Since doctors could not come up with answers people began to create their own beliefs. Many people moved away from cities and towns that were affected into the country-side by themselves or with their families. This proved to be useless in many cases, however, unless the people were away from rats and fleas with this disease. Many people would give similar reasons to what the doctors did. Many survivors, however, had their own beliefs on why they survived. Some people wore masks to protect themselves from the 'poisonous air' around them. Others carried perfumes or herbs with them at all times in a hope to alter out the evil vapors in the air. Some even inhaled the smell from public latrines to drive the poisonous air from their lungs. They thought that the air filled with the smell of the dead might be able to be challenged by air that smelt even more awful than that. Other reasons people gave for the plague not affecting them were some such as that sleeping on a certain side of their body had kept them from dying. Others said that it was because they ate or drank a certain food or beverage before they went to sleep and that held off the disease.

The most widely believed cause of the disease, however, was that a certain minority group had caused the plague. Usually foreigners, Gypsies, beggars, lepers, or most often, Jews, were blamed. People would stone, kill, hang, and at some points even



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