Bubonic Plague History and Analysis Research Paper

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Bubonic Plague

The Black Death is remembered through time because of the harm it inflicted on the world and because of the horrible pains that were associated with the malady. The disease killed hundreds of millions of people and made it possible for society as a whole to acknowledge its limitations in the face of serious maladies. The Bubonic Plague is one of the most common form of plague and along with the other two manifestation of the Black Death (the septicemic plague and the pneumonic plague) is responsible for the medieval pandemic that killed millions of people in Europe during the 14th century.

History and etiology

Plague reports go back as far as Emperor Justinian I, with the emperor's contemporaries suffering in great numbers and revealing symptoms that one can associate with diverse versions of the plague. "Descriptions of what appears to have been bubonic plague have survived from throughout ancient Roman history. Those reports were centered in the Levant (north of the Red Sea) and northern Africa, and described very high rates of mortality" (Schat) Even with this, such reports did not relate to a wide-spread pandemic and up until the half of the sixth century they remained isolated. With Justinian I being infected with the bacteria himself, the 6th century malady came to be known as the Justinian Plague.

The middle of the sixth century saw the plague spreading across vast regions in Alexandria, Egypt, Palestine, and Constantinople. It did not stop there and it went on to infect individuals in various regions throughout Asia and in several European countries. The bacteria associated with the plague, the Yersinia pestis, was found in a sixth century grave in Bavaria, thus proving that the malady spread rapidly and over large areas of land.

The Middle Ages are often believed to have resulted from people looking for any kind of scapegoats in an attempt to find reasons why the plague occurred. "The first originated in the Middle East circa 532 C.E., killing at least half of the population in its path, and fostering the widespread scapegoating and fear which characterized the Dark Ages that followed." (Eastman 10) The fact that people were horrified with how the disease affected the Middle East influenced them to take on harsh attitudes with regard to basically anything that they could associate with it, regardless of whether this made sense or not.

While bubonic plague has been present in society for most of the last two millennia, it is mostly associated with the Black Death era. The disease was present in more than one area, but it is generally recognized for the damage it inflicted on Europeans during the late 1340s. The Black Death is believed to have emerged in central Asia and to have spread with the help of trade routes to Constantinople and Europe. More than half of the people in Europe were lost to the malady and in some cases entire communities were obliterated. In other cases not enough people were left alive to be able to bury the numerous dead people who fell victim to the plague.

To a certain degree, the Black Death is believed to have played an important role in Europe's progress consequent to the medieval era. With numerous deaths occurring throughout the continent, the authorities were forced to focus on the economic aspect of the problem and to do everything in their power in order to restructure most of their strategies. The fact that most of Europe changed after the event led to the appearance of more effective economic systems and to the Renaissance era.

It is certainly intriguing to consider the way that the first episode of the Black Death led to the Dark Ages while the second episode actually reflected positively on society through the economic and cultural progress it triggered across Europe. It is possible that people during the fourteenth century had a more complex understanding of the concept of a malady and thus realized that the plague had a biological aspect.

The third large pandemic involving the Black Death took place in the modern era emerged in China in the second part of the nineteenth century and spread to Hong Kong and numerous other port-cities of the world during the next decades. It is believed that the pandemic caused more than ten million deaths, as even though medical strategies to prevent or cure it had become more effective people had limited access to such tools. The fact that society had experienced much progress in the medical industry was reflected by how experts managed to isolate the bacteria and to get a much more complex understanding of most concepts regarding it.


Symptoms associated with bubonic plague involve lymph nodes that are painful and are normally located near the groin, the armpit, or in regions around the neck. Lymph nodes are infected when a patient suffers from bubonic plague and he or she starts to experience symptoms around two to five days after coming into contact to the bacteria. While lymph gland swelling is one of the most common forms of identifying bubonic plague, other symptoms concerning the malady are less helpful when someone is trying to diagnose it. Individuals with the malady are likely to experience chills, to have a fever, headaches, pains in their muscles, and to have a general sentiment of being ill.

Cases of plague across the world were significantly lowered after people discovered the bacteria that triggered it. "The drastic decline in the incidence of plague since the onset of the third pandemic is largely due to the discovery (near the end of the 19th century) of its causative organism (Yersinia pestis), transmission vector (the flea), and primary reservoir (flea-infected rodents)." (Eastman 11) The bacteria was previously known as Bacillus pestis and Pasteurella pestis. It does not move, it is generally anaerobic, intracellular, and it belongs to the Enterobacteriaceae family.

The bacteria has three biovars and each of them is responsible for a Black Death pandemic that occurred throughout history. Antiqua is responsible for the first reported pandemic -- the Justinian Plague, Medievalis is responsible for the second -- the Black Death, and Orientalis is responsible for the third -- the Modern Plague.

In all three pandemics, the plague was provided with environments where it could thrive. Societies contemporary to the plague in each situation were thriving and people were travelling across the world with the purpose of establishing ties and trading goods. This was a medium for the malady to travel, with people indirectly harming their communities in their attempt to increase their profits.

The pandemics made it possible for people to realize the degree to which a disease can affect the social order. "If nothing else, the Plague pandemic of the 14th century teaches us to be vigilant against key plague-promoting factors, including changes in Y. pestis demographics, transmission factors, and climate." (Eastman 14) Surely, modern methods to identify the malady significantly improved people's understanding of it and their ability to fight it. Even with this, the complexity of the disease sometimes makes it difficult for the most experienced doctors to deal with it. Traditional vaccines meant to prevent or cure plague are not always efficient, as they are not designed to deal with the pneumonic form of the malady.

Plague as a tool used in warfare

While it was considered horrific by most of the world, Plague has been used as a means to inflict harm on enemies for centuries. The fact that the disease usually has a high mortality rate if left untreated and the fact that treatment was often unavailable to the masses has inspired individuals involved in warfare to take advantage of the disease. There are cases of bodies contaminated with plague being catapulted into strongholds with the purpose of infesting individuals inside. This makes it possible for someone to understand that biological warfare was an active concept in the social order for hundreds of years. "More recently, plague raised concern as an important national security threat because of its potential for use by terrorists." (Plague) Taking this into account, it would be safe to say that this is one of the most dangerous diseases in all of history.

Bubonic plague today

While it is somewhat normal to observe accounts of hundreds of millions of people dying as a result of contracting plague in the past, it is intriguing to consider the fact that it is still active and killing today. Justinian himself survived and this is partly owed to the treatment he was provided with, thus proving that social status played an important role in distinguishing between individuals who would die from the plague and those who would not.

History is essential in teaching mankind in general a series of lessons that it can use with the purpose of preventing a general pandemic. It would be essential for an international pandemic system to be implemented, as this would significantly reduce the chance of a pandemic occurring and as doctors worldwide would have…[continue]

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