Black Death And The Middle Ages Term Paper

Length: 7 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Disease Type: Term Paper Paper: #57470682 Related Topics: Middle Ages, Lord Of The Flies, Roman Fever, Coming Of Age
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Black Death in 14th Century Europe

Pivot Point In History

causes and effects in history


The Black Death of the middle 14th Century in Europe was a major pivot point in History. Three ways it was a turning point can be seen through social hierarchy, the Roman Catholic Church and Medicine. Social hierarchy, the Church and Medicine were all different before the Black Death, they all failed during the Black Death, and they were all changed after the Black Death. The Black Death's impact on them makes it a major pivot point in History. In addition, the Black Death became a cause of significant effects: it changed Social hierarchy the Church and Medicine due to the devastating impact of the disease.

The Black Death viewed through 20/20 historical hindsight would also have been treated differently. At the time of the Black Death, Medicine knew nothing about bacteria and leaned toward spiritual/magical explanations and treatments of the disease. Knowing what we know today, the Black Death would have been diagnosed through tests and treated through appropriate modern drugs to kill the responsible bacillus. It would not have become the devastating disease that wiped out a significant portion of Europe's population.

2. Body

a. Before the Black Death

Though there were pools of disease in Eurasia and Africa, their diseases took a long time to spread. Europe did suffer from some diseases but it was remarkably free of some of the most devastating diseases up to the middle of the 14th Century (Gottfried, 1985, pp. 4-5). This allowed Europe's population to steadily grow until it reached 75 million by the time the Black Death arrived (, 2011). The social hierarchy put God at the top, Church authorities next, royalty next, landed lords next and serfs/peasants at the bottom (Gottfried, 1985, p. 17). Real estate was affected by the social hierarchy and population. The large population crowded closely together meant that common people rarely owned their own land and that property could not be passed down to their sons. Most people lived as unfree peasants who farmed fields owned by lords and paid high portions to their lords (Gottfried, 1985, p. 18). People also treated death as close neighbors: when someone died, the women neighbors would all pray with the body in the house while the clergy and men waited outside; then the people outside would carry the body from the house to the Church/cemetery and a religious burial was given to the person (Aberth, 2005, pp. 77-8). Before the Black Death, social hierarchy was established, obeyed and the people could rely on it.

Roman Catholic Church was also very powerful right before Europe's Black Plague. Life was considered fleeting and God's Kingdom, salvation and eternal life were more important (Gottfried, 1985, p. 162). The Church's power of excommunication and its believed position as the path to God made it extremely powerful, even to leaders of nations (Aberth, 2005). The Church also protected Jewish people from Christians, believing that the Jewish people were chosen by God and would be converted to Christianity before the Second Coming of Christ (Aberth, 2005, p. 141). Before the Black Death, Europeans relied on the Church to keep them safe, in line with God's will and headed for heaven.

Finally, Medicine right before The Black Death was very different from today's Medicine. Medicine relied heavily on the supernatural and on miracles brought about by praying to saintly martyrs (White, 1898). What is worse, Medicine did not know about germs and bacteria, so doctors knew nothing about antibiotics (Aberth, 2005, p. 38). They had many odd cures for diseases, including: avoiding baths, burning aromatic herbs, drinking wine (Aberth, 2005, p. 38), bloodletting, special diets, new sleeping positions, and consuming pearls or precious metals (, 2011). Right before The Black Death came to Europe, the social hierarchy, the Church and Medicine all had certain positions that would dramatically change because of the Black Death.

b. During the Black Death

In the early 1300's Europe heard rumors about a deadly


A person might not think Europe had much to worry about but many of the trade routes ran from China and Eurasia to the major ports of Europe. When 11 merchant ships entered the harbor of Messina in Sicily in October 1337, the people of Messina found that the ship crews were all dead or dying of a terrible disease. The authorities had the ships removed from Messina's harbor but it was too late: the disease-carrying rats and flees on the ships had brought The Black Death to Messina. From there and by other merchant ships, the disease spread to Genoa (, 2011), Marseilles (Gottfried, 1985, p. 49), London (Ibis Communications, Inc., n.d.), Tunis, Florence, Rome (A&E Television Networks, LLC, n.d.), and other major trading ports throughout Europe. The Black Death began killing European people by the millions.

The Black Death was transmitted to people by rats and fleas through a bacillus called Yersinia Pestis (Gottfried, 1985, p. xv). Then people transferred it to each other by their body fluids, breathe, and clothing (, 2011). The diseased person developed large painful "buboes" (Aberth, 2005, p. 24) large, painful swellings in the lymph nodes of the neck, armpits or groin (, 2011). The swellings filled with blood and pus until they oozed blood and pus. The person also had fever, vomiting, chills diarrhea, aches, and pains and then died (, 2011). Death came very quickly, from hours to a few days after the person was infected (Gottfried, 1985, p. 8). A person could go to bed feeling fine and be dead by morning (, 2011). By the time the worst wave of the Black Death ended by the early 1350's, more than 20 million -- nearly 1/3 of Europe's population -- had died from the plague.

While Europe was suffering from the Black Plague, its social hierarchy, the Church and Medicine were all thought to have failed the people. The social hierarchy fell apart because the people were panicked and could not rely on their usual social connections. Some people completely panicked and left their mothers and fathers, their children and their friends alone to die (, 2011). Other people became recluses, alone or with a few other people, and had no contact with any other people (, 2011). Some people decided to treat all of it like a joke because nothing could be done to stop the plague, so they ate, drank and did what they wanted (, 2011). So many authorities and other people died that the villages and towns had no basic services, could not even pick up all the dead bodies, and their governments and social systems collapsed (A&E Television Networks, LLC, n.d.). The social hierarchy that had been developed over centuries was hit hard by the Black Death, which became a major pivot point in History and the cause of substantial changes in the social hierarchy.

The Church was also hit hard by the plague. Many people believed the Black Death was a curse from God because they had done something wrong. They turned to the Church but the Church could not help them survive. If the Church, its prayer and its martyrs could not save people, then the people started to look other places to be saved (White, 1898). Groups of men began traveling from one village to another, dressed in hoods, white robes with red crosses, and whipped themselves with leather straps with metal spikes (, 2011). They were called the Flagellant Brahren and they tried to stop the plague by showing that mankind was repenting from whatever sin God was punishing by the plague. After a while, many people thought of these people as martyrs and began to listen to them instead of the Church (, 2011). In addition, many people were angry because the priests were seen to pay attention to the wealthy and important people who had the plague and ignore the common people (, 2011). Finally, some people blamed the Jews for bringing this plague upon all of them and began murdering many Jews in revenge and to please God so the plague would stop (A&E Television Networks, LLC, n.d.). With people dying by the millions, so many people panicking and the Church unable to stop the plague, the Church lost a lot of its power during the Black Death. In this way, the Black Death became a pivot point for changes in people's religious faith and the cause of changes from the Church's powerful position to a considerably less powerful one.

Medicine was also hit hard by the Black Death. Doctors only knew their traditional treatments, so that is what they used: bloodletting, avoiding baths, etc. The people kept dying like flies. People could see that doctors were helpless to save them from the Black Death and many people with no medical training began to hold themselves out as doctors too (Ibis…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

A&E Television Networks, LLC. (n.d.). Black Death. April 12, 2015 from Web site:

Aberth, J. (2005). The Black Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-1350. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Gottfried, R.S. (1985). The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Ibis Communications, Inc. (n.d.). The Black Death, 1348. April 12, 2015 from Web site:
MedicineNet, Inc. (n.d.). Plague Symptoms, Causes, Treatment. April 12, 2015 from Web site: (2011). Boccaccio's The Decameron. April 12, 2015 from Web site: (2011). I Saw the Black Death. April 12, 2015 from Web site: (2011). Spreading of the Black Plague. April 12, 2015 from Web site: (2011). The Black Death: Bubonic Plague. April 12, 2015 from Web site: (2011). The Plague - Will it Ever End? April 12, 2015 from Web site:
White, A.D. (1898). Warfare of Science with Theology. April 12, 2015 from Web site:

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