The Bubonic Plague or Black Death

The Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, had many negative as well as positive effects

on medieval Europe. While being one of the worst and deadliest diseases in the history of

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the world, it indirectly helped Europe break grounds for some of the basic necessities for

The Black Death erupted in the Gobi Desert in the late 1320s, but one really

knows why. The plague bacillus was alive and active long before that; as Europe itself

had suffered an epidemic in the 6th century. But the disease had lain relatively dormant in

the succeeding centuries. It is believed that the climate of Earth began to cool in the 14th

century, and perhaps this so-called little Ice Age had something to do with it becoming

more active than normal (Knox 2). Whatever the reason, we know that the outbreak

began there and spread outward. While it did go west, it spread in every direction, and the

Asian nations suffered as cruelly as anywhere. In China, for example, the population

dropped from around 125 million to 90 million over the course of the 14 century. The

plague moved along the caravan routes toward the West. By 1345 it had made it’s way to

the lower Volga River. By early 1347 it was in Constantinople. It hit Alexandria in the

autumn of that year, and by spring 1348, a thousand people a day were dying there. In

Cairo, Egypt, the count was seven times that. The disease traveled by ship as readily as by

land and it was no sooner in the eastern Mediterranean than it was in the western end as

well. Already in 1347, the plague had hit Sicily. By winter the plague had reached

mainland Italy. By January of 1348, the plague was in Marseilles, and it reached Paris in

the spring of 1348. By September of 1348 the Bubonic Plague had worked its way into

Bubonic plague was caused by the bacteria Yersinia Pestis. It is an organism most

usually carried by rodents. Fleas infest the rodents (rats, but other rodents as well), and

these fleas move freely over to human hosts. The flea then regurgitates the blood from the

rat into the human, infecting the human. The rat dies. The human dies. The flea’s life is not

Symptoms include high fevers, aching limbs and vomiting of blood. The most

noticeable characteristic is a swelling of the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are found in the

neck, armpits and groin. The swellings are easily visible and its blackish coloring gives

the disease its name: The Black Death. The swellings continue to expand until they

eventually burst, with death following soon after. The whole process, from first

symptoms of fever and aches, to final expiration, lasts only three or four days. The

swiftness of the disease, the terrible pain, the grotesque appearance of the victims, all

served to make the plague especially terrifying.

Bubonic plague is usually fatal, though not inevitably so. Historians have been

hard pressed to explain the extraordinary mortality of the 1348 outbreak. Their best guess

is that there was more than one variety of plague at work in Europe. There are two other

varieties of plague: septicaemic plague, which attacks the blood, and pneumonic plague,

which attacks the lungs. The pneumonic plague is especially dangerous as it can be

transmitted through the air. Both of these two are nearly 100% fatal. It seems likely that

some form of pneumonic plague was at work alongside the bubonic plague in those awful


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The Bubonic Plague or Black Death. (2018, Jun 17). Retrieved from