The Bubonic Plague
The bubonic plague, or Black Death, was a killer disease that swept repeatedly through many areas of the world. It wiped out two-thirds of the population in some areas of China, destroyed populations of Muslim towns in Southwest Asia, and then decimated one-third of the European population.
Black rats carried fleas that were infested with a bacillus called Yersinia pestis. Because people did not bathe, almost all had fleas and lice. In addition, medieval people threw their garbage and sewage into the streets. These unsanitary streets became breeding grounds for more rats. The fleas carried by rats leapt from person to person, thus spreading the bubonic plague with incredible speed.
The spread of disease has been a very tragic result of cultures interacting with one another across place and time. Such diseases as smallpox and influenza have killed millions of people, sometimes—as with the Aztecs—virtually destroying civilizations.
Symptoms of the Bubonic Plague
• Painful swellings called buboes (BOO•bohz) in the lymph nodes, particularly those in the armpits and groin
• Sometimes purplish or blackish spots on the skin
• Extremely high fever, chills, delirium, and in most cases, death
Effects of the Plague
The economic and social effects of the plague were enormous. The old manorial system began to crumble. Some of the changes that occurred included these:
• Town populations fell.
• Trade declined. Prices rose.
• The serfs left the manor in search of better wages.
• Nobles fiercely resisted peasant demands for higher wages, causing peasant revolts in England, France, Italy, and Belgium.
• Jews were blamed for bringing on the plague. All over Europe, Jews were driven from their homes or, worse, massacred.
• The Church suffered a loss of prestige when its prayers failed to stop the onslaught of the bubonic plague and priests abandoned their duties.
The bubonic plague and its aftermath disrupted medieval society, hastening changes that were already in the making. The society of the Middle Ages was collapsing. The century of war between England and France was that society’s final death struggle.
If The Plague Struck America Today:
The bubonic plague reportedly wiped out about one-third of Europe’s population in the 1300s. In the United States today, a one-third death toll would equal over 96 million people, or the number living in the states represented by the color .
1. Had people known the cause of the bubonic plague, what might they have done to slow its spread?
2. What diseases of today might be compared to the bubonic plague? Why?
3. Using the Chart if the Plague struck America Today, answer the following questions:
a. How many states on the chart would have lost their entire population to the plague?
b. How might the chart help explain why many Europeans thought the world was ending?