The Significance of The Black Death In Europe
The Black Death, which swept across Europe between 1347 and 1351, had significance in all areas of life and culture: economic, social, psychological, and even religious. It ushered in a new age for all of Europe, in many ways speeding up the change from the medieval to modern era. In under a five year time span, one-third of Europe’s population died. There is some speculation that the toll was actually more than one-third, and could have reached as much as one-half. Entire towns and cities were completely decimated by the illness in extremely brief periods of time. The arrival of the plague, and the speed with which it spread, struck panic across the continent as a whole. It would be safe to say there was not any single individual who did not meet the Black Death in one form or another. The consequences of the plague, and the calamity it brought, were far-reaching.
By 1346, Europe was in the decline of the “High Middle Ages.” During the High Middle Ages, the population grew from thirty-eight million to seventy-four million (“The Black Death”). Europe seemed to be growing, with advancement in agriculture and society. People were branching out and settling in new areas, bringing way to new towns and cities. With this came more trading routes, which would be instrumental in the spreading of the plague when it arrived. Trade had not long before opened up with eastern societies through Mongol territory, and it is from the east that the Black Death is believed to have originated, though the specific point of origin may never be known.
The disease had been endemic in various locations in Asia for centuries, flaring up occasionally, with any of these locations being the possible origin from which the Black Death began. The first recorded appearance of the plague in Europe was in Messina, Sicily in October 1347 (“The Black Death”). It arrived on trading ships, likely coming from the Black sea, past Constantinople, and through the Mediterranean. This was a standard trading route, bringing items, such as silk and porcelain, from as far away as China. The people from Messina tried to deter the sickness when they realized it had been brought with the ships, sending them away from port, but it was too late. The plague had arrived, and it spread quickly through the city. People fled in panic, spreading it to the surrounding areas. While this was happening in Sicily, the expelled trading ships brought it to other areas around the Mediterranean, infecting the neighboring islands of Corsica and Sardinia.
Plague had also traveled from Sarai to the Genoese trading station of Tana. Christian merchants were attacked by Tartars, and fled to their fortress at Kaffa. The Tartars held the city under siege, but it was cut short when the plague hit. As the people of Kaffa began to fall to the disease, the merchants boarded ships to return home, but not without escaping the plague themselves. When they arrived in Genoa and Venice in January of 1348, there were few people left alive. A few victims were all that was necessary to bring the plague to mainland Europe. When the ships arrived from Kaffa at Genoa, they were expelled as soon as the Genoese realized they carried plague, but this realization still did not prevent the disease from coming ashore. The ships then spread the illness to Marseilles, France, and along the coast of Spain, to Barcelona and Valencia. In just a few months, the plague spread throughout all of Italy, through half of Spain and France, down the coast of Dalmatia, and north into Germany. The plague even reached as far as Africa, via the Messina ships. The panic that ensued when the plague arrived caused people who were able to flee their homes and cities, spreading the disease further. It spread from Genoa to Pisa, Tuscany to Florence, Sienna and Rome. When it reached Milan, the Archbishop ordered that the occupants of the first homes it...
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