Black Death (1343-1353)

L0072270 Boccaccio's 'The plague of Florence in 1348' Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The plague of Florence in 1348, as described in Boccaccio's Decameron ('Il decameron'). Etching by L. Sabatelli after himself. Engraving By: Giovanni Boccaccioafter: Pier Roberto Capponi and Luigi SabatelliPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Boccaccio’s ‘The plague of Florence in 1348’
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The plague of Florence in 1348, as described in Boccaccio’s Decameron (‘Il decameron’). Etching by L. Sabatelli after himself. Engraving By: Giovanni Boccaccio after: Pier Roberto Capponi and Luigi SabatelliPublished: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only license CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Now that we have a better understanding of the 14th century and the major players (countries) involved, we should slow down and take a minute to discuss the events, concepts, people, and art from the century before we dive into the drama of the 15th century. If there is anything or anyone specific you would like us to go over during this period, feel free to reach out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Today we are going to discuss an event that kept coming up throughout the various countries: the Black Death.

The Black Death, also known as the Black Plague and the Bubonic Plague, devastated most of Europe, Northern Africa, Middle East, and Asia for a decade (1343-1353. The origins of where the Plague began are unknown, but Europe had been hearing rumors of a great pestilence moving their way through China, India, Persia, Syria, and Egypt through their trade routes. In 1347, 12 ships arrived in Sicily rot with the disease. Most of the crew had perished, and those that survived were not far behind their mates. Their skin was covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. The ships were quickly ordered to depart the docks, but it was too late, the Black Plague hit Europe (to be fair, it was going to eventually, this disease was brutal).  The disease was efficient in how it was spread. Rather, touching an infected (clothes) would allow it to travel, and the death it brought was painful. Some would take days to die, while others would be healthy in the morning and dead by evening. Those who were healthy did everything they could to avoid the sick: families would lock themselves in, nobles and the rich would attempt fleeing to more rural areas (often bring it with them), shops closed, priests refused to administer last rites, and doctors refused to consult patients. Not that the doctors were helping many anyways with their barbaric practices. Their main go to’s were bathing in rose & vinegar water, bloodletting, boil-lancing, and burning herbs. Plague doctors became more popular, and people (who tended to believe it was God’s punishment for their sins) adjusted to the death surrounding them. 

During this decade, the plague took 75-200 million lives, and some countries lost half their populations. On top of the loss of human lives due directly to the plague, famine was rampant. Animals including cows, goats, sheep, chicken, and pigs were affected. It was the beginning of what we now call the Second Pandemic (the third was from 1860-1960). The plague would simmer and return periodically to cause chaos among the countries, but the last major outbreak in Europe was in France between 1720-1721, but it continued to strike Russia and the Ottoman Empire well into the 19th century. Not much is known about why the plague stopped in Western Europe first, or why it became pretty much extinct in general. Theories include changes in people, sanitation habits, changes in fleas and rodents, changes in the disease itself, but recent understanding of plague discovered by scientist don’t support these theories. What is known is it created terror during a period of growth in Europe, and in some ways helped create the art and history adored today.

*The black death, while rare and treatable with antibiotics, is still around today. Roughly 1,000 to 3,000 people are affected yearly.*

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