Skip to comments.The Chances Of Surviving The Black Death
Posted on 03/29/2008 4:52:00 PM PDT by blam
The chances of surviving the Black Death
Why did some people survive the Black Death, and others succumb? At the time of the plague which ravaged Europe from 1347 to 1351, carrying off 50 million people, perhaps half the population various prophylactics were tried, from the killing of birds, cats and rats to the wearing of leather breeches (protecting the legs from flea bites) and the burning of aromatic spices and herbs.
Now it seems that the best way of avoiding death from the disease was to be fit and healthy. Sharon DeWitte and James Wood of the University of Albany, New York, have examined 490 skeletons from the East Smithfield plague pit in London and found that the Black Death was selective in picking off the already frail. Lesions (damaged bone) associated with earlier episodes of infection, under-nutrition or other forms of physiological stress were present in most of those buried at East Smithfield, where the dead were stacked five deep in the mass graves on a site hurriedly opened on land donated by the Bishop of London.
This actually contradicts what many have assumed about the epidemic, says Dr DeWitte. The pattern we observed is of the Black Death targeting the weak, though it did also kill some people who were otherwise healthy. This is consistent with an emerging disease striking a population with no immunity.
During the plague, physicians wore a beaklike mask which was filled with strongly aromatic herbs and spices to overpower the miasmas or bad air thought to carry the plague. The hat and the long, black overcoat was designed to minimise skin exposure. Exposed skin was also coated in wax or suet to protect against droplet contamination (see illustration).
Flea powder would have been great idea then.
The Black Death: Bubonic Plague
In the early 1330s an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague occurred in China. The bubonic plague mainly affects rodents, but fleas can transmit the disease to people. Once people are infected, they infect others very rapidly. Plague causes fever and a painful swelling of the lymph glands called buboes, which is how it gets its name. The disease also causes spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn black.
Since China was one of the busiest of the world's trading nations, it was only a matter of time before the outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. Within days the disease spread to the city and the surrounding countryside. An eyewitness tells what happened:
"Realizing what a deadly disaster had come to them, the people quickly drove the Italians from their city. But the disease remained, and soon death was everywhere. Fathers abandoned their sick sons. Lawyers refused to come and make out wills for the dying. Friars and nuns were left to care for the sick, and monasteries and convents were soon deserted, as they were stricken, too. Bodies were left in empty houses, and there was no one to give them a Christian burial."
The disease struck and killed people with terrible speed. The Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often "ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise."
By the following August, the plague had spread as far north as England, where people called it "The Black Death" because of the black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and Medieval medicine had nothing to combat it.
In winter the disease seemed to disappear, but only because fleas--which were now helping to carry it from person to person--are dormant then. Each spring, the plague attacked again, killing new victims. After five years 25 million people were dead--one-third of Europe's people.
Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years, but for centuries. The survivors lived in constant fear of the plague's return, and the disease did not disappear until the 1600s.
Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labor shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the 1300s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy.
The disease took its toll on the church as well. People throughout Christendom had prayed devoutly for deliverance from the plague. Why hadn't those prayers been answered? A new period of political turmoil and philosophical questioning lay ahead.
Black Death - Disaster Strikes
25 million people died in just under five years between 1347 and 1352. Estimated population of Europe from 1000 to 1352.
1000 38 million
1100 48 million
1200 59 million
1300 70 million
1347 75 million
1352 50 million
I’m not too sure I buy this assessment. People found in a mass grave were quite likely to have been of the poorer classes, and consequently have been more likely to be malnourished and live huddled together in squalid places where rats and fleas proliferated. Plague is a disease that overwhelms the immune system, and even good physical health is not much help once you’ve been infected.
...and the best way to be fit and healthy was not to be poor.
I have read that the black death killed off so many of the peasant serfs that it brought down the feudal system. There were just not enough peasants to work the land, and those that were left could bid up the price of their labor.
Economically, times were good for the peasants that weren't dead.
Cities were hit hard by the plague. Financial business was disrupted as debtors died and their creditors found themselves without recourse. Not only had the debtor died, his whole family had died with him and many of his kinsmen. There was simply no one to collect from.
Construction projects stopped for a time or were abandoned altogether. Guilds lost their craftsmen and could not replace them. Mills and other special machinery might break and the one man in town who had the skill to repair it had died in the plague. We see towns advertising for specialists, offering high wages.
The labor shortage was very severe, especially in the short term, and consequently, wages rose. Because of the mortality, there was an oversupply of goods, and so prices dropped. Between the two trends, the standard of living rose . . . for those still living.
Effects in the countryside were just as severe. Farms and entire villages died out or were abandoned as the few survivors decided not to stay on. When Norwegian sailors finally visited Greenland again in the early 15thc, they found in the settlements there only wild cattle roaming through deserted villages.
Whole families died, with no heirs, their houses standing empty. The countryside, too, faced a short-term shortage of labor, and landlords stopped freeing their serfs. They tried to get more forced labor from them, as there were fewer peasants to be had. Peasants in many areas began to demand fairer treatment or lighter burdens.
Just as there were guild revolts in the cities in the later 1300s, so we find rebellions in the countrside. The Jacquerie in 1358, the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381, the Catalonian Rebellion in 1395, and many revolts in Germany, all serve to show how seriously the mortality had disrupted economic and social relations.
“BRING OUT CHUR DEAD! BRING OUT CHUR DEAD! BRING OUT CHUR DEAD!”
“I’m not dead yet!”
“BRING OUT CHUR DEAD!”
I can’t believe that nobody’s posted that picture yet.
Not killing off the cats that kept the rats carrying the fleas in check wouldn’t have hurt either.
Remember, when you see a large number of cats in an area, that’s a symptom of a larger problem. It means that there is a VAST food source for the cats, and usually that’s some sort of vermin. Eliminate the cats, and whatever they’re keeping in check will explode - usually with very, very bad results.
I’m just thankful someone caught it.
Dead Collector: “I promised I’d be at the Robinsons’. They’ve lost nine today.”;-)
50 million is such an ubelievable number!
And antibiotics could have saved millions. Woody Allen once said he didn’t want to go back in time to any time further than the invention of antibiotics. I’m with him (except the pervo part).
People tend to think of The Plague as horrifying but just something from the Middle Ages. Not so. It is still around waiting to explode.
While serving in the Navy I received the plague immunization series several times. This was due to areas of the world I had a good chance of finding myself in on “official business”.
Nothing like possible exposure to the plague to bring things into focus ;-)
Odd that China seems to be the main source of the world’s worst plagues.
The black death. Influenza. And now, bird flu, sooner or later coming to a neighborhood near you.
Climate change did it. thaey were in the middle of the mini ice age, and food was scarce.
"The epidemic of cocoliztli from1545 to 1548 killed an estimated 5 million to 15 million people, or up to 80% of the native population of Mexico (Figure 1). In absolute and relative terms the 1545 epidemic was one of the worst demographic catastrophes in human history, approaching even the Black Death of bubonic plague, which killed approximately 25 million in western Europe from 1347 to 1351 or about 50% of the regional population."
"The cocoliztli epidemic from 1576 to 1578 cocoliztli epidemic killed an additional 2 to 2.5 million people, or about 50% of the remaining native population."
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