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The Effect of the Bubonic Plague on European Civilization

This is an in-depth article describing the effects and of the Bubonic Plague in Europe.

            During the 14th century, a frightening disease swept through Europe leaving death, chaos, and destruction in its wake.  This disease was the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague had a devastating effect on European civilization, not only in terms of millions of casualties but also in economic loss, political confusion, and the ruination of Europe’s quality of life.  For this to be understood, the bubonic plague itself must be understood (Anderson).

            The bubonic plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis (Hearne 34).  The first symptoms of the bubonic plague often appear within several days: headache and fatigue, followed by pain in the upper leg and groin, a white coating on the tongue, rapid pulse, confusion, and slurred speech. A blackish pustule will usually form near the site of infection. By the third day, the lymph nodes begin to swell. The swelling is generally very tender and sensitive, sometimes as large as an orange. The heart begins to flutter rapidly as it tries to pump blood through swollen, suffocated tissues. Subcutaneous hemorrhaging occurs, causing purplish blotches on the skin.  The victim’s nervous system begins to collapse, causing agonizing pain and abnormal neurological functions. By the fourth or fifth day, anxiety and terror overtake the victim until death settles over the body (Elliott 77).

The bubonic plague was first introduced to the Europeans by fleas on stowaway rats that arrived in Italian port cities on foreign merchant ships from Asia countries (Anderson).  The first reported case of the bubonic plague was in October, 1347, when a merchant ship bringing goods from China arrived in Naples, Italy, with a boat full of nearly one hundred men and women infected with the bubonic plague (“Black Death”).  Within mere days, the entire city was infected with the bubonic plague and began to spread it across the Italian countryside to other cities and into other countries.  The first areas to be infected were: Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England, and Denmark.  After five years, the bubonic plague had spread throughout all of Europe (Hearne 63).

As the plague spread throughout Europe, the entire population felt the effects.  During the bubonic plague pandemic, 1347 to 1352, over 25 million people died.  This death toll was nearly one-third of Europe’s total population (“Black Death”).  The excessive amount of people dying led to unique ways of disposing of their corpses.  Many people dumped their dead in the streets leaving them to rot.  Corpses left in the streets rotted creating an unbearable stench for those still alive in the cities and towns.  Although many corpses were just dumped in the streets, many others were buried in mass graves.  Some of these mass graves were just massive ditches that could hold thousands of people stacked one on top each other (Anderson).  With so many people dead and unable to work, the economy of Europe severely declined.

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