The Black Plague

14th Century Rat-born Plague Spread Death and Chaos

The Origins of the Black Death

The origins of the Black Death have long been disputed by scholars and scientists. Some believe that it came from China or Central Asia in the 1320s. However, some researchers believe that the Black Death originated in Crimean Russia. In either case, the Black Death was carried by soldiers and traders along the caravan routes to North Africa by the 1340s where it is believed that the Black Death killed between 30% and 60% of the population. The Black Death is also believed to have returned every generation between 1350 and 1770 with the last serious outbreak being reported in Moscow in 1771.

The Black Death is believed to have been originally caused by a type of bacteria called Yersinia Pestis, which is commonly found in populations of ground rodents in Central Asia. This is why scientists have long speculated that the Black Death originated in Central Asia. However, some researchers have argued that the Plague of Justinian, which was equally as sweeping in scope, and occurred in 541 AD, bears many of the hallmarks of the Black Death. If true, it suggests that the Black Death originated in Africa and spread to Central Asia, where it was then introduced to Europe by the Mongols.

The first appearance of the Black Death in European records was in 1347. The Mongols had laid siege to the Crimean port city of Caffa and were succumbing to a mysterious infection. In order to protect themselves from the disease and to further weaken the inhabitants of the city, the bodies of the dead were catapulted over the city walls. Soon the citizens of Caffa were dying of the mysterious illness. Among the uninfected people fleeing the city were a group of Sicilian merchants, who immediately returned to Italy and unknowingly brought the disease with them. The crowded, dirty conditions of European cities provided ideal conditions for the Black Death. It quickly spread along trade routes, gradually working its way inland.

Forms and Symptoms

The Black Death came in three different forms. The most common form was the Bubonic Plague, from which the Black Death derives one of its names. The Bubonic Plague was so named for the buboes or pus-filled boils that appeared on the neck, in the armpits and the groin. These symptoms were accompanied by a fever and aching joints. The Bubonic Plague had a mortality rate of 30% to 75% and most victims died between four and seven days after the onset of symptoms.

The second form of the Black Death attacked the body by destroying the lungs. Called Pneumonic Plague, this form of the Black Death caused the victim to cough up their own lung tissue and eventually drown in their own fluids. Pneumonic Plague also killed its victims in as little as four days.

The rarest form of the Black Death was the Septicemic Plague, which poisoned the victim’s blood, was 100% fatal and could kill in as little as eight hours.

The Consequences of the Black Death

The figures for the death toll of the Black Death vary widely from one region to the next and are periodically readjusted as new information comes to light, but scientists and historians believe that the Black Death killed 45% to 50% of Europe’s population. This led to renewed religious fervour as well as long lasting persecution of Jews, Gypsies and foreigners, who were believed to be the cause of the Black Death.

Works CitedPlague Backgrounder“. Retrieved on Jan. 27/09


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