8 Common Questions About The Black Plague

Black Plague

What Is The Black Plague?

The Black Plague, or also known as the Black Death or Bubonic Plague, was a Eurasian pandemic during the 14th century. It was caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis, which manifested in three types of plague. The most common force is known as the bubonic plague. In rarer cases, it could result in a pneumonic plague in the lungs or septicaemic plague in the blood.  

When Did The Black Plague Start?

The first case of the Black Plague likely came from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in the 1320s. There is some possibility that it originated in Central Asia. Either way, it quickly traveled along the Silk Road West and into China. From there, it quickly spread West landing in Sicily in 1347

How Many People Died From The Black Plague?

In Europe, between 30% and 60% of the population perished. Overall, as many as 100 million people died throughout Eurasia. In China alone, scholars believe there may have been 15 million deaths before the plague had touched Europe. Because there were no established trade routes, North and South America were completely unaffected.

Symptoms of The Black Plague?

There are five main symptoms of the Black Plague: fever of between 100 and 106 degrees, painful and achy joints, headaches, overall weakness, and chills. Lymph nodes can swell into what are known as “buboes.” These can turn black and rupture, releasing pus. The term Bubonic comes from these swollen lymph nodes. If untreated, four out of five people would be dead within eight days.   

The pneumonic plague was a lung infection causing major respiratory problems. People developed a cough, a fever, and bloody mucus until they would die.  

Septicaemic plague resulted in a high fever and random purple patches of skin. Unlike the other forms, victims would generally die too fast for them to develop other symptoms.  

How Does The Black Plague Spread?

Scientists most commonly believe that the Black Plague was spread through fleas carried by rats. Spreading of the disease relied on two types of rats: immune hosts and a second group that isn’t. The hosts that are immune ensures that it remains endemic and can spread, while the second group die and spread the fleas to human hosts. Humans were especially easy to infect due to unhygienic conditions across Eurasia during the Middle Ages.

What Was The Survival Rate?

With no treatment, the survival rate was extremely low. At a minimum, four of five people who contracted the Black Death died. Those who did survive tended to be already healthy. 90-95% of those with pneumonic plague died, and septicaemic plague had a 100% fatality rate.  

Are There Modern Cases Of The Bubonic Plague?

The CDC thinks that the Bubonic Plague arrived in the US in the early 20th century on steamships. Today, there are cases of the Bubonic Plague almost every year, though they are scarce. In May 2019, there were two cases in Mongolia. The good news is that it is incredibly treatable due to modern antibiotics.

What Was The Long Term Impact Of The Black Plague?

The plague completely upended society. The majority of deaths occurred among the peasantry. Those who survived enjoyed some surprising benefits. Social mobility rose as there was less competition, wages grew as labor was in demand, and those that remained enjoyed long lives, as their hardiness was one of the main reasons they survived the plague. 

If the Crusades were the first nail in the coffin of Feudalism, the Black Plague was the killing blow. For the first time, the citizens had labor bargaining power, and institutions were work. Lords could no longer keep them tied to the land.  

Culturally, the black death marked a dour turn in European art and writing. Chaucer wrote extensively about the plague, and paintings like Triumph of Death explored it with morbid imagery.

Alan Behrens

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