Report on the black death

Essay by ramsdellA, March 2003

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Black Death

The Black Death, which was at first called the great Mortality originated in Asia in the early 1340's. It probably began in China, and from there it spread to India, Egypt, and all of Asia Minor. By 1346 word reached Europe of a horrible plague, with deaths estimated to be over 23 million. But to Europe, Asia was a different world. So it came as dreadful shock when the plague came to Italy in October of 1347. Following trade routes, particularly via ship, it took a staggering death toll in the Italian peninsula and swept through Europe, reaching England in the summer of 1348. It did not reach Russia until 1351, although by mid-1350 it had done its worst in the rest of the continent.

Adding to the misery was an unsettling mystery; that the people of the Middle Ages had no way of knowing what caused the disease.

They only knew it killed and that it spread with frightening speed, and that no one including royalty, peasant, rich merchant or lowly servant was immune.

It moved in such a fury that even in previously healthy household servants who took care of the ill died of the same illness. Almost none of the ill survived past the fourth day. Neither physicians nor medicines were effective. Whether because these illnesses were previously unknown or because physicians had not previously studied them, there seemed to be no cure. There was such a fear that no one seemed to know what to do. When it took a hold of a household it often happened that no one survived. And it was not just that men, women, and children died, but the animals died as well. The animals (such as dogs, cats, chickens, oxen, donkeys, sheep) showed the same symptoms and died...