The Black Death- part 2Posted: November 14, 2011
The name of the Black Death comes from the Latin term ‘Atra mors.’ Atra in this context is said to be ‘terrible,’ or ‘black;’ for people living in the times of the plague, it was known as what translates roughly to be the ‘Great Mortality’ or the ‘Big Death.’ The name of the Black Death began to be used at the start of around the eighteenth century, to tell apart from the deaths of 1348-1351 and the plague that hit London in 1665 (known as the Great Death; the Bubonic Plague spread into London three years later. In 1666 it was mostly killed off, by the Great Fire of London which destroyed much of central London as well as eradicated the majority of the black rats and fleas that carried the Plague bacillus)
The Plague was thought to be brought in from Central Asia by rat infected with fleas- coming in by the trade routes. It was first noticed in Europe in 1347, when a number of Italian traders returned from a trip from the Black Sea, one of the main trade links in China at the time. When the ships docked in Messina, Sicily, many on board had already been affected with the deadly disease; because the virus was highly contagious, within days it had spread to parts of the city (Palermo) and nearby countryside.
The Plague spread throughout Europe from 1348- 1351 and in two years killed over 1.5 million, approximately one-quarter out of an estimated 4 million people living in Europe at the time.
Because of such a high mortality rate per day, there wasn’t enough time or space to bury each dead victim; for a period of time, the dead bodies filled the sidewalk of the streets until mass graves could be dug. Mass graves (or Plague Pits) were promptly dug; they were approximately 20 feet deep and were continuously extended to fit more bodies as the plague spread. Bodies were taken by ‘death cart labourers’ who did their work mainly at night and wrapped the dead in pieces of cloth. The men that took on this life-threatening job were paid very well; each month, more men were employed to this area of work, but became difficult as the plague was spreading and carried off one after the other of the men. It got to a stage, where for a period of time, the victims of the plague weren’t carried away and were left in a crossed marked house to rot.
Consequences the plague bought on Europe had devastating effects on both the people and the countries themselves. In three years (1348-1351) the plague killed over 1.5 million people; approximately one-quarter of an estimated 4 million living in medieval Europe at the time. Socially and economically, the Plague brought in a new opportunity for peasants; being such a small population, those who survived were able to request higher pay and better living conditions. The decline of medieval feudalism started in the late 14th century, after the plague had swept over and in that place was the Renaissance period.
Bodies in the ‘Plague Pit’
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