THE BLACK DEATHPosted: June 11, 2012
This article will be split into five sections and in each section, one question will be addressed.The questions that will be addressed are:
- What were the effects of the Black Plague?
- What did the plague doctors wear and why?
- What types of treatments were used on the patients?
- What was the Black Death cycle?
- What were the benefits of the Black Plague?
1. What were the effects of the Black Plague
There were various effects of the Black Death, but before this topic is discussed, a few clarifications will be made. Firstly, “the effects of the Black Plague” does not mean the disease’s symptoms. Instead, it is talking about the effect of the plague on people and Europe. Secondly, when the Black Plague is said, it is referring to the plague that occurred during the Middle Ages.
The Black Death was a disaster. When the disease struck European towns and cities, most farmers stopped tending to their fields and animals because they thought that by going outside, they would be more vulnerable to the plague. Since less people farmed, the amount of food produced lessened, therefore the prices of food increased dramatically. Additionally, because the prices on food surged sky high, most people lived on meagre supplies of food. As well as the plague killing people, starvation was another cause for deaths.
Although the prices of things skyrocketed, the wages paid to workers also surged up and the working conditions improved as well. This benefited all the poor people who worked for rich lords. The reason why this happened was because everybody was afraid to go out because they feared catching the plague. Most people back then were afraid of death. The increase of wages helped peasants greatly during the plague.
After the Black Death swept through Europe, most of its population’s faith grew weaker. As well as faith, the trust in the church also weakened greatly. Since the people of the church were not safe from the plague either, people thought that God wasn’t with them. Additionally, the members of the church couldn’t heal the sick. All this resulted in diminished faith and trust in God and the church.
The Black Plague had some good effects, but it also had some bad effects: it helped the peasant earn more money; stopped farmers from farming because they were afraid of the plague; and deteriorated the trust and faith the people put in the church and God. The Black Plague was a disaster. If we didn’t have the medicine we have today, and we were hit with this plague, we would surely have acted the same way, so we can thankful for our advanced medicine, knowledge and technology.
2. What did the plague doctors wear and why?
These days when you enter a hospital, you see all the doctors and nurses dressed in scrubs. These costumes look friendly and they are easier to move in. However, back in the Middle Ages, some doctors specialised treated the black plague. These doctors did not wear scrubs. Instead, they wore eccentric clothing. The clothing consisted of: a wide-brimmed black hat; a primitive gas mask; a long, black overcoat; and leather breeches.
The wide-brimmed hat that was worn close to the head served the purpose of identifying a doctor. It is similar to the way we identify chefs and soldiers today. For example, if you see a person wearing a white toque, you will immediately recognize him as a chef. As well as being used for identification, the hat also served the purpose of shielding from the infection. Even during the time when the plague was at its peak, no one knew exactly where it came from; some people just assumed it was from the sun, therefore the usage of the hat.
As well as wearing wide-brimmed hats, plague doctors also wore gas masks in the shape of a bird’s beak. This mask had a red glass eyepiece attached to it. These eyepieces were believed to make the wearer invulnerable to evil. During the time when the disease massacred people, some believed that the plague came from birds. There was also another belief that by wearing a bird-like mask, the wearer could cure the plague. The beak of the gas mask was filled with strong herbs and spices to overpower the “bad air” which was supposedly carrying the plague as well.
Another piece of clothing plague doctors wore was a long, black overcoat. The overcoat extended all the way to the feet, and it was tucked in behind the beak of the gas mask at the neckline. This was to cover more of the skin. On this garment was a layer of wax. People believe that this was to stop sputum or other fluids from sticking onto it.
The leather breeches that plague doctors wore were similar to the ones worn by anglers. These undergarments were worn under the cloak. Apparently, this protected the lower half of the body from infection.
The clothing of plague doctors was extremely fascinating. All of the pieces had a special reason for its usage; the wide-brimmed hat identified the doctors and ‘protected’ them from the plague; the masks made the wearer immune to evil and helped cure the plague; long, black overcoats protected most of the body from the disease and bodily fluids; and the leather breeches protected the lower half of the body from infection.
3. What types of treatments were used on the patients?
During the Middle Ages, the medicine used was not advanced and they had little knowledge of which medicines to use and if it would work. Additionally, most of the treatments the doctors gave had no effect due to their lack of knowledge. Now our technology has allowed our medicine to become more effective than ever, so when you look back at the medicine that used to be used, you cannot help but wonder, “why did they think that?”
Many plague doctors thought that the Black Death could be excreted through sweat. Nowadays, we definitely know that this is not true, but back then, people had no idea where the disease came from. To create the sweat, doctors suggested patients to drink hot drinks. Running or other forms of exercise were not suggested because the patient was usually not allowed outdoors.
Another theory of the plague was that it was in the blood. At the time, doctors did know that leeches drained blood out of their victims, so they applied leeches to their patients in vain attempts to get rid of the disease. Leeches are not intelligent creatures like us humans; therefore, they suck out the good blood as well as the bad blood. Usually, a patient treated with leeches dies from blood loses if he/she does not die from the disease.
The Black Death was horrible but the treatments doctors issued were as well. These medicines had no effect at all. Doctors tried many treatments including attaching leeches to the patient and getting the patient to drink hot drinks. Now that you know about some medieval treatments, be thankful for what we have today.
4. What was the Black Death cycle
The Black Plague is a disease that has a simply cycle. For multiple years, people had no idea where the disease came from, how to stop its cycle and what its cycle was. This was one of the reasons why people couldn’t get rid of the disease. Nowadays, doctors and scientists have knowledge about all these things; therefore it can be stopped easily.
The Black Death cycle starts with rats becoming infected with a type of bacteria called Yersinia Pestis. Once the rat becomes infected with this disease, it can start spreading. The bacteria is spread to other rats via contact and it is spread to fleas when the fleas bite the infected rat. The fleas stay on the rats until the rats die, then the fleas find new hosts. On the flea’s journey to find a new host, it might bite a human. If it does, the human receives the Black Death.
This short cycle seems simple and easy to stop, but back in the Middle Ages, people took a long period of time to stop it. This was due to their lack of knowledge. Today people hardly think of this disease as one that still exists. This is because medicine has advanced so much it can treat a Black Plague victim easily.
5. What were the benefits of the Black Plague?
It is a well know fact that the Black Plague was a massive disaster; people were dying everywhere. Although most people see this pandemic plague as a bad thing, it actually had multiple benefits.
Firstly, the Bubonic Plague was used as a biological weapon. This weapon had great success. Since the disease was so contagious and it had a high death rate of 50%-75%, many people thought of this as the scariest weapon in history. Some people might be wondering how this weapon was a benefit. Well it wasn’t a benefit to those who it was used against, but it greatly benefited the user of this biological weapon. Ways to use this weapon include: dropping a bomb packed with plague infested fleas into the targeted area and using a catapult a fling plague infested bodies over castle walls.
The Black Death killed many, but since many workers were killed, the value of labor increased dramatically. This was extremely profitable for the hard working peasants. With a shortage of workers, peasant could now bargain about working conditions, times and wages. Since the plague killed many farmers, there was also a shortage of food. The increased wages for the peasants helped them buy food.
By the Dark Ages, Europe’s population had grown enormously. Europe’s population would have grown much larger if it wasn’t for the plague. If Europe’s population grew too large, the people there would not have enough food to eat or enough space to live on. Fortunately, the plague wiped out about one-third of Europe’s gigantic population. Some see this as a bad thing, but in reality, it is actually a benefit.
The Black Plague is viewed by most as a disaster, but it was more than that; it also benefited many things and people. It helped people in wars, it helped people earn money to buy food and it even helped contain Europe’s population. Even though the Black Death was one of the worst disasters ever, it was also one of the best.
- Unknown Author and year, “The Stuarts – The Plague Doctor” http://www.historyonthenet.com/Stuarts/plague_doctor.htm
- Unknown Author and year, “About the Black Death – The Cycle of the Black Death and areas were the plague spread” http://abouttheblackdeath.tripod.com/id7.html
- Unknown Author and year, “Black Death” http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/black-death.htm
- Posted by “looking4thetruth77” (09/04/2012) “Behind The Mask: The Plague Doctor” http://looking4thetruth77.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/behind-mask-plague-doctor.html
- Unknown Author, (semester 1, term 1, 2012) Science Elective handout “Science of Conflict” page 10
- Posted by Molly Edmonds (unknow year of publishment) “How the Black Death Worked” http://history.howstuffworks.com/middle-ages/black-death3.htm
- Unknown Author and year, “File:WMD-biological.svg” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WMD-biological.svg
- Posted by Kinsley Suer (14/10/2012), http://www.pcs.org/blog/item/the-plague-doctor/
- Unknown Author and year, http://im.glogster.com/media/4/13/41/95/13419518.jpg
- Unknown Author and year, http://www.critterzone.com/animal-pictures-nature/insect-leech-leeches.htm
By Benjamin Fu 8B