The Black Death: An Epidemic of Change
John Abbott College
History Western Civilisation
2018 – 04 – 16
The Black Death was brought to Europe, first in southern Italy, by merchants traveling through commercial routes from Asia. The plague is known to be the most destructive reoccurring pandemics in history. Reducing 50% of European population between 1347 and 1351, an estimated 19 to 38 million lives[footnoteRef:1]. During the late thirteenth century, Europe experienced colder weather conditions with heavier rainfall, shortening growing seasons and widespread of famine were unavoidable. Famine outbreaks began and led to high mortality rates causing the incapacity to dispose of corpses. Malnutrition weakened the population and therefore became susceptible to disease. Unfortunately, the reoccurring outbreaks left its tool allowing on European society and recovery only began around the end of the 15th century. Furthermore, many factors contributed to the quick and devastating spread of the Black Death. Horrible weather conditions, destroyed agricultural fields, along with the depopulation of rural cities caused widespread famines. The bubonic plague quickly spread across the continent, implementing fear causing the population’s disassociation from the church and an increased desire to understand and justify the nature of the plague. Explanations that revolved around astrology and superstition were no longer accepted. Consequently, the Black Death lead to the awakening of a social revolution and the birth of a perspective of life, achieved through the disillusionment of faith in God and the Catholic Church, series of religious/social turmoil. [1: Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilisation: A Brief History, Ninth Edition. (The Pennsylvania State University, 2016). Pp.249-270]
Modern historians commonly agree that between 1347 and 1351 Europe suffered a loss of 50 % of its population during the bubonic plague[footnoteRef:2]. Rural villages with fewer inhabitants, while more significant cities were hit harder, due to high population densities and close living quarters facilitated disease transmission. The Black Death began spreading across Asia and made its way to Europe initially through the commercial trade ports in southern Italy. The plague spread through Italy, reducing Florence's population from 110,000 or 120,000 inhabitants in 1338 to 50,000 in 1351[footnoteRef:3]. Fearful of the rumoured devastating outbreak, many began to flee their rural villages to larger cities and towns. Due to the brute population increase, the plague had harmful impacts in those towns and cities. For instance, England suffered most amongst European countries, losing 70% of its population: cities such as London lost two-thirds of its population during 1348–49[footnoteRef:4]. Recorded historical data show that few isolated rural areas, such as Eastern Poland and Lithuania had lower population densities and w...