Black Death Spreads

Europe, 1348

Hundreds of thousands of people - men. women and children - are dying in every country in Europe, struck down by an epidemic of an apparently incurable plague which the healthy and afflicted alike call the Black Death".

Not since the sixth century has such an epidemic attacked Europe. Spreading from Asia. and carried by rat-fleas via the ports of the Black Sea. the plague takes two forms. Bubonic plague is seen in the swellings, or buboes. That inflate the lymph nodes at the neck, armpit or groin, while the pneumonic" plague affects the lungs. and vic tims choke on their own blood.

The plague has stunned Europe, and everywhere people are desperate for an explanation. Some blame invisible particles carried in the wind, others talk of poisoned wells. Many inevitably, blame the Jews. Immediate responses differ widely. Some choose to challenge the plague by bouts of riotous living, others seek protection by barring their doors and living as recluses. Neither method has halted the disease. Others have left home, seeking safety in the remote countryside, but often they too have fallen ill. Attempts to bar villages, towns, even whole cities, to sufferers have all failed. The plague moves on.

The outbreak has shattered communities. Families havebeen set against each other- the well rejecting the sick. Essential services have collapsed; law and order, with so many administrators struck down, barely exist in some areas. A sense of panic pervades Europe and everyone, it appears, is struggling only for his own survival. Properties stand empty, de serted by desperate owners; the sick die alone, for even the most de~oted doctors cannot save them: corpses are simply dumped in the street or buried in mass graves. Some depraved creatures, them selves already infected, break into houses and threaten to contaminate all within unless bribed to leave. Agriculture is at a standstill. Crops wither in the fields; cattle wander untended.

Doctors do what they can, but the plague seems irresistible. Even the most expert physicians can do little more than help strengthen people's resolve and build morale.

Some recommend the burning of aromatic woods and herbs; others suggest special diets, courses of bleeding, new postures for sleeping and many other remedies. The very rich are trying medicines made of gold and pearls. The terrible truth is that nothing seems to work. Flight is the best option, and if one cannot fly, then all that remains is resignation and prayer.

For more accounts at this site see:
The Plague
The Plague: Will it Ever End?
I Saw the Death
The Medieval Miracles of Healing -- Medical Science

For more accounts at different sites see:
The Plague: an account from Boccaccio's The Decameron
Plague and Public Health in Renaissance Europe
The Black Plague - graphic intensive and loads somewhat slowly, but contains excellent pictures and an interesting account.
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Created Dec 8 1994 by Aaron Rice (jar22@email.byu.edu)
a Timpview High School student
in partnership with the
David O. McKay School of Education
Brigham Young University