Black Death, outbreak of bubonic plague that struck Europe and the Mediterranean area from 1347 through 1351. It was the first of a cycle of European plague epidemics that continued until the early 18th century. A cycle of ancient plagues had preceded these plagues between the 6th and 8th centuries AD; another cycle of modern followed them, but less deadly, plagues that began in the late 19th century and continue in the 20th century. The term "Black Death" was not used to refer to the plagues of 1347 through 1351 until much later; contemporaries usually called it the Pestilence, or the Great Mortality.
Plague is a bacterial infection that can take more than one form. Victims of ...view middle of the document...
Milan was almost unique among the major Italian towns. The lord of the city closed the gates to travelers coming from plague areas, and few people died. Probably because of their relative isolation, Bohemia, Poland, and central Germany experienced no plague before the 1360s and 1370s.
III BELIEFS ABOUT THE CAUSES OF PLAGUE.
Contemporary doctors and theologians agreed that the epidemic had both religious and physical causes. The first and most important was God's judgment on a sinful humanity; the second was a lack of balance in the body's humors, or fluids. As with earthquakes, floods, and fires, medieval Christians assumed illness was a call to repentance. In response, some Christians, known as flagellants, began ritually to beat themselves as penance for their own and for others' sins. Although groups of flagellants had existed since the 10th century, the outbreak of the plague radically increased their numbers.
These new groups of flagellants appeared first in Hungary and Germany and then spread throughout the rest of northern Europe. Flagellants traveled as a group and were led by a cleric. They went from town to town and at each stop, after a short sermon by the leader, the penitents would whip or flog themselves before moving onto the next town.
Medieval physicians inherited their medical ideas from the Greeks and Romans, who believed that health involved a balance of bodily humors. Imbalances caused by emotional, dietary, or external factors like noxious odors could result in sickness or even death. Contemporary writers associated plague with the influence of planets and stars, or with earthquakes, which they thought to cause the release of noxious gases from the center of the
VI EFFECTS OF THE PLAGUE The Black Death and the other epidemics of bubonic plague had many consequences. One was a series of vicious attacks on Jews, lepers, and outsiders whom they accused of deliberately poisoning the water or the air. The attacks began in the south of France, but were most dramatic in parts of Switzerland and Germany—areas with a long history of attacks on local Jewish communities. Massacres in Bern were typical of this pattern: After weeks of fearful tension, Jews were rounded up and burned or drowned in marshes. Sometimes there were attacks on Jews even where there was no plague. The Pope, the leader of the Catholic church, and most public officials condemned the massacres and tried to stop them. In the face of mob fury, however, they were often unsuccessful. Persecutions only ended when the deaths from the plague began to decline.
Contemporary chroniclers of the Black Death called the...