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The Black Death in the Middle Ages - Research Paper Example

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The Black Death refers to the virulent plague which devastated Europe from 1347 – 1352, causing more than twenty million deaths. The word plague has its roots in the Greek medical term plege, for ‘stroke.’ …
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The Black Death in the Middle Ages
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Download file to see previous pages The bacillus normally persists as a mild infection in the bloodstream of infected rats. The rat flea, or Xenopsylla cheopis, is the vector which transmits the bacillus to other rats. In unusual circumstances, such as the absence of an adequate rodent population, the flea may bite and infect humans. The human immune system is very vulnerable to the bacillus and the plague is usually fatal1. A study of the origin, spread, characteristics and significance of the Black Death in the Middle Ages shows that it was one of the greatest catastrophes in human history. The origin of the Black Death can be traced through historical accounts to Central Asia: “The earliest documented appearance --- occurred in 1346, in the Mongol territory called the Khanate of the Golden Horde” in present-day southern Russia2. The plague crossed biological barriers in Central Asia to attack and decimate the marmot population. These dead mammals were skinned by Asian trappers and the hides became a part of the merchandise which travelled down the famous ‘Silk Road’ from China, across Asia and to the Crimea.3 The outbreak is reported to have emerged after earthquakes and strange atmospheric conditions. The pestilence first ravaged the teeming populations of China and India, and moved to Persia, supposedly resulting in twenty-four million casualties in the East. There are accounts of horrendous casualties in China, India, Mesopotamia, Cairo, Syria and Cyprus. Gabriele de’ Mussis, a notary of Piacenza, writes that “In the year 1346, in eastern parts an immense number of Tartars and Saracens fell victims to a sudden and mysterious death.” ...
Tartars and Saracens fell victims to a sudden and mysterious death.”5 The Tartars besieged the Black Sea port of Caffa (modern Feodosia), a Genoese settlement in the Crimea, where Italian merchants had taken refuge. The Tartars reportedly catapulted plague-infected corpses into Caffa, spreading the infection to the Genoese, who in turn carried it to Genoa. By 1348, the plague had moved from the seaports to reach the inland areas of Alexandria, Tunisia, Italy and France. It jumped across the seas to Britain, Ireland and Norway. It continued to spread until, “By 1350 virtually all of western and central Europe has been affected.”6 The plague moved eastwards to Poland and the Baltic lands the next year and then back to Central Asia in 1353, when it finally subsided. Historians currently estimate that, between 1346 –1353, the Black Death may have caused 50 million deaths in Europe. This constituted about 60 percent of the population. The characteristic symptoms of the Black Death show it to have been a lethal combination of the Bubonic plague and the pneumonic plague. At the onset of the bacillus’ entry into the human bloodstream, the immune system responded with fever and the swelling of the lymph nodes in an attempt to flush out the contagion. These painful, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin, were called buboes: hence Bubonic plague. These swellings were referred to as the gavocciolo. Boccaccio states that some of these swellings “were egg-shaped while others were roughly the size of the common apple.”7 By the third day the victim experienced high fever, diarrhea and delirium and the skin showed dark splotches due to the rupture of blood capillaries and the clotting of blood beneath the epidermis. This darkening of the skin may be the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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