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Karla Rodriguez
October 9, 2014

The Black Death

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One of the biggest catastrophes ever was The Black Death; it had already struck China,
India, Persia, Syria and Egypt and finally reached Italy in the spring of 1348. Apparently it
arrived to Europe by sea when a group of infected Tartars besieged Genoese trading ships almost
full of dead sailors and gravely ill, these ships became known as the death ships. They were
overcome with fever, unable to keep food down, and were covered in black boils that oozed
blood and pus giving the illness the name The Black Death. This deadly plague killed more
than 20 million people, from children to adults.

The Plagues Progress

The Black Death was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis that circulates among wild
rodents in this case fleas on the back of rats. These infected fleas attached themselves to rats
and then humans spread this plague. There were three forms the plague presented itself. The
most common one being The bubonic plague, causing swellings or buboes to appear on a
victims neck, armpits or groin, giving the victim a life expectancy of up to a week. The second
one was much more virulent than the bubonic plague, it was called the pneumonic plague,
attacking the respiratory system and could be spread simply by breathing the exhaled air of a
victim; giving the victims a life expectancy of one to two days. Finally, the septicemia version of
the disease attacked the blood system.

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A gush of blood from the nose was the biggest sign that they had been touched by The
Black Death. The symptoms of the impending death began with swellings in the groin or under
the armpit. These swellings would grow to the size of small apple or an egg, called tumors. In a
short time the tumors would spread from the groin and the armpits to all over the body. After,
black or purple spots would appear on the arms or thighs, ranging in all sizes.

There was mo medicine, no doctor who could help cure this disease for they didnt even know
what caused it. For that reason few recovered and many died with different symptoms. The
disease was contagious; someone healthy could simply be near someone who is sick instantly
catch the sickness. By speaking, touching the clothes or anything the sick person had touched or
worn you could be infected. Due to the lack of knowledge on the disease many recommended the
burning of aromatic woods and herbs, special diets, courses of bleeding, and new postures for
sleeping. But nothing worked.
The Flagellant Brahren believed that the plague was a punishment from god for human
sin. They would wear white robs with a red cross marked front and back, moving across Europe
attempting to clean the mess of the Black Death by whipping themselves in ritual public
ceremonies. These men traveled in groups of 50 to 500 men highly organized. While singing
and sobbing, these men would beat themselves with scourges studded with iron spikes. But it
didnt help at all.

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The following is a short excerpt taken from Boccaccios The Decameron, describing life
during the middle ages and the struggle living during the Black Death.

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The Black Death, 1348, EyeWitness to History, (2001). 10/14
Benedictow, Ole J. The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever, History Today Volum:55 Isue:3
2005, 10/14