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The Black Death

Essential Question
How did the Black Death
(Plague) change Europe?
• Europe at a weak point:
• Fighting with France
(100 Year War)
• Winters getting
harder and longer
which meant less
time for planting
• Two famines in 1316
and 1317
The Plague Arrives
• June 1348 people
started getting sick
• Spread quickly
• Those infected died
in about 72 hours
• Death rate high
(you had a 50%
chance of living)
Welsh poet Ieuan Gethin 1349
• We see death coming into our midst
like black smoke, a plague which cuts
off the young, a rootless phantom
which has no mercy for fair
countenance. Woe is a small boil that
spares no-one … like a burning cinder
(coal), a grievous thing of ashy (gray)
color…They are similar to the seeds of
the black peas, like berries…
• 1. What were symptoms of the plague
according to Gethin?
Italian Author
Giovanni Boccaccio
• The symptoms were not the same as in the East.
In the East, blood started gushing from peoples’
noses and then everyone knew that they would
die in a week.
• For us it began both in men and women with
certain swellings in the under the armpit. They
grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more
or less, and were called tumours. In a short space
of time these tumours spread all over the body.
Soon after this the symptoms changed and black
or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or
any other part of the body…
• 2. What were symptoms of the Plague according
to Giovanni Roccoccio?
• Fever, chills,
• Swelling in lymph nodes
under arms or in neck
• Bleeding from the nose,
• Black fingers
• Nausea, vomiting
Doctors Respond
• Didn’t know what to
do, didn’t know what
caused it
• Ideas were …
• Movement of
• God’s punishment
• Bad air
• Wearing pointed
People Respond
Giovanni Boccaccio
• "...Such fear ideas took over the minds of the living
that almost all of them began to use the same
cruel policy, which was entirely to avoid the sick
and everything belonging to them...
• One citizen avoided another, hardly any neighbour
troubled about others, relatives never or hardly
ever visited each other. Moreover, such terror was
struck into the hearts of men and women by this
calamity, that brother abandoned brother, and the
uncle his nephew, and the sister her brother, and
very often the wife her husband. What is even
worse and nearly incredible is that fathers and
mothers refused to see and tend their children, as
if they had not been theirs.
• 3. How did people respond according to Boccaccio?
• We now know it was
spread by fleas on
rodents (like rats) that
came on ships from Asia
• Entered Europe through
• Official name: bubonic
plague (although that
was just one of three
Effects: Analysis

• In each of the next few

sources comes from the
Middle Ages and talks about
the result of the Black
• For each, please make an
inference about how the
Plague affected people,
society, etc.
A common
from the
Middle Ages
depicting the
(Dance of
A group of
people who
went from city
to city and
themselves and
tried to
people to
repent of their

Victims of the Plague

Worth Noting: Who are the victims? Men or women? Rich or poor?
Who is helping them?
Triumph of
Someone prays
for mercy for

The wealthy
“fly” away from
the city but are
told to stay
away. It doesn’t
really matter
anyway because
the skeleton

The rest “dye”.

9 Worth Noting: the impact on nature
• Killed anywhere from 30-60% of the
population (25-30 million people)
Effects: Deaths • At height, Paris said to be burying 800
• 10. How do you think this will impact
peoples’ attitudes?
Giovanni Boccaccio
• Since they received no care and attention,
almost all of them died … some who died in
their houses were only known to be dead
because the neighbours smelled their
decaying bodies.
• Dead bodies filled every corner… every
morning quantities of the dead might be
seen in doorways, waiting to be taken away.
• So many bodies were brought to the
churches every day there was not enough
space to give them burial … The cemeteries
were full and they were forced to dig huge
trenches, where they buried the bodies by
Effects: Society
• Caused two
• 1. I’m going to
die, so I might as
well party
• 2. I better get
religion real fast
because I’m
gonna die
Effects: Church
• Some people turned to
the church for help
• Others began to doubt
• Was the Church really
doing its job if God
punished them with a
• Some say that this
helped cause the
Reformation (a major
split in the church)
Effects: Authority/Government
• People also began
questioning the
• Later the peasants
would rebel and
some think it was
partly because of the
Black Death
Effects: Feudalism

• Rich and poor, lord and serf, had

been both hurt by the plague –
both equal for a time
• Afterwards, not enough workers
• People began demanding wages
or better pay
• System of Feudalism fell apart
• Bubonic plague still exists,
but there are treatments
• Usually only a few
thousand cases every year
in Africa (including
Madagascar) and India
• 11. How do you feel about
this drawing?