700 Years Ago a Plague Was Ravaging Europe, and We’re Still Experiencing Its Consequences
Despite the fact that plague pandemics appeared in both the Middle Ages and in the modern world, the fiercest and most destructive was the one that ravaged Europe in the 14th century, killing a third of the European population of that time — about 25 million people! But it didn’t just bring on death: after the end of the pandemic, Europe started to change so significantly that the consequences of those events still have an impact on our lives today.
At Bright Side, we can’t believe how much some historical events are interlinked and the pandemic of Black Death and its consequences are a great example of this.
Women became shorter on average.
Doctor Sharon N. DeWitte from the University of South Carolina (USA) along with a group of scientists researched the remains of 800 people who lived before the pandemic of the plague and after it ended. The results of the study showed that the plague known as Black Death made people healthier on average and increased life expectancy: the next generation started to live up to the age of 70-80 which was extremely rare before. This can be explained by the fact that the disease mainly killed people who had a weak immune system and the ones who survived had stronger defense mechanisms, so they produced healthier offspring.
Additionally, scientists found out that the plague had an influence on the puberty of girls — it made it happen earlier. This may also have contributed to the fact that women today are shorter because during puberty, the growth of bones decreases.
The plague helped the English language become more popular.
In 1066, the Normans that spoke the Norman dialect of the French language conquered England, making it their official state language. It almost completely replaced English in terms of education. But peasants still spoke English.
After the plague pandemic, English returned to the cities again together with the peasants as it’s known today. The village population was not as affected by Black Death as the people in cities were. Because so many died, there weren’t enough people who could work, and the former inhabitants of villages had better chances of getting a job because they replaced the people who had died.
The language returned to its previous dialect because the people from villages didn’t speak the Norman language. In 1362, a law was passed that stated that all laws should be written and read in English and half a century later, King Henry V started writing letters in English.
In simpler terms, if it hadn’t been for the plague pandemic, the international language of today could have been the Norman language. Just imagine: this article could’ve been written in it!
The plague could’ve been the first biological weapon.
According to some, the plague in Europe started in 1346 after Khan Jani Beg failed to take the sieged fortress, Kafa (the modern Feodosia), and brought the bodies of people who died from the plague to the territory. The plague entered Europe thanks to Genoese merchants whose trading posts were located in Kafa. So, according to this theory, it was Khan Jani Beg who used a biological weapon for the first time in history by launching the mechanism of death that killed a lot of people in Europe.
The hotbed of the plague is believed to have been in the Gobi Desert which is located in China and Mongolia. The main reason for this was climate change: droughts made rodents and other animals that could transmit the plague move closer to where people lived. The situation got even worse because the meat of groundhogs (one of the main ways the plague spread) was considered to be a delicacy. All of these things led Black Death to spread through Asia and then Europe.
Anti-Semitism in Europe became stronger.
In 2011, a group of scientists conducted a study that was supposed to find the reasons behind anti-Semitism in Eupore and how it actually led to the Holocaust. And as it turns out, Black Death, which conquered Europe 700 years before the Second World War, was one of the reasons for the terrible tragedy of the 20th century.
During the outbreak, Jews were blamed for poisoning water in order to kill the Christian population. Of course, there were such accusations before this since anti-Semitism appeared way before the modern era, but this was the period when it was at its peak.
The reason why people thought the Jews were behind the poisonous water was the fact that fewer Jewish people died from the plague. Modern scientists think that it happened because the Jews took better care of their personal hygiene. There’s also a theory that suggests a certain blood type was more susceptible to getting infected with the plague, and the Europeans of that time had that blood type while the Jewish population rarely had it.
There was a rise in the development of medicine.
Before the plague came to Europe, hospitals there looked a lot like hotels. Not only could travelers spend the night there and have a meal, but poor people could as well. Not enough attention was paid to treating diseases.
But when Black Death came, everything changed: doctors and scientists started looking for the causes of the disease and ways to cure it. It was clear that high castle walls couldn’t protect anyone from the plague: the rich and nobility died from the plague just as often as poor people did.
One of the biggest “achievements” of the plague was the appearance of the concept of “quarantine”. This Italian word means “time consisting of 40 days”. In 1348, the Venice authorities started making all the ships that arrived in the port go to the shore of Lazaretto Island. They spent 40 days there. Only after that time, would doctors go aboard the ships looking for people that were infected with the plague. If there were no such people, the ship was allowed to enter the port. It’s worth noting that during the same year, a hospital for people who had the plague was opened on that island.
The first quarantine law was passed in 1347 in Reggio nell’Emilia, Italy. Not only did it make ships spend 40 days more at sea, but it also forced people with signs of the plague to move to separate territories, prohibiting them from coming into contact with others.
The church started to lose its power.
Martin Luther, the man who started the Reformation
Despite the fact that the Reformation would make religion a less important factor in European politics just 2 centuries later, all its conditions appeared in the middle of the 14th century.
People who completely trusted the church before realized that there was no hope in fighting the pandemic. And at the same time, the authorities actually tried to stop the disease from spreading by organizing and getting rid of the bodies from the streets and burying them. Additionally, taverns and brothels were closed because they believed the disease could spread there.
As a result, more than 40% of all the clergy died and many monasteries became basically empty. This resulted in lower requirements for new members of churches, so there were a lot of uneducated people there that believed in magic. By the way, the word “sabbath” actually appeared right after the plague pandemic.
The development of cities and industrialization grew more rapidly.
The plague in Florence — the image was created based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s description of the pandemic.
As we’ve said already, cities were infected with the plague way more than villages were, but there was no shortage of victims in the villages. The Black Death pandemic changed agriculture. If before, peasants were just agriculturalists, then after the pandemic, a lot of them became farmers and animal breeders: this line of work required fewer people than working with crops because even just a few people could deal with a big herd. Besides, peasants had the opportunity to get more rights — since there weren’t enough workers, they now had some leverage to receive bonuses.
Before the middle of the 14th century, unions of people of the same or similar professions were closed communities. Their secrets were passed on in families. But after the pandemic, they were forced to hire new members who were oftentimes peasants that came into the cities. And this was the time when women started doing men’s jobs because there was a terrible lack of people who could work.
In the long-term perspective, the plague was also the reason for the eventual Industrial Revolution because people started attempting to turn a lot of manual processes into automatic ones.
The Black Death that came to Europe in the middle of the 14th century was not the last plague pandemic but it was the one that changed the development of the European civilization and the entire world.
Preview photo credit Edmund Leighton / Public Domain / wikipedia