WHAT IS BLACK DEATH
Black death was a grotesque pandemic that killed almost seventy five to 200 million people. It spread across Europe in 1346-53. The name black death came from the Latin word “atra” which meant terrible or black. It was an outbreak of bubonic plague caused by a pest called Yersinia among wild rodents who lived together in great numbers. The plague rode when these rodents which were black in color came to the human settlements. These black rats tend to live closer to humans than the other rats that tend to live in isolation or sewers. It took 14 days for the pest to kill the rodents and then when the rodents dies the fleas turned on humans. The fleas bit the humans that first was small then turned into lymph node which swelled to a painful bubo. The bite was usually in the groin area or on the thigh or in armpit or the neck. Thus was given the name of bubonic plague. The infection spreads in 3 days and takes more 3-5 days for the person to die. These fleas went into people clothes and rode with them to wherever they went and it happened in the warmer season. There was no cure for it and no medication could prevent it. People went into hidings and started praying to get away from it.
It came to Europe in 1347 and in next 5 years created chaotic things. At that time they thought it transferred from one person to another by just mere touching and they tried to go for unethical practices like boil lancing and some went for witchcraft to prevent it. It not only affected the humans but the cows or chicken and goats as well. Many people also believed that it was a punishment from god. They believed that only way to get out of it was to purge their society from the sinners and so many Jews were killed from 1348 to 1349. People fought among themselves and some men joined groups that went from town to town and publicly punished themselves. The plague went on till 1350s but after every few generations it reemerged and so clean places did curb it but didn’t completely annihilate it.
A very famous Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio was there at the time of the plague and saw the entire thing unfolding. He wrote a story called Decameron about 7 men and 3 women going to a villa outside the city to escape the disease. The symptoms were that the swellings grew to the size of an egg or an apple and the tumors spread from one place to the entire parts of the body and the spots of black or purple color came everywhere and blood gushing out of nose was considered to be the sure sign of death.
Many people formed societies and shut themselves off from everyone and went into isolation and shut themselves off from outside contact. The laws disappeared as the lawmakers and upholders mostly had died or fled. The people stopped working and started drinking heavily and doing things to just live life as believed that they had short time left. The carried herbs or flowers to give off good fragrance as the entire air was filled with the smell of death and dead bodies or medicine. Burials were carried out on a large scale and huge trenches were dug as cemeteries became full. The entire social order fell as people stopped meeting each other.
It was a critical juncture that made up the England that we see today as well as the Europe that we have before our eyes.
PREVAILING INSTITUTION STRUCTURE IN EUROPE (BEFORE BLACK DEATH)
Europe had quite an amazing expansion during the 1050-1300 but in the late 13th century the progress slowed down. A lot of land was not being used and the productivity of land was only a bit fruitful. As the population kept on increasing, the land was less and less food to the people provided thus chances of famine. There was a bit of climatic change in the Europe as well in which Europe that had a warmer weather took turns for the colder weather and wetter. Scientist called it “little ice age”. In this the Baltic sea froze in the years of 1303, 1306 & 1307 and the alpine glaciers were formed as well. The grain was not growing in Iceland. There was starvation and loots be people along with some diseases. There were huge rainfalls in France that led to spoiling of crops and this led to frustration, starvation and cannibalism. This also led to annihilation of cereal and grain in Scandinavia and wine production was stopped in England. Floods were caused e.g. in Florence through Arno river. The heavy rainfalls and the lack of sun with humidity all led to less crops and salt level declined which made it hard to preserve food. Then there was famine in 1315-1317 which decreased the European population e.g. in Ypres and Halesowen huge people died.
Also in Europe there was a feudal order structure, which first came to the west of Europe after the roman empire collapse. It was basically based on the hierarchical relationship that was between the king and the lords and the peasants. The kings were the owner of everything. They had complete control and everything belonged to them. The kings made decisions that were to be followed. The kings gave the lands to the lords who in return gave them military services. The lords then gave the land to the peasants. The peasants had to work in the land for no payment or extremely less wages. Mostly they had to work for free and had to pay many taxes and fines. They would get in return the little crops that they grew which was completely insufficient for them or extremely less to the amount of work that they had done. The peasants were called serfs because their aim was to serve the lords and please them they were not allowed to migrate to any place else or to work for any other lord. They were bound to the lords and the lands. There was no law or judges or court system to which the peasants could turn to for justice as the lords were themselves the law and the judges who would give justice and they were not governed by anyone to see if they wee passing just laws and so they would pass the decisions that were well suited for them. The institutions all were highly extractive and the wealth kept on accumulating with the rich while the poor fell further into despair and poverty .
The famine and the little ice age also added to the deprivation of the people.
ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF BLACK DEATH
After two months fall of Calais, in October 1347, Geneose trading ships deposited dying men at the port of Sicily. The ships had come from Caffa where the Geneose had their shipping ports. The dying sailors had bruises of huge sizes and they gave of blood and puss and soon the whole body got covered in spots or boils with internal bleeding. The disease spread like wild fire.
Rumors of this epidemic spreading in China came forward and spreading through Tartary to India, Persia, Egypt and all of Asia came to Europe during 1346. Europe paid no heed to it till ships brought the pests into Messina and many ships carried the pests from Levant in Venice.
It came to France via Marseille and spread into the western Europe to Spain ports and went to the north to Avignon by January 1348 till march. It came to Montpellier and Toulouse and then spread in Italy like Rome and Florence. By June it had reached Paris and through the channel went into southern England by passing through Normandy. It also went to Switzerland through Italy and reached Hungary.
In 1349 it carried on in Paris and went to the lower countries and then went to Scotland and Ireland and Norway. The disease also went to Iceland Denmark, Greenland. It came to Russia by the 1351.
Historians said that the epidemic had taken about third of the world. The plague went from 1347-1350 but there were repeated impacts of it in between 1350 and 1400. In Paris the plague came to an end by 1349.
At the time of plague in England there was king Edward III and when it came to England in 1348 the king ordered prayers to be organized. It was a time when people with grief and fear went mad and started getting involved in activities that were not something deemed suitable for the humans like drinking and not working. People fled from the cities they lived in and went to higher grounds. Even the arts became dark where painting all spoke about the grotesque time and the poetry was all bleak.
BLACK DEATH IN EUROPE (IMPACTS AND EFFECTS)
Black death caused people to die at a very fast speed. There was no cure for it and it seemed to be getting caught by everyone. The population decreased at a very rapid speed. To go with it the people stooped producing at land as the people were dying so there was hunger and poverty on the rise. The people became highly frustrated. They started fighting with each other and became isolated. Some believed that the death was due to the sins of people and so large scale killing on non Christian people like Jews happened in Europe at that time. The people formed small groups and travelled to higher grounds as they believed the disease could not get to them there and didn’t have contact with the outside world but stayed stuck inside. The churches started religious gatherings and started praying and groups were formed where people publicly punished themselves for the sins and asked for forgiveness. People driven by fear and grief started heavily drinking and getting involved in uncivilized activities. Dead bodies were swarming the entire region and the smell of dead bodies filled the entire air. People did massive burials for the dead people by digging huge trenches and sometimes setting the entire mass on fire.
People left the lands i.e. peasants scared for being dead fled from the lands they worked on thus effectively breaking the serfs system and since so many people died, it led to the shortage of man labor.
Plague hit England, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the whole world. Its effect was almost the same in the whole world. It had religious, social, political and economic effects on the history of Europe. Religious Effects
Black Death caused religious institutions long term damage. It was believed that God has punished people for their sins. Priests were requested to pray for them. Most of the Jews were killed when it was thought that they caused the disease. Most of the priests also ran from the church to hide and save them from the death. Whereas few of the pious priests left behind they performed funerals, organized prayers and then eventually died. Faith of people on religion was hurt. The Catholic Church could not explain the disease so they suffered a credibility loss; this led to the development of Protestantism (Katherine S Richard)
Black Death finished hierarchical structure in Europe. Black Death changed the structure of the Europe. After the Black Death population of Europe was decreased to large extent. Labors were died in large numbers. As the number of labor decreased cost went high and lords suffered. The scarcity of Serfs caused by the disease shivered the foundations of the feudal order. Political leaders and government officials also suffered from the disease. When the lords died Serf went to other places. First there was no mobility of the labor class but after Black Death Serf started to move. Also due to death Serf were left small in numbers this made them more valuable. Lords were made to hire them at high wages. Crown and church were attacked for protecting Jews. At that time Jews were often called King’s property and this raged the anger of people. Social and Economic Effects
Black Death completely destroyed the institutions prevailing in Europe. The Peasants who used to work as Serfs died. High disequilibrium was created in the labor market due to high cost of labor. Lords had discriminations on labors. They had fights to hire the labor. If one lord left the serf the other was willing to hire them at high wage. This ended Serfdom in Europe. The Peasants could demand their conditions. They got rid of compulsory labor and so the wages of the peasants started to increase. To stop this from happening the Government passed Statue of Labor. It was an attempt to fix the wages of the labor class at the same level which was before Black Death. It was followed by an order of punishment for those who leave the services without permission of the landlord. This attempt of the English state to fix the wages and to stop changes in institutions was not successful. This instead resulted in Peasant Revolt, in 1381. The rebels captured the London. The economy of Europe suffered inflation. Prices of the goods went high and to produce goods or to import them was very difficult. Labors were left few in numbers. The land could not be cultivated with few labors. The financial business suffered great loss the debtors died and no one was there to pay the creditors their money and so creditors had to face the loss of the money. Construction process was stopped. People did not pay rent because large portions of land were left free. Taxes were not paid.
Impacts of Black Death
Economic Impact: The shortage of labor led to increase in wages of the serfs. Attempts were done to remain the wages same as of before Black Death but this resulted in differences between peasants and the landlords. Peasants out raged and this resulted in revolt. The Economy of the Europe started changing after the Black Death. In England inclusive institutions were formed.
Political Impact: The government officials locked themselves in the home to escape from the disease. Still most of the officials died. The government was finished so foreigners came in and they claimed power. They formed nation states and formed strong political power.
Consequences of Black Death
Black Death had its effect on whole World. However in Europe it changed the whole structure of Europe. All the existing institutions and systems prevailing in the Europe destroyed. It caused the formation of new Europe. The effects of Plague in England and Western Europe were good one as Serf got free. The wages of people rose. New Business started in England. England moved toward the inclusive structure. However the effects of Plague on Eastern Europe (which now comprise of Belarus, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Hungary) were totally different. In Eastern Europe the result were different from that of England. In Eastern Europe after the Black Death lords started occupying large share of lands and increased their possessions. They had much more land than anyone anywhere in Europe. Very less population was left it was weak and so instead of getting free their existing freedom was also taken. This was believed as second serfdom. Eastern Europe became big producer of agriculture goods. In 1500 Western Europe demanded agriculture goods and land lords in Eastern Europe laid more stress on labors to increase the supply. From 1500 to 1600, the serfs or their children were made to serve in the homes of lords for free one day per week, than it increased to two days and finally they worked three days per week for free. Before Black Death there were no large differences between England and Eastern Europe. After plague there arose huge differences between them. Labors in the west were free and they became part of the growing economy. So in England Inclusive institutions were formed. In Eastern Europe, labors were also part of the economy but their role was of serfs and they did not get worth of their labor. So in Eastern Europe there was formation of Extractive institutions.
Outcomes of Black Death
Black Death had positive impact on the Serfs or lower labor class.
• The peasants became powerful than before. Due to shortage of Serfs the wages increased and the standard of living of Peasants changed. Labors fought for their rights and raised voices for their better working conditions in front of King.
• Serfs became mobile. They moved to other places before Black Death they were not allowed to move.
• Serfs settled in new places and formed cities there.
• There was rise of other classes like middle class. No one was bound to land lords. So people started their own businesses also. The Economy of the Europe started changing; trade started, manufacturing was done, innovations in the society took place and banking system of loan credit and exchange began. New businesses were started. Textile industry of the Europe flourished. There was formation of inclusive institutions in England which was a step toward the growth of the country. In sixteen century British was completely a different society. Serfs were free and feudalistic structured was finished. There was Institutional struggle in the society. By late sixteen Century colonization started. There was emergence of commercial class. Due to thirst of power in commercial class and financial need of crown, it led to civil war (16421651). And this led to Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Glorious revolution imparted the power of forming economic institutions to Parliament and restricted the power of the king. The political system was opened for broad section of society. The Glorious Revolution formed Pluralistic society and it generated the first inclusive political institutions.
Black death was a plague of the 14th century that acted as a critical juncture. Before the black death there was a feudal order that was followed in Europe but after the black death that changed at least in western Europe and inclusive institutions started forming and this streak of freedom led to the glorious revolution in 16th century that created completely inclusive institution but Eastern Europe did not finish the serfdom instead started the second serfdom streak and that led to the exclusive institution and both western and eastern Europe diverged from one another.