The black death
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The Black Death. And the Persistence of Plague. Overview. The Late Medieval Period: 1350-1500 Outbreak of Plague Its Characteristics Reactions Consequences. The Late Medieval Period. Sometimes depicted as a time of decay The end of medieval civilization?

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The Black Death

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The black death

The Black Death

And the Persistence of Plague



  • The Late Medieval Period: 1350-1500

  • Outbreak of Plague

  • Its Characteristics

  • Reactions

  • Consequences

The late medieval period

The Late Medieval Period

  • Sometimes depicted as a time of decay

    • The end of medieval civilization?

    • Knights become less important in battle

  • Also a period enormous creativity and change

    • Inventions: printing press, cannons, clocks, navigation

    • Art & Architecture: the Italian Renaissance

  • Changing balance of social forces

    • Merchants increasingly powerful

    • Hereditary aristocracy challenged

    • Spread of patronage beyond courts

  • Monarchy remains the dominant form of political organization but republican ideals emerge in Italy



  • Origins of the Black Death

    • Worldwide pandemic in the 14th century

    • Started in China during 1330s

    • Spread to Crimean peninsula in the late 1340s

    • rats & fleas spread a deadly bacterium, Yrsenia Pestis

    • Crimean War a likely vector for transmission of the plague to Europe

    • onset in Genoa in 1347

    • Spreads to the rest of Europe by 1350

    • recent evidence suggest that other diseases, such as cattle and sheep murrain, accompanied bubonic plague

  • Plague continues to visit Europe periodically until 1723 but exercises little dramatic effect after 1450



  • Virtually absent in Europe since seventh century

  • Transmission

    • Bubonic – black rats and fleas

    • Pnuemonic - coughing

    • Septicemic – bodily fluids

  • Symptoms

    • Buboes near groin and armpits

    • Lingering sickness for several weeks

  • Modern treatment includes antibiotics

Thomas malthus 1766 1834 founder of demographic studies

Thomas Malthus1766-1834Founder of Demographic Studies

Murrain anthrax

Murrain & Anthrax?

How does chaucer s poetry reflect the rise of the middle class

How does Chaucer’s poetry reflect the rise of the middle class?

  • It contains stories from several middle class characters

  • It subtly mocks chivalric ideals

  • It ridicules the prestige of the church authorities

  • It depicts a society that is relatively prosperous

How does the tone of the miller s tale differ from the tone of the knight s tale

How does the tone of the Miller’s Tale differ from the tone of the Knight’s Tale

  • The Knight was more inclined to be rude and disgusting

  • The Miller was more deferential in his tone

  • The Miller told a drunken story about adultery and included references to farting

  • The Knight told a classic Arthurian Romance

Yersinia pestis

Yersinia Pestis

Lingering depopulation from plague population levels fell and stay low for over a hundred years

Lingering Depopulation from PlaguePopulation levels Fell and Stay low for over a hundred years

The yeoman hero robin hood 1300s

The Yeoman HeroRobin Hood1300s



The danse macabre

The Danse Macabre

The dance of death

The Dance of Death

Demographic consequences

Demographic Consequences

  • Demography is the key concept

    • population decline was dramatic: 40% of Europe dies within 5 years

    • Wustungen: entire villages left empty

    • Some cities, such as Florence, Italy, experienced mortality rates over 70%

    • Other areas were relatively unaffected

  • No big rebound as plague becomes endemic to Europe

    • The Gray Death in 1361

    • Plague in late 1360s, mid 1370s, etc…

    • Gradually fades out over hundreds of years

    • Last visitation of plague was in 1723 in Marseilles, France

Socio economic consequences

Socio-Economic Consequences

  • Declining production in the short term

    • Short term price increase in grain (over in 5 years)

  • Rents fall and stay low for a century

  • Labor shortage: wages rise and remain high for decades

  • Luxury goods rise in price and remain high for decades

  • Gap between rich and poor narrows

  • 1350-1450: good years for skilled laborers

  • New agricultural strategies develop

    • Increasing pasturage

    • Enclosures begin in England and continue for 400 years

Socio economic consequences1

Socio-Economic Consequences

  • Did the Black Death cause the end of serfdom?

  • Definition of Serfdom

    • Labor duties instead of rents

    • Manorial exactions: merchet, tallage, and heriot

    • Legal status based on land tenure

  • Arguments in favor of this assumption

    • Deserted villages

    • Demography favors laborers

  • Arguments against this assumption

    • Land/labor ratios

    • Conflicting evidence: Eastern vs. Western Europe

    • Increases in market economy and wage labor predated plague

    • Influence of urban economy

  • Neo serfdom: an anomalous trend from 1350-1400

  • Nevertheless, serfdom virtually disappears in western Europe by 1500

Social responses to plague

Social Responses to Plague

  • Processions

    • Flagellants re-emerge after decades in remission

  • Explanations and Scapegoats

    • God sent it

    • Sin caused it

    • Antichrist would soon arrive

    • Jews poisoned wells

  • Deserted villages and manors

    • Encroaching forests

    • Rejuvenation of the soil

The dance of death or danse macabre

The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre

  • Literary and pictorial depictions of a procession that brings the richest to the poorest to their graves

  • A northern European phenomenon, the concept was in circulation over fifty years prior to the Black Death, but after 1350 depictions of it were more numerous

  • Emphasized the socially leveling aspects of death i.e. everyone dies but it also was an incitement to penance in preparation for imminent death

  • Its depiction lasted well into the Northern Renaissance of the 1500s



  • European population declined by 50% during the Fourteenth Century

    • famine hits first

    • war between England and France contributes to destruction of productive capacities of agriculture in France

    • plague hits late 1340s and every 5-10 years for the rest of the century

  • Apocalyptic & religious concerns rise

  • Amid chaos new economic opportunities develop

  • Social mobility increased



  • Although it probably accelerated the decline of serfdom, the demographic collapse of the fourteenth century did not destroy the foundations of high medieval culture

  • By increasing social mobility and heightening religious and apocalyptic fear, plague provided a catalyst for many of the social, economic, and cultural changes that characterized the turbulent early modern period from 1350-1800

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