The Black Death

Soon, our journey in UGC 111 will take us to medieval Europe. When one talks about medieval Europe, knights in shining armour, those glorious artworks and amazing architecture will be surfacing in your mind but I'll be talking about something quite morbid instead.

Remember how SARS, AIDS, H1N1 and H5N1 caused widespread mayhem and fear during our years growing up? Now take this "mayhem and fear", multiply it 10000 times and we should arrive at a rough estimation of how it's like during THE BLACK DEATH!

Ole J. Benedictow, a modern day expert on plaques, calculated that THE BLACK DEATH killed approximately 50 million people in the 14th century, or 60 per cent of Europe’s entire population at that time.

To put things into context, SARS killed 775 within a span of 1 year and spread across 32 countries. THE BLACK DEATH took 50 million lives within a span of approximately 7 years and this works out to about 7,142,857 deaths per year.

Yup, that my friends, is a doctor during those days. Menacing aye? Well, given the lack of medical knowledge or techniques, THE BLACK DEATH got really out of hand. Coupled with the lack of hygiene back then, the disease went on a rampage.

A Florentine chronicler relates that,

All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried [...] At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese.

The accounts are remarkably similar. The chronicler Agnolo di Tura ‘the Fat’ relates from his Tuscan home town that

... in many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead [...] And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city.

So this BLACK DEATH thingy originated from Asia and thanks to trading networks. These infected fleas, rodents and humans then arrive in Europe where the disease truly "flourish".

Apparently, the abundance of rats as disease carriers was the result of the mass witch hunts. Being associated to witches, demons and satanic characteristics did not help cats. Especially black ones. Therefore, these witch hunts also a mass extermination of cats which in turn boosted the proliferation of rats.

Once you've contracted THE BLACK DEATH, chances are you will die. I'm sorry. However, before you take that one last breath, you'll go through quite a bit of suffering. I apologize once more. The average time between infection and the onset of symptoms is around 2 to 8 days, but in the case of pneumonic plague it may be only one day. The three most common forms of plague are bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septicemic plague.

Bubonic plague is an infection of the lymph nodes. Its symptoms usually appear suddenly, after 2-5 days of exposure to the bacteria. Its main symptoms include chills, fever, malaise, headache, muscle pain, seizures, and formation of bubones (painful swollen lymph nodes), armpit or neck.

Pneumonic plague is a lung infection and its symptoms also appear suddenly, normally within 2 to 3 days after exposure. Symptoms of the pneumonic plague include severe coughing, difficulty breathing, coughing or expulsion of blood and/or bloody/foamy mucus, and chest pain when breathing deeply.


Anyway, THE BLACK DEATH was bad. Real bad. However, looking back at this terrible period, I realized how fortunate we are to have such amazing medical advances and hygiene control in our times. I'm pretty sure we could have managed the disease way better if the outbreak happened now. Also, don't go accusing people of witchcraft and kill innocent animals because it will only disrupt the balance of the ecosystem!

If you don't believe me about disrupting the balance of the ecosystem, read this article!

After THE BLACK DEATH somehow died down and mysteriously disappear, Europe went through the renaissance period, experiencing economic growth and becoming prosperous once again. Silver lining in the cloud, I guess.