How the Black Death Changed the World

The focus of my essay is on the Bubonic Plague also known as the Black Death that struck Europe in 1348, and its many effects on the daily lives of European people. Understanding how the churches came to lose their influence over the European people due to the epidemic and the medical advances that came from this. It is interesting to see how drastically people’s beliefs changed from something that they so deeply believed in, and to see the many effects that were caused by the Black Death. The Black Death brought many consequences to the people’s daily lives and brought many changes which will be analyzed thoroughly in this essay. I hope to learn the kinds of effects that were brought upon by the Black Death and the modern medical changes that came of this. Analyzing how this devastating global epidemic came to be is important to understand and to be aware that it not only brought death to people, but many changes came because of this. In this essay, I will be exploring some of the changes that came from the Black Death which are identified as either positive or negative, and I will be analyzing thoroughly. The positive changes being that it improved European society specifically in their standards of living, and the advancements that were made in both technology and medicine. The negative changes were depopulation, shortages of labor, and the disrupted customs of their daily life. By exploring these changes, I will be determining whether most of the changes that were brought upon by the Black Death were short term or long term in the way that technology was made to improve medicine. A long-term effect would be the living conditions, such as trading opportunities, and the education that came after the Bubonic Plague that brought negative consequences in the long run. Some of the short-term effects would be that most of the population died, there was famine, and the fear of death that struck people as the Black Death was happening rather than in the distant future which is what a long term effect would be. It is also interesting to see how the Black Death brought many developments towards the future that may have improved the lives of the European people, as well as changing their lifestyles. The spread of the Black Death brought consequences and huge impacts in areas such as cultural, religious, and economic influences. The sources I will be using are secondary sources such as academically high level books, and history books. In addition, I will be using primary sources such as a chronicle written in 1314 at the cathedral, and some writers wrote accounts such as documents. Furthermore, I will ultimately be analyzing the separation between state and church as Europeans began to become secular and the medical technologies that improved due to the faith that was lost in the churches, and whether this was ultimately caused by the Black Death.

The Start of The Black Death:

The Black Death came to Europe in 1348 greatly causing many changes ever since. It struck Europe where 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. After this first encounter, it eventually came to be known as the Bubonic Plague or even the Black Death. In Europe, there occurred around 20 million deaths being (?) of Europe’s population was deceased. According to historian William H. McNeal, the arrival of the Black Death lasted for several years and shifted from town to town or region to region with the seasons. Long before the Black Death even came to Europe people heard rumors about a disease that was affecting the trade routes of the Near and Far East” (McNeal, 198). People knew that there was a deadly epidemic that was spreading around but they never could have imagined how deadly it truly it was. The Black Death is thought to have come from a “population of black rats of the kind whose fleas were liable to carry bubonic plague to humans” (McNeal, 176). It is still today being questioned how this disease came to truly impact so many people. In which at the time people were not entirely sure how the Black Death was spreading so rapidly, it was assumed that humans were the ones spreading the disease. Many people became paranoid because one day a person could be healthy and the next day they could be dying from the plague. They ultimately came to think that the disease was spread through others coughs and sneezes, while others had thought that it was being transferred by something in the air. This installed a huge fear of death because in the end nobody was sure how people were truly becoming infected with the plague. The plague was hitting people hard and quickly. According to a 14th century article, “People lay ill a little more than two or three days and then died suddenly. He who was well one day was dead the next and being carried to his grave,” writes the Carmelite friar Jean de Venette in his 14th century French chronicle. The symptoms that came with the Bubonic Plague were very deadly as it caused different symptoms to different people and even death to many. It was later concluded but still being questioned today wether the Bubonic Plague was a disease caused by the bacterium in Yersinia pestis coming from rats who become infected and lived close to people. Before the Black Death occurred in Europe, the daily lives of the people were under the influence of the Catholic church. The churches held an important role as they were leading people in knowing what was right and what was wrong, making the church an important aspect in the daily lives of the Europeans. This was such a devastating phenomenon that brought upon many modifications to the European’s daily lives, the towns, and the medical technological advances that also came from this epidemic. The Black Death showed that the medical system in Europe was flawed as the doctors were not able to treat the disease that was killing people. The changes that were brought upon by the Bubonic Plague may not have happened without it.

The Changes brought upon:

The Bubonic Plague brought many changes to the Europeans as well as other parts of the world where the outbreak had occurred. The changes that came with the plague were positive or negative and changed the way society came to be afterwards. According to historian, William H. McNeal “human populations adjusted to confluence of the various infectious diseases in earlier times that were developed differently in different parts of Eurasia and Africa” (McNeal, 169 ). People had to learn to adjust to the new ways of life after the outbreak that came from the Black Death occurred due to the many changes that needed to be addressed. The plague caused many people to fear for their lives because it had been “an unfamiliar infection that attacked a population for the first time who had never been expunged from European memory.” (McNeal, 131 ). The Bubonic Plague was usually not completely gone because it would at times return to places where it had already previously affected, but most of the people were already immune to it so it wouldn’t affect them as much as it had before. People were somewhat becoming susceptible to the plague. There was a 60% decline in Europe’s population, which in turn affected their agricultural prices because of the low demand that was coming from it. Another problem that was encountered was that there had been a shortage of labors, causing the system of serfdom to end. The wages had improved although the prices for food and goods fell as they decreased. Since there was a small population of workers it gave Europeans more opportunities to be more free and choose a job that they preferred to be in. The Black Death set the stage in helping improve towards more modern medicine and also made changes to the public’s health. There was a greater emphasis on medicine that was based on science rather than their own faith and intuition. The medieval medicine in Europe slowly took a turn towards modern medicine as the doctors noted that they were not able to help treat the plague. The plague came to the Europeans as a realization that they were behind in there modern technology/medicine due to the lack of help as they were not able to provide any of it. As the church was becoming less influential in the daily lives of Europeans they began to question their own faith and looked for a reason as to why so many people were dying. The Black Death also drove a development in a much higher education than there had sustained before. Without the Black Death, many of the substantial changes that occurred may not have happened this early on.

The Catholic Church

The Bubonic Plague had a huge impact on the way the Catholic Church ran. Before the Black Death hit Europe, the church’s power had been absolute, it was basically it’s own government that had been ruling over all the European people. The church was a religion and a mindset that had been in all of the Europeans heart. The church would massacre people who chose to oppose them in any way and drove them away from their society. There were times when the secular state would try to assert their control from the churches power, but the churches were much more powerful and influential. Before the Black Death came to be in Europe, the churches had been the center of influence for many people. Europeans believed that hospitals were more focused on one’s soul than their own body since disease and sickness were something that was regarded as a punishment for sins committed. This shows that everything had been centered around the Church, it was something that was truly significant to them that they did not feel the need to believe in medicine but rather rely on their own faith. When the Bubonic Plague first hit Europe, the churches had explained that the plague had been an act from God who was punishing their sins. The church was calling for people to pray while also organizing religious marches, pleading to God to stop the plague. Even before the Black Death had made it’s huge impact on the Europeans they still prayed and believed that God could treat their sickness during the medieval medicine time period due to the lack of science and research that was being done. God had shown himself on their side, and each new outbreak of the infectious disease that had been imported from Europe ( McNeal, 138). So at this point, Europeans believed that God would be their savior, and they did not feel the need to rely on any medical assistance but prayed to God that they will be saved. As the Bubonic Plague became worse, and it was affecting many Europeans they began to question their own faith. Nobody was entirely sure how anybody was becoming ill so they came up with their own conclusions. A theory that some people had come up with was that the Jews were responsible for the plague in an attempt to kill Christians and to dominate the world, this led to a conflict between both Jews and Christians. Pope Clement VI had been the fourth pope to reside in Avignon, during the Black Death and managed to survive the worst disease to have happened in Europe. According to History and Culture, he had constantly offered protection to the Jews when many of them were being persecuted under the suspicion of starting the disease that was spreading and killing many people. Pope Clement VI announced a religious order to stop the brutality against the Jews, because he believed that they were not responsible for the plague but it was God who was striking at Christian’s for their sins. As the Christians started to calm their anger towards the Jews, they ended up turning their anger towards the Catholic Church that did not seem to be any help when it came to curing the Black Death. Since the Church was not able to save the people from the disease, it lead to many Europeans to question their beliefs.

During this time period people did not necessarily believe in doctors or science, leading them to deeply believe that God could save them but since people were not being saved from the disease it lead to many Europeans to question their beliefs. They began to believe that the plague had been a punishment from God. Flagellation, is a process of self-mutilation where a person would injure/beat themselves in order to make amends for all their sins. They would whip themselves with a stick that had three knotted thongs hanging from end, two pieces of needle-sharp metal which ran through the center of the knots from both sides and formed a cross in the end. Using these whips, they beat and whipped their bare skin until their bodies had been bruised and swollen and occasionally blood rained down. I have seen, when they whipped themselves, how sometimes those bits of metal penetrated the skin so deeply that it took more than two attempts to pull them out ( Herford, 17). They would do this until one of them fell to the ground even then they would still continue and keep on going till the next day. In October 1349, Pope Clement VI announced publicly that the Flagellants were not supporting the regulations and principles of the Church. They were excluding people from being involved in the sacraments and services of the Church. By the following years the Flagellant Movement began to disappear. Not only during the Black Death was there a rise in the Flagellant Movement but there was also a widespread persecution of Jews due to the paranoia that was happening. People began to believe many different things when they were hit with this epidemic, that destroyed most of its civilization. Their views began to change over time because they started to realize that praying was not doing much in stopping the Bubonic Plague which led to the creation of modern medicine. The plague left many damaging consequences and left the churches reputation to suffer as well. As Europeans began to calm down and stop blaming the Jews, they turned their anger towards the Catholic Church who seemed to not be helping out in stopping the Bubonic Plague.  

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How the Black Death Changed the World. (2019, Jul 01). Retrieved June 25, 2021 , from

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