Written by the editors at Bamfacts - Dec 2nd, 2016
The Plague (also called Black Death) was a mass breakout of the bubonic plague in the 14th century in Europe.
It arrived in Europe when a Mongol army attacked Kaffa, a city in today's Crimea. The army was infected with the disease it brought from Asia, and therefore was not able to take over the city, however, they catapulted the corpses of the dead soldiers back into the city, infecting all inhabitants.
The first occurrence of the plague in today's Europe was in the Sicilian port of Messina in 1347, when ships carrying refugees from Kaffa arrived with sick crew members. The ships were ordered out of the port, but rats carrying the disease had already gotten ashore.
From then, the disease was transferred to people by fleas that drank the rats' blood, and spit it in humans.
In the early 14th century, hygiene in Europe was very poor. For example, people didn't wash their hands and didn't shower. This was what allowed the disease to be transferred among people so easily.
The disease was airborne (e.g. coughing, sneezing), which allowed it to spread quickly from sick to healthy people. It killed its victims within a week.
People fled their cities only to infect the areas they fled to (shown on the map below).
Fun fact: Even though Poland lost 25% of its population, it largely avoided the disasters of the plague, which other countries were facing. Here are some reasons why:
A)Poland set up quarantines at national borders and trading posts long before other countries did so.
B) Superstitious beliefs towards animals weren't widely spread in Poland, so people didn't focus on hunting black cats, which ate rats and actually helped contribute to the overall control over the spread of the disease.
C)The Polish lived in remote villages far away from each other, which, obviously, made it harder for the disease to contaminate largely populated areas.
Symptoms of the disease included:
-Black spots on the skin, which indicated where the disease entered the body
-sometimes vomiting blood (followed by slowly vomiting lungs out...ay caramba)
Nobody knew what caused the plague, or how to treat it. Most connected it with Christianity (the primary religion of Europe), and thought that becoming more religiously engaged could lead to a cure.
Doctors also had very poor knowledge of the plague, which is why they tried curing patients, by making them bathe in vinegar or rosewater. That, undoubtedly, didn't help at all.
Eventually, the healthy started leaving their sick families. Even doctors stopped seeing patients, after realising that there was no hope in saving them.
Not-so-fun fact: in some areas, the Jews were blamed for contaminating the local water supplies, and were often massacred. Sometimes, a city's population was more dangerous for the Jews than the plague. Around 210 Jewish communities were destroyed by 1351.
By 1953, the Black Plague killed 40%-50% of the European population. It is unknown how many people died exactly, but it is believed that at least 25 million people were killed (that number could be higher or lower. Again, it is imprecise). It took Europe approx. two centuries to restore its population.
How the disease was eradicated
Quarantines were put into effect. People found out, that the sick infected the healthy, and that the most logical thing to do is to stay away from them. That way, the sick died without infecting anyone else.
People started following simple hygienic rules, like washing hands before eating, making it harder for the disease to reach others. Thus, it started spreading at slower rates.
Eventually, very few people were suffering from the Black Death. Around the mid 1350s (the exact date is still debated among historians) the period of Black Death ended, however, the plague was never eradicated entirely, and there were other outbreaks of it throughout history to follow. The disease still exists today, but thankfully, modern medication will prevent another mass breakout of the bubonic plague.