Black Death In the 1340s, approximately one third to one half the population of Europe was wiped out by what was called “The Black Death”. The people of the time were armed with little to no understanding of why and how the plague happened and how to control it; and this allowed for the vast destruction that occurred in little more than three years time. The origin of the epidemic has, with little doubt, been identified as Lake Issyk-Koul in what is now a part of Russian Central Asia. A flood, or some other natural disaster, drove various rodents from their habitats around the lake; and with them they carried fleas infected with the plague. A species of wild rodents normally isolated from humanity spread the plague to the more common black rat, which has been riding on board ships since man first set sail.
The plague then followed the trade routes all over Europe. “Ships arrived from Caffa at the port of Messina, Sicily. A few dying men clung to the oars; the rest lay dead on the decks.. Ships that carried the coveted goods of the fabled East now also carried death. The Pestilence had come to the shores of Europe” (Wark).
The accounts of the plague tell of the symptoms being tumors in the groin or the armpits and black livid spots on the arm or thigh, typical symptoms of Bubonic plague. However, Bubonic plague normally takes several days to kill, and many accounts tell of victims falling dead inside one day of contracting the disease. The variance in the cases of the Black Death are the workings of three strains of the plague: the plague proper; a pulmonary (air-borne) version, characterized by the vomiting of blood; and a septicaemic variant, capable of killing in several hours, before typical symptoms can even develop. The people the plague threatened knew neither the source of the disease, nor how to protect themselves from it. “It was said that the cause of the Pestilence or The Great Mortality — 14th-century names for the contagion — was a particularly sinister alignment of the planets, or a foul wind created by recent earthquakes. Other theories existed.
Looks, according to one medieval physician, could kill ” (Wark). They believed their best recourse for avoiding the plague, was to run from it. When flight was not an option, they attempted to purify the air by burning aromatic woods and powders. They remained inactive, almost vegetative, holed up in their homes; if one had to move, he ought to move slowly. Love, anger, and hot baths were to be avoided; and, based on the belief that bad drove out bad, potential victims would spend a half-hour daily crouched over a latrine to build up their resistance. Once one contracted the plague, death was only a question of time.
Physicians stopped visiting the infirm out of fear and the obvious futility of their efforts. They claimed the plague must be punishment from God, and therefore beyond their control. Priest still came to deliver the last rights, and consequently, they died in droves. The effects of the plague went far beyond the obvious death toll, into the souls of men and women. ” Some people callously maintained that there was no better or more efficacious remedy against a plague than to run away from it.
Swayed by this argument, and sparing no thought for anyone but themselves, large numbers of men and women abandoned their city, their homes, their relatives, their estates and their belongings, and headed for the countryside. They maintained that an infallible way of warding off this appalling evil was to drink heavily, enjoy life to the full, go around singing and merrymaking, gratify all of one’s cravings whenever the opportunity offered, and shrug the whole thing off as one enormous joke. -Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron” (Wark). Still, some people took a different view of the situation. Germany was the center for two phenomena spawned by the plague the Flagellant movement, and a wave of anti-Semitism. The Flagellants believed that by chastising themselves they could avert the wrath of God.