Medieval — Plague Doctor

The Black Death History Of The Middle Ages

When the words Black Plague come together, we automatically think of the Middle Ages. Most recently, the term Dark Ages turned inappropriate but remained used, as it has another meaning for us goths, the Bubonic Plague.

The Overall Meaning Of The Black Death

The term Black Death resonates with an outburst of bubonic plague turned into a pandemic. It occurred in Western Euroasia and spread down to North Africa. Its period of spread was between 1346 to 1353.

This era was the most brutal and fatal death-spreading pandemic in human history to this day. Nothing has ever come close to the number of deaths related to a disease. 

The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

It took the lives of 200 million people, taking about a third of the entire continent of Europe. Its ultimate peaking point in Europe was from 1347 to 1351.

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What Does The Word Bubonic Mean

The word’s etymology comes from bubō, which means swelling in Medieval Latin and from Greek, boubōn groyne swelling. 

In pathology, a bubo or buboes, if plural, is a swelling and inflammation of a lymph node. Its location is often in the armpit or groyne. This is about an infection such as the bubonic plague. But it has other sources, such as gonorrhoea, tuberculosis, or syphilis.

Bubonic Plague Buboes
Bubonic Plague Buboes

Buboes are a common, if not a telling, of the bubonic plague. The common denominator is the painful swellings in the thighs, neck, groyne and armpits. 

The buboes result from the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which spreads from flea bites nourishing themselves through the bloodstream into the lymph nodes. This is how and where the bacteria replicate itself, ultimately causing the swelling of the nods.

The Yersinia Pestis Bacteria And Its Meaning

WARNING: Before going any further, the bubonic plague spreading throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa resulted from fleas living on rats. Not people!

This is not the result of any population or country but nature following its course. The location of the origin of the plague itself is pure bad luck, i.e., the one flea species that contracted it.

Also, we are speaking of the plague in the Middle Ages and must consider the factor of medicine that was nonexistent back then. We ask our readers not to point fingers at anyone or us for writing according to historical facts.

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Yersinia pestis is the primary bacteria causing buboes. The bacteria are an organism that infects humans through the bite of an Oriental rat flea. It has no spores related to both Yersinia pseudotuberculosis or Yersinia enterocolitica.

Xenopsylla Chepsis — Oriental Rat Flea
Xenopsylla Chepsis — Oriental Rat Flea

The categorisation of Y. pestis happened in 1894. The Swiss/French bacteriologist and physician Dr. Alexandre Yersin made the discovery. He studied the bacteria in the spread of an epidemic plague in Hong Kong.

Dr. Yersin was from the Pasteur Institute and was a member of the Pasteur School of thought. Dr. Kitasato Shibasaburō was another bacteriologist from Japan who practised Koch’s Methodology working on the cause of the plague. 

Acral Gangrene Due To Plague
Acral Gangrene Due To Plague

Dr. Yersin found the conclusion and evidence of the original factor of the plague before Dr. Shibasaburō, but not without help, as many were on the case.

Koch’s Methodology goes as follows: the microorganism must be abundant in all organisms suffering from the disease but should not be found in healthy organisms. The microorganism must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.

The Black Death Beginning

So many names for one illness! Black Death, Black Plague, Bubonic Plague, Pestilence, Great Mortality, or simply, Plague. All of those point to one period, the Middle Ages, and bring us to another way of telling of that era, the Dark Ages. 

However, in this circumstance, the word ‘black’ originates from Scandinavia using the word ‘black’ for death. The French called it ‘la mort noir,’ a word-for-word translation to ‘the Black Death.’ It became popular in English in the 1750s.

The Black Death

The true origin of the plague remains to this day unknown. It points toward either Central or East Asia due to the type of flea it took to spread.

Following its point of origin, fleas and rats took it to Crimea through the Golden Horse army of Jani Beg. At the time, Jani Beg took it upon himself to besiege the trading port of Kaffa in today’s Ukraine in 1347.

The Origin Of The Black Death Is About The Journey Not The Destination

Is the location and method of transportation absolute? No. Historians, alongside scientists with historical reports, archives, research and analysis, believe the besieging of Kaffa to be one of the first events to spread the plague. 

The reason is that it was an important trading fort. The spreading of the plague would be easy for rats and fleas to board ships, embark, disembark, multiply, and so on.

1346-1353 Spread Of The Black Death In Europe Map
1346-1353 Spread Of The Black Death In Europe Map

Trading routes would be the primary source of the spreading regardless of where it began. The trading ports and routes in the Middle Ages led to the Mediterranean Basin, Constantinople, Sicily, the Italian Peninsula, North Africa, and Western Asia, and that was only the beginning. 

The plague did find France and the British Isles and spread wider. Again, the plague might have had many origin points with various trading ports.

But How Did The Black Death Spread So Quickly?

We all know that the plague spread through fleas living on rats. Rats are rodents that multiply fast and can squeeze themselves to the size of their skull regardless of how fat they can be. 

It’s easy for them to sneak anywhere and everywhere. Also, rats adapt fast and next to nothing can kill them. They are the ultimate warriors and survivors and the cause of the most significant death by disease in human history.

WARNING: Do not go on a personal vendetta against rats! Nature made them for a reason. If there is an infestation, call an exterminator or animal control. Just a reminder, we aren’t in the Middle Ages anymore.

The Black Death Came From Multiple Places At Once

Back to the Black Death, there is evidence that the plague morphed into other forms of possible spreading once ashore.

While the primary method of transmission was through bites, person-to-person could have been possible. This brings us to the pneumonic plague, which was an efficient way to spread the bacteria quickly.

The Black Death
The Black Death

To further prove that the Mongol conquests in the 1300s might not even be the point of origin, in 2022, a discovery surfaced. In the late fourteenth century, a surge of deaths occurred in today’s Kyrgyzstan, causing the Black Death. 

When scientists and historians combine the genetic evidence with the timeline, it changes the perspective of the bubonic plague’s origin.

Was It Hygiene That Made The Black Death So Fast To Spread?

In the Middle Ages, filth was common in streets and populated areas. Livestock, hay, excrement and rotten food often surrounded towns’ inhabitants. Not everyone could have access to lakes or tubs. Often families would share the same water to wash themselves, one after the other.

Plague Doctor

The concept of germs and bacteria spreading with unwashed surfaces was general knowledge in the nineteenth century. People lived among human parasites that were abundant. This way of living facilitated the transmission of numerous diseases.

By the 1300s, filth had accumulated so much in the most urban villages of Europe that countries like France named streets in the sarcastic honour of human faeces. The word ‘merde,’ meaning ‘shit,’ became creative: Merdeux, Merdelet, Merdusson, Merdons, Merdière, and ‘Pipi,’ meaning ‘piss.’

Why Bathe When You Can Catch The Black Death?

Hygiene care was ignored so much that it became nearly impossible to breathe on streets in populated places such as London and Paris. Blood, urine, excrements, and vomit, among other bodily functions and fluids, from animals and humans alike, were common on the streets of urban towns. 

Nuremberg Chronicles — Dance Of Death CCLXIIIIV

The rule was to shout three times the words “Look out below!” before dumping containers of either human discharges or rotten foods on the street.

The Clergy didn’t help the hygiene cause by stating that taking a hot bath to clean oneself could be a temptation leading to indecency. St. Agnes, in fact, died without ever bathing at all. Therefore, the Church implemented a kind of decree ordered by St. Benedict.

“To those who are well, especially the young, bathing shall seldom be permitted.”

St. Benedict

The Superstition Of The Black Death

It is not a secret that most diseases back in the Middle Ages, including the Black Death, were often sources of speculation. Because of the lack of resources and knowledge, especially in medicine or science, people turned to the Church.

Weirdly and logically, at the same time, the ‘Big Three’ faiths on the globe pointed toward their God. The plague was God’s way of separating the sinners from the believers in all three religions. 

Medieval — The Black Death — MAP
Medieval — The Black Death — MAP

It showed who would assent to heaven and would be damned to hell. Of course, they interpreted it as such in their own ways, wording, and beliefs.

The plague, of course, had no regard for who believed in what and spread faster among the poor and homeless. It led to the mass burning of corpses and belongings. 

My King, Let Us Catapult Corpses At Our Enemy!

In some other cases, when under siege, during battles, knights would use plague corpses to catapult inside forts. They believed dead bodies would carry the illness to their enemies.

It wasn’t uncommon to tie dead livestock and plagued bodies together like boulders and use those as biowarfare weapons. Sometimes, even people still alive at death’s door would be catapulted. 

Little did they know dead corpses aren’t as contagious. It is traumatic and can cause people to faint and vomit, but not the plague. RATS AND FLEAS, PEOPLE! Not dead corpses! Do not take your advice from the Middle Ages. That is my point! 

But What Are The Symptoms Of The Black Death?

The first telling of the plague, like most viruses and infectious diseases, is a fever. The plague’s fever varies from 38 °C to 41 °C or 100 °F to 106 °F. Headaches, aching of a higher degree of the joints, nausea and vomiting with a malaise were often the package deal of the plague.

#TheMoreYouKnow moment: The word ‘malaise’ has been part of the French language from at least the twelfth century. It means a ‘general discomfort and aching’ usually linked to an infectious disease or illness.

The most common telling of the plague is the formation of buboes in the groyne, neck, and armpits. It would often ooze pus and bleed if torn or punctured. 

Back in the Middle Ages, people would usually die within a week. In today’s world, if left untreated, eighty percent of patients typically die within eight days.

Egg Legs And Apple-Sized Pus-Filled Sacks

Men and women have the exact emergence of tumour-looking bumps in the groyne or armpits. Some could be as large as an apple, while others would be the size of an egg. 

Those buboes spread throughout the entire body and are deadly. The following symptom is the growth of black spots or livid, making themselves known in general areas and multiplying.

Medieval Dungeon - Torture
Medieval Dungeon – Torture

The buboes usually seal the patient’s death, but symptoms keep coming with the plague. Usually, once the buboes and black markings have emerged, blood vomit and acute fever are the next steps. 

Freckle spots and rashes followed, which can be because of flea bites. Most people don’t make it past six to seven days after the initial infection.

The Black Death Is Still Alive And Caught By People

Despite the Black Death’s association with the Middle Ages, because it is a bacteria, it keeps adapting to its environment. Why aren’t we plagued by it again? 

Because of our hygiene, awareness against rat infestation, and regulation of where people work, eat, and shop is in place. We tend to live away from rats or keep our distance.

The Black Death Buboes — Modern Day
The Black Death Buboes — Modern Day

However, we are not all that lucky. There are less fortunate parts of the world where the plague is still alive and well. It isn’t frequent, but not uncommon. Recently, there were two cases in California where two patients caught the bubonic plague.

Luckily, we now have science and medicine to cure and keep us healthy and strong. We do not walk in excrement and urine or infested streets and bathe regularly. 

The Black Death Isn’t Dead

It is worth mentioning that the plague killed a third of the world’s population. Without science and medicine, we wouldn’t be alive today, and getting medication and vaccinations when needed is important. It’s to protect ourselves and the lives of others.

The subject of the Black Death is fascinating and one of the most horrifying diseases in history. The Black Death in time taught us the importance of knowledge. 

ASK A MORTICIAN

They spread the plague through fleas biting rats, not people. It taught us that hygiene is important, and so is studying to understand our surroundings. So, it is also important to say that the Black Death isn’t dead.

Wash your hands, keep away from rats, get your meds and vaccines, and keep living the goth life, everyone!

The OCD Vampire

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