Black Plague: The Most Fatal Pandemic in Human History

by Sarah Masih

Imagine yourself wearing your colorful tunics, living in Medieval Europe, waiting beside the dock for your sailor friend, who sailed aboard a ship that brought goods back from Asia, to come home. As the ships slowly arrive at the dock, however, you notice a large crowd, gathering around the gate of the vessels, gasping in shock and crying in pain.

When you painfully make your way to the front, you see sailors lying motionless on the floor and the rest of them looking deathly ill, but as soon as you notice the Sicilian authorities chasing away the ships from the harbor, you run away from the scene.

Now, although the ships are gone, the shock remains.

This is precisely what millions of people experienced during the black plague. Sailors, their families, friends, and Neighbors.

From 1347 to 1353, about 25 million people, in total, died. The disease spread all over Europe - from Germany to Italy to France to England to Norway and even Russia.

Scholars that researched the cause of the plague found that it was the same disease that was being gossiped about. The news of the Black Plague had reached Europe even before the 12 ships pulled into the harbor. For all we know, the black plague had already infected several countries in Asia.

Soon, many people started noticing similar symptoms of the Black Plague. It was horrifying, to say the least.

Men and women with huge swellings, disturbing boils, and raging fevers could be seen all around. The victim continued to suffer until death, and as the black plague continued, it stole the lives of more than 20 million people in Europe alone. Almost one-third of the continent’s population at the time.

Even today, the research on the black plague continues; however, the most common theory that scientists have come up with is that it spread through rats and fleas, and since both of them were common in Medieval Europe, especially in ships and cruises, it makes sense.

Today, many scientists have a rational understanding of how the plague spread, but sadly nobody in the 14th century did. The 14th century was not very medically advanced either. To cure the victims, they tried outrageous methods- from rubbing onions, herbs, a chopped up snake (or a pigeon) on the boils to even trying to eat minerals and drink vinegar.

Oftentimes, they hired plague doctors, who treated the entire city. Their special masks, which were made almost entirely from leather, were made to prevent them from breathing in the “Bad Air”, and the only explanation for the plague that Europeans came up with was that it was God’s way of punishing them and thought that overcoming the Black Plague meant that they had been forgiven by God. People even punished themselves, using leather whips studded with metals, to beg for God’s mercy.

Eventually, as human civilization started to become more sanitary and discovered vaccinations, the Black Plague faded away. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are still about 3,000 cases seen every year. It sounds terrifying, doesn't it?

The method of quarantine that we are practicing today during the outbreak of COVID-19, started way back in 1347 when all sailors had to be self-isolated for some time.

So in this pandemic, stay indoors, stay safe and continue to read our blogs!

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