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What Is The Black Death?

Context:

Recently, In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers have claimed that the disease originated in modern day northern Kyrgyzstan around 1338-1339 – nearly 7-8 years before it ravaged large parts of the world.

Relevance:

GS II- Health and Education

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What was the Black Death?
  2. Why is the new discovery significant?
  3. Why was this plague called the Black Death?
  4. How deadly was the spread, what was its aftermath?

What was the Black Death?

  • The term Black Death refers to the bubonic plague that spread across Western Asia, Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe in 1346-53.
  • Most scholars agree that the Black Death, which killed millions, was caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis and was spread by fleas that were carried by rodent hosts.
  • The microorganism Y. pestis spread to human populations, who at some point transmitted it to others either through the vector of a human flea or directly through the respiratory system.
  • Contemporaries who wrote about the epidemic, often described the buboes (hard, inflamed lymph nodes) as the distinguishing clinical feature.
  • The onset of symptoms was followed by intense fever and vomiting of blood.
  • After the initial infection, most victims died within 2-7 days.

Why is the new discovery significant?

  • The geographical origin point of the plague has been debated for centuries.
  • Some historians have argued that the plague originated in China, and spread across Europe by Italian merchants who first entered the continent in trading caravans through Crimea.
  • According to another contested theory based on a 1348 memoir of an Italian notary from Piacenza, it has been argued Mongol army hurled plague-infested bodies into the city during the siege of Caffa (Crimea) and led to spread of the disease.

Why was this plague called the Black Death?

  • It is commonly believed that the term Black Death gets its name from the black marks that appeared on some of the plague victims’ bodies.
  • However, historians argued that this term, which only emerged centuries later, had less to do with the disease’s clinical symptoms, and more to do with how European writers from the 19th century onwards understood the epidemic.
  • In the 14th century, the epidemic was referred to as the ‘great pestilence’ or ‘great death’, due to the demographic havoc that it caused.

How deadly was the spread, what was its aftermath?

  • Due to a lack of comprehensive historical data from that time, it is difficult to know the exact death toll. Around 60-65 per cent of Europe’s population or 52 million people died due to the plague.
  • A dramatic reduction in population was accompanied with huge economic and social changes in Europe.
  • With a smaller labour force available, wages went up, leaving ordinary people with a higher economic surplus.
  • The Black Death also led to an increase in religious persecution of the Jews, who were blamed for spreading the contagion.

-Source: Indian Express


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