The Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350.
It is widely thought to have been an outbreak of plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.
There have been three major outbreaks of plague. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries is the first recorded occurrence.
The Plague Doctor
A plague doctor was a special medical physician who saw those who had the bubonic plague. They were specifically hired by towns in times of plague epidemics.
These "doctors" were not normally professionally-trained, experienced physicians or surgeons, they often were second-rate doctors, not able to otherwise run a successful medical business or young physicians trying to establish themselves. Most plague doctors were essentially volunteers, as qualified doctors had (usually) already fled, knowing they could do nothing for those affected.
Plague doctors by their covenant treated only plague patients.
A plague doctor's duties were often limited to visiting victims to verify whether they had been afflicted or not.
Surviving records of contracts drawn up between cities and plague doctors often gave the plague doctor enormous latitude and heavy financial compensation, given the risk of death involved for the plague doctor himself.
It is not known how effective they were in treatment of the disease. It's likely that while the plague doctor's clothing offered small protection to the wearer, the plague doctors themselves may have actually contributed more to the spreading of the disease than its treatment, in that the plague doctor unknowingly served as a vector for infected fleas to move from host to host.
How the Plague Spread
Cataclysm: The Black Death Visits Tuscany
Until 1348, people in Sienna and Florence enjoyed the richest, safest, and most comfortable lives in their history. But almost overnight, their certainty of life—and even any hope of a good death—was gone. This program assesses the aftermath of the ferocious damage unleashed by the bubonic plague on the two city-states. Historians Alexander Nagel and Nicholas Terpstra, from the University of Toronto, and professional artisans—chief among them, sculptor Marcello del Colle, from Opera del Duomo—comment on how dazzling works of architecture went unfinished, artisans became more intrigued with the divine world than the natural, and how from the ashes a new spiritual inquiry would spring, paving the way for the High Renaissance. (49 minutes)
Heresy, War, and the Black Death: Christianity in the 13th and 14th Centuries
Part one of this program follows the dual enterprises of constructing cathedrals and stamping out heresy. Buildings of unprecedented grandeur exemplified the power and influence of the Church in Europe, as did the systematic destruction of the heretic Cathars. Part two covers King Philip IV of France’s defiance of Church authority and the Black Death. Although the Pope declared the Plague a judgment by God, rumors of a Jewish plot were rife, leading to anti-Semitic massacres in Germany and elsewhere. (48 minutes)
Micro-Parasites: Invisible Death
Stronger and more mobile than ever, humankind’s oldest enemies—lethal micro-parasites—may very well be threatening the survival of the human race. Some were believed to have been eradicated from the industrialized world, only to reappear in drug-resistant strains. Others, previously known only to remote regions of the planet, are turning up anywhere an infected traveler can fly to. This program examines recent outbreaks of parasitic or parasite-borne illnesses, including SARS, West Nile virus, Ebola, tuberculosis, and bubonic plague. Viewer discretion is advised. (50 minutes)
History Channel Videos
Symptoms of the Plague
Please note: this box contains graphic descriptions of plague symptoms...
The Black Death was one or a combination of the bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plague bacterium. The symptoms varied, depending on which form of the disease was present in the victim's system.
The following is a list of typical symptoms of the Black Death.
- Painful swellings of the lymph nodes (buboes) are the most well-known symptom; they would appear in the victim's armpits, legs, neck, or groin. Soon they turned black, split open, and began to ooze pus and blood.
- The victim would have a very high fever, delirium, muscular pains, bleeding in the lungs & mental disorientation.
- The victim would experience exhaustion, headache, nausea & vomiting.
- After the lumps appeared, the victim would start to bleed internally. There would be blood in the urine, blood in the stool, and blood puddling under the skin, resulting in black boils and spots all over the victim's body.
A victim would die quickly - victims lived less than a week after contracting the deadly disease.