Submitted By Brandon-Calvert
Words: 1581
Pages: 7



Brandon Calvert

Submitted in partial fulfillment for the requirements of

12 November 2014
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Kenneth B. Moore, Instructor
With the claiming the lives of tens of millions of people and changing the western world socially and economically, the Black Plague is said to have been one of the most successful and deadly pandemics to have happened in history. It is said to have killed up to fifty percent of the entire European population (between 25 and 30 million) between 1348 and 1400.1 The exact cause of the disease and its transferability have been debated since the event. Some 14th century explanations being “God’s punishment for sins, part of an apocalyptic event preceding the second coming of Jesus Christ, planetary alignment of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars” among other contemporary ideas.2 Research and descriptions of events presented in this paper show that the disease is a bacterial one that presented itself, thrived, and spread throughout Europe partially due to the conditions of the area but the pandemic known as the Black Death that occurred in 14th century Europe was mostly a result of international trade with China and the Middle East through the Silk Road trading network of roads. A brief description of the events that led up to the spread of the disease is required in order to understand how this disease operated, spread, and became so successful at claiming victims.
The actual “plague” disease is caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacterium that has been identifies in insects and animals including fleas, rats, camels, dogs, and cats.3 Three different forms of plague have been identified clinically – bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic – all deadly in their own right.4 Although the bubonic version was the most common, referring to the Black Death as the Bubonic Plague is actually a misnomer because all versions of the plague were possible and present during this pandemic. Pneumonic plague is a bacterial infection of the lungs. Infected individuals with this version of plague will experience coughing up blood and mucous, decreased lung function, and pulmonary edema – a condition where the air sacs of the lungs fill with fluid, eventually leading to respiratory failure. Septicemic plague is an infection of the bloodstream. Here, sufferers bleed internally and also suffer from pain and inflammation of various tissues including the heart, liver, and kidneys. The most widely known version, bubonic plague, affects the lymph nodes causing inflammation (buboes) and pain.5 In his book Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio describes symptoms of this version of the plague observed in the 1340s:
In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits. Some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg, some more, some less, which the common folk called gavocciolo. From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all direction indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere.6

The Silk Road dramatically expanded the scope of trade by connecting territories in Europe to those in Asia and northern Africa. Another misnomer, the Silk Road was not a single road (nor was it made of silk), but rather a network of land and sea trade routes used to exchange goods and ideas; among these are food, animals, spices, raw materials, textiles, ivory, religion, philosophy, and of course silk from China – one of the most valued amenities by both Chinese and European folk alike. The Mongol conquest of central Asia reinvigorated trade in central Asia with the purpose being to collect tax revenue and gain access to goods and supplies that they otherwise would have not had access