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The Black Death Essay

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In the middle of the fourteenth century, disaster struck Europe. A ravaging pestilence spread at an alarming rate through city and countryside alike. Beginning as a tiny spark in Genoa, the wildfire that was the Black Death enveloped nearly all of Europe, from Italy to Britain, in a span of about three years (C. Kohn, 25). Up to 38 million lives were claimed in less than a decade, distinguishing the Black Death one of the worst pandemics in human history (C. Kohn, 25). The disease behind this catastrophe has seldom been rivaled by another. But what was this disease? Many scientists and historical scholars believe this disaster to be the work of the bubonic plague, a deadly infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis or Y. pestis (Nardo, 13). However, evidence has surfaced in the past fifty years to suggest that the Black Death was not, or at least not only, the bubonic plague. In truth, this epidemic was not the bubonic plague or any other single disease; it was two or more illnesses working in tandem.
Much of the evidence lies in the symptoms between the bubonic plague and other plagues that could have been present during this time. The bubonic plague is a disease of three stages. After an incubation of two to eight days after infection, a period usually accompanied by a high fever and flu-like symptoms (Nardo, 15), the second stage begins. This stage, by which the Black Death is supposedly named, is marked by the appearance of buboes (black welts caused by internal bleeding) in and around the lymph nodes, particularly the groin or armpits (C. Kohn, 25). Diarrhea, bloody vomit, and joint pains also play their part in this stage. The final and usually fatal stage takes place between the third and fourth week after i...


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...to be taken with a grain of salt. New evidence will surface, new theories will arise and old theories will be debunked; however, the truth behind the Black Death may never be completely uncovered. Notwithstanding, historians and scientists alike will never cease to seek the truth behind this fourteenth century catastrophe.

Works Cited
Nardo, Don. The Black Death. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1999.

Jay Bollet, Alfred. Plagues & Poxes. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, Inc. 2004

C. Kohn, George. Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence. New York: Facts On File, Inc.

Cantor, Norman. In the Wake of the Plague. New York: Harper Perennial. 2002.

Cross Giblin, James. When Plague Strikes: the Black Death, Smallpox, and AIDS. New York: HarperTrophy. 1995.

Knighton, Henry. The Black Death (1348)
< http://www.themediadrome.com/blackdeath.htm > 25 March 2008.


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