Can you imagine the horrors of the Black Death. Dead bodies would have littered the streets waiting to be piled onto the carts to be taken away and burnt. Homeless children abandoned. Wolves coming down from the mountains to feed on the dead bodies. No sanitation, no doctors, no medical help. To put matters into perspective a so called medical facility in Paris sent a report to the king of France that blamed the heavens, in the form of a conjunction of three planets in 1345 that caused a "great pestilence in the air".
To be struck down by the Black Plague or Black Death has it was commonly called was almost like having a death sentence passed on you. Initially you would have small dark swellings appear under your armpits, in the groin area and around your neck. These swellings called Buboes or gavocciolos would grow to the size of an egg or even as large as an apple, and turn black in the process. Thus the term 'Black Death'. Other symptoms included acute fever and vomiting of blood. Most victims died two to seven days after initial infection.
In the 14th century medical knowledge was a joke, to the healthy and unaffected people it would have appeared contagious. And so very little help would have been forthcoming from others if you were struck down. As with human nature the people looked to put the blame on someone or something and the top of the list were lepers, Jews and Gipsys. But the brunt of the peoples anger was taken out on those who suffered with forms of skin disease such as psoriasis and acne. What would you have done if you were a Jew in 1348 ?
These poor souls were singled out and killed. In fact such was the level of ignorance and sheer terror against jewish communities, that in 1349, the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne were exterminated. In same year, the citizens of Strasbourg murdered 2,000 Jews. It is estimated that 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities were destroyed in total.
In the years prior to the Black Death sweeping Europe, the world underwent extreme weather conditions, now known as the “little ice age” Basically this meant that the winters were colder, harsher and resulting in poor crops. Wheat, oats, hay and consequently livestock were all in short supply. This of course led to malnutrition and a European population susceptible to infections and weakened immunity. Couple this with the fact that most households had five or more children per woman throughout Europe, resulting in a high population growth. In 1314 a seven year famine hit Northwest Europe, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
It is generally accepted that the Black Death originated somewhere in China. Spereading eastwards along the trading routes such as the silk road. The other major advance of the disease was by ship. Although rats are commonly blamed for the spread of the disease its actually the fleas they carried that were the carriers. And ships were always full of rats. Within four years the Black Death had spread across most of Europe.
At one point it was thought that the disease was being spread by cats and dogs. In England the Mayor of London ordered all such pets to be killed. However, as the cats were the main killers of rats and kept their numbers under control, the extermination of these animals only led to speeding up the spread of the disease and an exposion of the rat population. The people slowly realised their mistake and cats were then given god like status and protected by law.
Its difficult to estimate exactly how many people died. But the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe's population. In England alone more than half the population perished. If you lived in that time frame and survived, it would mean that half of all the people you knew would be gone. Dead. In France almost 90% died. Over 30 million died as a result of it in China. And, it reduced the world population from around 450 million to 350 million in the 14 th century.
It took 150 years for Europe to fully recover from that terrible time.