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13 Facts About The Black Death – The Deadliest Pandemic in Human History

7. Believing that the people of England were struck down by the wrath of God in the form of The Black Plague, the Scottish army tried to invade Britain. However, they caught the infection and took it back with them to Scotland.

Scottish soldiers
Scottish soldiers. (Image used for representational purpose only) Image credits: The Story Of Scotland/Wikipedia

After learning that the land of the English has been seized by the plague, Scots deemed it as the wrath of God exercised because of the atrocities committed by the English. Seeking to take full advantage of the situation, Scots planned to attack all of England. Soon enough, the infection ran amok amongst the soldiers of the Scottish army killing approximately 5,000 of them.

The remaining decided to retreat and return home. In the process, they took the plague back with them. The country of Scotland reeled under the pain inflicted by the great plague for years to come. (1, 2

8. The Black Death was personified by an old woman carrying a rake and a broom. If she used the rake, some would survive in between the teeth of the rake. If she used the broom the whole population of an area would die. 

Black Death depiction
Black Death depiction. Image credits: Warhammerfantasy.fandom.com, Theodor Kittelsen/Wikimedia

Folklore is often the best way to know more about a particular incident in time. Events like wars, pandemics, and others are embedded in the contemporary culture of that time. It gets reflected in the poems, stories, music, and other artworks. In one such folklore from Northern Europe, The Black Death is personified as an old, crooked woman who carries a broom and a rake.

According to the stories, when the old woman used the rake, very few in an area would survive, but some would survive, nonetheless. However,  if she used a broom instead, the plague will not leave anyone behind. (source)

9. The Black Death led to a sharp decline in the available workforce in England and Wales. Vagrancy laws criminalized unemployed people who could work but chose not to. People who were too sick or old to work had to obtain beggar’s licenses. 

Beggar
People had to obtain beggar’s licenses. Image credit: PhotoJuli86 / Shutterstock.com

Following the carnage wrought by The Black Death in England and Wales, the Ordinance of Labourers was enforced in 1349. The law made clear of the following things:

  • Everyone under the age of 60 must work and not sit idly.
  • The wages cannot be higher than they were during the pre-plague time. Employers and workers must keep that in mind.
  • No landowner/employer can hire more than the required workforce to work on their lands.
  • Products must not be priced out of a reasonable limit to earn higher profits.
  • No alms or free food must be given out of pity to able-bodied beggars.

The law, which is widely considered as the precursor to the English Labour Law, was in most part ineffective. The workers/laborers kept on pressing for higher wages from the employers. They reveled in their newfound prosperity for a period that extended over a century until the population returned to its pre-plague levels. (source)

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10. During the first outbreak of The Black Death in France in 1348, cities ran out of the consecrated ground to bury the dead in so quickly, that the current pope, Clement VI, had to bless the entire Rhone river to allow corpses to be legally dumped in it.

Burial ground
Burial ground. Image credit: Marmalade Photos / Shutterstock.com

When The Black Death pandemic first reached Europe in 1347, Clement VI was on the papal throne. He considered the pandemic divine wrath. His physicians advised him to surround himself with torches to keep the plague at bay.

However, the pope soon grew skeptical of the idea and instead immersed himself into taking care of the sick and the dying. He came face to face with a new problem. So high was the mortality rate due to the plague that there were no more burial grounds left in the cities for the dead.

Pope Clement VI then consecrated the entire Rhone River making it holy ground. The river then became a dumping ground for the bodies. (source)

11. Vintners in Italy found an innovative way, “Wine Windows,” to sell wine during the plague pandemic. These windows are in use again due to COVID-19.

Wine windows
Wine windows. Image credits: Buchette del Vino/Facebook

Buchette Del Vino, or “Wine Windows” as they are famously called, have been in existence since before the plague. They were built to remove the middle-man and allow the farmers to sell their products directly to the customer.  When the plague hit the cities of Italy, these windows became a great tool to avoid spreading the contagion while continuing the business.

The shop owner would pass the wine through the hole along with a metal plate to collect the coins. The coins will then be washed with vinegar, which supposedly killed the plague bacteria. Today, over 267 “Wine Windows” have been rediscovered in Tuscany, with 149 in Florence alone. These are now used to dispense wine and food during the current COVID-19 pandemic. (1, 2, 3

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12. The Black Death wiped out 75 to 200 million of the world’s population. A loss so heavy, the world was not able to recover from it until the 17th century. 

Black death
The Black Death wiped out 75 to 200 million of the world’s population.

The Black Death, along with the “Great Famine” of the middle ages, wreaked havoc in Europe. Together, they killed between 30% to 60% of the population. The plague further reached parts of Africa and Western Asia from merchants on the Genoese ships. Once the plague reached the shores, it was then transmitted by human fleas, causing pneumonic plague.

This type of plague can be transmitted from person-to-person via aerosols leading to a much faster rate of inland expansion than bubonic plague, which is caused by rat fleas. According to several estimates, such a rapid expansion may have reduced the world’s population by 75 to 200 million.

Further, due to other contributing factors such as the recurrence of plague sporadically in various parts of the world and the “Little Ice Age,” the world was not able to recover its population numbers until the 17th century. (1, 2)

13. Though the Bubonic Plague is no longer a raging pandemic as it was during the middle ages, it still recurs in different parts of the world from time to time. Globally, a total of 3,248 cases were recorded between 2010 and 2015, resulting in 584 deaths. 

Black Death is no longer a raging pandemic
Bubonic plague is still around.

Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) gets thousands of reported incidences of the bubonic plague. These cases occur mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and Peru. Together, these areas account for over 95% of the plague cases.

As recently as July 2020, a village in China’s Inner Mongolia was cordoned off after a man reportedly died because of the bubonic plague. In the United States state of Colorado, two people died of the plague in 2015.

The advent of modern medicine has helped a great deal in the treatment of plague. However, it has failed to eliminate it completely. After its recurrence, WHO has categorised the plague as a re-emerging disease. (1, 2, 3)

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