European Economic History

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EuropeanEconomic History

EuropeanEconomic History


TheBlack Death remains one of the devastating and memorable plagues thatmake part of the European economic history (Platt, 2014). ThePandemic emerged in Europe in the year 1347-1350. Thought to be abacterial infection caused by YersiniaPestis,it caused a significant number of deaths. According to researchers,the pandemic first arose in China and was brought to Europe bytraders whose ships had docked at Messina port in Sicily. The diseaseis believed to have approximately killed half of the population inEurope, resulting in a population decrease by an estimate of between350 and 450 million in the year 1400. The pandemic came back toEurope at various instances between the year 1347 and 1671 until inthe 19thcentury when it left Europe (Schmid et al., 2015). The Black Deathled to social, economic and religious upheavals which consequentlyhave negative and positive effects on the long-term development ofEurope. This paper will explore the positive and negative effects ofthe Black Death on the European development.

Accordingto studies conducted the Black Death is thought started near Chinaand was spread by traders who used the Silk Road by ship through theMediterranean to Europe. The pandemic resulted in a large number ofdeaths reducing the European population by approximately 50%(DeWitte, 2014). The plague used to return in intervals withdifferent mortality and virulence until the 19th century. Some of thenotable epidemics include the Great Plague of Seville, the GreatPlague of London, Italian plague and the Great Plague of Vienna(Persson, 2015). Various researchers have different ideas concerningthe cause of the disease even though most of them argue it was abacterial illness.

The14th-century emergence of the Black Death had a tremendous effect onthe population of Europe resulting in a change in the socialstructure irrevocably. Some of the impact of the epidemic includedpersecution of minorities including the foreigners, beggars, Jews andlepers (DeWitte, 2014). Some of the common symptoms of the diseasewere the appearance of buboes in the neck, armpits, and groin, pusoozing from them and bled whenever opened. The effects of thiscatastrophe affected the medieval life both socially politically andeconomically. This paper will explore the history of the Black Death,the positive and adverse effects of Black Death and how this impactedthe European development.

Historyof Black Death

TheBlack Death is among the most significant historical events that tookplace during the medieval era. The terrible pandemic is believed tohave originated in China. The plague was introduced in Europe bytwelve Genoese traders using the Silk Road through the Mediterraneanin October 1347 where it spread over the Island rapidly (DeWitt,2014). The plague attacked all the parts of Europe except some fewparts such as the Poland Kingdom and the isolated areas ofNetherlands and Belgium (Persson, 2015). The disease was named theBlack Death because the primary symptom of the infection was skinblackening around the buboes or swelling caused by the epidemic.Similarly, the blood that oozed from the buboes was black with agreenish scum that was vile smelling hence the name Black Death.

Theillness spread rapidly because the transmission agents were the fleasthat were often carried by the rats and other small rodents. Thespread of the Black Death went all through to all trade routes allover the country (Schmid et al., 2015). The disease was tragic inthat it killed approximately 60% of the European people. Some of thesymptoms of the illness included painful buboes on the neck, leg,groin or in the armpits. The swelling at first was red in color, butlater it changed to dark purple and finally black. Other symptomswere muscular pains, delirium, fever, mental disorientation, bleedingof the lungs and vomiting. The victims of the Black Death died within2-4 days after contracting the disease.

Someof the treatments used in this era included lancing the swellings andapplication of onion, garlic, and warm butter. Other remedies usedwere using vinegar as a cleansing agent, use of arsenic, dried toadand lily roots (DeWitte, 2014). All the treatments used during themiddle age did not kill the disease but instead relieved pain as thevictim waited for his or her death.

TheBlack Death remained historical in Europe by claiming approximately200 million people. The decline in population led to increasing inwages for the peasants through the Peasants Revolt that took place in1381 and shift in economic activities from farming to textureindustry (Platt, 2014). Most people lost their faith in the churchand its prestige, influence and power decreased which consequentlyled to English Transformation.

Theplague repeatedly continued to haunt Mediterranean and the Europebetween the 14th and 17th centuries at different instances. Thesecond outbreak was between 1360- 1671, whereby the disease couldreturn for like two years, disappear and come again after some timethe bacteria surviving in a particular rodent outbreaks again.

TheEffects of the Black Death on European Development

TheBlack Death affected Europe for some centuries, emerging in 1347, andby the 15th century, it had killed approximately 50% of thepopulation which had a considerable economic impact. Some of thenegative effects include the destruction of the labor force due tothe high number of lives lost which led to few productive people toimprove the economy (Platt, 2014). The price of hiring workers washigh because most people were sick while others had died from thepandemic. The cost of buying goods was high caused by the high pricesincurred in hiring workers. The demand for workers was high forcingthe laborers to work for more than one lord, which was tedious to theemployees. The plague was a blow to the masters who were compelled toincrease the wages of their workers to retain them on their land.

Anothereffect of the Black Death was migration whereby most people fled fromtheir homeland abandoning their families and friends to countrieswhere the pandemic had not erupted. This resulted in an increase inpopulation and workforce in the countries they fled to while leavingthe Europe economy deteriorating (Schmid et al., 2015). The economicstructure changed from land-based wealth to portable wealth such asskills, money, and services. The economy of Europe went down due tolow labor-force to work on the farms because the healthy individualsfled their homes leaving the sick behind.

Thearts industry was also negatively affected as the mood associatedwith the profession changed to pessimism. The art images turned to bedeath representations. The role of sculptors and painters changedinto portraying death as well as the images of the dying people. Theattitude of people towards music and art became negative as themessages sent from them were sad, and they saw this industry as acontributor to depression instead of healing their broken hearts(Platt, 2014). This resulted in a sharp fall of the music and artindustry hence deteriorating the Europe economy.

Religionwas also affected, more so the Christian church which lost itsspiritual authority, prestige, and leadership over individuals.People felt the plague was a punishment from God and since it killedeven the priests, it made them lose their faith in the church(DeWitte, 2014). People revolted against the church leaders who hadalways promised to pray for the people to cure, but their prayersfailed to bear fruits. This ultimately resulted in EnglishReformation.

Someof the positive effects of the plague include the invention of modernmedicine as well as tremendous changes in hospital management andpublic health resulting to an improved economy. Similarly, peoplewere more concerned with hygiene because they believed the diseasewas likely to attack people in a bad sanity (Platt, 2014).Additionally, the plague led to an increase in the wages of thepeasants due to their growing demand. A high population of workershad died, resulting in scarcity in laborers and forcing the mastersto increase wages to attract farmers to work on their farms. Serfswere no longer committed to one master immediately one left theland, another master could be waiting to hire him or her at a higherprice. The lords had no option left than to make the deal profitableto the peasants to avoid the being bought by other masters (Schmid etal., 2015).

Anotherpositive effect resulted from the shift from farming to pasturingwhich was viewed to be much labor-intensive (DeWitte, 2014). Theadoption of animal farming improved the texture industry as there wasenough wool to produce clothing. This improved the economy as thosepeople who were not able of earning an income from crop farming.

Similarly,due to the decline in population in the Europe, both peasants and thewealthy were able to provide for themselves from the land as theirwages had been increased. Additionally, the available resources wereto be divided over a less population hence improving the livingstandards of the remaining population (DeWitte, 2014). The farmyields improved because the reduced population could easily use theonly fertile land for farming and leave the other for pasturing andfrequent practice of fallowing.

Conclusively,the economy of the Europeans in the medieval age differedsubstantially as compared to the pre-plague period. This was as aresult of the pandemic that claimed a lot of lives affecting theEuropean development. The plague period was associated to bothnegative and positive effects concerning development. Despite thehigh prices of goods, the peasants were able to fend adequately forthemselves and their families due to the increase in wages. Thepeasant gains turned to be the masters’ losses as the lords had totreat their farmers fairly to avoid losing them. On the other hand,the pandemic caused a lot of deaths resulting in a decrease in thelabor force that tremendously slowed down the European economy. Sincethe plague destroyed people and not property, the survivingpopulation remained with a lot of resources besides the commercialand technological skills that developed in response to the pandemic.From another perspective, the Black Death was a catastrophic eventwhose retrenchment was unavoidable, but it finally diminished thepossible economic barriers and instead opened up new opportunitiesfor the development of Europe.


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Persson,K. G., &amp Sharp, P. (2015).&nbspAneconomic history of Europe.Cambridge University Press.

Platt,C. (2014).&nbspKingDeath: The Black Death and its aftermath in late-medieval England.Routledge.

Schmid,B. V., Büntgen, U., Easterday, W. R., Ginzler, C., Walløe, L.,Bramanti, B., &amp Stenseth, N. C. (2015). Climate-drivenintroduction of the Black Death and successive plague reintroductionsinto Europe.&nbspProceedingsof the National Academy of Sciences,&nbsp112(10),3020-3025.