The Black Death in Europe is studied by the majority of students to at least some extent by the time they graduate from high school. Most of us know the basics behind the devastating event. We know that a large portion of the European population died, that the culprit was the bubonic plague and that it was spread by flea infested rats. What is not usually studied are the social and societal changes it may have caused, then and in the future.
How many people died in Europe during the Black Death?
The Actual number of people that fell victim to the Black Death is unknown and the estimates vary widely from one third to one half of the population and people from walks of life, ages and genders died. The city of Florence may have lost as much as 75 percent of their population. The estimate for all of Christian Europe given to Pope Clement VI in 1351 was 23,840,000. The large of number of deaths made burial difficult, the solution was to bury people in mass graves, some of these mass graves have been uncovered by archeologists in London. Giovanni Boccaccio in his work The Decameron gave this description of the dire situation:
It was the common practice of most of the neighbors, moved no less by fear of contamination by the putrefying bodies than by charity towards the deceased, to drag the corpses out of the houses with their own hands, aided, perhaps, by a porter, if a porter was to be had, and to lay them in front of the doors, where any one who made the round might have seen, especially in the morning, more of them than he could count; afterwards they would have biers brought up or in default, planks, whereon they laid them. Nor was it once twice only that one and
the same bier carried two or three corpses at once; but quite a considerable number of such cases occurred, one bier sufficing for husband and wife, two or three brothers, father and son, and so forth. And times without number it happened, that as two priests, bearing the cross, were on their way to perform the last office for some one, three or four biers were brought up by the porters in rear of them, so that, whereas the priests supposed that they had but one corpse to bury, they discovered that there were six or eight, or sometimes more. Nor, for all their number, were their obsequies honored by either tears or lights or crowds of mourners rather, it was come to this, that a dead man was then of no more account than a dead goat would be to-day.
What was the emotional and psychological reaction?
From the description by Boccaccio it is clear that people were experiencing emotional changes from the traumatic events that were taking place. Before the Black Death a sense of community was very important to people, this changed, replaced by a sense of individuality, leading people to care only about their own leisure and happiness. The people of Florence reacted by spending money without care, they partied and drank, husbands left wives,...