Humanity survived a variety of diseases that had caused much suffering and losses. The Bubonic plague remains the epidemic that took thousands of human lives in different corners of Europe. The purpose of this work is to explore deeply the reasons, features, consequences, and symptoms of the Bubonic Plague as well as to describe Muslim and Christian reactions to it.
The Bubonic plague is the type of disease that is transmitted through bites of infected animals or through already infected people. If untreated, this disease kills approximately two thirds of adults during four days in case of an epidemic. As back then quantity of this disease’s victims was enormous, the Bubonic plague was also called the Black Death. According to Haensch et al., “from AD 1347 to AD 1353, the Black Death killed tens of millions of people in Europe, leaving misery and devastation in its wake, with successive epidemics ravaging the continent until the 18th century”.
Little stated that the first case of bubonic plague was recorded in the Byzantine Empire and called the Plague of Justinian in the name of infected imperator, who managed to survive with the help of treatment (9). The second outbreak of this infection was the above-mentioned Black Death. According to Cohn, this disease hit in 1347 and killed one third of the Europeans. The Medieval society, which became crueler because of this plague, had enhanced its negative consequences. For instance, the epidemic was followed by “increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Cohn 705). The researchers suggest that bubonic plague originated in China, then came to Italy, and spread on the European countries. However, Martin reported the first record of bubonic plague in Mongolia approximately in 1330 A.D. (14). The Mongols were the ones who had brought this disease from the Caspian Sea to southern Russia, the Black Sea, and Italy, where this plague was transported by infected fleas on rats on boards of the ships.
Although the bubonic plague had caused deaths and suffering, it was perceived by the Medieval society as a punishment of God. People who were unaware of causes, treatment, and origin of bubonic plague supposed that they could avoid this disease by walking with flowers around their nose. The only way to be treated from the bubonic plague was to be forgiven by God. For example, people hoped to get divine forgiveness by carving ‘Lord have mercy on us’ onto their doors. Nevertheless, soon, the Europeans created some adequate and needed rules to resist bubonic plague. In the Italian city of Pistoia, for instance, citizens were not allowed to visit the plague-infected districts, and had the inhabitants done it, they were not allowed to come back to the city. Other rules stated than linen or woolen goods were prohibited to be imported to the city. Nevertheless, despite a number of restrictions and prohibitions, Pistoia became infected. Those who were not infected gathered and isolated themselves from the ill people.
The healthy people ate little, drunk little and had no oral communication in order to decrease the likeness of being infected. It is necessary to realize that the Black Death was associated with the end, suffering, evil, and death. The society was helpless and, as a result, people spread panic and fear. While their citizens were dying, some people did not waste their chances to rob, kill, rape, and to demonstrate other criminal behaviors. Mass panic, hunger, recession of economy and political life were other consequences of the Black Death. The Christian population of Europe that bothered about afterlife wanted to do their best to avoid infection and to survive. Therefore, the Christians lied, killed, robbed, blamed, and envied others. It is worth emphasizing that these activities were followed by powerful believed in God – the source of mercy, forgiveness, and kindness. Because of major social, political, economic, and cultural changes, the society that had previously functioned as successful mechanism transformed into a chaotic group of people. Social communication modified so much that hostility for survival influenced relationships between family members. The Bubonic plague brought both changes and challenges to the new European societies: people had to learn living in a different way, as they had to restore economy, social bounds, and political life. Due to millions of deaths during the Black Death, demographic problems became the most challenging ones. However, it is important to keep in mind the consequences of the plague in the field of philosophy: “The Black Death helped to make apparent that Thomism was an intellectual dead end…It was burned with a strictly observational and rhetorical approach to science and furthermore remained specifically committed to Aristotle’s error- driven physics” (Cantor 120).
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As it was mentioned above, the Christian Church viewed the Bubonic plague as a punishment for pure sins. The Christian community responded to the plague by creating the messianic crusades of pilgrims without a putative messiah, which transformed into social phenomenon. In general, the Christian reaction to the plague was marked “with profound guild and fear, which religious attitudes about mortification of the flesh often transformed into extreme penance” (Viator 274). However, the natural preoccupation with death was not consistent with the idea of Biblical Apocalypse. The Black Death was a stimulus that exposed the nervous system of the Christians in Europe (Viator 275). For example, according to Horrox, William Zouche, the Archbishop of York, explained the plague in the following way: “Almighty God sometimes allows those he loves to be troubled while their strength is perfected in weakness by an outpouring of spiritual grace” (111). The key Muslim view on the Bubonic plague was similar to the Christian view and was expressed via three rules of social and religious behaviors. The plague was a mercy from God, the Muslims were not allowed to enter plague-infected lands, and the plague had no contagion as it came from God directly. Some rules that were necessary during the Black Death were later collected in the form of legal traditions (Viator 276).
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In conclusion, the Bubonic plague remains a serious disease that took millions of lives. It caused a number of social, political, economic, religious, and cultural transformations of the European medieval societies. As contemporary Christians and Muslims were not able to resist the disease, both of them believed that the Bubonic plague was a punishment from God that should be perceived as God’s mercy because it gave a chance to pay for sins.