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by Steven Neill, ©2014
(Jan. 19, 2014) — The course of history is often set by small events nudging it this or that way as it moves towards its climax. Occasionally, however, an event so cataclysmic slams it to a different course, forever altering life as it was. Noah’s flood, the K-Pg event, (1) the fall of Rome and World War I are all examples of history shifting events that resulted in massive death, destruction and the end of an age. As powerful and horrible as these events were, none conjure images of death, misery and horror like that which raced out of Asia and wrapped Europe in a blanket of darkness, killing some 75 million to 200 million people in the course of five blood-soaked years. Few images have affected the human psyche more than that of a skeleton with a sickle harvesting humans in an all-out effort to destroy the people of Europe with a disease so dreadful, even its name speaks of calamity: the Black Death.(2)
We are told by the “Hope & Change” team occupying the White House that all is well on their watch and there is nothing to be fearful of on the horizon. According to bobble-heads like Obama, Fed Chair Bernanke, Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the economic recovery is well on its way. They claim that Uncle Sam has it all under control, and as long as government keeps expanding, the potential for a calamity in America is almost zero.
However, there is a growing body of people who are saying America is facing an economic free-fall unlike any experienced in history. This free-fall will stop government payment to millions of people, destroy the value of the US currency by unleashing hyperinflation, and allow order to break down as essential services stop all over the country. These people are labeled as extremists by the mainstream media and crackpots by government officials, and their warnings are ignored by the majority of Americans. Eerily, this is the same reaction the Europeans had to the rumors of a “Great Pestilence” that was leaving a trail of corpses along the trade routes out of China, India, Persia and Egypt.
“The victims ate lunch with their friend and dinner with their ancestors.” Boccacio:
The Black Death arrived in Europe borne by sails of twelve Genoese trading (3) ships that docked at the Sicilian port of Messina following a journey through the Black Sea in October 1347. People gathering at the docks to meet the vessels had no idea of what lurked on board these ships. The few sailors who landed the vessels more resembled the mythical zombie than humans as they shuffled amongst the corpses of fallen comrades. Most were wracked with fever and covered by mysterious black boils which oozed blood and pus and gave their illness its name: the “Black Death.” Though the ships were immediately ordered to put back out to sea, it was already too late, as the grim reaper had arrived.
Unlike anything seen before or since, the plague raced through Sicily like a hot knife through butter on its way to Italy, leaving pandemonium in its wake. The Italians were terrified by the speed with which it spread and the horrible way that it killed. When one family member became ill, it was almost a death sentence for everyone in the household, and in no time they began to abandon family members to their fate. Soon whole families, then communities, were stricken and died from the revenging menace. After attending the many victims, the local clergy often brought the dread disease back to the monasteries, leaving only the dead to minister to the dying.
Before long, the surrounding nations began to expel or even kill Italian travelers and refugees in fear of the disease spreading. But the plague, like a strong breeze, is not a respecter of borders and spread like wildfire. It blew through France and into England by September, then Belgium, Denmark, Germany and then Ireland by the end of 1348. Norway was infected the following year, and the disease started to wane as it reached Russia in 1351. By this time, between one-third and one-half of the people in Europe had died in the greatest pandemic of all time.
No one at the time understood that the cause of the calamity was the microscopic bacillus bacterium. (4) They did not understand that they were being assaulted by more than one form of the disease, nor did they know how it was transmitted from victim to victim. The first and most common form started with a headache, and then came chills and fever, leaving them exhausted. Sometimes they also experienced nausea, vomiting, back pain, sensitivity to light, and soreness in their arms and legs.
Within a day or two, hard, painful, burning lumps would appear on their neck, under their arms, and/or on their inner thighs. The lumps, which may have grown to the size of an orange, would quickly turn black, split open, and ooze pus and blood.
The next stage was critical: they would either, though rarely, recover, or begin to bleed internally. There would be blood in their urine, stool, and pooling under the skin, resulting in black boils and spots all over their body. Everything that came out of their body smelled utterly revolting. They would be in unbearable pain as they succumbed to the disease, which usually lasted a week.
This form is carried by fleas which lived on rodents like rats and squirrels. A flea would ingest plague-infected blood from its host, and then drop off to find another host, which was generally a human. The flea would inject some of the disease-bearing blood of the rat or other rodent into the new victim, spreading the disease. Unfortunately for the people of that time, fleas were such a part of everyday life that no one noticed them much. In this invisible manner, the plague spread from rat to human.
Another form was Pneumonic Plague. The victims of Pneumonic Plague had no buboes (lumps), but they suffered severe chest pains, sweated heavily, and coughed up blood. Virtually no one survived the pneumonic form. This form is airborne, contracted by breathing the infected water droplets breathed (or coughed) out by a victim of the disease. The pneumonic form spread incredibly fast.
The third manifestation was Septicemic Plague which generally was spread by making direct contact with a carrier through open sores or cuts. Victims of Septicemic Plague always died, usually within hours of contracting it and often before any notable symptoms had a chance to develop. Another form, Enteric Plague, attacked the victim’s digestive system, but it also killed the patient too swiftly for diagnosis of any kind.
Medieval Europeans had no way of knowing any of this. The causes of plague were not discovered until the late nineteenth century.
Nothing in the life of these people prepared them for the sheer volume of corpses. At first the dead were still given coffins and individual funeral services. But the number of dead forced the living to resort to mass graves. There was not nearly enough consecrated ground for each victim to have an individual plot, and so enormous trenches were dug into which layer upon layer of dead bodies were lain. The trench was topped off with a small layer of soil, and the morbid process continued. Pope Clement VI even consecrated the entire Rhone River so that corpses could be thrown into it to speed removal of the dead. The plague consumed entire households, villages and almost entire towns as it sped through Europe.
When the Black Death finally left Western Europe in 1352, the populations of various regions had been drastically reduced. Some villages were completely wiped out, while other areas remained unscathed. Italy had borne the brunt of the plague because of its vast population of merchants. The city of Florence lost almost one-third of its population within the first six months of infection, which increased to three-quarters when the plague ended.
The Black Death was the single biggest event leading to the end of feudalism and the Medieval Age. The changes it wrought cannot be underestimated. Before this event, the Catholic Church (5) was the power behind every throne of Europe. For nearly a thousand years, the church was where people went for answers, direction and salvation. Now, however, the Church was unable to answer the people’s questions about the plague as both saint and sinner were taken with such terrifying regularity. That the church failed to protect either the clergy or the people led to a dramatic loss of power and influence.
The conclusion the people reached was that there must be something wrong with the Church itself that warranted punishment, and they began to see the plague as a sign of divine punishment. In desperation, some people turned to flagellation, the act of self-mutilation through whipping, in hope of atoning for their sins, while others believed these acts would stop the dread disease. It did nothing but provide a false hope that further weakened the people’s faith in the church.
With the plague being both incomprehensible and unstoppable, a scapegoat was needed to take the blame for it, thus the Jews were chosen for that role. Since Jews were often merchants (6) and the infected rats were carried by merchants, they were accused of poisoning wells and spreading the disease. This persecution turned bloody as Jews were tortured and executed all over Europe, which planted a seed in Europe that the Nazis would eventually harvest.
The massive depopulation resulted in an immediate economic decline, but because of the extreme loss of life there was an overabundance of goods, a decrease in their price, a surplus of jobs and consequently a rise in wages. These events caused an eventual increase in the standard of living as serfs were scarce and they could now demand wages for their work, creating a working class. All of these events paved the way for the coming Renaissance. However, it was too late for between 75,000,000 and 200,000,000 people to enjoy the results of these positive events.
Ultimately, the cause of the Black Death was rats. They became the host of the fleas and then transported them from the middle of China to Ireland. It is interesting to note that if a European from 1347 were transported to today, they would see one thing that would remind them of the areas hit by the plague: plenty of rats.
Today, these rats are in the form of banksters and the politicians they own, and the fleas they use to spread the disease are unsustainable Wall Street Bailouts, Federal Government debt and the unlimited ability for the Federal Reserve to print money out of thin air. These, combined with Chinese determination to eliminate the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, are forming a storm that will rock the U.S. to its very foundation as the end of the Petrodollar (7) looms ominously on the horizon.
“Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.” — Dr. Henry Kissinger (8)
Editor’s Note: To be continued in Part 2.
3. Black Death