Cultural and Economic Effects of The Black Plague


1(A picture from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio from the 14th century,


††††††††† The Black Death had several consequences including cultural, religious and economic influences.These changes were both positive and negative and contributed to conditions favorable to the decline of feudalism, the end of the Middle Ages and the emergence of the Renaissance.The most obvious cultural influences were seen in the art and literature of this period.In 14th century Europe, artistic and literary expression took on a dark humor and tone in order to cope with the tragedy.For instance, the Italian Boccaccio set his Decameron in the plague year, 1348 (Keys 35).This collection of vulgar tales was a predecessor to Chaucerís Canterbury Tales.Boccacio and Chaucer both mocked the hopelessness of those who have nothing else to lose.The art of the period also showed the bleakness of the situation.Drawings were morose, full of death and destruction.


A depiction of the Danse Macabre, or the Dance of Death.


††††††††† The Black Death had religious implications as well.The people of the 14th century struggled with the failure of their religion.The Church could not save people from the disease, leading many Europeans to question their beliefs.In that time doctors did not understand the origin of disease and how it was transmitted, so it was common for people to believe that supernatural powers were in control.They saw the plague as divine punishment.Flagellation, the act of self-mutilation through whipping, became common and many people began to beat themselves in the hope of atoning for their supposed sins.††† Failure of the Church to protect the people and its own clergy led to a dramatic loss of power and influence.The conclusion was that there must be something wrong with the Church itself that warranted punishment.


However, it was far easier for people to loose faith and to point at the shortcomings or responsibility of others.Specific group were singled out for persecution and the Jews quickly became the primary scapegoats for the 14th century plague.This religious group was accused of conspiring to spread the plague, since Jews were often merchants and the infected rats were carried by merchants.Attacks against this group and systematic persecution continued through the late Middle Ages.



Figure Church fresco depicting the Black Death.



The Black Plague also resulted in severe depopulation and some immediate economic decline.However, with 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.The standard of living actually increased.Also the need for paid workers resulted in movement away from feudalism and the development of a working class.All of these events paved the way for the coming Renaissance.



The Plague†††† Yersinia pestis†††† The Spread†††† Cultural Effects†††† Controversies†† ††Modern Plague†††† References