In the late Middle Ages, Latin Christendom was afflicted with severe economic problems. The earlier increases in agricultural production did not continue. Limited use of fertilizers and limited knowledge of conservation exhausted the topsoil. As more grazing lands were converted to the cultivation of cereals, animal husbandry decreased, causing a serious shortage of manure needed for arable land.

Intermittent bouts of prolonged heavy rains and frost also hampered agriculture. From 1301 to 1314, there was a general shortage of food, and from 1315 to 1317, famine struck Europe. Throughout the century, starvation and malnutrition were widespread. Other economic problems abounded. A silver shortage, caused by technical problems in sinking deeper shafts in the mines, led to the debasement of coins and spiraling inflation, which hurt the feudal nobility in particular. Prices for manufactured luxury goods, which the nobility craved, rose rapidly.

Beware the plague


At the same time, the dues that the nobility collected from peasants diminished. To replace their revenues, lords and knights turned to plunder and warfare. Compounding the economic crisis was the Black Death, or bubonic plague. This disease was carried by the fleas on brown rats, and probably first struck Mongolia in 1331-32. From there it crossed into Russia. Carried back from Black Sea ports, the plague reached Sicily in 1347.

Plague of middle ages
Plague during middle ages

Spreading swiftly throughout much of Europe, the plague attacked an already declining and undernourished population. The first crisis lasted until 1351, and other serious outbreaks occurred in later decades. The crowded cities and towns had the highest mortalities.

Perhaps twenty million people – about one-quarter to one-third of the European population – perished in the worst human disaster in recorded history. Deprived of many of their intellectual and spiritual leaders, the panic-stricken masses drifted into immorality and hysteria. Frenzied forms of religious life and superstitious practices became popular. Flagellants marched from region to region beating each other with sticks and whips in a desperate effort to please God, who they believed had cursed them with the plague.

In addition to flagellation and superstition, black magic, witchcraft, and sexual immorality found eager supporters. Dress became increasingly ostentatious and bizarre. Art forms concentrated on morbid scenes of decaying flesh, dances of death, and the torments of Hell. Sometimes this hysteria was directed against the Jews, who were accused of causing the plague by poisoning the wells. Terrible massacres of Jews occurred despite the pleas of the papacy.

Middle Age
The Middle Ages


A. Write what the dates below indicate.
1. 1301-1314:
2. 1315-1317:
3. 1331-1332:
4. 1347:
5. 1351:
B. Find the following information.

1. What ‘flagellants’ are:

2. The number of people who died due to the plague:

3. Four examples of practices to illustrate the hysteria that occurred after the plague: a) b) c) d) C.

1. Why was the population in Europe ‘already declining and undernourished’ when the plague struck them? (Give two reasons.) a) b)

2. Why did the cities and towns have the highest mortality rates from the plague?
3. Why did the panic stricken masses drift into immorality and hysteria?
4. Why do you think dress and art forms became increasingly exaggerated and morbid?
5. Were.the Jews really responsible for the plague? Explain.

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