The Black Plague (also known as the Black Death) was one of the most serious pandemics in the world, killing between 100 and 200 million people (Byrne 122). The most serious effects were in Europe between 1346 and 1353, and evidently there were a number of health issues associated with the problem. Despite this, there were consequences outside of health, too. There were effects on religious life, social life and economics in Europe during and after the Black Plague. It is often easy to talk about pandemics in a purely biological sense but the Black Plague shows that there are far-reaching consequences of an event such as this. Religion became less popular and those in the lower classes began earning more money than ever before as a consequence of their rarity. The population radically diminished, having knock-on effects across the continent. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the positive and negative consequences of the Plague on social, economic and regional life.
One of the biggest changes that came after the Black Death was a change in the way the population viewed religion. It is commonly stated that the number of people that believed in Christianity (and other religions) decreased after the plague for a number of reasons (Byrne 123). Firstly, a huge number of the clergy died and therefore there just were not enough people to lead followers. There were not enough clergymen to perform all of the funerals needed during the Plague itself, so people were afraid that God had forsaken them because of their inability to perform Christian rituals (Benedictow 389). Additionally, many people felt that God was not listening to their prayers and that the Plague was proof that he did not exist � the prayers did not prevent all the sickness and death that occurred during these years (Benedictow 389). This was a large change in society because religion is such a pivotal part of culture and particularly in Europe at the time.
The economy also suffered in the aftermath of the Plague. With so many people dying, there were less skilled tradespeople and craftsmen to create goods, so the prices went up. This is known as inflation and it occurs when there is a lack of goods � the supply and demand effect ensures that people are paying a premium for things that were previously easily obtained (Benedictow 222). There was, however, a positive side to this. As so many people were killed, workers were in high demand and therefore those who were fit and healthy received pay rises. This factor even filtered down to peasants who had never before had the chance to earn so much (Byrne 198), although perhaps this can be considered useless in the face of such high prices. Lords had to make their land and their wages better for the serfs and servants so that they would stay because there was such a deficit in labor (Zahler 18). Overall, the standard of living generally went up as the wage increase outpaced the increase in the prices of goods (Zahler 18).
An interesting effect of this is that the peasants were not necessarily as poor as they had been. This has been termed as the �blurring of financial distinctions� (Benedictow 231). Prior to the Black Death, these distinctions had been the main way of maintaining the social hierarchy. Without them, people had to look for a new way of making sure that class was evident and that peasants did not suddenly think that they were increasing in status. The social distinctions between people became more distinct. The fashion of the time amongst the nobility was to be as extravagant as possible to set themselves aside from peasants and servants who could now afford better clothes themselves (Benedictow 231).
Socially, the peasants themselves felt slightly more empowered by the fact that they were still alive after the Black Death and that they were earning more money than ever before. The nobility tried to make sure that they did not get enough power, but it did not seem to work (Zahler 27). For this reason, there was an increase in riots and revolts throughout Europe immediately after the Plague wreaked havoc. In 1358, for example, the peasants in northern France rioted. There was another revolt by guilt members in 1378 (Zahler 31). This led to a dramatic change in the structure of Europe and the relationships between different social classes and how they interacted. Despite this, there were still severe and significant class distinctions throughout until the modern day (Benedictow 418).
In conclusion, the Black Plague had several effects on Europe, not just based on the death toll. Socially, it caused people to have less faith in religion and therefore people would be praying less because it did not seem to work. There were less workers available, which meant that the cost of goods increased dramatically. Additionally, the workers themselves were paid more because they were a rare commodity, which gave peasants and serfs more financial freedom than they had ever had before. This caused the nobility to wear more extravagant clothes and also to try to prevent peasants from revolting and leaving their jobs. This did not work and there were several riots, revolts and revolutions in the years following the attack of the Black Death on Europe.
- Benedictow, Ole J?rgen. The Black Death, 1346-1353: The Complete History. Boydell & Brewer, 2004. Print.
- Byrne, Joseph Patrick. Daily Life During the Black Death. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. Print.
- Zahler, Diane. The Black Death. Twenty-First Century Books, 2009. Print.