The plague of the “Black Death” lasted from the 1340’s-1400’s in Medieval South-Western Europe and is widely historicized, romanticized, and fantasized about. It is actually the second major epidemic of bubonic plague, the first was a lesser known outbreak which struck around 542 CE and is commonly called the “Plague of Justinian” after the then-Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (AKA the Byzantine Empire). Justinian was himself stricken with plague, but through extensive medical treatment, managed to survive the affliction.

Although it is sensational, the plague is not the most common cause of death throughout the entirety of the Middle Ages. Lack of sanitation, constant warfare, execution, and murder were all woven into the fabric of daily Medieval life. This is not said to imply that no one in the Medieval period lived to a respectable old age; in fact, they most certainly did. The low average life expectancy in the Medieval period is due mostly to the extremely hight rate of infant mortality; some studies say that the infant mortality rate was one infant out of every three born. That is the same mortality rate of the plague of the Black Death! If one lived past childhood the prognosis for life expectancy was actually quite good, the average adult living into their mid forties or fifties.

Death was a persistent and consuming part of life in Medieval civilization. Children and infants died frequently, and hence the cult of children, which was inflamed in the Enlightenment and continues to be so prevalent today, was simply impossible during this time, children being seen more as unformed adults rather than precious and innocent beings. The corpses of executed dead were displayed prominently, and the fear of rogue, marauding nobles and peasants was constant. And through it all the powerful clergy cried of death; damnation or salvation.


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