How it caused widespread social changes
The Black Death was a shattering event that caused widespread not to mention drastic demographic, economic, and social changes that the survivors barely understood.
The Origins of the Black Death
The main causes of the devastating Black Death in Europe were actually fleas that were the carriers of the bubonic plague, which was spread by the black rats that they lived upon. Had the fleas and the black rats carrying them had not reached Europe then the Black Death would not have happened.
These fleas and black rats were not naturally found in Europe during the 13th century, yet they had already spread the Black Death through large areas of Asia. The fleas carrying the bubonic plague and inadvertently moved by invested black rats would have taken a much longer period to reach Europe itself via land from Asia. However the demographic collapse brought about by the Black Death was unintentionally introduced to the continent via sea to the European ports that traded with China and also India.
Trade Inadvertently Spreads the Black Death
It was thus human trading activities and networks that unintentionally caused the fleas and the black rats carrying the Black Death to reach Europe much sooner than might have otherwise have been the case. The high demand amongst the wealthier people in Europe for luxuries such as silks and spices that could only be obtained from Asia. These ships brought the fleas and the black rats aboard the cargo of the merchant ships into an unsuspecting as well as an unprepared Europe, which at that time had been going through a period of sustained population growth.
The inability of Asians and also Europeans to know beyond all doubt what actually caused the Black Death meant that no effective measures could be taken to prevent the spread into previously uninfected areas of those continents. Virtually no effort was made to isolate the recently infected areas away from the unaffected areas.
Ignorance and the Spread of the Black Death
Measures were taken to bury the dead in mass graves, yet that could not prevent the relentless spread of the Black Death throughout Europe. Trade between the continental mainland and the British Isles meant that ships brought the Black Death to the British Isles as well.
The Black Death was spread if not actually caused by a widespread lack of personal hygiene, and adequate public sanitation, or system of waste disposal. Both the fleas and the black rats that brought the Black Death with them with them were able to spread the plague throughout all of Europe because it was so unhygienic and dirty. The cramped housing arrangements in the majority of Europe also assisted the spreading out of the fleas and the black rats.
Crystal, D (2003) The Penguin Concise Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, London
Lenman B, (2004) Chambers Dictionary of World History, Edinburgh