How did the Bubonic Plague make the Italian Renaissance possible?


Dance of Death woodcut from the 15th Century

The Black Death (1347-1350) was a pandemic that devastated the populations of Europe and Asia. The plague was an unprecedented human tragedy in Italy. It not only shook Italian society, but transformed it. The Black Death marked an end of an era in Italy, its impact was profound and it resulted in wide-ranging social, economic, cultural and religious changes.[1]These changes, directly and indirectly, led to the emergence of the Renaissance, one of the greatest epochs for art, architecture, and literature in human history.

To Black Death spread to Italy from modern-day Russia. It was spread by Genoese merchants fleeing a Mongol attack on their trading post in Crimea. The plague was carried and spread by the fleas that lived on the Black Rat and brought to Italy on the Genoese ships.[2]The population of Italy was ill prepared for the spread of the disease. There had been a series of famine and food shortages in the region and the population was weak and vulnerable to disease and furthermore, the population did not have any natural resistance to the disease. Italy was the most urbanised society in Europe, Milan, Rome, Florence and other Italian centres among the largest on the continent.[3] The majority of the urban population in cities such as Naples were impoverished and lived in squalid and dirty conditions. These factors ensured that the diseases spread quickly and that there was a high level of mortality, among the poor, although even the rich could not escape the plague.[4] From the cities,the plague spread like wildfire to the small towns and villages of the peninsula.

There is no firm data on the impact of the plague on the population of Italy. However, some examples show the full extent of the disease on Italy. It has been estimated that the population of Florence was halved, it fell from approximately 100,000 to 50,000. This was not unusual and all the major cities of Italy experienced a similar drastic decline. The death rate in rural Italy may not have been as great, but nevertheless, there was a significant loss of life. In general, the population of Italy may have dropped by as much as a third.[5]

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Categories: Economic History, European History

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