Tragedies do not just disappear in historical upheavals and victories. Large-scale tragedies shape cultures, affecting their psychology, attitudes to religion, art, and economics. The XIV century was marked with an unprecedented tragedy – the pandemic of Black Death. It had a great influence on the cultural and economic life of the medieval Europe, causing people to change their attitudes towards religion, power, and, eventually, hope.
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When dealing with pandemic and its influence on culture, one approach is not enough. Researchers should consider environmental conditions of the planet, ideological tendencies, the state of medicine, and other factors to use a holistic approach. It is inappropriate to perceive the problem only in the light of sharply declining numbers of population, and changes in the patterns of settlement. According to Lageras (2016), “the crisis had long-lasting consequences for society, for instance by changing the economic and political relationship between social classes, by agricultural change and by stimulating technological development and increased consumption and trade” (p. 6). To understand the crisis properly, one should admit that it led to colossal changes in society, undermining progress in some spheres and enhancing it in others.
One of the crucial spheres of life affected by the Black Death was religion. There are different opinions as to why people relied on religion during the Black Death. Some state that they did so to overcome suffering and revive hope. There are also opinions that people, especially women, found consolation in religion to empower themselves. French (2013) assumes that “through active participation in their parish church, women could promote their own interests and responsibilities, giving them social and religious significance” (p.1). Many researchers underline the fact that the post-plague period was marked by the changes in the European women’s attitudes to their traditional roles. Therefore, politicians tended to make behavioral rules stricter. For instance, according to French (2013), “communities and families worried about unsupervised women and purchased and recited didactic literature that emphasized modesty, passivity, and silence as the hallmarks of virtuous female behaviour” (p. 4). The role of women in labor market also increased due to workforce shortage. Therefore, the plague influenced the role of women in different spheres of life, affecting perceptions of gender in culture.
As the plague had contributed to the significant loss of population, economic situation changed. Before the plague, the land had been expanding and agriculture had been progressing. Europeans were able to grow more food for the increasing population. The Black Death caused regress in farming. Another implication of the plague was the change in the percentage of the poor. According to Lageras (2016), “two factors – the very high mortality from the plague among poor people and the opportunities for the survivors to improve their status – resulted in a general decrease in the number of poor” (p.25). Landowners proposed more decent conditions to tenants as there was the lack of human resources. Thus, the improvement of working conditions took place, resulting in the increasing willingness of the wealthy to enhance technologies to be more productive regarding labor force shortage.
The Black Death was not the only disastrous disease affecting the medieval Europe. However, there is a significant difference between it and such diseases as cholera or tuberculosis. As Lageras writes, “in contrast to tuberculosis, cholera, and some other diseases, plague is not restricted to the poor and malnourished” (p. 25). The disease could approach anybody, being ruthless to the poorest of the poor as well as to influential ones, underlining the simple truth: everyone is the same to the destiny and death.
Undoubtedly, the Black Death was the disease that led to multiple changes in the medieval society of Europe. It changed the economic participation of women, forced landowners to provide tenants with more proper labor conditions. In addition to this, it led to some changes in gender roles, and illustrated that there were challenges that can affect the standards of the whole society and not just the poorest of the poor.
French, K. (2013). The middle ages series: The good women of the parish: Gender and religion after the Black Death. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lageras, P. (2016). Environment, society and the Black Death: An interdisciplinary approach to the late-medieval crisis in Sweden. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books.