A Post-Apocalyptic Plague Becomes Real

Many of us have watched the Walking Dead or read Stephen King’s The Stand.  But in Medieval Europe, a post-apocalyptic plague actually become real, and it had a dramatic impact on almost every aspect of life.

Dance Macabre images became very popular in Medieval European art

We’ve discussed some of the myths around Medieval Europe, but those do not extend to the Black Plague. As a matter-of-fact, the impact of this plague tends to be frequently understated.

The Black Death or Bubonic Plague killed somewhere between 75 and 200 million people, or between 30%-60% of Europe’s total population. The plague peaked for four years in the 1300’s. During these four years, in some areas, such as Italy, the South of France, and Spain, it’s thought the death toll reached as high as 75%-80% of the total population.

If you put that into context, it means out of a family of five, one person would bury the rest of their family members.

There are stories of entire villages being wiped out, and years later, visitors finding cattle roaming free.

Apocalyptic, indeed.

Not quite like this, but I imagine it was close.

This also happened fast. From the time a victim was infected until the time they died was usually no more than three to four days.

Death was awful as lymph-nodes swelled from the disease then burst.

There were many long-term consequences of this Plague that paved the way to the societies we have today.

  • Drastic Reduction in Labor – Labor went from being plentiful to being in very short supply. Landowners were suddenly forced to pay wages and make working conditions better. Serfdom was was all put abolished and feudalism crumbles. Wages paid to artisans rose, and with landowners becoming less wealthy as they had to share with workers, those who provided services become more wealthy. This offered a new fluidity in a previously very hierarchical society.

Decades later, when lords tried to revoke the improved conditions, there were peasant revolts that forced the lords to maintain the better conditions and pay.


  • Catholic Church Lost Some of It’s Hold – The Protestant Reformation stated in 1517 AD, approximately 150 years after the worst bout of Black Plague. The loss of power, however, is believed to have already started during the Black Plague. Distrust in God and the Catholic Church, which already in poor standing due to recent Papal scandals, grew as people realized the Church could do nothing to stop the disease or help their family.
Beautiful, but it doesn’t feed people or save them from the Black Death.


  • Anti-Semitism Rises – Jewish populations became scapegoats, particularly as they suffered less from the Black Plague. We now believe this is because of better hygiene, but at the time, people thought they were poisoning Christian’s water. Many would flee east to Poland and Russia.


All in, if you want to find a very real account of what happens in the Walking Dead, take a look at Europe during the Black Plague. The accounts are gruesome and horrifying. I actually stopped reading them because my heart ached for those people, and there is literally nothing I can do for them.


How about you? Ever watched the Walking Dead or read The Stand? Could you imagine if we lost half our population today? Any other real-world examples of an apocalypse?

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11 thoughts on “A Post-Apocalyptic Plague Becomes Real

  1. I like your comparison of the Black Death with The Walking Dead. It must have been a time of unspeakable horror. It had occurred to me while watching that the actual experience of the Black Death would have some similarities. I could imagine a Walking Dead style show but actually set in the historical context of the Plague being an interesting experiment.

  2. Ugh. I’ve never been big on zombies and the thought of another Black Death is the stuff of nightmares. Yet the truth is it could happen. :/

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