After The Plague : Planet Money The Black Death was one of the worst catastrophes to ever hit humanity. But it also helped upend feudal hierarchies, redistribute wealth, and make daily life better for a lot of medieval Europeans.
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After The Plague

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After The Plague

After The Plague

After The Plague

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/913735599/913752492" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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D-Keine/Getty Images
Funny rat on a rope
D-Keine/Getty Images

The Black Death was one of the worst pandemics in human history, tearing apart the social fabric of medieval Europe and inflicting a gruesome death on up to half the population.

But there's another side to it that we don't usually talk about--a sort of silver lining. As the continent was being destroyed, it was also being remade. From the ashes of the Black Death rose a new world that shook up feudal hierarchies, improved the lives of medieval Europeans, and completely transformed the economy.

Music: "Medieval Guitar," "Pipe Up," and "Flute Me Up."

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Correction Sept. 17, 2020

A previous version of this story referred to smoking tobacco as something people did to try to protect themselves from the plague. While this was practiced during later outbreaks of bubonic plague, tobacco wasn't widely introduced to Europe until the 16th century.