The Black Death, also known as the Black Plague, Great Plague or
simply Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human
history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million
Eurasia and peaking in
Europe from 1347 to 1351.
The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which results in several forms of
plague, is believed to have been the cause. The plague created a
series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had
profound effects on the course of European history.
Black Death is thought to have originated in the dry plains of
Central Asia, where it then travelled along the Silk Road, reaching
Crimea by 1343. From there, it was most likely carried by Oriental
rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on
merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.
Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe's total
population. In total, the plague may have reduced the world
population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375
million in the 14th century. It took 200 years for the world
population to recover to its previous level. The plague recurred
as outbreaks in
Europe until the 19th century.
1.1 Origins of the disease
1.2 European outbreak
1.3 Middle Eastern outbreak
2 Signs and symptoms
3.1 DNA evidence
3.2 Alternative explanations
4.1 Death toll
4.4 Third plague pandemic
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Origins of the disease
Black Death migration
The plague disease, caused by Yersinia pestis, is enzootic (commonly
present) in populations of fleas carried by ground rodents, including
marmots, in various areas including Central Asia, Kurdistan, Western
Asia, Northern India and Uganda. Due to climate change in Asia,
rodents began to flee the dried out grasslands to more populated
areas, spreading the disease. Nestorian graves dating to
1338–1339 near Lake
Issyk Kul in
Kyrgyzstan have inscriptions
referring to plague and are thought by many epidemiologists to mark
the outbreak of the epidemic, from which it could easily have spread
to China and India. In October 2010, medical geneticists suggested
that all three of the great waves of the plague originated in
China. In China, the 13th-century Mongol conquest caused a decline
in farming and trading. However, economic recovery had been observed
at the beginning of the 14th century. In the 1330s, a large
number of natural disasters and plagues led to widespread famine,
starting in 1331, with a deadly plague arriving soon after.
Epidemics that may have included plague killed an estimated
25 million Chinese and other Asians during the 15 years
before it reached
Constantinople in 1347.
The disease may have travelled along the
Silk Road with Mongol armies
and traders or it could have come via ship. By the end of 1346,
reports of plague had reached the seaports of Europe: "India was
depopulated, Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria,
Armenia were covered with
Plague was reportedly first introduced to
Europe via Genoese traders
at the port city of Kaffa in the
Crimea in 1347. After a protracted
siege, during which the Mongol army under
Jani Beg was suffering from
the disease, the army catapulted infected corpses over the city walls
of Kaffa to infect the inhabitants. The Genoese traders fled, taking
the plague by ship into
Sicily and the south of Europe, whence it
spread north. Whether or not this hypothesis is accurate, it is
clear that several existing conditions such as war, famine, and
weather contributed to the severity of the Black Death.
The seventh year after it began, it came to England and first began in
the towns and ports joining on the seacoasts, in Dorsetshire, where,
as in other counties, it made the country quite void of inhabitants so
that there were almost none left alive.
... But at length it came to Gloucester, yea even to Oxford and to
London, and finally it spread over all England and so wasted the
people that scarce the tenth person of any sort was left alive.
Geoffrey the Baker, Chronicon Angliae
There appear to have been several introductions into Europe. The
Sicily in October 1347, carried by twelve Genoese
galleys, and rapidly spread all over the island. Galleys from
Kaffa reached Genoa and
Venice in January 1348, but it was the
Pisa a few weeks later that was the entry point to
northern Italy. Towards the end of January, one of the galleys
expelled from Italy arrived in Marseille.
From Italy, the disease spread northwest across Europe, striking
France, Spain, Portugal and England by June 1348, then turned and
spread east through Germany and Scandinavia from 1348 to 1350. It was
introduced in Norway in 1349 when a ship landed at Askøy, then spread
to Bjørgvin (modern Bergen) and Iceland. Finally it spread to
northwestern Russia in 1351. The plague was somewhat less common in
Europe that had smaller trade relations with their
neighbours, including the majority of the Basque Country, isolated
parts of Belgium and the Netherlands, and isolated alpine villages
throughout the continent.
Modern researchers do not think that the plague ever became endemic in
Europe or its rat population. The disease repeatedly wiped out the
rodent carriers so that the fleas died out until a new outbreak from
Central Asia repeated the process. The outbreaks have been shown to
occur roughly 15 years after a warmer and wetter period in areas where
plague is endemic in other species such as gerbils.
Middle Eastern outbreak
The plague struck various regions in the Middle East during the
pandemic, leading to serious depopulation and permanent change in both
economic and social structures. As it spread from China with the
Mongols to a Chinese trading post in Crimea, called Kaffa, used by the
Republic of Genoa. From there the disease, infected rodents infecting
new rodents, entered the region from southern Russia also. By autumn
1347, the plague reached
Alexandria in Egypt, through the port's trade
with Constantinople, and ports on the Black Sea. During 1347, the
disease travelled eastward to Gaza, and north along the eastern coast
to cities in Lebanon,
Syria and Palestine, including Ashkelon, Acre,
Jerusalem, Sidon, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. In 1348–1349, the
disease reached Antioch. The city's residents fled to the north,
However most of them ended up dying during the journey.
Mecca became infected in 1349. During the same year, records show the
city of Mawsil (Mosul) suffered a massive epidemic, and the city of
Baghdad experienced a second round of the disease.
Signs and symptoms
A hand showing how acral gangrene of the fingers due to bubonic plague
causes the skin and flesh to die and turn black
An inguinal bubo on the upper thigh of a person infected with bubonic
plague. Swollen lymph glands (buboes) often occur in the neck, armpit
and groin (inguinal) regions of plague victims.
Contemporary accounts of the plague are often varied or imprecise. The
most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes (or
gavocciolos) in the groin, the neck and armpits, which oozed pus and
bled when opened. Boccaccio's description is graphic:
In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of
certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large
as a common apple, others as an egg...From the two said parts of the
body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself
in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady
began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many
cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now
minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an
infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on
whomsoever they showed themselves.
The only medical detail that is questionable in Boccaccio's
description is that the gavocciolo was an 'infallible token of
approaching death', as, if the bubo discharges, recovery is
This was followed by acute fever and vomiting of blood. Most victims
died two to seven days after initial infection. Freckle-like spots and
rashes, which could have been caused by flea-bites, were
identified as another potential sign of the plague.
Some accounts, like that of Lodewijk Heyligen, whose master the
Cardinal Colonna died of the plague in 1348, noted a distinct form of
the disease that infected the lungs and led to respiratory
problems and is identified with pneumonic plague.
It is said that the plague takes three forms. In the first people
suffer an infection of the lungs, which leads to breathing
difficulties. Whoever has this corruption or contamination to any
extent cannot escape but will die within two days. Another form...in
which boils erupt under the armpits,...a third form in which people of
both sexes are attacked in the groin.
Oriental rat flea
Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) engorged with blood. This
species of flea is the primary vector for the transmission of Yersinia
pestis, the organism responsible for bubonic plague in most plague
epidemics. Both male and female fleas feed on blood and can transmit
Oriental rat flea
Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) infected with the Yersinia
pestis bacterium which appears as a dark mass in the gut. The foregut
(proventriculus) of this flea is blocked by a Y. pestis biofilm; when
the flea attempts to feed on an uninfected host Y. pestis is
regurgitated into the wound, causing infection.
Yersinia pestis (200x magnification). The bacterium which causes
Medical knowledge had stagnated during the Middle Ages. The most
authoritative account at the time came from the medical faculty in
Paris in a report to the king of France that blamed the heavens, in
the form of a conjunction of three planets in 1345 that caused a
"great pestilence in the air". This report became the first and
most widely circulated of a series of plague tracts that sought to
give advice to sufferers. That the plague was caused by bad air became
the most widely accepted theory. Today, this is known as the miasma
theory. The word plague had no special significance at this time, and
only the recurrence of outbreaks during the
Middle Ages gave it the
name that has become the medical term.
The importance of hygiene was recognised only in the nineteenth
century; until then it was common that the streets were filthy, with
live animals of all sorts around and human parasites abounding. A
transmissible disease will spread easily in such conditions. One
development as a result of the
Black Death was the establishment of
the idea of quarantine in
Dubrovnik in 1377 after continuing
The dominant explanation for the
Black Death is the plague theory,
which attributes the outbreak to Yersinia pestis, also responsible for
an epidemic that began in southern China in 1865, eventually spreading
to India. The investigation of the pathogen that caused the
19th-century plague was begun by teams of scientists who visited Hong
Kong in 1894, among whom was the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre
Yersin, after whom the pathogen was named Yersinia pestis. The
mechanism by which Y. pestis was usually transmitted was established
in 1898 by
Paul-Louis Simond and was found to involve the bites of
fleas whose midguts had become obstructed by replicating Y. pestis
several days after feeding on an infected host. This blockage results
in starvation and aggressive feeding behaviour by the fleas, which
repeatedly attempt to clear their blockage by regurgitation, resulting
in thousands of plague bacteria being flushed into the feeding site,
infecting the host. The bubonic plague mechanism was also dependent on
two populations of rodents: one resistant to the disease, which act as
hosts, keeping the disease endemic, and a second that lack resistance.
When the second population dies, the fleas move on to other hosts,
including people, thus creating a human epidemic.
Francis Aidan Gasquet
Francis Aidan Gasquet wrote about the Great Pestilence
in 1893 and suggested that "it would appear to be some form of the
ordinary Eastern or bubonic plague". He was able to adopt the
epidemiology of the bubonic plague for the
Black Death for the second
edition in 1908, implicating rats and fleas in the process, and his
interpretation was widely accepted for other ancient and medieval
epidemics, such as the
Justinian plague that was prevalent in the
Eastern Roman Empire
Eastern Roman Empire from 541 to 700 CE.
An estimate of the mortality rate for the modern bubonic plague,
following the introduction of antibiotics, is 11%, although it may be
higher in underdeveloped regions. Symptoms of the disease include
fever of 38–41 °C (100–106 °F), headaches, painful
aching joints, nausea and vomiting, and a general feeling of malaise.
Left untreated, of those that contract the bubonic plague, 80 per cent
die within eight days.
Pneumonic plague has a mortality rate of 90
to 95 per cent. Symptoms include fever, cough, and blood-tinged
sputum. As the disease progresses, sputum becomes free-flowing and
Septicemic plague is the least common of the three forms,
with a mortality rate near 100%. Symptoms are high fevers and purple
skin patches (purpura due to disseminated intravascular coagulation).
In cases of pneumonic and particularly septicemic plague, the progress
of the disease is so rapid that there would often be no time for the
development of the enlarged lymph nodes that were noted as buboes.
A number of alternative theories – implicating other diseases in the
Black Death pandemic – have also been proposed by some modern
scientists (see below – "Alternative Explanations").
Skeletons in a mass grave from 1720–1721 in Martigues, France,
yielded molecular evidence of the orientalis strain of Yersinia
pestis, the organism responsible for bubonic plague. The second
pandemic of bubonic plague was active in
Europe from AD 1347, the
beginning of the Black Death, until 1750.
In October 2010, the open-access scientific journal PLoS Pathogens
published a paper by a multinational team who undertook a new
investigation into the role of
Yersinia pestis in the Black Death
following the disputed identification by Drancourt and Raoult in 1998.
They assessed the presence of DNA/RNA with polymerase chain reaction
(PCR) techniques for Y. pestis from the tooth sockets in human
skeletons from mass graves in northern, central and southern Europe
that were associated archaeologically with the
Black Death and
subsequent resurgences. The authors concluded that this new research,
together with prior analyses from the south of France and Germany,
"ends the debate about the cause of the Black Death, and unambiguously
demonstrates that Y. pestis was the causative agent of the epidemic
plague that devastated
Europe during the Middle Ages".
The study also found that there were two previously unknown but
related clades (genetic branches) of the Y. pestis genome associated
with medieval mass graves. These clades (which are thought to be
extinct) were found to be ancestral to modern isolates of the modern
Y. pestis strains Y. p. orientalis and Y. p. medievalis, suggesting
the plague may have entered
Europe in two waves. Surveys of plague pit
remains in France and England indicate the first variant entered
Europe through the port of
Marseille around November 1347 and spread
through France over the next two years, eventually reaching England in
the spring of 1349, where it spread through the country in three
epidemics. Surveys of plague pit remains from the Dutch town of Bergen
op Zoom showed the Y. pestis genotype responsible for the pandemic
that spread through the
Low Countries from 1350 differed from that
found in Britain and France, implying
Bergen op Zoom (and possibly
other parts of the southern Netherlands) was not directly infected
from England or France in 1349 and suggesting a second wave of plague,
different from those in Britain and France, may have been carried to
Low Countries from Norway, the Hanseatic cities or another
The results of the Haensch study have since been confirmed and
amended. Based on genetic evidence derived from
Black Death victims in
East Smithfield burial site in England, Schuenemann et al.
concluded in 2011 "that the
Black Death in medieval
Europe was caused
by a variant of Y. pestis that may no longer exist." A study
published in Nature in October 2011 sequenced the genome of Y. pestis
from plague victims and indicated that the strain that caused the
Black Death is ancestral to most modern strains of the disease.
DNA taken from 25 skeletons from the 14th century found in
shown the plague is a strain of Y. pestis that is almost identical to
that which hit
Madagascar in 2013.
Main article: Theories of the Black Death
The plague theory was first significantly challenged by the work of
British bacteriologist J. F. D. Shrewsbury in 1970, who noted that the
reported rates of mortality in rural areas during the 14th-century
pandemic were inconsistent with the modern bubonic plague, leading him
to conclude that contemporary accounts were exaggerations. In 1984
zoologist Graham Twigg produced the first major work to challenge the
bubonic plague theory directly, and his doubts about the identity of
Black Death have been taken up by a number of authors, including
Samuel K. Cohn, Jr. (2002 and 2013),
David Herlihy (1997), and Susan
Scott and Christopher Duncan (2001).
It is recognised that an epidemiological account of the plague is as
important as an identification of symptoms, but researchers are
hampered by the lack of reliable statistics from this period. Most
work has been done on the spread of the plague in England, and even
estimates of overall population at the start vary by over 100% as no
census was undertaken between the time of publication of the Domesday
Book and the year 1377. Estimates of plague victims are usually
extrapolated from figures from the clergy.
In addition to arguing that the rat population was insufficient to
account for a bubonic plague pandemic, sceptics of the bubonic plague
theory point out that the symptoms of the
Black Death are not unique
(and arguably in some accounts may differ from bubonic plague); that
transference via fleas in goods was likely to be of marginal
significance; and that the DNA results may be flawed and might not
have been repeated elsewhere, despite extensive samples from other
mass graves. Other arguments include the lack of accounts of the
death of rats before outbreaks of plague between the 14th and 17th
centuries; temperatures that are too cold in northern
Europe for the
survival of fleas; that, despite primitive transport systems, the
spread of the
Black Death was much faster than that of modern bubonic
plague; that mortality rates of the
Black Death appear to be very
high; that, while modern bubonic plague is largely endemic as a rural
Black Death indiscriminately struck urban and rural
areas; and that the pattern of the Black Death, with major outbreaks
in the same areas separated by 5 to 15 years, differs from modern
bubonic plague—which often becomes endemic for decades with annual
McCormick has suggested that earlier archaeologists were simply not
interested in the "laborious" processes needed to discover rat
remains. Walløe complains that all of these authors "take it for
granted that Simond's infection model, black rat → rat flea →
human, which was developed to explain the spread of plague in India,
is the only way an epidemic of
Yersinia pestis infection could
spread", whilst pointing to several other possibilities.
Similarly, Green has argued that greater attention is needed to the
range of (especially non-commensal) animals that might be involved in
the transmission of plague.
Anthrax skin lesion
A variety of alternatives to the Y. pestis have been put forward.
Twigg suggested that the cause was a form of anthrax, and Norman
Cantor thought it may have been a combination of anthrax and other
pandemics. Scott and Duncan have argued that the pandemic was a form
of infectious disease that they characterise as hemorrhagic plague
similar to Ebola. Archaeologist Barney Sloane has argued that there is
insufficient evidence of the extinction of a large number of rats in
the archaeological record of the medieval waterfront in
that the plague spread too quickly to support the thesis that the Y.
pestis was spread from fleas on rats; he argues that transmission must
have been person to person. This theory is supported by
research in 2018 which suggested transmission was more likely by body
lice and human fleas during the Second Pandemic.
However, no single alternative solution has achieved widespread
acceptance. Many scholars arguing for the Y. pestis as the major
agent of the pandemic suggest that its extent and symptoms can be
explained by a combination of bubonic plague with other diseases,
including typhus, smallpox and respiratory infections. In addition to
the bubonic infection, others point to additional septicemic (a type
of "blood poisoning") and pneumonic (an airborne plague that attacks
the lungs before the rest of the body) forms of the plague, which
lengthen the duration of outbreaks throughout the seasons and help
account for its high mortality rate and additional recorded
symptoms. In 2014, scientists with
Public Health England
Public Health England announced
the results of an examination of 25 bodies exhumed from the
Clerkenwell area of London, as well as of wills registered in London
during the period, which supported the pneumonic hypothesis.
Main article: Consequences of the Black Death
Tournai bury plague victims
There are no exact figures for the death toll; the rate varied widely
by locality. In urban centres, the greater the population before the
outbreak, the longer the duration of the period of abnormal
mortality. It killed some 75 to 200 million people in
Eurasia. According to medieval historian
Philip Daileader in
The trend of recent research is pointing to a figure more like
45–50% of the European population dying during a four-year period.
There is a fair amount of geographic variation. In Mediterranean
Europe, areas such as Italy, the south of France and Spain, where
plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer
to 75–80% of the population. In Germany and England ... it was
probably closer to 20%.
A death rate as high as 60% in
Europe has been suggested by Norwegian
historian Ole Benedictow:
Detailed study of the mortality data available points to two
conspicuous features in relation to the mortality caused by the Black
Death: namely the extreme level of mortality caused by the Black
Death, and the remarkable similarity or consistency of the level of
mortality, from Spain in southern
Europe to England in north-western
Europe. The data is sufficiently widespread and numerous to make it
likely that the
Black Death swept away around 60 per cent of Europe's
population. It is generally assumed that the size of Europe's
population at the time was around 80 million. This implies that around
50 million people died in the Black Death.
The most widely accepted estimate for the Middle East, including Iraq,
Iran and Syria, during this time, is for a death rate of about a
Black Death killed about 40% of Egypt's population.
Half of Paris's population of 100,000 people died. In Italy, the
Florence was reduced from 110,000–120,000 inhabitants
in 1338 down to 50,000 in 1351. At least 60% of the population of
Bremen perished, and a similar percentage of Londoners
may have died from the disease as well. In
62,000 people died between the years between 1346 and 1353. While
contemporary reports account of mass burial pits being created in
response to the large numbers of dead, recent scientific
investigations of a burial pit in Central
London found well-preserved
individuals to be buried in isolated, evenly spaced graves, suggesting
at least some pre-planning and Christian burials at this time.
Before 1350, there were about 170,000 settlements in Germany, and this
was reduced by nearly 40,000 by 1450. In 1348, the plague spread
so rapidly that before any physicians or government authorities had
time to reflect upon its origins, about a third of the European
population had already perished. In crowded cities, it was not
uncommon for as much as 50% of the population to die. The disease
bypassed some areas, and the most isolated areas were less vulnerable
to contagion. Monks and priests were especially hard-hit since they
cared for victims of the Black Death.
Black Death Jewish persecutions
Inspired by the Black Death,
The Dance of Death
The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre, an
allegory on the universality of death, was a common painting motif in
the late medieval period.
Renewed religious fervour and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of the
Black Death. Some Europeans targeted "various groups such as Jews,
friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims", lepers, and
Romani, thinking that they were to blame for the crisis. Lepers, and
other individuals with skin diseases such as acne or psoriasis, were
singled out and exterminated throughout Europe.
Because 14th-century healers were at a loss to explain the cause,
Europeans turned to astrological forces, earthquakes, and the
poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for the plague's
emergence. The governments of
Europe had no apparent response to
the crisis because no one knew its cause or how it spread. The
mechanism of infection and transmission of diseases was little
understood in the 14th century; many people believed the epidemic was
a punishment by God for their sins. This belief led to the idea that
the cure to the disease was to win God's forgiveness
There were many attacks against Jewish communities. In February
1349, the citizens of
Strasbourg murdered 2,000 Jews. In August
1349, the Jewish communities in
Cologne were annihilated. By
1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities had been
destroyed. These massacres eventually died out in Western Europe,
only to continue on in Eastern Europe. During this period many Jews
relocated to Poland and Russia, receiving a warm welcome from King
Main article: Second plague pandemic
The Great Plague of London, in 1665, killed up to 100,000 people
The plague repeatedly returned to haunt
Europe and the Mediterranean
throughout the 14th to 17th centuries. According to Biraben, the
plague was present somewhere in
Europe in every year between 1346 and
1671. The Second
Pandemic was particularly widespread in the
following years: 1360–1363; 1374; 1400; 1438–1439; 1456–1457;
1464–1466; 1481–1485; 1500–1503; 1518–1531; 1544–1548;
1563–1566; 1573–1588; 1596–1599; 1602–1611; 1623–1640;
1644–1654; and 1664–1667. Subsequent outbreaks, though severe,
marked the retreat from most of
Europe (18th century) and
northern Africa (19th century). According to Geoffrey Parker,
"France alone lost almost a million people to the plague in the
epidemic of 1628–31."
In England, in the absence of census figures, historians propose a
range of preincident population figures from as high as 7 million
to as low as 4 million in 1300, and a postincident population
figure as low as 2 million. By the end of 1350, the Black
Death subsided, but it never really died out in England. Over the next
few hundred years, further outbreaks occurred in 1361–1362, 1369,
1379–1383, 1389–1393, and throughout the first half of the
15th century. An outbreak in 1471 took as much as 10–15% of
the population, while the death rate of the plague of 1479–1480
could have been as high as 20%. The most general outbreaks in
Tudor and Stuart England seem to have begun in 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563,
1589, 1603, 1625, and 1636, and ended with the Great Plague of London
Plague Riot in Moscow in 1771: During the course of the city's plague,
between 50,000 and 100,000 people died, 1⁄6 to 1⁄3 of its
In 1466, perhaps 40,000 people died of the plague in Paris.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the plague was present in Paris
around 30 per cent of the time. The
Black Death ravaged
three years before it continued on into Russia, where the disease was
present somewhere in the country 25 times between 1350 and 1490.
Plague epidemics ravaged
London in 1563, 1593, 1603, 1625, 1636, and
1665, reducing its population by 10 to 30% during those years.
Over 10% of Amsterdam's population died in 1623–1625, and again in
1635–1636, 1655, and 1664. Plague occurred in
Venice 22 times
between 1361 and 1528. The plague of 1576–1577 killed 50,000 in
Venice, almost a third of the population. Late outbreaks in
Europe included the Italian Plague of 1629–1631, which is
associated with troop movements during the Thirty Years' War, and the
Great Plague of Vienna
Great Plague of Vienna in 1679. Over 60% of Norway's population died
in 1348–1350. The last plague outbreak ravaged
Oslo in 1654.
In the first half of the 17th century, a plague claimed some 1.7
million victims in Italy, or about 14% of the population. In 1656,
the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants. More
than 1.25 million deaths resulted from the extreme incidence of plague
in 17th-century Spain. The plague of 1649 probably reduced the
Seville by half. In 1709–1713, a plague epidemic
that followed the Great Northern War (1700–1721, Sweden v. Russia
and allies) killed about 100,000 in Sweden, and 300,000 in
Prussia. The plague killed two-thirds of the inhabitants of
Helsinki, and claimed a third of Stockholm's population.
Europe's last major epidemic occurred in 1720 in Marseille.
Worldwide distribution of plague-infected animals 1998
Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world. Plague was
present in at least one location in the
Islamic world virtually every
year between 1500 and 1850. Plague repeatedly struck the cities of
Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 inhabitants to it in
1620–1621, and again in 1654–1657, 1665, 1691, and
1740–1742. Plague remained a major event in Ottoman society
until the second quarter of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750,
thirty-seven larger and smaller epidemics were recorded in
Constantinople, and an additional thirty-one between 1751 and
Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the
plague, and sometimes two-thirds of its population has been wiped
Third plague pandemic
Main article: Third plague pandemic
The third plague pandemic (1855–1859) started in China in the
mid-19th century, spreading to all inhabited continents and killing 10
million people in India alone. Twelve plague outbreaks in
Australia between 1900 and 1925 resulted in well over 1,000 deaths,
chiefly in Sydney. This led to the establishment of a Public Health
Department there which undertook some leading-edge research on plague
transmission from rat fleas to humans via the bacillus Yersinia
The first North American plague epidemic was the San Francisco plague
of 1900–1904, followed by another outbreak in
Modern treatment methods include insecticides, the use of antibiotics,
and a plague vaccine. The plague bacterium could develop drug
resistance and again become a major health threat. One case of a
drug-resistant form of the bacterium was found in
1995. A further outbreak in
Madagascar was reported in November
2014. In October 2017 the deadliest outbreak of the plague in
modern times hit Madagascar, killing 170 people and infecting
The phrase "black death" (mors nigra) was used in 1350 by Simon de
Covino or Couvin, a Belgian astronomer, who wrote the poem "On the
Judgment of the Sun at a Feast of Saturn" (De judicio Solis in
convivio Saturni), which attributes the plague to a conjunction of
Jupiter and Saturn. In 1908, Gasquet claimed that use of the name
atra mors for the 14th-century epidemic first appeared in a 1631 book
on Danish history by J. I. Pontanus: "Commonly and from its
effects, they called it the black death" (Vulgo & ab effectu atram
mortem vocatibant). The name spread through Scandinavia and then
Germany, gradually becoming attached to the mid 14th-century epidemic
as a proper name. However, atra mors is used to refer to a
pestilential fever (febris pestilentialis) already in the 12th-century
On the Signs and Symptoms of Diseases (Latin: De signis et
sinthomatibus egritudinum) by French physician Gilles de Corbeil.
In England, the phrase "Black Death" is first used to refer to the
14th-century epidemic in 1823. Writers contemporary with the
plague described the event as "great plague" or "great
Black Death (film)
Black Death in England
CCR5, a human gene hypothesised to be associated with the plague
Crisis of the Late Middle Ages
Cronaca fiorentina (Chronicle of Florence); a literary history of the
plague, and of
Florence up to 1386, by Baldassarre Bonaiuti
Doomsday Book (novel), a science fiction novel written by Connie
Four thieves vinegar; a popular French legend saying this recipe
provided immunity to the plague
Globalization and disease
Last outbreak of bubonic plague in England
Last outbreak of bubonic plague in England (1906–1918)
Plague doctor costume
Ring a Ring o' Roses
The Seventh Seal, a film directed by Ingmar Bergman
Timeline of plague
^ a b ABC/Reuters (29 January 2008). "Black death 'discriminated'
between victims (ABC News in Science)". Australian Broadcasting
Corporation. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ a b "Health. De-coding the Black Death". BBC. 3 October 2001.
Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ a b "Black Death's Gene Code Cracked". Wired. 3 October 2001.
Retrieved 12 February 2015.
^ "Plague". World Health Organization. October 2017. Retrieved 8
BBC – History – Black Death". BBC. 17 February 2011.
^ Austin Alchon, Suzanne (2003). A pest in the land: new world
epidemics in a global perspective. University of New Mexico Press.
p. 21. ISBN 0-8263-2871-7.
^ "Historical Estimates of World Population". Census.gov. Retrieved 12
^ Wheeler, Dr. L. Kip. "The Black Plague: The Least You Need to Know".
Dr. Wheeler's website. Dr. L. Kip Wheeler. Retrieved 9 August
^ Jay, Peter (17 July 2000). "A Distant Mirror". TIME Europe. 156 (3).
Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 25 January
^ Ziegler 1998, p. 25.
^ a b Tignor, Adelman, Brown, Elman, Liu, Pittman, Shaw, Robert,
Jeremy, Peter, Benjamin, Xinru, Holly, Brent (2014). Worlds Together,
Worlds Apart, Volume 1: Beginnings to the 15th Century. New York,
London: W.W Norton & Company. p. 407.
ISBN 9780393922080. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list
^ Raoult; Drancourt (2008). "Paleomicrobiology: Past Human
Infections". Springer: 152.
Nicholas Wade (31 October 2010). "Europe's Plagues Came From China,
Study Finds". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
^ The Cambridge History of China: Alien regimes and border states,
907–1368, p. 585.
^ Kohn, George C. (2008). Encyclopedia of plague and pestilence: from
ancient times to the present. Infobase Publishing. p. 31.
^ Sussman GD (2011). "Was the black death in India and China?".
Bulletin of the history of medicine. 85 (3): 319–55.
doi:10.1353/bhm.2011.0054. PMID 22080795.
Black Death may have originated in China". The Daily Telegraph. 1
^ Hecker 1859, p. 21 cited by Ziegler, p. 15.
^ "Channel 4 – History – The Black Death". Channel 4. Archived
from the original on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ Michael of Piazza (Platiensis) Bibliotheca scriptorum qui res in
Sicilia gestas retulere Vol 1, p. 562, cited in Ziegler, 1998, p. 40.
^ De Smet, Vol II, Breve Chronicon, p. 15.
^ Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 years: the history of a
marginal society. London:C. Hurst. p. 111.
^ Zuchora-Walske, Christine, Poland, North Mankato: ABDO Publishing,
^ Welford, Mark; Bossak, Brian H. (4 June 2010). "Revisiting the
Black Death of 1347–1351: Spatiotemporal Dynamics
Suggestive of an Alternate Causation". Geography Compass. 4 (6):
^ Baggaley, Kate (24 February 2015). "
Bubonic plague was a serial
visitor in European Middle Ages". Science News. Retrieved 24 February
^ Schmid, Boris V. (2015). "Climate-driven introduction of the Black
Death and successive plague reintroductions into Europe". Proc Natl
Acad Sci USA. 112 (10): 3020–25. Bibcode:2015PNAS..112.3020S.
doi:10.1073/pnas.1412887112. PMC 4364181 . PMID 25713390.
Retrieved 24 February 2015.
^ a b c Byrne 2004, pp. 21–29
Boccaccio (1351). "Decameron".
^ Ziegler 1998, pp. 18–19.
^ D. Herlihy, The
Black Death and the Transformation of the West
(Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997), p. 29.
^ Horrox, Rosemary (1994). Black Death. Manchester University Press.
p. 41. ISBN 978-0-7190-3498-5.
^ "Plague Backgrounder". Avma.org. Archived from the original on 16
May 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ Horrox 1994, p. 159.
^ Sehdev PS (2002). "The Origin of Quarantine". Clinical Infectious
Diseases. 35 (9): 1071–72. doi:10.1086/344062.
^ a b c d e f g h i Christakos, George; Olea, Ricardo A.; Serre, Marc
L.; Yu, Hwa-Lung; Wang, Lin-Lin (2005). Interdisciplinary Public
Health Reasoning and Epidemic Modelling: the Case of Black Death.
Springer. pp. 110–14. ISBN 3-540-25794-2.
^ Gasquet 1893.
^ Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (24 September 2015). "FAQ:
Plague". Retrieved 24 April 2017.
^ R. Totaro Suffering in Paradise: The Bubonic Plague in English
Literature from More to Milton (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press,
2005), p. 26
^ Byrne 2004, p. 8.
^ Drancourt M, Aboudharam G, Signoli M, Dutour O, Raoult D (1998).
"Detection of 400-year-old
Yersinia pestis DNA in human dental pulp:
an approach to the diagnosis of ancient septicemia". Proc Natl Acad
Sci U S A. 95 (21): 12637–40. Bibcode:1998PNAS...9512637D.
doi:10.1073/pnas.95.21.12637. PMC 22883 .
PMID 9770538. see alsoMichel Drancourt; Didier Raoult
(2004). "Molecular detection of
Yersinia pestis in dental pulp".
Microbiology. 150 (2): 263–64. doi:10.1099/mic.0.26885-0.
^ a b Haensch S, Bianucci R, Signoli M, Rajerison M, Schultz M, Kacki
S, Vermunt M, Weston DA, Hurst D, Achtman M, Carniel E, Bramanti B
(2010). Besansky NJ, ed. "Distinct Clones of
Yersinia pestis Caused
the Black Death". PLoS Pathogens. 6 (10): e1001134.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001134. PMC 2951374 .
^ Schuenemann VJ, Bos K, DeWitte S, Schmedes S, Jamieson J, Mittnik A,
Forrest S, Coombes BK, Wood JW, Earn DJD, White W, Krause J, Poinar H
(2011): Targeted enrichment of ancient pathogens yielding the pPCP1
Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death. PNAS 2011;
published ahead of print 29 August 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1105107108
^ Bos KI, Schuenemann VJ, Golding GB, Burbano HA, Waglechner N,
Coombes BK, McPhee JB, DeWitte SN, Meyer M, Schmedes S, Wood J, Earn
DJ, Herring DA, Bauer P, Poinar HN, Krause J (12 October 2011). "A
draft genome of
Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death".
Nature. 478 (7370): 506–10. Bibcode:2011Natur.478..506B.
doi:10.1038/nature10549. PMC 3690193 .
^ a b c Thorpe, Vanessa (29 March 2014). "Black death was not spread
by rat fleas, say researchers". theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 March
^ Morgan, James (30 March 2014). "
Black Death skeletons unearthed by
BBC News. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
^ Ziegler 1998, p. 233.
^ McCormick, Michael (1 July 2003). "Rats, Communications, and Plague:
Toward an Ecological History". Journal of Interdisciplinary History.
34 (1): 6. doi:10.1162/002219503322645439. ISSN 0022-1953.
^ Walloe, Lars (2008). Vivian Nutton, ed. Medieval and Modern Bubonic
Plague: some clinical continuities. Pestilential Complexities:
Understanding Medieval Plague. Wellcome Trust Centre for the History
of Medicine at UCL. p. 69.
^ Green, Monica (2014). "Taking "Pandemic" Seriously: Making the Black
Death Global". The Medieval Globe: 31ff.
^ M. Kennedy. "
Black Death study lets rats off the hook". The
Guardian. London: The History Press Ltd.
ISBN 0-7524-2829-2. .
^ B. Slone (2011). The
Black Death in London. London: The History
Press Ltd. ISBN 0-7524-2829-2. .
^ Dean, Katharine R.; Krauer, Fabienne; Walløe, Lars; Lingjærde, Ole
Christian; Bramanti, Barbara; Stenseth, Nils Chr; Schmid, Boris V. (10
January 2018). "Human ectoparasites and the spread of plague in Europe
during the Second Pandemic". Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences. 115 (6): 201715640. doi:10.1073/pnas.1715640115.
^ Olea Ricardo A.; Christakos G. (2005). "Duration assessment of urban
mortality for the 14th century
Black Death epidemic". Human Biology.
77 (3): 291–303. doi:10.1353/hub.2005.0051.
^ Philip Daileader, The Late Middle Ages, audio/video course produced
by The Teaching Company, (2007) ISBN 978-1-59803-345-8.
^ Ole J. Benedictow, "The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever",
History TodayVolume 55 Issue 3 March 2005
Cf. Benedictow, The
Black Death 1346–1353: The Complete History,
Boydell Press (7 Dec. 2012), pp. 380ff.
^ Kathryn Jean Lopez (14 September 2005). "Q&A with John Kelly on
The Great Mortality on National Review Online". Nationalreview.com.
Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 9 November
^ Egypt – Major Cities, U.S. Library of Congress
^ Snell, Melissa (2006). "The Great Mortality".
Historymedren.about.com. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
^ Dick, HC; Pringle, JK; Sloane, B; Carver, J; Wisneiwski, KD;
Haffenden, A; Porter, S; Roberts, D; Cassidy, NJ (2015). "Detection
and characterisation of
Black Death burials by multi-proxy geophysical
methods". Journal of Archaeological Science. 59: 132–41.
^ Richard Wunderli (1992). Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen.
Indiana University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-253-36725-5.
^ J. M. Bennett and C. W. Hollister, Medieval Europe: A Short History
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), p. 329.
^ a b David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence, 1998,
^ R.I. Moore The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Oxford, 1987
^ a b J. M. Bennett and C. W. Hollister, Medieval Europe: A Short
History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), p. 326.
^ "Black Death". history.com. 2010.
^ a b Black Death, Jewishencyclopedia.com
^ "Jewish History 1340–1349".
^ Robert S. Gottfried (11 May 2010). Black Death. Simon and Schuster.
p. 74. ISBN 978-1-4391-1846-7.
^ "The Great Plague". Stephen Porter (2009). Amberley Publishing. p.
25. ISBN 1-84868-087-2.
^ J. N. Hays (1998). "The burdens of disease: epidemics and human
response in western history.". p. 58. ISBN 0-8135-2528-4.
^ "Epidemics and pandemics: their impacts on human history". J. N.
Hays (2005). p. 46. ISBN 1-85109-658-2.
^ Geoffrey Parker (2001). "
Europe in crisis, 1598–1648".
Wiley-Blackwell. p. 7. ISBN 0-631-22028-3.
Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study, Stuart J.
Borsch, Austin: University of Texas
^ Secondary sources such as the Cambridge History of Medieval England
often contain discussions of methodology in reaching these figures
that are necessary reading for anyone wishing to understand this
controversial episode in more detail.
BBC – History – Black Death". BBC. p. 131. Retrieved 3
^ Gottfried, Robert S. (1983). The Black Death: Natural and Human
Disaster in Medieval Europe. London: Hale.
BBC – Radio 4 Voices of the Powerless – 29 August 2002 Plague
in Tudor and Stuart Britain". BBC. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Plague". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ Vanessa Harding (2002). "The dead and the living in Paris and
London, 1500–1670.". p. 25. ISBN 0-521-81126-0.
^ Byrne 2004, p. 62.
^ Vanessa Harding (2002). "The dead and the living in Paris and
London, 1500–1670.". p. 24. ISBN 0-521-81126-0.
^ "Plague in London: spatial and temporal aspects of mortality", J. A.
I. Champion, Epidemic Disease in London, Centre for Metropolitan
History Working Papers Series, No. 1 (1993).
^ Geography, climate, population, economy, society Archived 3 February
2010 at the Wayback Machine.. J.P. Sommerville.
^ "Crisis and Change in the Venetian Economy in the Sixteenth and
Seventeenth Centuries". Brian Pullan. (2006). p. 151.
^ "Medicine and society in early modern Europe". Mary Lindemann
(1999). Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-521-42354-6.
^ a b Harald Aastorp (1 August 2004). "Svartedauden enda verre enn
antatt". Forskning.no. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
^ Øivind Larsen. "DNMS.NO : Michael: 2005 : 03/2005 :
Black Death and hard facts". Dnms.no. Retrieved 3
^ Karl Julius Beloch, Bevölkerungsgeschichte Italiens, volume 3, pp.
Naples in the 1600s". Faculty.ed.umuc.edu. Archived from the
original on 10 October 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ The Seventeenth-Century Decline, S. G. Payne, A History of Spain and
^ a b "Armies of pestilence: the effects of pandemics on history".
James Clarke & Co. (2004). p. 72. ISBN 0-227-17240-X
^ "Kathy McDonough, Empire of Poland". Depts.washington.edu. Archived
from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
Bubonic plague in early modern Russia: public health and urban
disaster". John T. Alexander (2002). Oxford University Press US. p.
21. ISBN 0-19-515818-0.
^ "Ruttopuisto – Plague Park". Tabblo.com. Archived from the
original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
^ "Stockholm: A Cultural History". Tony Griffiths (2009). Oxford
University Press US. p. 9. ISBN 0-19-538638-8.
^ "The Islamic World to 1600: The Mongol Invasions (The Black Death)".
Ucalgary.ca. Archived from the original on 21 July 2009. Retrieved 10
^ Byrne, Joseph Patrick (2008). Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics,
and Plagues: A–M. ABC-CLIO. p. 519.
^ "Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the
Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800". Robert Davis
(2004). ISBN 1-4039-4551-9.
^ Université de Strasbourg. Institut de turcologie, Université de
Strasbourg. Institut d'études turques, Association pour le
développement des études turques. (1998). Turcica. Éditions
Klincksieck. p. 198. CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter
^ "The Fertile Crescent, 1800–1914: a documentary economic history".
Charles Philip Issawi (1988). Oxford University Press US. p. 99.
^ Infectious Diseases: Plague Through History, sciencemag.org
^ Bubonic Plague comes to Sydney in 1900, University of Sydney, Sydney
^ Chase, Marilyn (2004). The Barbary Plague: The
Black Death in
Victorian San Francisco. Random House Digital.
^ Echenberg, Myron (2007). Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of
Bubonic Plague: 1894–1901. Sacramento: New York University Press.
^ Kraut, Alan M. (1995). Silent travelers: germs, genes, and the
"immigrant menace". JHU Press. ISBN 0-8018-5096-7.
^ Drug-resistant plague a 'major threat', say scientists, SciDev.Net.
^ "Plague – Madagascar". World Health Organisation. 21 November
2014. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
^ Wexler, Alexandra; Antoy, Amir (16 November 2017). "Madagascar
Wrestles With Worst Outbreak of Plague in Half a Century". Wall Street
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On page 22 of the manuscript in Gallica, Simon mentions the phrase
"mors nigra" (Black Death): "Cum rex finisset oracula judiciorum /
Mors nigra surrexit, et gentes reddidit illi;" (When the king ended
the oracles of judgment /
Black Death arose, and the nations
surrendered to him;).
A more legible copy of the poem appears in: Emile Littré (1841)
"Opuscule relatif à la peste de 1348, composé par un contemporain"
(Work concerning the plague of 1348, composed by a contemporary),
Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes, 2 (2) : 201–243; see
especially p. 228.
See also: Joseph Patrick Byrne, The
Black Death (Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004), p. 1.
^ Francis Aidan Gasquet, The
Black Death of 1348 and 1349, 2nd ed.
(London, England: George Bell and Sons, 1908), p. 7. Johan Isaksson
Pontanus, Rerum Danicarum Historia ... (
Johann Jansson, 1631), p. 476.
^ The German physician Justus Hecker (1795–1850) cited the phrase in
Icelandic (Svarti Dauði), Danish (den sorte Dod), etc. See: J. F. C.
Hecker, Der schwarze Tod im vierzehnten Jahrhundert [The Black Death
in the Fourteenth Century] (Berlin, (Germany): Friedr. Aug. Herbig,
1832), page 3.
^ See: Stephen d'Irsay (May 1926) "Notes to the origin of the
expression: atra mors," Isis, 8 (2): 328–332.
^ The name "Black Death" first appeared in English in:
"Mrs. Markham" (pen name of Elizabeth Penrose (née Cartwright)), A
History of England ... (Edinburgh, Scotland: Archibald Constable,
1823). In the 1829 edition, the relevant text appeared on pages
249–250, where, about the English king Edward III, she wrote:
"Edward's successes in France were interrupted during the next six
years by a most terrible pestilence — so terrible as to be called
the black death — which raged throughout Europe, and proved a
greater scourge to the people than even the calamities of war." (For
further information about this book and Mrs. Penrose, see: Wikisource
and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
See also: J. L. Bolton, "Looking for Yersinia pestis: Scientists,
Historians and the Black Death" in: Linda Clark and Carole Rawcliffe,
ed.s, The Fifteenth Century XII: Society in an Age of Plague
(Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2013), p. 15.
The name "Black Death" was spread more widely when in 1833, Benjamin
Guy Babington published an English translation of J. F. C. Hecker's
book Der schwarze Tod im vierzehnten Jahrhundert as: J. F. C. Hecker
with Benjamin Guy Babington, trans., The
Black Death in the Fourteenth
Century (London, England: A. Schloss, 1833).
^ John of Fordun's Scotichronicon ("there was a great pestilence and
mortality of men") Horrox, Rosemary (1994). Black Death.
Armstrong, Dorsey (2016). "The Black Death: The World's Most
Devastating Plague". The Great Courses. ASIN B01FWOO2G6.
Benedictow, Ole Jørgen (2004).
Black Death 1346–1353: The Complete
History. ISBN 978-1-84383-214-0.
Byrne, J. P. (2004). The Black Death. London: Greenwood Publishing
Group. ISBN 0-313-32492-1.
Cantor, Norman F. (2001), In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death
and the World It Made, New York, Free Press.
Cohn, Samuel K. Jr., (2002), The
Black Death Transformed: Disease and
Culture in Early Renaissance Europe, London: Arnold.
Gasquet, Francis Aidan (1893). The Great Pestilence AD 1348 to
1349: Now Commonly Known As the Black Death.
Hecker, J.F.C. (1859). B.G. Babington(trans), ed. Epidemics of the
Middle Ages. London, Trübner.
Herlihy, D., (1997), The
Black Death and the Transformation of the
West, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
McNeill, William H. (1976). Plagues and Peoples. Anchor/Doubleday.
Scott, S., and Duncan, C. J., (2001), Biology of Plagues: Evidence
from Historical Populations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shrewsbury, J. F. D., (1970), A History of Bubonic Plague in the
British Isles, London: Cambridge University Press.
Twigg, G., (1984), The Black Death: A Biological Reappraisal, London:
Ziegler, Philip (1998). The Black Death. Penguin Books.
ISBN 978-0-14-027524-7. 1st editions 1969.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Black Death.
Black Death on In Our Time at the BBC.
Black Death at BBC