Black Death

For other uses, see Black Death (disambiguation).
Spread of the Black Death in Europe (1346–1353)

The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe in the years 1346–1353. [1] [2] [3] Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, analysis of DNA from victims in northern and southern Europe published in 2010 and 2011 indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, probably causing several forms of plague. [4] [5]

The Black Death is thought to have originated in the arid plains of Central Asia, where it then travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1343. [6] 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, the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe's total population. [7] In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century. [8] The world population as a whole did not recover to pre-plague levels until the 17th century. [9] The plague recurred occasionally in Europe until the 19th century.

The plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history.


The 12th-century French physician Gilles de Corbeil's On the Signs and Symptoms of Diseases ( Latin: De signis et sinthomatibus egritudinum) uses the phrase "black death" (atra mors) to refer to a pestilential fever (febris pestilentialis). [10]

Writers contemporary with the plague referred to the event as the "Great Mortality" [11] or the "Great Plague". [12][ clarification needed]

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. [13] 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). [14] The name spread through Scandinavia and then Germany, gradually becoming attached to the mid 14th-century epidemic as a proper name. [15] In England, it was not until 1823, that the medieval epidemic was first called the Black Death. [16]