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 cause of the Black Death, analyses of DNA from people in northern and southern Europe published in 2010 and 2011 indicate that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, resulting in 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.


Origins of the disease

Main article: 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. [10] 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. [11] In October 2010, medical geneticists suggested that all three of the great waves of the plague originated in China. [12] 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. [13] 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. [14] [15]

The disease may have travelled along the Silk Road with Mongol armies and traders or it could have come via ship. [16] By the end of 1346, reports of plague had reached the seaports of Europe: "India was depopulated, Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia were covered with dead bodies". [17]

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 the 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. [18] 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.

European outbreak

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 plague reached Sicily in October 1347, carried by twelve Genoese galleys, [19] and rapidly spread all over the island. Galleys from Kaffa reached Genoa and Venice in January 1348, but it was the outbreak in 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. [20]

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. [21] Finally it spread to northwestern Russia in 1351. The plague was somewhat less common in parts of Europe that had smaller trade relations with their neighbours, including the Kingdom of Poland, the majority of the Basque Country, isolated parts of Belgium and the Netherlands, and isolated alpine villages throughout the continent. [22] [23]

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. [24] [25]

Middle Eastern outbreak

The plague struck various countries in the Middle East during the pandemic, leading to serious depopulation and permanent change in both economic and social structures. As it spread to western Europe, the disease entered the region from southern Russia also. By autumn 1347, the plague reached Alexandria in Egypt, probably 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, most of them dying during the journey, but the infection had been spread to the people of Asia Minor.[ citation needed]

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. In 1351 Yemen experienced an outbreak of the plague, coinciding with the return of Sultan al-Mujahid Ali of Yemen from imprisonment in Cairo. His party may have brought the disease with them from Egypt.[ citation needed]

Other Languages
Адыгэбзэ: Емынэ фӀыцӀэ
Afrikaans: Swart Dood
Alemannisch: Schwarzer Tod
العربية: الموت الأسود
aragonés: Peste negra
asturianu: Peste negra
azərbaycanca: Qara ölüm
تۆرکجه: قارا اؤلوم
Bân-lâm-gú: Hek-sú-pēng
беларуская: Чорная смерць
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Чорная сьмерць
български: Черната смърт
bosanski: Crna smrt
brezhoneg: Bosenn Zu
català: Pesta negra
čeština: Černá smrt
Cymraeg: Pla Du
Deutsch: Schwarzer Tod
eesti: Must surm
Ελληνικά: Μαύρη πανώλη
español: Peste negra
Esperanto: Nigra morto
euskara: Izurri Beltza
فارسی: مرگ سیاه
føroyskt: Sóttin svarta
français: Peste noire
Frysk: Swarte Dea
furlan: Peste Nere
Gàidhlig: Am Bàs Dubh
galego: Peste negra
한국어: 흑사병
हिन्दी: काली मौत
hrvatski: Doba kuge
Bahasa Indonesia: Maut Hitam
íslenska: Svartidauði
italiano: Peste nera
ქართული: შავი ჭირი
қазақша: Оба індеті
latviešu: Melnā nāve
lietuvių: Juodoji mirtis
Limburgs: Zjwarte Doeëd
македонски: Црна смрт
Bahasa Melayu: Maut Hitam
Mirandés: Peste negra
Nederlands: Zwarte Dood
नेपाल भाषा: हाकुगु मृत्यु
norsk bokmål: Svartedauden
norsk nynorsk: Svartedauden
Patois: Blak Det
Plattdüütsch: Swart Dood
português: Peste negra
română: Moartea neagră
sicilianu: Pesti niura
සිංහල: කළු මරණය
Simple English: Black Death
slovenčina: Čierna smrť
slovenščina: Črna smrt
српски / srpski: Црна смрт
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Crna smrt
svenska: Digerdöden
Tagalog: Salot na Itim
українська: Чорна смерть
اردو: سیاہ موت
Tiếng Việt: Cái chết Đen
Võro: Must surm
中文: 黑死病