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Black Death
Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353)
Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353)
Disease Bubonic plague
Location Eurasia, North Africa
Date 1346–1353
75,000,000 – 200,000,000 (estimate)
Burying Plague Victims of Tournai
The burial of the victims of the plague in Tournai. Fragment of a miniature from "The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis" (1272-1352), abbot of the monastery of St. Martin of the Righteous. Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS 13076-77, f. 24v.
Black Death spreading across Europe 1347-1353

The Black Death was a pandemic (an epidemic spreading over a large area) that killed millions of people.

It started in Europe in 1347, and lasted until 1351. Almost one out of every three people in Europe died from the disease, so about 25 million. The disease started in Asia. Most people think that the disease was the bubonic plague. This disease is carried and spread by fleas living on rats. Traders from the Silk Road may have brought the infected fleas to Europe.

Another disease that could have been the Black Death is Anthrax. Anthrax could have been spread by cattle. Looking at the quick spread of the disease, Viral hemorrhagic fevers are other ideas for what specific disease the Black Death might have been.

Fleas started the problem; the infected fleas were carried by black rats. Rats that were carrying the fleas would go into cities. When the fleas bit somebody, they would inject a little bit of the bacteria into the wound. This would cause the person to be infected. Rats were often on ships. This meant the disease spread extremely quickly, all over Europe.

In humans, the disease caused swelling in the groin, under the arms and behind the ears. These swellings were a black and purple colour, hence the name 'The Black Death'. The dark swellings were called buboes. People were in pain and victims died a horrible death. The symptoms could be seen 3-7 days after victims were bitten by a flea.


It killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population. Including in the Middle East, India and China, it killed at least 75 million people.

The same disease is thought to have returned to Europe every generation with different degrees of intensity and fatality until the 1700s. Later outbreaks include the Italian Plague of 1629-1631, the Great Plague of London (1665–1666), the Great Plague of Vienna (1679), the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720–1722 and the 1771 plague in Moscow. There is some controversy over the identity of the disease, but in its virulent form seems to have disappeared from Europe in the 18th century.

The Black Death had a very big effect on Europe's population. It changed Europe's social structure. It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in widespread persecution of minorities such as Jews, Muslims, foreigners, beggars and lepers. The uncertainty of daily survival influenced people to live for the moment, as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353).

The initial fourteenth-century European event was called the "Great Mortality" by contemporary writers and, with later outbreaks, became known as the 'Black Death'.

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