The Black Death was one of the worst pandemics in human history. In the 14th century, at least 75 million people on three continents perished due to the painful, highly contagious disease. Originating from fleas on rodents in China, the “Great Pestilence” spread westward and spared few regions. In Europe’s cities, hundreds died daily and their bodies were usually thrown into mass graves. The plague devastated towns, rural communities, families, and religious institutions. Following centuries of a rise in population, the world’s population experienced a catastrophic reduction and would not be replenished for more than one hundred years.
Origins and Path of the Black Death
The Black Death originated in China or Central Asia and was spread to Europe by fleas and rats that resided on ships and along the Silk Road. The Black Death killed millions in China, India, Persia (Iran), the Middle East, the Caucasus, and North Africa. To harm the citizens during a siege in 1346, Mongol armies may have thrown infected corpses over the city wall of Caffa, on the Crimean peninsula of the Black Sea. Italian traders from Genoa were also infected and returned home in 1347, introducing the Black Death into Europe. From Italy, the disease spread to France, Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia.
Science of the Black Death
The three plagues associated with the Black Death are now known to be caused by bacteria called Yersinia Pestis, which is carried and spread by fleas on rats. When the rat died after continual bites and replication of the bacteria, the flea survived and moved to other animals or humans. Although some scientists believe that the Black Death was caused by other diseases like anthrax or the Ebola virus, recent research which extracted DNA from the skeletons of victims suggests that Yersinia Pestis was the microscopic culprit of this global pandemic.
Types and Symptoms of the Plague
The first half of the 14th century was marred by war and...
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