History of the Black Death

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Joshua Silverman


Foundations of the Modern World I


How the Black Death Affected the Modern World

The Black Death is the worst plague that mankind has ever had to face, much worse than anything we face today. The mortality rate was astounding; whoever was unfortunate enough to become infected with the Black Death would die in a matter of days while suffering through a great deal of pain and agony (Snell). Its peak was around 1348-1353 in Europe, ranging from England all the way to Eastern Europe and beyond (The Black Death, 1348, 2001). The Black Death is thought to have started in China or central Asia, before spreading west. The plague then travelled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1347. From there, it was probably 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% to 60% of Europe's population.

All in all, the plague reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century (Ibeji, 2011).

The plague disease, generally thought to be caused by Yersinia pestis, is 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 (Edmonds). Plague was reportedly first introduced to Europe at the trading city of Caffa in the Crimea in 1347 (Whipps, 2008). After a protracted siege, during which the Mongol army was suffering the disease, they catapulted the infected corpses over the city walls to infect the inhabitants. The Genoese traders fled, taking the plague by ship into Sicily and the south of Europe, whence it spread north (Edmonds).