Black Death  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350, and killing between 75 million and 200 million people. Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, recent analysis of DNA from victims in northern and southern Europe indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium probably causing several forms of plague.

The Black Death is thought to have started in China or central Asia. It then travelled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1346. 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 to 60 percent of Europe's population. All in all, the plague reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to a number between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century.

The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe's population to recover. The plague reoccurred occasionally in Europe until the 19th century.

In culture

Black Death in medieval culture

The Black Death had a profound impact on art and literature throughout the generation that experienced it. Many of the most useful manifestations of the Black Death in literature, to historians, comes from the accounts of its chroniclers. Some of these chroniclers were famous writers, philosophers and rulers such as Boccaccio and Petrarch. Their writings, however, did not reach the majority of the European population. Petrarch's work was read mainly by wealthy nobles and merchants of Italian city-states. He wrote hundreds of letters and vernacular poetry, and passed on to later generations a revised interpretation of courtly love. There was one troubadour, writing in the lyric style long out of fashion, who was active in 1348. Peire Lunel de Montech composed the sorrowful sirventes "Meravilhar no·s devo pas las gens" during the height of the plague in Toulouse.

They died by the hundreds, both day and night, and all were thrown in ... ditches and covered with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I, Agnolo di Tura ... buried my five children with my own hands ... And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.
--The Plague in Siena: An Italian Chronicle
How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfast with their kinfolk and the same night supped with their ancestors in the next world! The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like goods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.
--Giovanni Boccaccio

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Black Death" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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