Black Death

Black Death

Black Death was considered as one of the most shocking epidemics in the human history. This results to an estimated of seventy five to two hundred million people deaths peaking in Europe in the early 1346-1353. Above all several opposing theories of the etiology of the Black Death, the analysis of DNA from both Southern and Northern Europe victims was published in 2010 and 2011. It indicates that the pathogen responsible for the cause of the death was the Yersinia Pestis bacterium. It possibly caused some forms of plague.

It was though that the Black Death was originated in Central Asia’s dry plain, where it was carried along the Silk Road reaching the place of Crimea by 1343. After then, the black rats were the carrier of the oriental rat fleas. These black rats were the common passengers of the commercial ships. Black Death spread throughout Europe and Meditteranean and killed 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s entire population. Overall, in the 14th century, the plague reduced the population of the world from an estimated of four hundred fifty million down to between three hundred fifty and three hundred seventy-five million.

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The plague caused a very serious social, economic and religious upheavals, resulting to deep effects on the course of the history of the European. Europe’s population took one hundred fifty years to recover. The epidemic occasionally recurred in Europe until the 19th century.


The ancient term “black death” was derived from Homeric Greek then adopted in classical Latin. It was originated in a poetic characterization of death as terrible and dark. A French Physician in 12th century, Gilles de Corbeil used the term to refer to a pestilential fever in his “De Signis et sinthomatibus egritudinum”. Other writers referred the plague as the “Great Plague” or the “Great Mortality”. In 1350, the phrase “Black Death” is used by Simon de Covino, an astronomer from Belgia. He who wrote a poem in which he attributed the plague to a combination of Saturn and Jupiter.

In 1908, Gasquet appealed that the Latin word atra mors “Black Death” for the 14th century epidemic initially appeared in modern times in a book on Danish history. The name spread through Scandinavia to Germany, progressively becoming involved to the epidemic of mid14th century as a proper name. The medieval epidemic was first called Black Death in England.


The appearance of buboes or gavocciolos is the noted symptom of this plague. It affects the groin, armpits and the neck, which oozed and bled when opened.

The only uncertain medical aspect is the infallibility of imminent death, as if the bubo releases, there is a possible recovery. Severe fever and vomiting of blood followed. Most of the victims died in two until seven days after the first infection. Spots like freckles and rashes which can be caused by bites of flea is another possible sign of the epidemic.

Louis Heyligen, a musician who died in 1348 because of the plague, noted a different form of the disease which infected the lungs resulting to respiratory problems and which is known with pneumonic plague.


During the middle ages, medical awareness had stagnated. The most authoritative explanation at the time came from the medical faculty in Paris. They reported that the epidemic caused by a great pestilence in the air. It was the first and widely circulated information that sought to give advice to the sufferers. The most commonly accepted theory, is that the plague was caused by a bad air. At this point in time, the word “plague” had no extraordinary importance, and only the reappearance of outbreaks in the middle Ages provided it the name and become the medical term.

The main explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory that attributed the epidemic to Yersinia pestis. This is also responsible for an epidemic that began in 1865 in Southern China then spreading to India. Teams of scientists began to investigate the pathogen that caused the plague in 19th century. One of them was Alexander Yersin, a French-Swiss bacteriologist whom the pathogens name Yersinia pestis came from. The instrument by which Y. pestis was usually transmitted was established by Paul-Louis Simond in 1898. He found out that it involves the bites of the fleas. The fleas flushed thousands of bacteria which has infected the host. The plague mechanism also dependent on two population of rodents; one acts as the host or the resistant of the disease and the other lacks resistance. When there is death of the second population, the fleas transfer on to other hosts, including people, then creating a human epidemic.

In 1893, a historian Francis Aidan Gasquet, had written about the Great Pestilence. He adopted the epidemiology of the bubonic plague for the Black Death implicating fleas and rats in the process. Thus, his interpretation was accepted for other medieval and ancient epidemics like the Justinian plague.

Modern scientists implicated other forms of plague such as modern bubonic plague consisting of a mortality rate of thirty to seventy percent and symptoms including sever fever, aching joints that are painful, then headaches, vomiting and nausea.

While, the pneumonic plague has estimated a mortality rate of ninety to ninety-five percent with the symptoms of cough, high fever and sputum with blood. The sputum converts into free flowing bright red blood as the disease develops.

On the other hand, Septicemic plague is the least common of the three forms. High fever and purple skin patches are the symptoms. In the cases of both pneumonic and septicemic plague, there is a very rapid progress resulting to having no time for the growth of the inflated lymph nodes, which were known as buboes.


The use of antibiotics, plague vaccine and insecticides are the modern treatment methods for this epidemic. The plague bacterium might develop resistance for drug and again become the major treatment. In 1995, only case of a drug-resilient form of the bacterium was found in Madagascar. Then in November 2014 an additional outbreak in Madagascar was reported.