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The Black Death (also Bubonic Plague or The
Plague, and latterly Black Plague though not called this in
earlier times) was a devastating epidemic
in the 14th
century which is estimated to have killed about a third of the population.
Most scientists believe that the Black Death was an outbreak of bubonic
plague, a dreaded disease
that has spread in pandemic
form several times through history.
The plague is caused by the bacterium
pestis which is spread by fleas
with the help of animals like the black
rat (Rattus rattus). Sometime, the term "Black Death" is
used for all outbreaks of plague.
It is not entirely clear where the major epidemic of the 14th century
started, but it was probably somewhere around the northern parts of India.
It then spread west to the Middle
East. The plague was imported to Europe by the way of the Crimea,
where the Genoese
colony Kaffa (Feodosiya)
was besieged by the Mongols.
Myth (or history?) says that the Mongols catapulted infected cadavers into the
city. The refugees from Kaffa then took the plague along to Messina,
Genoa and Venice,
around the turn of 1347/1348.
Some ships didn't have anyone alive when they reached their port. From Italy
the disease spread clockwise around Europe, hitting France,
and finally north-western Russia
The information about the death toll varies widely from source to source, but
it is estimated that about a third of the population of Europe died from the
outbreak in the mid-1300s.
Approximately 25 million deaths occurred in Europe alone with many others
occurring in Africa
Some villages were deserted with the few survivors fleeing and spreading the
disease further. The great population loss brought economic changes based on
increased social mobility as depopulation elsewhere eroded peasant obligations
(already weakened) to remain on their traditional holdings.