The Black Death, 1331 to 1353
The Black Death decimated the population across Europe, Asia and Africa in the 14th century. Not only did the Black Death cause massive numbers of deaths, it also facilitated significant social change across Europe and elsewhere.
Like the Plague of Justinian, the Black Death was caused by Yersinia pestis. Yersinia pestis is carried and spread by rodent fleas, making transmission nearly inevitable. The Black Death likely originated in India or China, spreading along the Silk Road. As early as 1331, plagues began in China, perhaps killing as many as 25 million in China. In 1338 and 1339, graves in Kyrgyzstan record a plague, perhaps Yersinia pestis. Yersinia pestis can cause three different variants of plague; bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Bubonic plague is the least fatal, but still resulted in death in 30 to 75 percent of those that contracted it.
By the end of 1346, Europeans were aware that plague had already destroyed the populations of cities in India, Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia. Plague likely entered Europe through the Genoese ships fleeing plague elsewhere. These 12 ships quickly spread plague throughout port cities in Europe, including Venice, Marseilles, and Pisa.
By 1348, the Black Death had spread through France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and England. It moved east into Germany and Scandinavia between 1348 and 1350, and entered Russia in 1351. Between 1347 and 1351, the Black Death also spread throughout the Middle East, also along common trade routes. Isolated regions were less likely to experience plague than more cosmopolitan areas.
Death rates varied depending on region, but in Europe, around 45 to 50 percent of the overall population died, with higher numbers in the south and lower ones in the east. In the Middle East, around 30 percent of the population perished. Research suggests that the death toll in Eurasia was between 75 and 200 million people.
The dramatically reduced population led to significant increases in quality of life for the lower classes. Many of the survivors had inherited wealth and land due to the deaths, but also, could now demand much higher wages for their labor.