The Black Death

Bubonic plague first swept Europe in the age of Justinian, in the sixth century, killing an estimated 25 million people in the Byzantine Empire and spreading further west. Its most devastating outbreak was in mid-fourteenth-century Europe, when it destroyed perhaps a third of the continent’s population.

Italian city-states pioneered the policies of quarantine and isolation that remained standard preventive measures for many centuries; religious revival and popular disturbances, crime and conflict may have spread as life was cheapened by the mass impact of the plague. The economic effects of the drastic reduction in population were severe, though not necessarily negative. Later outbreaks of the plague culminated in outbreaks in Seville (1647), London (1665), Vienna (1679) and Marseilles (1720) and then it disappeared from Europe while recurring in Asia through the nineteenth century. The plague set the template for many later confrontations with epidemic disease, discussed in the following lectures.

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