Black Death


During the 14th century about 25 million people died from a disease that became known as the plague, or Black Death. It swept through Europe and killed about 40% of the continent’s population.

Historians think the Black Death originated in Central Asia. Rats and fleas spread the infectious disease .

In 1347 the plague hit Messina in Sicily and soon spread to cities all over the Mediterranean Sea. It struck London in 1348 and Scandinavia and Russia soon after that.

Doctors at that time did not know the cause of the disease. They could not prevent it from spreading and didn’t have any cure. It caused panic among the population and many people tried desperately to save themselves. In Spain, France and Germany people accused the Jews of poisoning wells to spread the disease. Others thought that the plague was God’s punishment.

The symptoms were horrible. Tumours, sometimes as big as an egg or an apple , as well as purple dots covered the whole body. People showed swellings in their lymph nodes and smelled badly because they were rotting from the inside.




Widespread fever drove people mad, wandering around and shouting in the streets. Many infected vomited and coughed up blood. When the symptoms appeared the victim only had a few days left to live. There wasn’t enough space in the graveyards, so the bodies were often left on the streets.

The population used strange methods to fight against the plague. Fires were started to clean the air and people took scents, like rosemary, amber with them. Some put wooden frames over their windows to stop the polluted air from coming in. Most of the population didn’t eat meat. Those who could fled to the countryside where there were not so many people who were infected.

In order to control the disease people were quarantined and many areas built public hospitals for all people. Once it hit Europe the Black Death moved fast and travelled at an average speed of 4 km a day.

By 1352 the plague slowly lost its muscle. Those who survived lost faith in the church because God turned against them. People started to celebrate because they had survived, drank wildly and organized death dances.

The plague returned to Europe in following centuries but it was not as devastating as during the 14 th century. The Black Death changed Europe completely. There were not enough people to work any more so labour became more expensive. Some villages in the countryside even disappeared.



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  • accuse = to say that you think someone else did something bad
  • amber =a hard yellow or brown material that is used to make jewellery
  • appear = to show up, to be seen
  • average speed =how fast something normally moves
  • cause =reason for
  • celebrate =to have fun, to be happy
  • century = a hundred years
  • cough =to suddenly push air out of your throat with a short sound
  • cover =here: to be over
  • cure = medicine that makes an illness go away
  • desperate =here: very hard
  • devastating =shocking, damaging, destructive
  • disappear = to go away
  • disease = illness
  • dot = a small round mark or spot
  • faith = trust, belief
  • flea = a very small insect without wings that jumps and bites animals and people to eat their blood
  • frame =border made of wood
  • graveyard = the place where dead people are buried
  • horrible = very bad , awful
  • infected = here : to have the disease
  • infectious = to pass from one person to another
  • labour = work
  • lymph node =a small round swelling in your body which a liquid passes through before it enters your blood stream
  • Mediterranean = the area between Europe and Africa
  • muscle =here : power
  • originate = come from
  • poison =to put something into your food or drink so that it will kill you
  • polluted = dirty
  • population = the people who live in an area
  • prevent = to stop from happening
  • public = for all people
  • punishment =something you must do because you have done something illegal
  • quarantine = to keep a person away from others if they have a disease
  • rosemary = narrow leaves of a bush
  • rot =decompose, decay
  • scent = a nice smell that something has
  • space = room
  • spread = to move from one place to another
  • strange = unusual
  • strike –struck = hit, come to
  • survive =to live on after a dangerous situation
  • sweep – swept = to move very fast
  • swelling = a place on your body that becomes larger than normal because of an illness or disease
  • victim = a person who has died because of the illness
  • vomit = to bring food or drink from your stomach out through your mouth because you are ill
  • wander = to walk around without really knowing where to go
  • well = a deep hole in the ground from which people take water
  • widespread = something that happens very often or in many places