How did it spread?
The Black Death arrived in Europe by sea in October 1347 when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the Black Sea. The people who gathered on the docks to greet the ships were met with a horrifying surprise: Most of the sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They were overcome with fever, unable to keep food down and delirious from pain. Strangest of all, they were covered in mysterious black boils that oozed blood and pus and gave their illness its name: the “Black Death.” The Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the mysterious Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe–almost one-third of the continent’s population.
Where did it spread?
The so-called Black Death arrived in Britain from central Asia in the autumn of 1348. Believed to be bubonic plague, spread by infected fleas carried on rats, the disease swept through Europe over the better part of the next year. One of history’s most devastating epidemics, it killed an estimated 75 million people, including six in every 10 Londoners. Now, analysis of skeletal remains found by construction workers digging railway tunnels in central London has led scientists to a stunning new conclusion: The Black Death was not transmitted through flea bites at all, but was an airborne plague spread through the coughs, sneezes and breath of infected human victims.
Why doctors used beaks?
Plague doctors wore a mask with a bird-like beak to protect them from being infected by the disease, which they believed was airborne. In fact, they thought disease was spread by miasma, a noxious form of ‘bad air.’ To battle this imaginary threat, the long beak was packed with sweet smells, such as dried flowers, herbs and spices. However, though the beak mask has become an iconic symbol of the Black Death, there is no evidence it was actually worn during the 14th Century epidemic. Medical historians have in fact attributed the invention of the ‘beak doctor’ costume to a French doctor named Charles de Lorme in 1619. He designed the bird mask to be worn with a large waxen coat as a form of head-to-toe protection, modelled on a soldier’s armour. The costume was worn by plague doctors during the Plague of 1656, which killed 145,000 people in Rome and 300,000 in Naples.
What was the Black Death?
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe in the years 1346–1353.Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, analyses of DNA from victims in northern and southern Europe published in 2010 and 2011 indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, probably causing several forms of plague.
How many people died?
In England, in the absence of census figures, historians propose a range of preincident population figures from as high as 7 million to as low as 4 million in 1300, and a postincident population figure as low as 2 million. By the end of 1350, the Black Death subsided, but it never really died out in England. Over the next few hundred years, further outbreaks occurred in 1361–1362, 1369, 1379–1383, 1389–1393, and throughout the first half of the 15th century .An outbreak in 1471 took as much as 10–15% of the population, while the death rate of the plague of 1479–1480 could have been as high as 20%.The most general outbreaks in Tudor and Stuart England seem to have begun in 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563, 1589, 1603, 1625, and 1636, and ended with the Great Plague of London in 1665.