World History 1 255 - 16.3 The Black Death from East to West

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify the origins and characteristics of the bubonic plague
  • Describe the response to the Black Death in Asia and North Africa
  • Describe the response to the Black Death in Europe

Imagine a world in which medicine was utterly defenseless against a disease that could kill within hours. Vaccines and antibiotics had not yet been discovered, nor was the existence of germs and their role in contagion understood. While treatments existed, their efficacy was limited, and medical knowledge was unequally understood across regions and within class structures. At times, the defenses against illness were prayers, divination, the protective aromas of flowers and spices, and for the select few who could afford to flee heavily populated areas, retreat to the countryside. Such was the world of the Mediterranean basin and Afro-Eurasia in the middle of the fourteenth century when the bubonic plague ravaged central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

After the plague had run its course by the 1350s, it recurred in cyclical fashion several times during the second half of the fourteenth century. It was never fully eradicated, though subsequent waves were not as deadly as the initial outbreak, with the exception of the Great Plague of London in the 1660s and an especially virulent outbreak that began in China in 1894. Outbreaks have occurred more recently in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but surveillance, preventive measures, early diagnosis, and treatment with antibiotics remain the most effective approaches to preventing its spread.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 1: to 1500 textbook by Openstax