The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350, and killing between 75 million and 200 million people. This reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to a number between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century.
The Black Death originated in or near China and spread from Italy and then throughout other European countries. Research published in 2002 suggests that it began in the spring of 1346 in the steppe region, where a plague reservoir stretches from the north-western shore of the Caspian Sea into southern Russia. The Mongols had cut off the trade route, the Silk Road, between China and Europe which halted spread of the Black Death from the east Russia towards Western Europe. The epidemic began with an attack that Mongols launched on the Italian merchant’s last trading station in the region. In the autumn of 1346, plague broke out among the besiegers and from them penetrated into the town. When spring arrived, the Italian merchants fled on their ships, unknowingly carrying the Black Death. Carried by the fleas on rats, the plague initially spread to humans near the Black Sea and then outwards to the rest of Europe as a result of people fleeing from one area to another.
The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover. The plague reoccurred occasionally in Europe until the 19th century.