Truck loaded with plague victims in Elliant drawn by a woman with tattered clothes. Moynet lithograph based on Duveau’s Collections.

The Black Death: the Plague that Sowed Terror and Death in Medieval Europe - Part 1

(Read the article on one page)

Transmission and Spread of the Bubonic Plague

All indications suggest that the bubonic plague was transmitted via boats and caravans containing infected people, rats, and fleas. Large commercial cities were the main destinations and thus the centers of spreading the plague through waterways and popular land routes. With the data available today we know that the spread by sea could exceed 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) per day, while on land ranging between 0.3- 1.2 miles (0.5 -2 kilometers) a day.

Although many fled to the countryside, the fact was that cities were safer because, as has been noted, the progression of infectious diseases is slower in nuclei with higher density of population. Such escapes just led to greater spread of the disease, not freedom from its grasp.

As to the number of deaths caused by the bubonic plague in Europe, we can now say that the mortality rate for the population was likely close to 60%.

In the Iberian Peninsula, for example, the data indicates that the population fell from 6 million to 2.5 million. In southern France records confirm that died between 55% -70% of notaries. These percentages were similar to death rates for members of the English clergy. Meanwhile, in Tuscany almost 60% of the population died of the plague, Florence and its over 90,000 inhabitants were cut down to just 60,000. In absolute terms, of the 80,000,000 people who inhabited Europe in 1346, there were only 30 million left just seven years later, in 1353.

Of the 80,000,000 people who inhabited Europe in 1346, only 30 million remained in 1353 because of the plague."Dance Macabre" by Michael Wolgemut.

Of the 80,000,000 people who inhabited Europe in 1346, only 30 million remained in 1353 because of the plague."Dance Macabre" by Michael Wolgemut. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Featured image: Truck loaded with plague victims in Elliant drawn by a woman with tattered clothes. Moynet lithograph based on Duveau’s Collections. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Coming next in Part 2: The Deadly Bacteria behind the Bubonic Plague

Author: Mariló TA

This article was first published in Spanish at and has been translated with permission.


California investigates possible second case of plague visited Yosemite. CNN in Spanish.

National Geographic - The Black Death, the most mortifying epidemic.

What caused the Black Death in Europe? BBC - 24/02/2015

Medical Encyclopedia. Death.

Stories of our history. The Black Death.



My Slovak/Hungarian grand parents told me stories past down from generation to generation. During the Black death she said he entire mountain village was uninfected with it. They would travel to the lower villages and find everyone with the plague. My grandmother would say the mountain air kept them healthy.

Does anyone know if there is any truth to this?

The article says that the plague bacterias don't like big shifts in temperature; that could be a reason.
And it could have something to do with how the inhabitants of the mountain villages got into the lower villages: I heard in a documentary that the fleas that spread the plague didn't like the smell of horses and horse dung.

How would the flees travel with the mongols with their horsemen army?

The fact that the plague spread to Europe was apparently due to gerbils spreading big time because of a temporarily changing climate and trade between Asia and Europe both by land and ship. Actually what I remember reading yesterday somewhere is that the Mongols wheren't hit by the plague that much because there were so many horses in their vicinity.

That would make sense. In school system they taught us the mongols launched infected bodies into Genoa trade centers on black sea and it spread back to italy. So the flees not attracted to horses surprised me.

Another question
How did Poland not get infected? Quarantining the borders seems impossible back then. I know it was not very populous but Russia and Scandinava were not either so exactly how did they stay safe.


Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Last auction of Stonehenge, 1915.
Stonehenge is arguably the best known prehistoric monument in England, and perhaps even in the world. Today, this ancient monument is under the care of English Heritage, a registered charity that manages over 400 of England’s historic buildings, monuments, and sites.

Myths & Legends

Pagan Origins of Easter
Easter Sunday is a festival and holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world who honour the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred three...

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article