The Black Death

The Black Death was an unprecedented human disaster of appalling magnitude. In three dreadful years over one third of Europe’s population was wiped out.

Everyone believed it heralded the end of the world. To the chroniclers of Padua the plague was devastation deemed more final than Noah’s flood. The plague shook the wealthy, relatively well-populated, confident society of mid-14th-century Western Europe to its foundations.

This documentary follows the spread of the plague and its implications for the Europe of the Middle Ages.

Looking at issues such as medicine, religion, superstition and society, and employing expert analysis from top historians, this is a fascinating look at one of the most chilling and terrible periods in all of human existence.

Most of all, this is history told through contemporary voices of some of the key chroniclers of the time. Real people who contracted the disease and died from it, but who left amazing, vivid accounts of what it feels like to live in a world that is falling apart.

Timeline and Cause

The Black Death, or the Great Plague as it was also called, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. It was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.

Wolin festival in Poland
Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353)

The cause of the plague is believed to have been the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is thought to have originated in the dry plains of Central Asia, where it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1343. From there, it was most likely carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population. In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century. It took 200 years for the world population to recover to its previous level. The plague recurred as outbreaks in Europe until the 19th century.

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The Black Death
  • Info
  • Release date2005
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)N/A
  • Production companyITV Granada Studios