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The Black Death

A New History of the Great Mortality in Europe, 1347-1500

John Aberth

Publication Date - September 2020

ISBN: 9780199937981

432 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

The most up to date history of the Black Death, analyzed in a clear, accessible fashion by a leading scholar


In The Black Death: A New History of the Great Mortality in Europe, 1347-1500, leading scholar John Aberth provides the most authoritative, up-to-date treatment of the Black Death, giving not just a narrative account but also a thorough examination of the latest forensic, historical, and DNA evidence to date. Offering new information, research, and debates that have not been covered before in previous works, this unique text is poised to become the new standard resource on the Black Death.


  • Covers all aspects of the disease: epidemiology, geographic spread, demographic impact, medical responses, environmental impact, religious responses, the flagellant movement, Jewish pogroms, social and economic impact, and artistic responses
  • Delves deep into the latest in research developments, including paleomicrobiological evidence of Yersinia pestis DNA in Black Death victims; evidence of higher mortality rates during the first outbreak of the Black Death; the effect of climate change on rat hosts and flea vectors; and genetic mapping of the geographical origins of the plague
  • Lays out the parameters of current debates in Black Death studies, including: whether doctors came up with any new theories about the causes of plague; whether the flagellants were disciplined performers or hysterical doomsayers; whether the pogroms against the Jews reflected rational fears of artificial poisoning or were strictly the product of anti-semitism; whether the religious response to the plague foreshadowed the Reformation; and whether the artistic response was about more than just a morbid fascination with death
  • Offers an entire chapter (Chapter 4) devoted to environmental impacts of the Black Death, a topic not usually covered in other books
  • Covers the entire period of the medieval Black Death, from 1347 to c.1500, not just the first outbreak in 1347-1353
  • Includes a chapter on global perspectives on the Black Death, especially in terms of its origins in Central Asia
  • Provides cultural balance, with explanation of Islamic religious, medical, and social responses, in addition to the Christian perspective
  • Complemented by 18 photos, 5 graphs, 9 tables, and 4 maps

About the Author(s)

John Aberth received his Ph.D. in Medieval History from the University of Cambridge, UK. He has published ten books--mostly focusing on the history of the Black Death and disease--and has taught for twenty years at various colleges and universities in Vermont, Nebraska, and New York.


"Aberth's book will be a useful guide for a new generation of students, born after AIDS cocktails made that disease more or less controllable in the mid-1990s and who are now grappling for the first time with what pandemics do to societies Whether upcoming generations adopt the "silver linings" optimism about pandemics Aberth espouses here remains to be seen. But Oxford University Press has served them well in providing this affordable and comprehensive volume." -- Monica H. Green, Speculum

"Aberth's clearly written book isâhighly recommended." -- J.P. Byrne, emeritus, Belmont University, CHOICE

"John Aberth is absolutely right that it is time for a new volume on this topic, and he seems to cover all the bases here. The prose is simultaneously expert and crystal-clear--a pleasure to read. Aberth moves easily from the historical to the scientific and back and forth between complex historiographical models in a way that even new undergraduates should be able to grasp."--Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane, University of Minnesota, Morris

"I love Alberth's approach to history; he covers social aspects, cultural aspects, and critical interpretation. Aberth is very good at walking students through his thinking; they will really learn about historical argument construction and the use of source evidence by reading his book."--Michael Sizer, Maryland Institute College of Art

Table of Contents

    List of Figures
    List of Images
    List of Maps
    List of Tables
    About the Author

    Preface. What was the Black Death?
    The Evolution and Epidemiology of Plague
    The Three Pandemics of Plague
    Paleomicrobiology Identifies the Black Death as Plague

    1. "It Began in the Land of Darkness": The Geographical Origin and Spread of the Second Pandemic
    Where Did the Black Death Begin?
    How Did the Black Death Spread?
    Mapping the Black Death

    2. Bring Out Your Dead! How Many People Died during the Great Mortality?
    How the Black Death Raised the Mortality Ante
    Plague Mortality, 1347-1353
    Plague Mortality, 1353-c.1500
    Why Did the Black Death End?
    Was the Black Death Indiscriminate?
    The Personal Side of Plague Mortality

    3. Doctoring the Black Death: The Medical Response to Plague
    The Verdict on Medieval Medicine

    4. What Goes Around Comes Around: Environmental Aspects of the Black Death
    Environmental Causes and Signs of Plague
    Fear of Stenches
    Environmental Factors Affecting Plague Vectors: Climate
    Environmental Factors Affecting Plague Hosts: Rats and Housing

    5. "Al Shal [Not] Be Wel": The Religious Response to the Great Mortality
    Spirituality and Piety in the Wake of the Plague
    Islam's Response to the Black Death
    The Problem of Post-Plague Parish Poverty
    Towards a Reformation?

    6. "To Yow Myn Hand is Rawght to this Daunce": The Artistic Impact of the Black Death
    Painted Depictions of Plague
    The Plague Saints
    The Macabre or Memento Mori
    Physical Impacts of Plague

    7. The "Red Knights of Christ": The Flagellant Movement
    The Flagellant Itinerary
    The Flagellant Ritual
    Perspectives on the Flagellants
    The Flagellants' Suppression

    18. "They Processed to the Flames Dancing, Singing, and Weeping": The Artificial Poison Conspiracy
    First Stirrings in Southern France
    The Conspiracy in Catalonia
    The Poisoned Springs of the Savoy
    The Great Massacres of the Kingdom of Germany
    The Persecuted and Their Persecutors
    Aftermath of the Conspiracy

    9. When Brothers Abandoned Brothers: The Social Impacts of the Black Death
    Fear of Being Abandoned
    Fear of Being Forgotten
    Fear of Being Unshriven
    Plague and the Poor

    10. The Peasants are Revolting! The New Realities of the Plague Economy
    The Plague Economy
    Was There Economic Recovery After the Black Death?
    A Golden Age of the Laborer?
    The Decline of Serfdom
    The Peasant Land Market
    A Time of Transition?

    Epilogue. Could the Black Death Happen Again (and Would We Want It To)? Lessons to be Learned in the Modern World

    Appendix: The Plague Denial Controversy