The Path of the Black Death

Europe in the first half of the 14th century seemed to be preparing itself for significant changes. Cities grew in importance, though most of the population was still rural. Population increases had led to overuse of the available land. Poor harvests—also due to cooler, wetter weather—led to famines. The serf system was being undermined. Centralized political authority was becoming more powerful. Then the Black Death cut a path—both literal and figurative—through the middle of the 14th century. The disease was caused by the bubonic plague, which was spread by rats, whose fleas carried the plague bacilli from the East along trade routes until it penetrated almost all of Europe, killing at least one out of every three people.

Such a radical alteration in population in any place, at any time, would likely set off dramatic changes in society. What happened in a Europe already beginning to transform itself? In this lesson, students analyze maps, firsthand accounts, and archival documents to trace the path and aftermath of the Black Death.

Guiding Questions

What were the effects of the Black Death in Europe?

Learning Objectives

Students completing this lesson will be able to: Show on a map how the Black Death moved through Europe.

Summarize the direct effects of the Black Death in Europe.

Cite evidence from firsthand accounts in developing an argument that connections can, or cannot, be drawn between the plague and changes adopted by the ruling class.