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The second plague pandemic is a major series of epidemics of the plague that started with the Black Death, which reached mainland Europe in 1348 and killed up to a half of the population of Eurasia in the next four years. Although it died out in most places, it became epizootic and recurred regularly until the nineteenth century. A series of major epidemics occurred in the late 17th century and it recurred in some places until the 19th. After this a new strain of the bacterium appeared as the third pandemic.

Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which exists in the fleas of several species in the wild and particularly rats in human society. In an outbreak it may kill all its immediate hosts and thus die out, but remain active in other hosts which it does not kill and thereby cause a new outbreak years or decades later. It has several means of transmission and infection, including rats carried on board ships or vehicles, fleas hidden in grain, and—in its more virulent forms—transmitted by blood and sputum directly between humans.



Worldwide distribution of plague-infected animals 1998

There have been three major outbreaks of plague. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries is the first known attack on record, and marks the first firmly recorded pattern of plague. From historical descriptions, as much as 40% of the population of Constantinople died from the plague. Modern estimates suggest half of Europe's population died as a result of the plague before it disappeared in the 700s.[1] After 750, major epidemic diseases did not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century.[2]

The Second pandemic originated in or near China and was most likely spread by the Silk Road or by ship.[3] It may have reduced world population from an estimated 450 million to 350–375 million by the year 1400.[4]

The plague returned at intervals with varying virulence and mortality until the early 19th century. In England, for example, the plague returned in 1360–63 killing 20% of Londoners and in 1369 killing 10–15%.[5] In the 17th-century outbreaks were a series of "great plagues": the Great Plague of Seville (1647–52); the Great Plague of London (1665–66);[6] and the Great Plague of Vienna (1679). In its virulent form, after the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720–22,[7] the Great Plague of 1738 (which hit Eastern Europe), and the Russian plague of 1770–1772, it seems to have gradually disappeared from Europe though lingering in Egypt and the Middle East. By the early 19th century, the threat of plague had diminished, but it was quickly replaced by a new disease. The Asiatic cholera was the first of several cholera pandemics to sweep through Asia and Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries.[8]

The Third Pandemic hit China in the 1890s and devastated India, but was largely contained in the east, though becoming endemic in the Western United States. It still causes sporadic outbreaks.[3]

Black DeathEdit

Spread of the Black Death through Europe, 1347–51

Arab historians Ibn Al-Wardni and Almaqrizi believed the Black Death originated in Mongolia, and Chinese records show a huge outbreak in Mongolia in the early 1330s.[9] Europe was initially protected by a hiatus in the Silk Road, but a 1347 Mongolian siege at Caffa—the last Italian outpost on the Crimean Peninsula—spread it to the defenders, who carried it back with them that winter. It arrived at Genoa and Venice in January 1348, while simultaneously spreading through Asia Minor and into Egypt. The bubonic form was described graphically in Florence in The Decameron and Guy de Chauliac also described the pneumonic form at Avignon. It rapidly spread to France and Spain, by 1349 was in England, in 1350 was afflicting eastern Europe and it reached the centre of Russia by 1351. In most parts it blew itself out within about three years, though only temporarily.

The 14th-century eruption of the Black Death had a drastic effect on Europe's population, irrevocably changing the social structure, and resulted in widespread persecution of minorities such as Jews, foreigners, beggars, and lepers (see Persecutions). The uncertainty of daily survival has been seen as creating a general mood of morbidity, influencing people to "live for the moment," as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353).[10]

There were large epidemics in China in 1331 and 1351–54 in Hebei, Shanxi and other provinces which are considered to have killed between 50% and 90% of the local populations, running into tens of millions. However, there is no proof currently that these were caused by plague though there are indications for the second set of epidemics.[11]

Recurrence throughout EuropeEdit

The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries.[12] According to Biraben, plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671.[13] Subsequent outbreaks, though severe, marked the retreat from most of Europe (18th century) and northern Africa (19th century).[14] According to Geoffrey Parker, "France alone lost almost a million people to plague in the epidemic of 1628–31."[15]

In 1466, perhaps 40,000 people died of plague in Paris.[5] During the 16th and 17th centuries, plague visited Paris for almost one year out of three.[16] The Black Death ravaged Europe for three years before it continued on into Russia, where the disease hit somewhere once every five or six years from 1350 to 1490.[17] Plague epidemics ravaged London in 1563, 1593, 1603, 1625, 1636, and 1665,[18] reducing its population by 10 to 30% during those years.[19] Over 10% of Amsterdam's population died in 1623–1625, and again in 1635–1636, 1655, and 1664.[20] There were 22 outbreaks of plague in Venice between 1361 and 1528.[21] The plague of 1576–1577 killed 50,000 in Venice, almost a third of the population.[22] Late outbreaks in central Europe included the Italian Plague of 1629–1631, which is associated with troop movements during the Thirty Years' War, and the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679. Over 60% of Norway's population died from 1348 to 1350.[23] The last plague outbreak ravaged Oslo in 1654.[24]

In the first half of the 17th century, a plague claimed some 1.7 million victims in Italy, or about 14% of the population.[25] In 1654, the Russian plague killed about 700,000 inhabitants[26][27]. In 1656, the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants.[28] More than 1.25 million deaths resulted from the extreme incidence of plague in 17th-century Spain.[29] The plague of 1649 probably reduced the population of Seville by half.[30] In 1709–1713, a plague epidemic that followed the Great Northern War (1700–1721, Sweden v. Russia and allies)[31] killed about 100,000 in Sweden,[32] and 300,000 in Prussia.[30] The plague killed two-thirds of the inhabitants of Helsinki,[33] and claimed a third of Stockholm's population.[34] Western Europe's last major epidemic occurred in 1720 in Marseilles,[23] in Central Europe the last major outbreaks happened during the plague during the Great Northern War, and in Eastern Europe during the Russian plague of 1770–1772 The plague ravaged much of the Islamic world.[35] Plague was present in at least one location in the Islamic world virtually every year between 1500 and 1850.[36] Plague repeatedly struck the cities of North Africa. Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 to it in 1620–21, and again in 1654–57, 1665, 1691, and 1740–42.[37] Plague remained a major event in Ottoman society until the second quarter of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750, 37 larger and smaller epidemics were recorded in Constantinople, and 31 between 1751 and 1800.[38] Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the plague, with outbreaks killing up to two-thirds of its population.[39]

Some major outbreaksEdit

Years Place Death estimates Article/citation
1347–51 Europe, Asia, Middle East 25,000,000 Black Death
1360–63 England 700–800,000 Black Death in England
1464–66 Paris 40,000
1471 England 300–400,000 [40]
1479–80 England 400–500,000 [40]
1576–77 Venice 50,000 [41]
1596–99 Castile 500,000 [30]
1603–11 London 43,000 [42]
1620–21 Algiers 30–50,000 [37]
1628–31 France 1,000,000 [15]
1629–31 Italy 280,000 Italian plague of 1629–31
1647–52 South Spain 500,000 Great Plague of Seville
1654–55 Russia 700,000 [43][44]
1656–1657 Naples, Rome 150,000 Naples Plague
1665–1666 London 70–100,000 Great Plague of London
1679–80 Austria 76,000 Great Plague of Vienna
1681 Prague 83,000
1689–1690 Baghdad 150,000 [39]
1704–10 Poland 75,000 Great Northern War plague outbreak
1709–13 Baltic 300–400,000 Great Northern War plague outbreak
1720s Marseille 100,000 Great Plague of Marseille
1738–40 Hungary &c 50,000 Great Plague of 1738
1770s Moscow 75,000 Russian plague of 1770–72
1772 Baghdad 70,000 [39]
1791 Egypt 300,000 [45]
1818–20 Tunisia
1833–34 Baghdad 12,000
1835–37 Alexandria 8,694 [46]
1840s Balkans
1844 Egypt [45]
1876 Baghdad 20,000 [47]


The second pandemic never became endemic in Europe. Most epidemics arrived with shipping from the Near East and died out after a few years. But the pandemic died out progressively across Europe. One documented case was in 17th century London, where the first proper demographer, John Graunt, failed by just five years to see the last recorded death from plague, which happened in 1679, 14 years after the Great Plague of London. The reasons it died out totally are not well understood. It is tempting to think that the Great Fire of London the next year destroyed the hiding places of the rats in the roofs. Certainly there is not a single plague death recorded "within the walls" after 1666. However the city by this time had spread well beyond the walls, which contained most of the fire, and most of plague cases happened beyond the limits of the fire. Probably more significant was the fact that all buildings after the fire were constructed of brick rather than wood and other flammable materials.

This pattern was broadly followed after major epidemics in northern Italy (1631), south and east Spain (1652), southern Italy and Genoa (1657), Paris (1668).

Appleby[48] considers six possible explanations:

  1. People developed immunity.
  2. Improvements in nutrition made people more resistant.
  3. Improvements in housing, urban sanitation and personal cleanliness reduced the number of rats and rat fleas.
  4. The dominant rat species changed. (The brown rat did not arrive in London until 1727.)
  5. Quarantine methods improved in the 17th century.
  6. Some rats developed immunity so fleas never left them in droves to humans, non-resistant rats were eliminated and this broke the cycle.

It has been suggested that evolutionary processes may have favored less virulent strains of the pathogen Yersinia pestis.[49]

Probably most of these have some weight, but the answer is unclear.

The disappearance happened rather later in the Nordic and eastern European countries but there was a similar halt after major epidemics.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "Plague, Plague Information, Black Death Facts, News, Photos", National Geographic, retrieved 3 November 2008
  2. ^ Hays 2005, p. 23.
  3. ^ a b Wade 2010.
  4. ^ Historical Estimates of World Population,, retrieved 27 December 2012
  5. ^ a b Britannica 1911.
  6. ^ A list of National epidemics of plague in England 1348–1665,, retrieved 3 November 2008
  7. ^ Plague History Provence, – by Provence Beyond,, retrieved 3 November 2008
  8. ^ "Cholera's seven pandemics". CBC News. 2 December 2008.
  9. ^ Sean Martin (2001). Black Death:Chapter One. Harpenden, GBR:Pocket Essentials. p. 14.
  10. ^ Boccaccio: The Decameron, "Introduction",, retrieved 10 December 2011
  11. ^ McNeill 1998.
  12. ^ Parker 2009, p. 25.
  13. ^ Hays 1998, p. 58.
  14. ^ Hays 2005, p. 46.
  15. ^ a b Parker 2001, p. 7.
  16. ^ Harding 2002, p. 25.
  17. ^ Byrne 2004, p. 62.
  18. ^ Harding 2002, p. 24.
  19. ^ "Plague in London: spatial and temporal aspects of mortality", J. A. I. Champion, Epidemic Disease in London, Centre for Metropolitan History Working Papers Series, No. 1 (1993).
  20. ^ Geography, climate, population, economy, society Archived 2010-02-03 at the Wayback Machine. J.P.Sommerville.
  21. ^ Brian Pullan (2006), Crisis And Change in the Venetian Economy in the Sixteenth And Seventeenth Centuries, Taylor & Francis Group, p. 151, ISBN 978-0-415-37700-3
  22. ^ Mary Lindemann (1999), Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, p. 41, ISBN 978-0-521-42354-0
  23. ^ a b Harald Aastorp (2004-08-01), Svartedauden enda verre enn antatt,, retrieved January 3, 2009
  24. ^ Øivind Larsen, DNMS.NO : Michael: 2005 : 03/2005 : Book review: Black Death and hard facts,, retrieved November 3, 2008
  25. ^ Karl Julius Beloch, Bevölkerungsgeschichte Italiens, volume 3, pp. 359–360.
  26. ^ Collins S. (1671) The Present State of Russia. Edited by Marshall T. Poe, 2008
  27. ^ Медовиков П. Е. (1854) Историческое значение царствования Алексея Михайловича
  28. ^ Naples in the 1600s,, archived from the original on October 10, 2008, retrieved November 3, 2008 Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  29. ^ The Seventeenth-Century Decline, S.G. Payne, A History of Spain and Portugal
  30. ^ a b c Bray 2004, p. 72.
  31. ^ Kathy McDonough, Empire of Poland,, archived from the original on October 11, 2008, retrieved November 3, 2008 Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  32. ^ Alexander 1980, p. 21.
  33. ^ Ruttopuisto – Plague Park,, archived from the original on April 11, 2008, retrieved November 3, 2008 Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  34. ^ Tony Griffiths (2009), Stockholm: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, p. 9, ISBN 978-0-19-538638-7
  35. ^ The Islamic World to 1600: The Mongol Invasions (The Black Death),, archived from the original on January 31, 2009, retrieved December 10, 2011 Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  36. ^ Byrne 2008, p. 519.
  37. ^ a b Davis 2003, p. 18.
  38. ^ Université de Strasbourg. Institut de turcologie, Université de Strasbourg. Institut d'études turques, Association pour le développement des études turques. (1998), Turcica, Éditions Klincksieck, p. 198CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ a b c Issawi 1988, p. 99.
  40. ^ a b Gottfried 1983, p. 131.
  41. ^ Bray 2004, p. 71.
  42. ^ Graunt 1759.
  43. ^ Collins S. (1671) The Present State of Russia. Edited by Marshall T. Poe, 2008
  44. ^ Медовиков П. Е. (1854) Историческое значение царствования Алексея Михайловича
  45. ^ a b Mikhail 2014, p. 43.
  46. ^ Hirsh, August (1883), Handbook of geographical and historical pathology, p. 515
  47. ^ Hirsh 1883, p. 513.
  48. ^ Appleby 1980.
  49. ^ Lenski, Richard E. (11 August 1988). "Evolution of Plague Virulence" (PDF). Nature. Springer Nature. 334 (6182): 473–474. doi:10.1038/334473a0. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 3405295.


External linksEdit

  Media related to Plague, second pandemic at Wikimedia Commons