1146-1353 The first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague occurred in the 1300s, when the disease swept through China, halving its population. ,om there the contagion advanced west, arriving in Silly in 1347 via rats from merchant ships. Two years biter, it spread through Italy to France, Germany, England, and Ireland.
Victims died within days; their lymph nodes swelled into "buboes" and their skin turned black. The "Black Death" wiped out entire villages. Clergy were especially hard hit because they attended their .-ocks in rat-infested homes. By 1351, nearly 24 mil-:on people, about one-third of Europe's population, -sad died of the plague.
Many believed the plague was divine punishment for sins. Physicians searched unsuccessfully for the cause of the disease. The hunt for blame was most heinous in the murder of thousands of European Jews, who were accused of poisoning wells in an effort to eradicate Christianity. Many Jews fled east. The rich culture of eastern European Jewry is a direct result of the Black Death.
Previous plagues had been followed by baby booms that restored the population within a decade or two. The Black Death was different—the loss of life spiraled into a severe labor shortage and economic depression. It took 150 years for Europe's population to recover, dealing medieval feudalism a fatal blow.