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Black Death 1346-50

A huge disaster hit the western world in the 14th century - a deadly plague, spread by fleas carried on ships' rats. Italian traders brought it from Asia, and from Venice scared sailors and travellers spread it across Europe - killing 1/3 of the population, about 20 million corpses. In many towns half the inhabitants perished.

The Black Death caused major social upheaval, changing the western world for ever.

Ideas about religion changed, leading to the Renaissance; dead clergy could no longer teach Latin as the language of books - the languages of ordinary people - French and English - were used more; concern for the survival of learning let to new universities being established.

More information:
Discovery Channel: feature on the Black Death
BBC TV series: "Road to Riches"