Encyclopedia of the Black Death

by Joseph P. Byrne


Although scholars are reluctant to set percentage figures, it is generally agreed that of those infected with plague, more than 30%—and perhaps as many as 45%—died: as many as 25,000,000 to over 40,000,000 in Europe alone between 1347 and 1352. For the Christian and Islamic worlds, the combined figure over the longer span of this study is truly staggering.

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January 2012


Pages 429
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics World History/Culture
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This encyclopedia provides 300 interdisciplinary, cross-referenced entries that document the effect of the plague on Western society across the four centuries of the second plague pandemic, balancing medical history and technical matters with historical, cultural, social, and political factors.

Encyclopedia of the Black Death is the first A–Z encyclopedia to cover the second plague pandemic, balancing medical history and technical matters with historical, cultural, social, and political factors and effects in Europe and the Islamic world from 1347–1770. It also bookends the period with entries on Biblical plagues and the Plague of Justinian, as well as modern-era material regarding related topics, such as the work of Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, the Third Plague Pandemic of the mid-1800s, and plague in the United States.

Unlike previous encyclopedic works about this subject that deal broadly with infectious disease and its social or historical contexts, including the author's own, this interdisciplinary work synthesizes much of the research on the plague and related medical history published in the last decade in accessible, compellingly written entries. Controversial subject areas such as whether "plague" was bubonic plague and the geographic source of plague are treated in a balanced and unbiased manner.


  • 300 A–Z interdisciplinary entries on medical matters and historical issues
  • Each entry includes up-to-date resources for further research


  • Examines the social and cultural factors and effects of plague throughout the world
  • Provides both longer articles that cover trends and broad areas of interest as well as shorter entries focusing on specific people, cities, events, remedies, and responses
  • Covers both the Christian and Islamic worlds
  • Discusses the historical effects of the recurring plague during both the late-medieval and early-modern eras, from the 14th into the 18th century
Author Info

Joseph P. Byrne, PhD, is a historian and professor of honors humanities at Belmont University, Nashville, TN. Byrne wrote Greenwood's The Black Death and Daily Life during the Black Death in the Daily Life Through History series; and edited Greenwood's Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics and Plagues.



"Joseph Byrne, a medievalist well versed in myriad aspects of the period, displays his command of the era by examining aspects of bubonic plague. His skill at humanistic analysis reaches a height in such topics as virgin soil disease, medical education, remedies, and repopulation. . . . Overall, the comprehensive A to Z entries, timeline, maps and illustrations, bibliography, glossary, and detailed index provide high school, public, and college and university libraries with a valuable tool for understanding one of Earth's most terrifying catastrophes."ARBA

"I found this a very interesting reference work which examines the profound effect the epidemic had on the social and political landscape in European and Islamic countries as well as changes in medicine, medical studies and government-controlled public health policies. . . . Overall, this is a work which I think expands knowledge of the plague, not just during the period of the official Black Death, but also by providing the context of all three pandemics, how each one relates to the other, and how society, biomedicine, public health and politics respond to these crises, and developed as a result. This book would be an excellent addition to academic e-collections, of particular interest to humanities students of all disciplines, and historians. Scientists studying the history of medicine and biomedicine may also find this useful."Reference Reviews

"This is a terrific subject encyclopedia. . . . This will be a very useful acquisition for academic libraries in particular, especially those at institutions with programs in medieval history, history of science, and the humanities. Highly recommended."Choice

"The work begins with a helpful list of entries by topic (among them, 'Arts and Literature,' 'Biomedical Causes and Issues,' and 'Religion') and a time line. Entries are short, running one to two pages, and cover the typical (Alchemy, Animals, Fleas, Mass graves and plague cemeteries) and the unexpected ( Abandonment, Purgatory, Sumptuary laws) as well as many of the notable people of the times. The writing is clear and straightforward. All entries conclude with a list of references, and see also references are included, where helpful. A glossary, an extensive bibliography, and a general index round out the work. This single-volume resource will serve as a good starting point for research on the Black Death."Booklist


2012 Outstanding Academic Title — Choice

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