Originating in China in 1334, the Black Death arrived in Sicily in October 1347. Over the next few years, approximately 60 percent of the European population would die as the outbreak spread through each country (an estimated 75 to 200 million people were killed in total). Posted by Vox, the GIF below demonstrates the terrifying speed of the plague's spread, and while the world suffered unimaginable loss during the 14th century, Vox points out that it was instrumental shaping the modern world.
Prior to the plague, the medieval social model depended on the nobility extracting value from huge numbers of low-paid serfs. After the plague, though, there were a lot fewer serfs to exploit. With labor scarce, the nobility had to start paying workers more, facilitating the emergence of modern wage labor. And once ordinary people had more money to spend, a market emerged for mass consumer goods — setting the stage for modern capitalism.
"By creating a great deficit of labour, [the plague] speeded up economic, technological, social, and administrative modernization, which especially in the capitalist centers in northern Italy and partly in Flanders found expression in the more secular and urban culture associated with the Renaissance," University of Oslo historian Ole Benedictow writes. It "hastened the breakdown of feudal economic structures and mentalities and the rise of a prevailing dynamic capitalist market economy."
Check out the GIF below and then maybe go wash your hands if you can't remember the last time you did that. Head over to Vox to read more.
Feature image via Munro Scott Orr