the name used for the very serious infectious disease, (called bubonic plague), which killed millions of people in Europe and Asia in the 14th century Culture The Black Death spread throughout Europe in 1348–51. It was spread by fleas carried by rats. People with the disease coughed up blood and got large painful black spots on their bodies, and usually died. It is thought that the Black Death killed about one third of the population of Europe. see also Great Plague Word Origina modern term (compare with earlier the (great) pestilence, great death, the plague), said to have been introduced into English history by Mrs Markham (pseudonym of Mrs Penrose) in 1823, and into medical literature by a translation of German der Schwarze Tod (1833).