Many of us know the Black Death as a catastrophic event of the medieval world. But the Black Death was arguably the most significant event in Western history, profoundly affecting every aspect of human life, from the economic and social to the political, religious, and cultural. In its wake the plague left a world that was utterly changed, forever altering the traditional structure of European societies and forcing a rethinking of every single system of Western civilization: food production and trade, the church, political institutions, law, art, and more. In large measure, by the profundity of the changes it brought, the Black Death produced the modern world we live in today.
In the late 1340s, a cataclysmic plague shook medieval Europe to its core. The bacterial disease known to us as the Black Death swept westward across the continent, leaving a path of destruction from Crimea and Constantinople to Italy, France, Spain, and ultimately most of Europe, traveling as far west as England and Iceland. Within these locations, the plague killed up to 50% of the population in less than 10 years—a staggering 75 million dead.
It is the world's most mysterious manuscript. A book, written by an unknown author, illustrated with pictures that are as bizarre as they are puzzling - and written in a language that even the best cryptographers have been unable to decode. No wonder then, that this script even has a part in Dan Brown's latest bestseller, "The Lost Symbol". The Voynich Manuscript has captivated academics and occultists in equal measure since its discovery 100 years ago. The decoders of the Japanese Purple Code, physicists with high-performance modern computers and polymath historians have all tried their luck. But to date nobody has been able to decipher the book's contents.
Art critic Alastair Sooke delves into the murky world of art theft. Despite the high stakes - and often daring - involved, many cases are shrouded in mystery and go unnoticed by the media. Around 47,000 works of art are reported missing each year, yet it is only the heists involving the world's most valuable paintings that hit the headlines. But high-profile or not - once gone, the works are rarely recovered.