I'm writing a story about an alternate timeline wherein the bubonic plague never appeared. I was trying to figure out what the population of Europe (the area of the world most affected by the plague) would be had its population not been decimated. I've seen a lot of estimates of total deaths in Europe ranging from 75 million to 200 million. I have a solid math background so I tried to figure this out using the logistic equation, but I quickly realized I was over my head when I started reading papers trying to figure out what the carrying capacity of Europe in the 14th century was.

I stumbled upon some info that said that it took 200 years for the population of Europe to reach its pre-bubonic plague levels. I then reasoned that if I wanted to find out what the population of the world would be in the current day, I could just look at what the world population would be in 2200 (the year 2018 + 200 is approximately 2200). The number I found was 18 billion for the world. You'll recall that I want the population for Europe.

I am aware of the limitations of population growth models for the far future. Despite this, I'm still really curious about how this question can be answered. Thanks in advance, folks.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This cannot be answered sadly. While one could perhaps find some equilibrium given the food production, if you introduce 200 million new people, history will change and with that the social and economical and agricultural development of Europe and the world. That's impossible to predict. That means for you: Any number you like. I'm 100% sure you can even justify that less people would be alive. If you have one specific number you want, someone might perhaps give you a satisfying explanation as to why that number specifically $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jul 15 '18 at 20:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ (1) Assuming that you mean the Black Death, "Europe" was a very fuzzy concept at that time. What exactly do you mean by "Europe" in the 14th century? (2) 14th century Europe, even with the most expansive definition of "Europe", did not have more than 50 million people; those "75 to 200 million" deaths are to be understood worldwide, most of them in China. (3) Erasing a major epidemic such as Justinian's Plague of the Black Death would change history massively. Anything can happen. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 15 '18 at 20:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE! When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to learn more about us. This question might be easily answered using that 200-year figure. See if you can find estimates of what people think the Earth's population will be 200 years from now, or take what estimates you can get and extrapolate them on a graph. The result will basically be your answer. @Raditz_35 is right that that would not accomodate the consequences of technological and cultural drift due to the increased number of people, but it would be good enough. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 15 '18 at 22:33

Those mentioning the limits of food production technology are correct. If the Black Death did not happen we would plateau eventually, and with medieval tech, we would plateau rapidly. However some food for thought here would be, I postulate the possibility that our population would ironically, actually be lower than it is today with the Black Death having actually happened. The reason for this being that the depopulation of Europe raised the value of labor, and thus the value of your individual peasant. This led to the Renaissance era, which led to the Enlightenment and scientific method. So it is possible that without this damage occurring, the Enlightenment may have been delayed or not occurred at all, which is what allowed us to eventually discover some of our hardest hitting agricultural technology, that allows less than one percent of our population to be doing farming work and still produce an enormous surplus.

Quoting from memory, medieval peasants could at best produce approximately enough food for about 8-14 people. Modern technology allows that same farmer to produce enough to feed 100+.

Really it just depends on how you want to handle the "aftermath" if you will, of Feudal Europe staying stagnant and not enduring such a seismic change.


I doubt it would make much of a difference at all. It just means the next epidemic would kill more to balance out the population.

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, about one-third of the planet's population

Pandemics occur more easily, the larger the population living in close proximity. By avoiding just one means the next would be more deadly as more people would means it would spread faster.

The only way stopping the plague would make a real difference to modern population numbers is how you stopped the plague because that could affect the next pandemic as well.

If people knew how pandemics and diseases in general spread and implemented modern hygiene techniques such as vermin control, waste handling, sewers and even hand washing, the death toll for every pandemic would be less.

See The worst pandemics in history

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's an interesting parallel to wildfires: Forestry services used to vigilantly stamp out every wildfire they spotted, but it was found that the excess of dead, dry brush and other materials (which would normally have been burned up by earlier fires) only made later fires larger and even more difficult to combat. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jul 16 '18 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly the same principle. People are just fuel for the wildfire that is a disease. It's why intensive livestock farming is so careful about disease. It spreads much faster and easier. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Jul 16 '18 at 3:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.