Bubonic plague gets its name for the way it causes severe swelling in the lymph nodes, a condition called boubon in Greek. The swelling actually damages surrounding blood vessels, causing intense black bruises that made it known as the Black Death.

The plague was a central theme in The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, who wrote it after losing much of his family when the Black Death hit Florence, Italy in 1348. Two excellent contemporary books about the plague include The Black Death and the Transformation of the West (1997) by David Herlihy, and The Black Death (1979) by Philip Ziegler.

The severity of the disease and its relative ease of transmission (just find a few fleas) made the bubonic plague a natural choice for countries experimenting with biological warfare. After successfully exposing prisoners of war to the plague in WWII, Japan launched a series of biological attacks against China, including dropping plague-infested bombs on Manchuria.