Rinderpest was one of the most devastating veterinary diseases affecting even-toed ungulates until it was eradicated globally in 2011. Caused by the rinderpest virus (RPV), at its height rinderpest was prevalent in many parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. An ancient disease documented first by Roman and Greek authors, with more recent descriptions relating to the disease and its spread among susceptible hosts in the 16th and 17th centuries, it became the focus of a global rinderpest eradication programme (GREP). In the first stages of the GREP, this was feasible due to the development of a vaccine giving lifelong immunity and the establishment of zoosanitary measures, which originated in the 18th century. Advances in the knowledge of RPV biology and virus transmission enabled scientists to identify susceptible hosts among livestock and wildlife and to predict virus spread, which supported the eradication efforts. In addition, improvements in diagnostics and disease surveillance and the application of control strategies based on the epidemiological understanding of viral spread drove the latter parts of the GREP to its final conclusion. This included the application of ELISA and pen-side strip test technologies, and genetic characterization of the virus by polymerase chain reaction and DNA sequencing, which allowed the establishment of distinct virus lineages and the identification of virus reservoirs in the field. Lessons learnt from the GREP may be applicable to the rinderpest-related disease peste des petits ruminants and its causative agent, peste des petits ruminants virus, with global eradication of this virus also a possibility.