Black Death – causes, cures and beliefs

The Black Death spread from China into Europe in the 14th century. It entered England in 1348. Spreading along trade routes, the Black Death killed a huge number of people. Estimates suggest that roughly a third of the population of England perished as a result of the disease. Medicine and science were not advanced enough to identify the actual cause of the disease. As a result a wide range of beliefs about it’s causes can be seen in surviving evidence. This also affected attempts to prevent the spread of the disease and treatments of those infected. The Black Death is one outbreak of the plague, it has returned since and was a major killer in earlier civilisations.

The Black Death

The Black Death is the name given to a form of plague that spread across the northern hemisphere in the 14th century. The pestilence spread along trade routes from China into India and then Europe.

How did the Black Death spread?

The Black Death is commonly described as being a form of the Plague. One form is spread virally, by people coughing out the germs, for example. Another form of the disease is spread by fleas. Infected fleas would pass the infection on to humans when they bit them. The latter of these is the explanation offered by most historians, however this has been challenged in recent years by a number of scientists and historians. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death#Alternative_explanations for a discussion of alternative theories)

Black Death

What did people believe was the cause of the Black Death?

In the 14th century many explanations were offered. These included explanations based on religion, astronomy and on simple common sense. This meant that some people thought the epidemic was the result of unholy behaviour; as a result of tolerance towards heretics or non-christians; by movements of the stars and planets or as a result of bad smells and miasma.

How did people try to prevent or cure the Black Death?

The variety of beliefs about causes of the epidemic resulted in a wide range of preventative measures and attempted cures being used. These ranged from cleaning the streets, burning rubbish and lighting aromatic fires to tackle miasma through to prayer, flagellation and religious procession to please god.

Black Death - 10 Facts about the killer Disease
Black Death – 10 Facts about the killer Disease

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