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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 for a discussion of alternative theories)

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.


Medicine in the Middle Ages - other pages in this section:

Unit home page - Medieval Surgery - Change in the Middle Ages - The role of Religion - The Black Death - Activities



Medicine in the Middle Ages

The third book in the History of Medicine series. This book explores a range of areas often forgotten by GCSE students. The book provides a clear narrative of the way in which the Black Death spread, and of the range of beliefs that influenced decisions about treatments. The book also provides an interesting insight into the role of monasteries, women and the development of surgical and medical practices at the time.

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