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Woh2012 - Black Death Sweeps Across Europe

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Dr. Jason T. Sharples


7 April, 2017

Black Death Sweeps Across Europe

The Black Death flooded through Europe killing up to 50 million people, and during this time period people tried many ways to escape the grips of the silent killer. While they tried various methods of prevention, multiple theories were derived as to how the plague had originated, such as ideas like how it was the result of God punishing people for sins. In some parts of Western Europe and Pistoia, they had an idea of how the plague had started and how it was spread and it was due to the transmission of bacteria that they had no idea about yet.

Many theories at the time had thought the Black Death was dealt by God and was “…for the disbelievers a punishment and a rebuke…” The people had believed that the reason people were dying was because they committed sins and they were not believers of God. Although, this was simply not the case, and societies in Western Europe started to develop the idea that the Black Death was spread through contact and filth. Ideas of its origin had also started to develop, this can be observed when Ibn Al-Wardi states that “…It began in the land of the darkness [Northern Asia]…” and goes on to talk about how it spread from China to, India, Persia, Crimea, Cairo, and Jerusalem. While during this time science had not yet discovered bacteria, there is evidence that the people of this period were developing a general idea as to how bacteria had worked. This can be seen when Giovanni Boccaccio stated “…quantities of filth were removed from the city by officials…” This shows that officials are becoming aware of the fact that hygiene in public was affecting peoples health in a negative manner. This concern can also be seen when Boccaccio also stated “…[T]he entry of any sick person into the city was prohibited…” This is an early example of the use of quarantine in a city. These are just early examples of attempts by the government to prevent the disease from spreading, although the authorities of Pistoia took more serious measures.

Authorities in Pistoia had developed a set of ordinances that they had thought would have prevented the disease from infecting people. These ordinances focused on containing the disease and this can be seen when some ordinances stated that “The bodies of the dead shall not be removed from the place of death until they have been enclosed in a wooden box, and the lid of planks nailed down so no stench can escape…” Also when it stated that “To avoid the foul stench which comes from dead bodies, each grave shall be dug two and a half arms-length deep.” These both are examples of attempts authorities had to stop the spread of disease from the dead to the living. Authorities had thought of any way it could spread,



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