People thought anything, and everything would stave off the plague from sex to not bathing to not eating certain foods. The flagellants took things to a new level. They would march from town to town whipping themselves to atone for their sins. They thought if they punished themselves, God would show mercy and stop the pestilence. But with the flagellants came the pestilence. They too were infected and spread the plague from town to town. Officials outlawed them, but that didn’t stop them from making their rounds.
This also gave rise to the pseudo-flagellants. These people would also roam town to town but instead committed unusual sex acts public for a fee. Flagellants did not charge a fee but urged people to join them. Officials outlawed them too, but it worked about as much as banning the real flagellants. The most effective way of avoiding the plague was to avoid people with it and avoid fleas. Whipping yourself to atone for your sins wasn’t the way to do it.
10. Medical Logic To Help The Plague Wasn’t…Well…Logical.
During the Middle Ages, we’re still talking about the time doctors thought leeches cured diseases by sucking out the bad blood. Medieval doctors believed that there were several causes of the black plague and one of them was a punishment from God for the sins of the people. Religion was a bigger authority and institution then than it is today. In reality, doctors helped spread the plague. Bodies were piled up outside city walls and laid there until mass graves could be dug. This contributed to the bad air and infestation to help spread the disease.
Doctors also wore beaked masks to protect them. They thought the plague was airborne, which it was in a way, and the masks helped them to breathe “good air.” The beaks were stuffed with herbs they thought would combat the disease. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t work. Attempts to find a cure for the disease led to the development of the scientific method and changes of thinking which in turn led to the Renaissance. So if it wasn’t for the Black Death, the Renaissance may have been different, or not existed at all.
One would think sex was the last thing on the minds of medieval people during the Black Death, but it wasn’t. Sexual activity was advised to be limited since doctors thought the plague would enter through the pores of the body and heavy breathing would increase the chances. What did they expect someone to do? Tell stories with good music to delight the heart.
People would often fornicate in graveyards to laugh in the face of death and celebrate life. This eventually became illegal, and the papal office threatened people with excommunication if they were caught. People thought that sexual immorality was one of the causes of the plague, so sodomy, prostitution, adultery, etc. was outlawed and heavy fines enacted. Luckily for prostitutes, the plague helped their working conditions by institutionalizing their “job,” and they even had royal safeguards standing outside of the municipal buildings.
12. The Plague Still Exists Today…And You Can Catch It
A cure for the plague was found in the 1890s after it made a resurgence and people figured out the cause. In the 1980s researchers blamed other diseases such as anthrax and typhus for the plague. Why? Because their argument claimed other diseases spread more easily between people without the flea vector and can display similar symptoms. Luckily those ideas were put to rest in 2000 when a study of tooth pulp from a French mass grave showed the presence of Y. Pestis in all 20 samples from three victims.
Although a cure was found, you can still contract the plague. It’s rare today, but it still happens. Y. Pestis foci still exist in Asia, Russia, Southwest America, and other areas were host rodents, and fleas live. Today it’s rarely fatal except for one drawback. A cure for the septicemic plague has never been found, and it has a 100% mortality rate. If you travel to any of these areas and see a flea on you, it’s unlikely you’ll catch septicemic plague since it’s so rare, but it could happen.
We all played Ring Around the Rosie as kids. Singing, laughing, dancing, having a good time. But did you know the rhyme was inspired by the Black Death? Ring Around the Rosie also knows as Ring a Ring o’ Roses, first appeared in print in 1881. Reports say that a version of it with the same tune was sung in the 1790s with and similar rhymes were known all across Europe. The actual meaning of the song has been argued for centuries, but most folklore believes it is about the Black Death.
“Pocket full of posies” relates to the flowers used to either help create the “good smells” like inside doctor’s masks or the strewing of flowers on dead bodies. “We all fall down” relates to the fact everyone was dying, and we’d all die eventually. “Ashes, Ashes” is debated, but most believe it was the burning of bodies, namely the Jews that were punished after forced confessions. The title “ring around the Rosie?” It’s said it refers to the buboes on an infected person’s body. So before you happily sing that old rhyme, remember what it was based on.
Before the Black Death, life was happy, abundant, and great all around. Think of it as the Roaring 20s before the Great Depression. Music was plentiful and happy, and the art was beautiful. Artists were respected professionals who often interacted with princes and the Pope. During the Black Death, things changed for the worst. Music became rare and grim. People would hear the grim church bells chime day and night constantly due to increasing deaths. Eventually, people had enough of the bells, and they stopped chiming with every death since the toll was too great.
Paintings took a darker turn during this period. They were overflowed with tortured souls, death, dying, fire, brimstone, and all around darkness. Thousands of craftsmen, artists, painters, writers, and art patrons perished from the plague. Many artists began painting the Grim Reaper, Hell, and Satan due to the insecurity of survival. Others stopped creating art altogether because they believed it was hopeless to create beauty in a world full of death and destruction. So not only was the world a mess, music, and art didn’t help to ease the hopelessness.
15. The Plague Created Peasant Uprisings and Urban Worker Revolts
When the plague hit, it created a massive labor shortage, especially in cities where 70% of the population died. Workers started demanding higher wages which is something nobles and guild masters strongly opposed. The Black Death also severely depleted the tax base. This caused kings to raise taxes drastically to meet expenses coming from the warfare of the time, mainly the Hundred Year’s War between France and England. Thwarted demands and high taxes caused revolts among the people.
These uprisings would take authorities by surprise who were already dealing with death and issues of fornication and playing the blame game. Authorities would either be killed or flee to the safety of local castles and towns. Rebellions would sweep like wildfire but eventually would be squashed due to poor planning. Rebels were poorly armed, untrained, and highly unorganized. Authorities would gather forces and leave more death in their wake with massacres and executions as a warning to quell other rebellions.
We know that rats and humans were affected by the plague, but were other animals immune? Nope. Chickens, sheep, pig, and cows were all susceptible to the plague. At one point, sheep were dying off so quickly that it was dubbed the “European Wool Shortage.” Funnily enough, a ship from England carrying wool made it’s way to Bergen, Norway in 1349. The ship carried the plague with it and made its way throughout Norway. Within days the ship’s crew was dead.
Eating the dead animals probably wasn’t a good idea either. Even with cooking, you could still become infected with the plague. Other wild animals would often eat the dead ones that were waiting to be buried, and they too would contract the plague since it could be passed through blood. The massive death toll of animals created a shortage of food for people, so if they didn’t die of pestilence, they could die of starvation or some other disease/infection.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: