The Black Death


The whole world is living through days that most of us would have thought nigh on impossible just one month ago. The majority of the world is on some form of lockdown and it seems difficult to imagine a time when things will return to normal.

“At every church, they dug deep pits down to the water level; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit; they then took some earth and shoveled it down on top of them, and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagna with layers of pasta and cheese”.

Marchione di Coppo Stephani, Black Death Chronicler

While it is true that this is an incredibly difficult and stressful time for billions of people, it is worth remembering that the world has been here before and it did make it out, eventually.

The plague, or Black Death, was an epidemic that swept through Europe way back in 1348 to 1351. With modern healthcare as we know it inexistent then, the Black Death rapidly tore through Europe and it is estimated that it killed anywhere between 25% to 60% of the population.

During the Black Death, doctors would wear beak-like masks. Beaks would be stuffed with herbs thought to ward off the plague and keep doctors healthy.

What Doctors Wore During the Black Death — Source

The Bad Air Did It

With science as we know it today not having any real place in the world back in the mid-1300s, people needed to come up with unscientific explanations to make sense of what had brought the Black Plague into existence.

A commonly held belief was that pockets of bad air were what brought the first wave of the plague to the people of Europe. This bad air was said to have been released by earthquakes.

Those people who knew of astronomy suggested that the bad air may have been caused by the alignment of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars on Marc 20, 1345.

Those who had faith believed that the plague was, in fact, a form of punishment sent from God for the sins of the people.

Unfortunately, once the plague had taken hold, some people began to spread the lie that Jewish people were deliberately spreading the plague. This opinion was maliciously reinforced by some Jews confessing to poisoning the water supplies under the duress of torture.

Mass Graves of Black Death Victims Uncovered — Photo Via Smithsonian Magazine

Dogs Good but No Love for Cats

One of the reasons why the plague spread so far and wide was that one of its biggest carriers was rats. Rats were very likely to get infected and they then spread the plague in towns, cities, and on the many ships that were trading from city to city at that time.

Cats were also spreaders as they too were very susceptible to the plague once bitten by plague-carrying fleas. Dogs, on the other hand, had a natural resistance to the plague and were therefore incapable of passing it onto men.

Perhaps this is where the term man’s best friend came from.

Shakespeare Lived Through the Black Death

William Shakespeare — Photo Via

The great English playwright William Shakespeare was alive during the terrible times of the plague.

Unfortunately, Shakespeare was not simply an observer of the ravages caused by the plague. His life was directly impacted by it on numerous occasions. Two of his sisters and a brother were killed by the Black Death. Later, he also lost a son and a grandson to the disease.

The Black Death refused to completely disappear even after devastating Europe during the peak 4 year period of the epidemic.

Unusual Remedies to Ward Off the Black Death

Black Death Doctor Tending to a Victim — Source

As doctors during this period of history had much less knowledge of the way diseases work, there were some unusual methods prescribed as a way to fight off the black plague.

Two of the weirdest were the treatments that involved urine and animal dung. Desperation ruled and people were prepared to try anything that might save their lives. Unfortunately, the use of dung and urine was much more likely to increase one’s chance of contracting the dreaded Black Death.

The Origin of a Word


The word quarantine is one that all of us are tired of hearing these days. Interestingly the very origin of this word can be traced back to the impact of the plague.

In Venice, Italy, any ships arriving in the port were ordered into isolation for 40 days.

The Italian for 40-days is “quaranti giorni” and it is from here where the word quarantine got its origin.


Since science was not nearly as developed as it is today, there is no doubt had the Coronavirus outbreak occurred during the Black Death’s heyday, it would have been just as disastrous as the plague was at the very least, perhaps even more.