Medieval Thinking and the Black Death

A Quotation from the Past

“Oh happy posterity, who will not experience such abysmal woe and who will look upon our testimony as a fable.” – Petrarch

Summary of Useful Links on this Topic:

Introductory Note

Dear S2Z,

As you can imagine, the Black Death would take a heavy toll on any society that lacked modern medicines, hygienic living conditions and well-stocked hospitals. For instance, only 22 years ago, there was an outbreak of pneumonic plague in India, which led to widespread panic, attempts by the government to stop mass evacuations from slum areas and ultimately hundreds of deaths. Journalists entering the area sensibly took their own antibiotics with them. You can read a New York Times report about this outbreak here

Below is an overview of this historical event in the form of a fill-the-gap quiz on various aspects of it. Your task is to select the word that is appropriate for each blank. 

I hope you find this topic as heart-rending, gruesome and captivating as I have always found it.

Kind regards from Ms Green

Picture from the Past: Bubonic Plague in Sydney, 1900

Professional rat catchers, Sydney 1900 © State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW'

Copyright:State of NSW. Kindly provided by the State Records Authority of NSW. That pile in the middle is dead rats. 

A bounty was placed on rats – sixpence per rat according to one Melbourne report. Poor and unemployed men became professional rat catchers. 


Click here to complete the quiz below on a full screen


Use these 13 words in a paragraph about the Black Death and the medieval mentality:
exacerbated, atrocities, leprosy, Torah, pogrom, indigenous, miasma, mortality, smallpox, pervasive, vulnerable, rigorous, superstition

Assignment Link

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6 Replies to “Medieval Thinking and the Black Death”

  1. Black Death
    Having little knowledge about anatomy and disease, the ignorant people of Europe in the Middle Ages assumed that a miasma was a contributing factor to the Black Death. Hence they invented questionable remedies to purify the air. This pervasive belief, along with the lack of hygiene and poor nutrition, exacerbated the situation and ensured that people would be highly vulnerable to the plague. Christianity being an influential religion, the people were also very superstitious and this meant that they did not respond in a rational fashion, which increased the rate of mortality. This tendency towards superstition was also evident in the assumptions about leprosy, which some people believed to be the result of lust. It is estimated that the average lifespan of people in the Middle Ages could have only been 25 years. Differing from the Christian doctors, the Islamic doctors carried out investigations in a more rigorous manner. Similarly, Jews were also taught basic hygiene from the Torah, therefore refused to drink from unhygienic wells. But because the rest of the population were illiterate, they chose to believe the remedies and theories with no scientific proof. Believing that the Jews were responsible for the plague, they committed atrocities against the Jews, resulting in a pogrom.
    Having yet to acquire immunity, the indigenous Australians and South Americans were also profoundly affected by smallpox.

  2. Hello world,
    My paragraph on the Black Death:

    The Black Death was a pervasive disease that wreaked havoc in 1348 and it is estimated to have wiped out a third of Europe’s population at the time. The mortality rate of the pneumonic version of the plague was above 90%, which is very high. People’s poor understanding of bacteria, awful hygiene and ignorance exacerbated the situation, since people did not react in a systematic and rational way. People were also very superstitious. They assumed that the air was infected, which was known as a miasma, and they also believed that Jews were responsible for the unfortunate events, which resulted in a pogrom against the Jewish population. Many religious people believed that they had to please God by sacrificing themselves so they did an atrocious act of whipping themselves in the Brotherhood of Flagellants. Other people tried weird remedies that sometimes made their health worse, like drinking gold potions.


  3. Unfortunately, during the period when the Black Death struck Europe, the people had a profound lack of knowledge and this led to pervasive superstitions and false beliefs about the plague, which made them even more vulnerable. The rate of mortality was high and many historians believe that about one-third of the population died. Other diseases also affected the population of Europe, such as smallpox and leprosy. The doctors didn’t have any scientific knowledge about these diseases which made them unable to be rigorous in their response. They blindly created remedies which mostly exacerbated the situation instead of healing people. Many of these remedies were based on superstitions such as the fear that God was punishing them for all their sins. The public even thought that the air was infected (called miasma), and some ran around the streets covering their noses and isolated themselves from others to prevent infection. The Jewish people were also massacred and suffered from cruel pogroms, as back then Jews experienced discrimination for their religion and were blamed for the outbreak of the Black Death. The fact that they had Torahs instead of Bibles led to suspicion and prejudice, which in the charged circumstances of terror led to horrific massacres and persecution. All in all, the Black Death was a time of terrible atrocities.

  4. The Black Death
    The superstition of the people that God was angry with them and had sent the disease as a punishment exacerbated the situation, since people failed to respond to the plague in a rational way. As an example of their superstitious tendencies, some even thought that a disease called leprosy was caused by too much desire or lust. The pervasive belief of the people from medieval Europe that the air was infected (miasma), and their unfounded assumptions instead of research-based facts, formed part of the reason for the excessive mortality rates. The Europeans were vulnerable because of their lack of hygiene, so when the Black Death struck, they were left unprepared with their ignorant mindsets. The Bubonic Plague, Pneumonic Plague and the Septicaemic Plague were very common in the Middle Ages from 1348 on. There was also another very common disease called smallpox which killed many indigenous Australians and South Americans. In this era, rigorous dissection and examinations were very rare and unacceptable to the Church, which prevented doctors from approaching these horrible diseases in a scientific fashion. Most people were highly affected by the plague, but the Jews were more resistant than most, so the people believed that they were infecting people with the illness. But actually, the only reason the Jews weren’t affected as much was because they had better hygiene, which was revealed by the Jewish Book the Torah. In the time, people committed many atrocities to the Jews. They were targeted and massacred specifically which is called a pogrom and they were treated horribly and persecuted for a very long time. There were many different theories on what or who caused the Black Death, some more logical than others, but humans weren’t able to find the real reason (which was bacteria), until many years later.

  5. When the Black Death struck the VULNERABLE population in the medieval period, the MORTALITY rate was greatly increased. The population was also affected by other diseases like SMALLPOX and leprosy. The people at that time were filled with SUPERSTITIONS and prejudiced beliefs about the Jews and their sacred text, TORAH, and these prejudices EXACERBATED the situation. The theory of there being a MIASMA was a sign of their ignorance and the lack of a scientific approach towards this epidemic. Some even went so far as to blame the Jews for the sickness and committed the atrocious act of a POGROM against the Jews. In conclusion, the Black Death was a PERVASIVE problem in the medieval ages that was EXACERBATED by superstition and unprofessional “treatments” that lacked RIGOROUS scientific investigation.

  6. When the Black Death struck, the situation was exacerbated by ignorance, superstition and an unhygienic environment. The poor medical knowledge and lack of research caused many to be vulnerable during the plague due to the fact that no cures had been discovered. Throughout this time, it was uncommon to be rigorous in carrying out examinations and many jumped to conclusions of how the plague had started in the first place. Some believed that it was an punishment by God for their sins whilst others believed it was from a miasma (infected air). The Jewish holy book ‘Torah’ gave basic hygiene advice, which helped the Jews stay clean. This led to an accusation that the Jews had started the plague, which provoked a pogrom against them. The way the plague affected the Europeans was similar in some ways to how smallpox affected Australians. 90% of native South Americans and 50% of Indigenous Australians are believed to have died from smallpox, since they had not acquired immunity over the centuries to this disease. Th mortality rate of the Black Death was also high and this pervasive infection resulted in the death of an estimated one-third of the population.

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