Bubonic Plague in Middle Ages

The 13th century was a grim period in the history of the Middle Ages. The world at large combated against the deadly outbreak of bubonic plague that first hit the Asian country of China in the year 1330.

What is Bubonic Plague?

Plague is an extremely infectious and vile disease caused by a bacteria known as Yersinia Pestis. This kind of bacteria is typically found in rodents such as rats and also in the fleas that feed on the rodents. Animals and human beings contract the dangerous disease from flea or rodent bites.

Once humans are infected with bubonic plague, it spreads very quickly infecting other people. A person affected by bubonic plague develops fever and painful swellings or buboes of the lymph glands. The killer disease also causes red and black spots on the human skin.

1347, A Dark Period in Europe’s History

Bubonic Plague


Soon after China, the outbreak of bubonic plague spread all over Europe and Western parts of Asia. In the medieval year 1347, Italian merchant ships carried plague inflicted people when it entered Sicily Port after travelling to China. Within a few days, the deadly plague spread in Sicily and other parts of Europe. Realizing that the Italian merchants had brought the disastrous plague to them, the people of Sicily threw them out of the city. Alas, the disease had gripped the city and a large number of people were already infected. Such was the fear of plague that people started abandoning their sick family members and friends. Only the friars and the nuns did their duty and cared for the sick. Thousands of dead bodies lay waste as no one was there to offer them a proper Christian burial.

Bubonic Plague was also called as Black Death

Plague disease struck and killed people in no time, leaving behind decaying bodies and terrible fear in the minds of the healthy ones. In the same year, in the month of August, the plague had entered England and the English named it as ‘The Black Death’. It was one of the darkest periods in the medieval times. It was like a terrifying killer was let loose all across Europe.

The medieval medicines, herbs, and potions were useless against the dark power of bubonic plague. Slowly, apart from fleas, humans also became a natural carrier of the disease and between 1347 to 1353 period, almost 25 million people died as victims of the “Black Death’. Soon, one-third of the European population was dead. Popular medieval scholar Petrarch lost his lady love ‘Laura’ to Black Death.

The Public Panic & Masks used by Doctors

The Black Death had reached Paris, London, Lyon and Bordeaux by the middle of the year in 1348. Doctors and physicians tried to treat the other symptoms that included fever, chills, diarrhoea, vomiting, and aches, but to no avail. Plague doctors started wearing special masks with a bird-shaped beak for protection, as they believed the disease was airborne.

The monstrous disease seemed to spread even through the lightest of touches or through clothing. Once a person contracted the disease, it spread throughout the body. Soon, black spots began appearing in the skin and huge boils started developing in the groins or armpits. Blood and greenish pus seeped out of them. It was a terrible spectacle and death followed suit.

Attempted Cures for Black Death

Treatment for this dreaded disease during the Middle Ages was vague and clueless. The physicians of the medieval period had no idea what caused plague and there was no definite cure.

Tried Remedies for Treating Black Death

  • For headaches, doctors used lavender, rose, and sage

  • Vomiting or nausea was relieved with balm, mint or wormwood

  • Liquorice was given for lung problems

  • Vinegar was used to cleanse

  • Physicians tried to treat the buboes and swelling by lancing and then applying a hot poultice made of butter, garlic, and onions.

  • Some doctors even tried treatment with arsenic, dried toad or lily roots

Black Death Primary Sources Found in Modern Research


Black Death Graph

black death graph


Historical scientists suggest that the medieval outbreak of Black Death seemed to agree with the weather conditions in Asia and not the European climate. As per their analysis, Giant Gerbils (rodents) and their explosive population in Asia along with plague bacteria-infected fleas was the primary source of the air-borne disease. The rodents slowly made their journey to Europe via the Silk Road routes constantly used for trade. Rodents, fleas and plague-infected people showed up in the major harbour cities of Europe to spread the killer disease across the continent.

Black Death reigned terror till the mid 14th century. However, this loathsome disease resurfaced many times throughout centuries killing almost 100 million people in the world by the end of 18th century. Even the animals could not escape its deathly hold. Innumerable cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens perished along with people. Human beings cruelly abandoned their sick loved ones in a desperate attempt to protect their own-selves against the heinous bubonic plague.