Senior Honors Projects, 2010-2019

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Department of History


John Butt


This paper discusses the medical response to the Black Death in both Europe and the Middle East. The Black Death was caused by a series of bacterial strands collectively known as Yersinia pestis. The Plague originated in the Mongolian Steppes. It was spread westward by the east-west trading system. Once it arrived in the Crimea in 1346, Italian merchants helped spread it throughout the Mediterranean. Medicine in Europe and the Middle East were centered on Galen’s theory of humors. There were many religious explanations for the Plague, but the main medical explanation was the spread of bad air, or miasma. Many preventative measures dealt with eliminating the miasma. The three main diagnostic methods used by physicians were astrology, uroscopy, and pulse-taking. Europeans realized the contagious nature of the disease, but many Muslims refuted the notion of contagion. Most cures for the Plague dealt with balancing body humors, such as bloodletting. Other cures included gold, rose water, and theriac. Even though the Plague killed many, it had beneficial effects on medicine, especially in Europe. Doctors began to question Galenic medicine, they relied more on observation, and they paid more attention to anatomy. There were also improvements in medical ethics, public health, and hospitals.



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