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The Bubonic Plague - Could It Happen Again?

Updated on July 31, 2014
Medieval Drawing of the Black Death
Medieval Drawing of the Black Death
Huge, black boils covered the body
Huge, black boils covered the body
One of the culprits for the Bubonic Plague
One of the culprits for the Bubonic Plague
Bitten by a rat infected was not the only way to get the Black Death.  Fleas were added to the mix!
Bitten by a rat infected was not the only way to get the Black Death. Fleas were added to the mix!
This children's rhyme was no game and is associated closely with the Black Death!
This children's rhyme was no game and is associated closely with the Black Death!
Map of Medieval Europe
Map of Medieval Europe
Bubonic Plague Statistics Map
Bubonic Plague Statistics Map

What Was the Bubonic Plague?

The Bubonic Plague devastated the Medieval world killing 1/3 of the population in a relatively short time! Also known as the "Black Death" due to the way the disease manifested itself in the population is the more common name of this deadly infection. This article concentrates mainly with the continent of Europe, since much of the population of the world that was affected by this plague was in Europe and the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea area.

The Plague was believed to have started in Europe around the year 1347, when a dozen or so ships from Genoa made port in Sicily, in the town of Messina. When docked, the populace discovered most of the people on the ships were either already dead or gravely ill. The people still alive had high fevers, were unable to eat food and were often delirious and in great pain! Besides these symptoms, the infected had huge, black boils that oozed pus and blood, thus giving the name "The Black Death".

The disease began, according to the Italian poet, Giovanni Boccaccio, by the appearance of apple or egg sized boils on the groin or under the armpits, and then spreading. Some were larger or smaller, but all had this initial symptom in some form. The boils, as mentioned before, were black in color and oozed pus and blood. Other symptoms included: high fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, wracking coughs, gangrene, intense aches and pains, followed by almost certain death. Fortunately, death was VERY rapid once the symptoms appeared. A person could be perfectly fine one day, and by morning of the next day, the person would be often dead.

The Plague was EXTREMELY contagious, by breathing air and by being bitten by infected fleas, rats, etc., you were almost guaranteed a death sentence. The rat was the most common way the disease spread so rapidly since they flourished during this time which will be addressed later on in this hub.

Have you ever heard the child's game called "Ring Around the Rosy"? Many historians believe this rhyme was referring to the Black Death! No childish matter!

Of course, during the Middle Ages, superstition and fear were common reactions, as they still are today, when this discovery was made. The Messina residents quickly ordered the ships, nicknamed, "The Death Fleet", to leave port, but by then it was too late. The disease had already been introduced and the devastation that followed during the next several years is still one of the greatest plagues of all time! By then, nearly 20 million Europeans on the continent were killed by the Bubonic Plague, almost 1/3 of the European population!

Even before the outbreaks began in Europe, many Europeans had heard of a Great Pestilence that was spreading across the trade routes of the Far and Near East. The countries of China, Persia, Syria, Egypt, and India had epidemics during the early 1340's. But the reality of this plague really didn't register until it hit the shores of Europe. If anything like Europe, it is believed the same death toll occurred in these countries as well.

Does any of this sound familiar? If you are a Believer and a follower of Jesus Christ and have read the Book of Revelation, one of the seal judgments prophesizes, the 4th Seal, when broken, releases the Pale Horse of the Apocalypse which starts a major war which ushers in famine and pestilence. So, can the plague happen again? DEFINITELY!!!!!

God's Punishment?

During the Middle Ages, superstition was extremely common and practiced. Because the medical community failed, people began to believe it was "Divine Judgment" against their sins against God. Thus, in their minds, atonement and forgiveness of sin was the way to prevent getting the Plague or getting cured! Many thought that purging the population of known 'witches', 'heretics', and other 'troublemakers' like Gypsies and Jews would help. These were targets of these mass purgings. During 1348 and 1349, thousand of Jews were massacred! Others coped by lashing out at their neighbors and friends. Some formed groups and traveled from town to town, publicly punishing themselves, displaying penance by cutting themselves and beating each other with leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal, like a cat of nine tails, while the residents of the town watched. For 33 days, they would repeat this ritual, 3 times a day, then move onto another town and repeat the ritual. This drew attention of the Pope during this self inflicted injury and finally his disapproval stopped this practice.

Even though the Pope's edict stopped some of the atrocities committed during this time, the Church was not blameless. Certain religious leaders had been casting aspersions on cats for quite some time before the Black Death hit. Pope Gregory IX told people in 1232, that domestic cats were diabolical, which just fueled more anti-cat sentiment and it grew worse over the years. Cats were not subservient and tended to be noisy at night, which caused them to be viewed with suspicion and associated with black magic. Superstitious people began to associate them with Satan.

Large numbers of cats and their owners were executed after being accused of witchcraft in the years leading up to the Plague, and for hundreds of years after. Total deaths vary widely between historians for both witches and cats killed. But it is safe to say that a large portion of Europe's domestic cat population was slain, either on suspicion of being Satan's familiars or as part of the mass animal killings that people undertook in a desperate attempt to control the Plague later on. Dogs were also slain in these mass killings, which removed another of the rat's natural predators! Before the Plague, cats were tortured and killed as entertainment so this anti-cat environment was a long-term event!

Most of the murdered humans were suspected of witchcraft. They were almost all poor, peasant women who kept pets for companionship, thus they were easy scapegoats. The impoverished, elderly, and the eccentric were convenient targets for witchcraft accusations, and they were executed along with their pets. Overall, from 1230 to 1700, starting with the Inquisition, millions of cats were murdered!

By 1350, the Black Death had mostly run its course, but the plague did return every few generations for centuries. Not until more modern sanitation and health practices begin did the disease finally get greatly reduced...BUT IT IS STILL NOT ELIMINATED!

Even in the 21st century, outbreaks in mainly 3rd world countries, the Black Death still makes an appearance!

Casting spells and the dark arts were used but got the caster declared a witch often.
Casting spells and the dark arts were used but got the caster declared a witch often.
Alchemists combined dangerous compounds in a desperate attempt to find a cure.
Alchemists combined dangerous compounds in a desperate attempt to find a cure.
Draining blood was a common method for centuries, hoping to drain out the sickness!
Draining blood was a common method for centuries, hoping to drain out the sickness!
Prayer, most likely the only effective way to fight the Plague!
Prayer, most likely the only effective way to fight the Plague!
A common scene in a large metropolitan area at the height of the Black Death!
A common scene in a large metropolitan area at the height of the Black Death!
Casting spells and using magic were often tried in desperation. Then the caster would be labeled a witch!
Casting spells and using magic were often tried in desperation. Then the caster would be labeled a witch!

Understanding the Bubonic Plague

Today, with our modern technology, advances in science, especially in the medical field, the Plague loses some of the mystery it had during the 14th century. Although we understand it way more than the population did 500 years ago, it is still as deadly and dangerous as it always has been. We know the disease is caused by the bacillus, a class of bacteria, that travels from person to person through the air or being bitten by an infected rat or flea. As today, rats and fleas inhabit almost every place on Earth and were very common in the medieval towns of Europe. Many traveled by ship, where rats have been comfortable living ever since man could sail the seas and waterways of the world. A natural, easy way for this rat-born disease to spread in a very quick time! Port after port, the ships with its hidden cargo of rats, made its way across Europe, next going to Marseilles, France and Tunis in N. Africa. Then it reached Rome and Florence, two major trade routes during the Middle Ages which of course led the to the Plague's rapid deployment! By the year 1348, the Plague had reached the British Isles and Paris, France.

Today, we can understand how and why the Black Death spread as it did, but 500 years ago, there was really no rational reason to it. Medieval medicine was in the stone age for all intents and purposes...nobody knew how the disease was transmitted from person to person. Medical thoughts at the time believed that an 'aerial spirit' in the infected person could leap through their eyes into a healthy person and thus, contract the disease. Simply looking at another person was enough to infect you! Add to this that nobody knew how to cure it just made the fear and chaos more evident! People began to become like hermits, avoiding contact with others in order to protect themselves, not realizing that in most residences rats and fleas had taken up residence from the infected ships that docked in their ports and nobody was safe!

Crude methods at a cure were tried, but were useless and painful. Bloodletting, a common practice during the Middle Ages, failed, Lancing the boils was useless; the unsanitary conditions made these procedures even more dangerous. Also superstitious beliefs, out of desperation began as people were desperate for a cure! Burning herbs and spices, bathing is treated water or vinegar all did nothing!

As said, people began to hide and withdraw, staying in their homes and away from everyone, friends, families. Priests refusing to give the 'last rights' to the dead, and doctors even started refusing to see patients! People began to flock to the smaller towns and villages to escape the disease which seemed to concentrate in the larger populated towns, but that failed too. Nobody could escape it no matter where they went! Even families abandoned other family members to die alone while they tried to escape...children left behind by their parents, wives leaving husbands, etc.!

The food supply was not safe either. The Plague infected everything; chickens, sheep, cows, goats, pigs, etc. So many sheep died, a main staple in Europe at that time that there was a wool shortage!

Even with today's knowledge, could this happen again? In my view, YES!

A rat's natural God-given predator stalking its prey!
A rat's natural God-given predator stalking its prey!


What follows is one theory that may have contributed to the rapid spread of the Black Plague during the 14th century. Since medieval society was highly superstitious and so forth, this theory has some valid points.

The Middle Ages, a very primitive, chaotic time in world history had certain characteristics that found fertile ground during this time, preparing the way for the Black Death happening when it did with such destruction. Again, the theory that follows is just that, a THEORY. But it does make sense and certainly could be part of the reason the Plague spread so quickly with such deadly results.

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been??

I am sure all of you have heard the children's rhyme: "Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat...Where Have You Been... I've been to London to visit the Queen!" This rhyme, sung to many young children brings us to the possibly the reason why the plague got so out of control so quickly. The demise of the common house cat during this time was like signing a death warrant against mankind!


"If it hadn’t been for the common house cat, the human populations in European countries might have been completely wiped out hundreds of years ago by the Black Plague, Domestic cats proved to be important players in the pandemic. The rise and fall of cat populations had a direct effect on the plague, and without them, Europeans could have ultimately met their complete demise, theoretically speaking."

"To really understand the Black Plague, you have to know a little something about Medieval European society. A look at art from the era after about 1350 gives an insight into the general attitude of the period. The people had a morbid fascination with death and the dark forces of the Devil. They saw evil lurking everywhere, and their lives became governed by superstition. Cats that had been introduced to Europeans from the Romans returning from Egypt, at first very popular because of their ratting and mousing skills, came to be thought of as Satan’s minions. People who kept cats as pets to help with rodent control or as pets were often believed to be witches. A widespread cat-killing spree ensued, and cat populations vastly decreased."

"Of course, this annihilation came to haunt the superstitious medieval folk. With so many cats gone, the rat populations soared, making the plague even more widespread and virulent in its attack. Then the cats took another blow. People began to believe that the plague was actually spread by dogs and cats, and some areas of Europe outlawed these animals, with millions of pets being slaughtered. By the height of the Middle Ages, cats were almost completely obliterated in England and other areas. Instead of halting the progress of the plague, it only added to its ferocity. The rats’ proliferation was out of control."

"Eventually, people began to notice that cat owners who had unlawfully kept their feline companions often seemed to avoid the plague. Once more observations and research discovered that it was the rats, and not the cats, that were the culprits guilty of spreading the deadly disease, the cats were exonerated, and the feline population made a quick comeback. In some parts of Europe, cats were even protected by law. The happy meows of cats and kittens were again heard across the land, from the barns to the peasants’ huts to the stately stone castles."

Of course, we have no way of knowing what would have happened to the course of the plague had it not been for the rebounding feline population. But we can certainly assume that the rats would have multiplied exponentially, unchecked by their natural predators, the humble house cats. Just think, if it weren’t for the much-persecuted innocent kitties saving mankind from the rat-borne menace, those of us with European ancestors might not be here today! "


This theory is a quote from an article found on the link below!

A successful hunter gets his prey.
A successful hunter gets his prey.
Natural born hunters
Natural born hunters
Returning from a successful hunt.
Returning from a successful hunt.
Do cats really eat mice and rats?  You decide!
Do cats really eat mice and rats? You decide!
Deadly hunters...but ALSO loyal and loving companions!
Deadly hunters...but ALSO loyal and loving companions!
During the Black Death, these Kitties would be worth more than any amount of gold!!!!
During the Black Death, these Kitties would be worth more than any amount of gold!!!!
At rest after a day or night of hunting vermin!
At rest after a day or night of hunting vermin!
Rambo Kitty!    Just for laughs about a serious and deadly time in our history!
Rambo Kitty! Just for laughs about a serious and deadly time in our history!
God's Word - the TRUTH revealed to mankind by God Almighty Himself!  Trust in Him and have eternal life!
God's Word - the TRUTH revealed to mankind by God Almighty Himself! Trust in Him and have eternal life!
Jesus died for YOUR sins, past, present, and future because of His love for you!  All you have to do to have eternal life is believe in Him and ask Him to be your personal savior.  Nobody will be refused...even the thief on the cross next to Him!
Jesus died for YOUR sins, past, present, and future because of His love for you! All you have to do to have eternal life is believe in Him and ask Him to be your personal savior. Nobody will be refused...even the thief on the cross next to Him!
Jesus Christ - the Son of God waits for YOU with open arms!  Come be His today!
Jesus Christ - the Son of God waits for YOU with open arms! Come be His today!

What God's Word Says!

In closing, I would like to wrap up this topic with the Word of God. Could the Black Death happen again? This Believer certainly does! As mentioned in the hub, the Bubonic Plague has NOT been eliminated. Even with our modern sanitation and public health system, this disease still surfaces from time to time and I believe will continue to do so until our Lord Jesus calls us home and the world is remade after the Great Tribulation period.

If you haven't read my hubs on the Book of Revelations, I encourage you to do so! God's Word is 100% true and what has already been predicted has happened! The prophecies in Revelation are God's vision to the Apostle John of future events.

Looking back at history, God has sent plagues to get his point across to unbelievers from the fall of mankind in the Garden in Eden. One of the most well known ones was when Moses sent plagues and punishments on Pharoah in Egypt in order to release the Jewish people from captivity and slavery. God, working through Moses, sent several plagues upon the Egyptian people which finally resulted in their release. In Revelation, God's FINAL attempt to turn man from his sinful ways will again release judgments upon this Earth during a 7 year period, again trying to get man to recognize and acknowledge God's power and omnipotence, giving us all one last chance to come to salvation through his Son, Jesus. After the Tribulation ends, it will be too late!

Will there be another plague like the Black Death! That, I do not know, but I DO know that when the Tribulation period begins and until it ends, this planet will see more destruction and death than anyone can imagine. The Apostle John recorded it all in the Bible, the Book of Revelation. With the widespread death and destruction, science already knows that the cockroaches and rats will survive anything man can throw at them. During the Tribulation, it will be no different. The Plagues, either similar to the Black Death, or something we can't even imagine WILL happen. I personally believe the Black Death during the 14th century will be nothing near as destructive as the pestilence released during 7 years of global war and destruction!

Before it is too late, I implore you to ask the Lord Jesus to become your personal Savior and give your life to Him. It is the most important decision you will ever make. Once saved, you will be a child of God's and inherit eternal life and be one of His forever. You won't regret it!


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    • Knightheart profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from MIssouri, USA

      My oh my...SKYE! How long has it been since we have communicated? Seems like a LONG time. So glad to hear from you sister in Christ. I pray all is well with you! Thanks for commenting on my hub and am so glad you did so! You are a dear friend and love you dearly, we warriors for Jesus have to encourage one another during these dark times. Myself, I believe Jesus will be returning VERY soon, less than 5 years in my view. Of course, nobody knows when that blessed event will occur, but the signs are sure evident more and more. Thank the Lord God is still on the throne and is completely in control of all that is going on! Praise God for that!

      There sure is a lot of work for us to do before He comes as you said. I am honored to know you too, Skye, and you are a blessing and encouragement to my heart...and you sure are one of God's servants on this website spreading the Good News. About a month ago I had a real low period in my life, but thank God prayer and my brothers and sisters in Christ at my church helped deflect Satan's brutal attack on my emotional state. Praise God for the Bride of Christ! I certainly appreciate your prayers and concern...what blessings they are to me that words cannot describe!

      Time is growing short...the Age of Grace is on the home stretch and so many are still lost and have no clue that this world is just a temporary place on our journey and that eternity is what we need to be focused on...not this temporary place we live now. So many have no idea that they will be in one of two places...Heaven or Hell and as the Bible states over and over, the road to Hell is easy and wide! Turning down the free gift of Salvation is not only sealing their eternal destiny, but is downright stupid! So sad to know so many still refuse to believe or accept that fact!

      I am so thrilled to have heard from you, my dear friend. May God give us the strength and knowledge of what His Will for both of us are for these dark times. I just know trusting Him and letting Him control our lives is the only way to live! Thank God for that! He will never give us the wrong advice! Hang in there and bless you and your family always! Just remember, it is not YOUR strength, but God's working through you that matters! Remember to Trust and Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him!

      Love ya, sis!...... Knightheart

    • Knightheart profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from MIssouri, USA

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, Poetvix! I sure do appreciate that. I am thrilled to see another Believer on Hubpages, and am sure you will see many more of us here sharing the Gospel and helping others on the road to Salvation. I wrote this hub before the Ebola crisis hit the media, so plagues are still with us and will be until Jesus returns and ends this once and for all. I know one of the horseman of the Apocalypse is prophesied to usher in lots of disease and plague during the Tribulation, much more than anything the Earth has ever seen yet. But God is in control and knows what to do with a sinful, evil worlds that daily seems to be getting worse and worse. Thank you again for stopping by and God Bless You and yours!


    • poetvix profile image


      5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      For such a dark topic, this was refreshing. I loved your conclusion. I could not agree more. Jesus is the only hope for mankind, as he has always been. Perhaps it's because I have been following the Ebola outbreak, but this really put me in mind of it in relation to the plaques that will again sweep the earth.

    • skye2day profile image


      5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Knightheart, My what a topic you wrote about. You did your homework. Your hub gave me the chill bumps. I am eternally grateful that in my lifetime thus far I have not seen such an illness. Of course there is and always has been illness, famine, pestilence. We live in a fallen world. Amen.

      We are so very blessed in this hour in which we live. Thank you God for science and the fact that you Father have anointed man to create cures for much illness and disease. You oh God are the Mater Physician. You want none to be ill you took our sin and forgave us through your son Jesus. Your hand is on your children and we have the promise of eternal life with you. Where there will be no more suffering.

      Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,who satisfies your desires with good things. Psalm 103: 1-5

      We have the blessed hope in knowing that one day you will return and there will be an end of suffering! Thank you God that your mercies and grace are new each day. Glory and Praise to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

      May your writing touch the heart that is lost knightheart. Today is the day of salvation. May your voice in Christ touch hearts with the revelation of our God. He gives life and He takes life. GOD sits on the throne. He is in charge. One day all will know let them not be too late. We are talking eternity. Man may say he does not care about God or believe but one day they will know and the plague will be nothing compared to eternity separated from God, forever.

      There is much work to do my dear friend. I am so glad to come over and visit your neighborhood. You are as always a very good writer, indeed. May Gods hand continue to be on you knightheart and bless you in all of your comings and goings. I read a comment you left me on one of my older hubs and thought to come and say hello. I pray for you brother. I am honored you are my bro in Jesus. God is so good there is no doubt we were to meet at the hubs. You have greatly encouraged me and for that I am so grateful. God Bless you knightheart.

      May the joy of the Lord be on you mighty warrior. Sending hugs your way. Love your sister in Christ Jesus. Skye

      shared and voted bro!


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