Plagues in History

Server Costs Fundraiser 2024

Help our mission to provide free history education to the world! Please donate and contribute to covering our server costs in 2024. With your support, millions of people learn about history entirely for free every month.
$3680 / $18000


Mark Cartwright
published on 26 March 2020

Plagues have swept through humanity ever since communities have gathered together in concentrated groups. In this collection of resources, we look at just some of the pandemics that raged throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, from the plague that ripped through Athens in the 5th century BCE to the most destructive of all, the Black Death of the 14th century CE. We examine not only the causes, spread and casualties of these awful events but also the lasting effects on the societies they ravaged. If there is one consolation, humanity has always survived and life has, somehow, and often with great difficulties and sacrifices, found a way to go on.

Medieval doctors had no idea about such microscopic organisms as bacteria, and so they were helpless in terms of treatment, and where they might have had the best chance of helping people, in prevention, they were hampered by the level of sanitation which was appalling compared to modern standards. Another helpful strategy would have been to quarantine areas but, as people fled in panic whenever a case of plague broke out, they unknowingly carried the disease with them and spread it even further afield; the rats did the rest.

The Black Death

Articles & Definitions



Subscribe to this author

About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a full-time writer, researcher, historian, and editor. Special interests include art, architecture, and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the WHE Publishing Director.

Free for the World, Supported by You

World History Encyclopedia is a non-profit organization. For only $5 per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide.

Become a Member