This disease first emerged in China, before spreading to India, and eventually to Europe. In England, over 40% of the population died, although the mortality rate in cramped medieval towns was often far higher. People at the time believed the plague had been sent by God to punish humankind for their sinful behaviour. They believed it was God who allowed miasma to occur, which many thought had brought about the plague.
In most cases the rapid demise of many people prevented medical intervention. However, on some occasions the buboes of victims were lanced, or fires lit in their houses to drive away impure air. Some were treated according to Galen’s ‘Theory of Opposites’ and so were given cold food and baths in an attempt to cool their fever. For those sufficiently wealthy to visit an apothecary, theriac could be bought — since this treatment often contained opium, it may have had a beneficial effect in reducing victims’ pain.
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