Weird History

What Was Hygiene Like In Plague-Era Europe?

What was hygiene like during the Black Death? In the 14th century, the bubonic plague swept through Europe, wiping out as many as 50 million people - or more than half the continent.

During this time, it was common for people to dump their chamber pots in the streets and sleep on dirty straw. These unsanitary practices attracted rodents and spread disease. Could better hygiene have prevented the black plague? Ironically, several common medical practices helped spread the disease. For example, doctors suggested lancing buboes and drinking the pus of the afflicted. And, in spite of sanitation policies like burying plagued bodies in deep pits outside of town, some cities were so overwhelmed that dogs dragged the cadavers back through the streets. 

Unfortunately, those who practiced better hygiene weren't much better off. In some areas, the Jewish population saw a lower mortality rate from plague than Christians, likely because of their sanitary traditions. In response, Christians accused Jews of tainting wells and eliminated them en masse.

While Europe had a foul hygiene and sanitation record during the plague era, records indicate that people who survived the Black Plague tended to live longer and healthier lives.