It arrived in Europe in October 1347 when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the Black Sea.
The people who gathered on the docks to greet the ships were met with a horrifying surprise: Most of the sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They were overcome with fever, unable to keep food down and delirious from pain.
The Black Death
Strangest of all, they were covered in mysterious black boils that oozed blood and pus and gave their illness its name: the “Black Death.” The Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the mysterious Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe–almost one-third of the continent’s population.
Today, scientists understand that the Black Death, now known as the plague, is spread by a bacillus called Yersina pestis. They know that the bacillus travels from person to person pneumonically, or through the air, as well as through the bite of infected fleas and rats. Both of these pests could be found almost everywhere in medieval Europe, but they were particularly at home aboard ships of all kinds–which is how the deadly plague made its way through one European port city after another.
The Black Death epidemic had run its course by the early 1350s, but the plague reappeared every few generations for centuries. Modern sanitation and public-health practices have greatly mitigated the impact of the disease but have not eliminated it.
*above excerpt from Black Death at History.com
The Story of Four Thieves
The story goes something like this…French thieves robbed plague victims and their graves of jewelry and valuables. Yet, surprisingly, they didn’t get sick and seemed to be immune to the deadly affects of the plague. There was no cure or known prevention at the time. People simply stayed as far away from plague victims as they could.
When the thieves were finally caught the authorities (and the public) wanted some answers, and offered the robbers leniency if they would reveal how they were not affected by the illness. It turns out that the thieves were perfumers and spice traders who had great knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs when combined in certain ways.
They had applied a special herbal concoction on themselves (sometimes referred to as “four thieves’ vinegar) as protection from the diastrous plague. That’s how the legend was born!