Children during the Black Death
Health Ordinances of Pistoia, 1348 [Legal Document]
Cities in Italy passed legislation aimed at preventing or reducing the effects of plague. Since the scientific view was that plague was caused by miasma or bad air, the measures targeted rotting and smelling matter, viz. cloth which could retain miasma and spread disease as it was passed person to person, dead bodies, and rotting meat. Thus, the ordinances regulated burials and restricted the mobility of cloth and the activities of butchers and tanners. These ordinances were not really new to the Black Death; governments simply re-enforced the sanitary legislation in effect in cities from the 13th century.
Chiappelli, Alberto, ed. "Gli ordinamenti sanitari del comune di Pistoia contro la pestilenzia del 1348." In Archivio Storico Italiano. Ser. 4, 20 (1887): 8–22. Quoted in Horrox, Rosemary, ed. and trans. The Black Death. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994, 195–96. Annotated by Shona Kelly Wray.
Primary Source Text
Selections from the Health Ordinances of Pistoia [2 May, 1348]
No one, whether from Pistoia or elsewhere, shall dare or presume to bring or fetch to Pistoia, whether in person or by an agent, any old linen or woolen clothes, for male or female clothing or for bedspreads; penalty 200 pence, and the cloth to be burnt in the public piazza of Pistoia by the official who discovered it. However it shall be lawful for citizens of Pistoia travelling within Pistoia and its territories to take linen and woolen cloths with them for their own use or wear, provided that they are in a pack or fardle weighing 30 lb. or less.
The bodies of the dead shall not be removed from the place of death until they have been enclosed in a wooden box, and the lid of planks nailed down so that no stench can escape, and covered with no more than one pall, coverlet or cloth; penalty 50 pence to be paid by the heirs of the deceased or, if there are no heirs, by the nearest kinsmen in the male line.
To avoid the foil stench which comes from dead bodies each grave shall be dug two and a half arms length deep, as this is reckoned in Pistoia; penalty 10 pence from anyone digging or ordering the digging of a grave which infringes the statute.
So that the living are not made ill by rotten and corrupt food, no butcher or retailer of meat shall dare or presume to hang up meat, or keep and sell meat up in their storehouse or over their counter [i.e. whole carcasses cannot be displayed, only joints of meat]; penalty 10d.
How to Cite This Source
Shona Kelly Wray, "Children during the Black Death," in Children and Youth in History, Item #167, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/167 (accessed March 3, 2015).
- Primary Sources
- Decameron [Literary Excerpt]
- Italian accounts of the Black Death [Personal Accounts]
- Health Ordinances of Pistoia, 1348 [Legal Document]
- Testament of a Father during the Black Death [Will]
- Testament of a Mother during the Black Death [Will]
- Testament of an Elite Wife during the Black Death [Will]
- Testament of an Elite Husband during the Black Death [Will]
- Will-making among the general populace of Bologna during 1348 [Graph]
- The Dance of the Dead [Mural]
- The Dance of Death [Woodcut]