The Psyche of Hysteria

  • John Aberth
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


The flagellant movement and the pogroms against the Jews, although not always uncontrolled, were certainly hysterical—highly emotional— responses to the Black Death. Flagellation, or whipping—performed for a variety of motives including penitential atonement, mortification of the flesh, imitation of Christ, or divine supplication—was not unusual in the Middle Ages. As a punishment for sinful behavior it appears from an early date in Christianity and was included in the first monastic rules from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Self-inflicted flagellation became common in Christian observance during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In 1260, there arose in Perugia, Italy, a public, collective, processional movement of voluntary flagellants, the forerunner of the movement during the Black Death.1


Jewish Community Twelfth Century Christian Faith Radical Tendency Popular Demand 
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    Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961), 125–27; John Henderson, “The Flagellant Movement and Flagellant Confraternities in Central Italy, 1260–1400,” in Religious Motivation: Biographical and Sociological Problems for the Church Historian, ed. Derek Baker (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978), 149–51; Gary Dickson, “The Flagellants of 1260 and the Crusades,” Journal of Medieval History, 15 (1989): 221–45, 251–58.Google Scholar
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    Kenneth R. Stow, “Hatred of Jews or Love of the Church,” in Antisemitism Through the Ages, ed. Shmuel Almog (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1988), 71–89.Google Scholar
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    David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996).Google Scholar

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© Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005

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  • John Aberth

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