Dancing Plague of 1518: In the Holy Roman city of Strasbourg in the summer of 1518, the dancing plague caused 400 people to dance crazily for weeks and weeks, with as many as 100 of them dying as a consequence.
On July 14, 1518, Frau Troffea, a lady from Strasbourg in present-day France, went outside and started dancing. She didn’t stop dancing for many hours until giving up and collapsing on the ground while sweating and shivering.
The day after that, and the day after that, she seemed unable to stop dancing, as if in a trance. Soon thereafter, more people began to imitate her, and ultimately 400 more residents joined her to dance madly for almost two months.
Nobody is certain of what led the villagers to dance against their will or why the dancing continued for such a long time, but in the end, up to 100 people succumbed. We are still unravelling the mysteries surrounding this strange and tragic occurrence known as the “dancing plague of 1518” more than 500 years after the incident.
What exactly happened during the Dancing Plague of 1518
Frau Troffea’s passionate-yet-joyless marathon of activity set the dancing plague in motion, but soon her body gave up to extreme exhaustion, and she fell into a sound sleep. To the surprise of her husband and spectators, however, this cycle continued every day, regardless of how bloody and torn her feet were.
The crowd that gathered to watch Troffea dance were unable to construct a plausible explanation, leading them to speculate that it was the devil’s creation. They claimed that because of her transgression, she was powerless to fend off the devil’s forces that had taken over her body.
However, just as soon as some had criticized her, many residents of the community started to think that Troffea’s strange behavior was the result of divine power. Locals in the region held to the legend of St. Vitus, a Sicilian saint who was martyred in 303 A.D., who was thought to have the power to curse sinners with an uncontrollable dance move if he became furious.
Troffea was taken to a shrine in the Vosges Mountains after suffering from several days of non-stop dancing and without any explanation for her strange impulse. This may have been done as a gesture of repentance for her alleged sins.
But the mania continued unabated. The city was quickly taken over by the dancing plague. According to reports, some 30 other people instantly took her spot and started dancing with “mindless strength” in public spaces and private residences, unable to stop themselves unlike Troffea.
Did people die of this Dancing Plague of 1518 ?
At the peak of the dancing plague, sources claim that as many as 400 people started dancing in the streets. For about two months, the chaos continued, leading individuals to faint and occasionally die from heart attacks, strokes, and exhaustion.
According to one version, the dance plague reached its peak when there were more than 15 fatalities reported each day. In the end, this strange epidemic may have caused the deaths of roughly 100 people.
However, The number of fatalities—or even the existence of fatalities—was not mentioned in the sources of the city of Strasbourg at the time of the occurrences. There don’t seem to be any sources from the time period that mentioned any fatalities.
Modern Theories : Myth vs Fact
LSD intake : Some speculate that the dance may have been triggered by ergotism, a fungus that frequently develops on grains (like rye) used to make bread and produces harmful and hallucinogenic chemical compounds. The primary hallucinogenic byproduct of ergot fungus is ergotamine, which shares structural similarities with the chemical lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25) and was the starting material for LSD-25’s synthesis.
The main source for the claim is John Waller. You might want to check this article written by Waller : A forgotten plague: making sense of dancing mania
What is your opinion on this? If even on such drugs, can someone keep dancing for almost two months?
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