Dancing plague of 1518

Dafato Team | Aug 30, 2023

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The dance plague (or dance epidemic) of 1518 was most likely a case of mass hysteria that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in July 1518. About 400 people began dancing for days, and, after roughly a month, some of them died of heart attack, stroke, or fatigue.

The phenomenon of the "dance plague" began in Strasbourg in July 1518, when a woman, Troffea, for no reason at all began dancing madly in the streets of the city. It quickly became apparent that Troffea's was not a real dance, but rather a sequence of uncoordinated and asynchronous movements, twists and turns. Her dance went on for an entire week, during which 100 people came to join her. The city authorities, bewildered by the chaos caused by the phenomenon, gathered to deliberate on it, not without consulting the city's doctors: at first, however, in the belief that "this dance fever" would wear off after a few days, they thought it best to go along with it, and so they set up a wooden stage on top of which people could dance. Even experienced musicians and dancers were paid to give rhythm and choreography to the dancers.

Things, however, did not go according to predictions: after a few days, the weaker individuals began to die of exhaustion, while, at the same time, the number of people joining this frenzied dance grew, reaching 400 individuals by the end of August. At the beginning of September, faced with the spread of the phenomenon and, above all, with the increase in deaths, the Strasbourg authorities decided to take drastic action: they forced all the people who had not yet stopped dancing to leave the city, pushing them towards the hills surrounding the town of Saverne. In the cave of one of these hills stood a shrine dedicated to St. Vitus, the patron saint of dancing: here the "dancers" were led around a wooden effigy of the saint, in a kind of exorcistic ritual. Then, they were admitted to the hospital in Strasbourg, and, a few days later, they gradually stopped dancing, so that the epidemic disappeared as it had appeared, not without having made a presumably large number of victims, which, however, is not reported to us by the sources of the time.

The causes of this are still a matter of debate but, basically, historians hypothesize a cause by food poisoning and one by fu psychic disorders. In fact, the first hypothesis would lead one to think of a probable mass hysteria caused by the more or less accidental ingestion of ergot, a cereal on the stalks of which grows a kind of mold with hallucinogenic effects due to its toxic chemical composition and with psychoactive faculties such that it could cause real spasms and make it difficult for blood to flow through the body, thus causing uncoordinated and strange movements. This was among other things the thinking of the same authorities of the time. The same mushroom has also been implicated in other important historical anomalies, including the Salem witch trials..

However, this hypothesis is quite unlikely, since an immense amount of ergot would have been required to make 400 people dance for more than a month. This is therefore a truly bizarre fact, but it was not the only outbreak of compulsive dancing in Europe: before the one in 1518, there were 10 other cases; in particular, one in 1374 involved many towns in what is now Belgium, northeastern France and Luxembourg.

Instead, the most credited cause is that of mental disorder, such as the Tanganyika laughter epidemic or Sydenham's chorea. In fact, another interesting fact is that documents of the time show that people affected by this "epidemic" did not want to dance. All this makes the hypothesis likely that this was a phenomenon of mass hysteria inaugurated by Troffea. For many Northern European countries, 1518 was a critical year, marked by strong political tensions and a famine for which the poor in Strasbourg again experienced starvation: it is very likely that the sense of precariousness related to political events and the desperation caused by starvation acted as a "stress factor," triggering in people a state of trance that led them despite themselves to dance themselves to death.


  1. Dancing plague of 1518
  2. Piaga del ballo del 1518
  3. ^ a b c d Viegas, Jennifer (August 1, 2008). "'Dancing Plague' and Other Odd Afflictions Explained : Discovery News". Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  4. ^ a b c d Waller, John (February 2009). "A forgotten plague: making sense of dancing mania". The Lancet. 373 (9664): 624–625. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60386-X. PMID 19238695. S2CID 35094677.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pennant-Rea, Ned (July 10, 2018). "The Dancing Plague of 1518". The Public Domain Review. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  6. ^ a b c d Andrews, Evan (August 31, 2015). "What was the dancing plague of 1518?". HISTORY. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  7. ^ a b c Bauer, Patricia. "Dancing plague of 1518 | Facts & Theories | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  8. ^ Donato Altomare; Francesco La Manno; Andrea Piparo; Cristiano Saccoccia, L'Artiglio. L'oro del dio Hunn, Italian Sword&Sorcery Books, 2019, ISBN 978-88-94-46960-8, p. 280.
  9. ^ Jennifer Viegas, 'Dancing Plague' and Other Odd Afflictions Explained, su Discovery News, Discovery Communications, 1º agosto 2008. URL consultato il 6 maggio 2013 (archiviato dall'url originale il 13 ottobre 2012).
  10. Waller, John C. (september 2008). In a spin: the mysterious dancing epidemic of 1518. Endeavour 32 (3): 117–121 (Elsevier). ISSN: 0160-9327. PMID 18602695. DOI: 10.1016/j.endeavour.2008.05.001. Geraadpleegd op 14 januari 2009.
  11. Von den Krankheiten so die Vernunfft Berauben, 1567
  12. «La extraña epidemia de baile que recorrió las calles de Estrasburgo hace 500 años». El Mundo. 27 de julio de 2019.
  13. Waller, John (2008): «Falling down», artículo del 18 de septiembre (en inglés) en el diario The Guardian (Londres). Chronicles of 1374 tell of large numbers of men and women dancing, while screeching with pain, leaping into the air, running wildly from place to place, and calling on the mercy of God and the saints. [...] The 1374 outbreak occurred just after a devastating flood.During another outbreak in 1518, the inhabitants of Strasbourg were reeling from severe famine, their morale already shattered by syphilis, smallpox and plague. They danced in their misery because people living along the Rhine and Moselle rivers had a longstanding fear of devils and saints who inflicted a terrible, compulsive dance. Having fallen into a trance state, they acted in accordance with these supernaturalist beliefs: dancing wildly for days on end.

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