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Meet Todd the time traveler. He's a good boy and has decided to use his powers for good, more specifically he wants to stop the black plague from happening. His powers work in a similar fashion to the time travellers from the Butterfly Effect movies; the time traveler is immune to paradoxes, he remembers everything about the alternate histories. The key difference being 1) he can only go back in time once a year and goes back to his time after that year is over; 2) he can only go back in time by reading (or looking at) information of the past; Pictures, newspapers, historical texts, etc.

Some details about Todd

  • He served as a medic for the Turkish Land Forces for 16 years and is very skilled in medicine.
  • Other than his military service and experience, he is an average White male.

Using his modern medical knowledge would Todd have a chance at stopping the black plague?

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    $\begingroup$ Just some clarifications: you say, "he can only go back in time once a year". Does this mean once a year in his "present" time (home time or whatever you want to call it) Or does it mean he can only ever travel to one historic year once? As in he already traveled to 1346 so now he never can again. $\endgroup$ – Kys Jun 7 '16 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, what do you qualify as "preventing" the plague? No one dies? Only spreads to the Near East? Only x% of the population dies? $\endgroup$ – Kys Jun 7 '16 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ I know there's another question like this somewhere... $\endgroup$ – Aarthew III Jun 7 '16 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ "the Black Plague" was not a single event. There were several occurrences of plague throughout regions of europe over the course of several hundread years. Many, but not all of these, were attributed to "The Black Death" as this was one of the more obvious ones to diagnose and caused the greatest number of deaths in a way which triggered social reform in europe. Without it we might have continues with guilds, indentured surfs and all that fun stuff indefinitely. Which problems will you fix and which will be left? $\endgroup$ – TafT Jun 8 '16 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Luaan That's a good point. Bubonic plague is only one hypothesis for what the Black death was. There's another line of research that's been presenting a more interesting idea. The reason it's being investigated is the old medical journals of what doctors saw doesn't match Bubonic. It's believed that Ebola may have been the true black death, and Bubonic may have then just made inroads afterwards due to the unsanitary conditions that followed. At which point, our time-traveller Todd may end up infected with Ebola, coming back to the future, and inadvertently causing a modern day outbreak. $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Jun 8 '16 at 15:47

13 Answers 13

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Stopping the plague? No.

However, if he could somehow convince enough rulers and authoritative persons that the plague is carried by fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) abandoning dying and dead rats (mostly Rattus rattus) and biting people, he might be able to reduce the death toll from tens of millions to tens of thousands.

He wouldn't need to explain that the cause is the invisible animalcule Yersinia pestis. People wouldn't believe him, and in any case wouldn't care about the exact nature of the toxic humour, as long as they had a way avoid it. Just understand that flea bites are now more than a filthy annoyance, they have become mortally dangerous.

If he tried to teach anything else, like improving sanitation or reducing crowding, he would just be one more voice among the thousands of royal physicians and other advisors who already knew that the burgeoning population was putting everyone at increased risk of encountering one of the four horsemen.

Todd should understand, though, that the plague is in one sense a symptom of the larger problem, that populations everywhere are rapidly outgrowing the technology, infrastructure, and common wisdom needed for people to live safely at such densities.

When Todd returns to his own time, he will probably discover that in preventing a 30% population crash circa 1345, he has inadvertently allowed a 40% population crash circa 1425, or a 55% population crash circa 1500.

My theory is that the survivors of the Black Plague were people who learned how to build storm drains and sewers, and who declined to place their garbage dumps unpleasantly close to their towns. Take away that lesson in 1358, and the people will have to learn it by way of the next great disaster.

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    $\begingroup$ You just need to work on the convincing rulers idea, maybe he could "predict the future"? $\endgroup$ – Aarthew III Jun 7 '16 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ The actual theory is that survivors of the first Black Plague where, genetically, less likely to die from the Black Plague. There offspring, and more important, the lack of offspring from the dead (doh), caused the next generation to be less sensitive to the next crash. Also, the Black Plague itself is believed to be evolving in the opposite direction: The less deadly it is, the more it can spread (dead hosts get buried/burned and stop spreading). But in the end, saving more people on the first crash just means the next crash is going to be bigger. $\endgroup$ – Dorus Jun 7 '16 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ Also, i checked Wikipedia: All religious (and non-religious) groups got hit equal, with one exception: the Jews. They lived under more hygienic conditions as a result of there cleaning laws. As a result, they were taken as scapegoats! Many got killed despite surviving the Black Plague. $\endgroup$ – Dorus Jun 7 '16 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ The basics of sanitation in an urban environment is actually something people didn't learn until the 1850s. See the 1854 Broad Street Cholera Outbreak. It's hard to believe, but the knowledge that drinking water contaminated with feces makes you sick is indeed barely 160 years old. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jun 8 '16 at 8:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp The thing is, the ancient romans (and quite possibly, others before them) have known that! They didn't know all the details, but due to the way they led warfare, they were very well aware of the fact that you must build your latrines downstream from the camp. The fact that this was largely "forgotten" has a lot to do with the decline of urbanization, which solved the problem in a different manner - by reducing the population density. The reason we rediscovered those things in the 19th century is simple - industrialization put people back in cities, and led to population growth. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jun 8 '16 at 9:24
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Go back a bit further than the onset of the plague. Embark on a campaign among the nobility and clergy on the godliness of felines and how the mark of a proper household is a healthy cat.

There is a good argument to be made that the slaughtering of cats because they were familiars of witches and unlucky directly led to a massive population boom among rats, which brought along the fleas, which passed along the plague.

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    $\begingroup$ That would be a very interesting argument to read. Do you have any sources? $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jun 8 '16 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately cats themselves are susceptible to plague. When a cat gets bitten by an infected flea or bites an infected rodent, it too gets infected. Even without people slaughtering cats as agents of the devil, they would not be able to help against plague. And there is, of course, the addition of problems like toxoplasmosis, which could be why crazy cat ladies are crazy (witches!). $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Mar 13 '18 at 14:39
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Almost certainly not. To begin with, nobody knows exactly where the Death originated or how it got to Europe. Some folk claim to know, but there is no certainty. The current best estimate is that it originated in Central Asia and was carried to Europe via merchant ships and the fleas on rats.

As a result, there is no reason to think that there is a readily-identified "Patient Zero" who could be stopped from spreading the disease. Any individual who is identified and taken care of will be replaced by a dozen more. Any ship which is prevented from sailing will be, sooner or later, replaced by another ship carrying the vector. And at this time, everybody had fleas.

Even if you could prevent the transmission to Europe for a decade, there would be plenty of carriers waiting in the wings.

I suppose that if Todd is willing to set himself up as the New Genghis Khan in, let's say, the late 10th Century, and then embark on a campaign of genocide through Central Asia he might get lucky and wipe out the population which will provide the critical mutation. Maybe not, since it's not clear exactly when the strain emerged, but it was widespread in Asia by about 1300.

Of course, many think that the bubonic plague was responsible for the Justinian Plague in Rome in the 6th century (I did indicate that there's not much certainty), so wiping out Rome in the 4th century might be necessary instead. Or maybe all of Italy.

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    $\begingroup$ He can only be Ghengis Khan for 1 year. Then he goes home. Unless (@Tres-2b) it is possible for him to go to his current time, live 1 year, and then resume where he left off in the Ghengis Khan world. $\endgroup$ – Aarthew III Jun 7 '16 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ In the 10th Century he would be the original Ghengis Khan, predating the one we are familiar with by a good few centuries. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Jun 8 '16 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @glenatron - Ack! Yes. Sorry. Anachronism fever, here. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 8 '16 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ "Patient zero" for the Black Death was probably a steppe marmot somewhere in Mongolia. Y. Pestis is not a human-exclusive disease; it's been circulating in rodent populations for tens of thousands of years. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 8 '16 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe he was Ghengis Khan and he just failed $\endgroup$ – Marshall Tigerus Jun 22 '16 at 19:32
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I don't think one time traveler is going to have much of an effect on the plague. Here's why:

Who would believe him? If Todd drops himself into the past, he has no credibility. No one knows him well enough to know he has skills. And if he can only stay for a year, he probably doesn't have the time or the knowledge to find an occasion to prove himself. With no credibility and probably not much resources, people will only start believing Todd when they have no other options, and by then it's too late.

What could he do? Prior to the Black Death, Europe went through a pretty lengthy period of famine. It's believed that this contributed to the lethality of the plague, by raising a generation of malnourished children. Not only that, but the rise of city populations contributed to the growing amount of general unsanitary conditions of the era. Both of these things are going to be very hard to reverse, you can't just tell impoverished peasants to eat more or leave their homes and start a new life in the countryside. Unless, again, there's the threat of the Black Death at their heels, but since you want to stop the plague you can't use it as a motivation.

If he wanted, Todd could probably find a village or two and convince them to cut off outside contact for a few years and make sure to wash things more often. But as for one guy from the future trying to enact social change on a continental scale to prevent a plague the likes of which has not been seen in centuries, I don't think it's going to work out too well.

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  • $\begingroup$ It wasn't just Europe - if you prevented the famines in China and India, the disease would never strike there and be transmitted to Europe in turn. It appears to have been a global pandemic that originated in China - looking at just Europe doesn't quite tell the whole story. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jun 8 '16 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ As for "who would believe him", the answer is probably "everybody". And not because he's an eloquent speaker or anything like that, but simply... modern clothing. The machine-done stitching in our modern clothing is so fine compared to the hand-stitching back then that they would be convinced that he was either some divine entity who made it himself, or some extremely wealthy foreign king who could pay an army of seamstresses to work tirelessly on a single shirt. So either he's divine or extremely powerful. And that's before they see the quality of devices in his medical bag. $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Jun 8 '16 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @liljoshu As an added bonus, his modern diet during childhood makes it likely he's a head taller than most people from that time period. Also, "Caucasian" covers a very wide spectrum, from light skinned, blond haired, blue eyed Scandinavians to freckled, red-headed, green eyed Irish to olive skinned, dark haired, brown eyed Mediterranean folk. Any of these could be very impressive to a population that, statistically, rarely traveled more than 10 miles from where they were born. Minus side: language barrier. $\endgroup$ – Joel Harmon Jun 9 '16 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ Who would believe him? Easy. Go to a high-ranking priest, and say you have an urgent message. Reveal that by an act of God, you have been sent to the past, with the explicit mission to prevent a plague stronger than any plague before. You can prove it either by bringing back a modern gadget with you, or by studying history and revealing large events which will unfold a short time after your arrival. After that you can quickly escalate this message upwards the hierarchy up to the Pope, or at least a cardinal. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 10 '16 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz That probably would just increase the likelihood of being burned as a heretic. But once the plague hit you'd probably be cannonized. $\endgroup$ – Marshall Tigerus Jun 22 '16 at 19:34
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Prevent? No, but our potential time traveler could certainly make the situation much better.

The unfortunate thing about this plague is that vaccines don't work to prevent it. Meaning that we would have to effectively stop it from originating in the first place. Very difficult to do with the little information that we have! Instead of attempting to locate a needle in a haystack (or really, a flea in all of Asia), we need to instead look at minimizing the damage.

Your time traveler has an extensive medical history, and should be capable of manufacturing antibiotics. Additionally, they should be able to arm themselves with knowledge of generally where the plague spread and when. By setting up manufacturing of antibiotics near common shipping lanes, it should be possible to get them out to the general populace before the plague hits their area. Of course, prep time and gathering supplies may be tricky to come across.

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    $\begingroup$ And then down the line, we have a resistance built in for that antibiotics centuries before there is technology to produce alternative medicines. $\endgroup$ – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 9 '16 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ I made another answer based on yours. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw Jun 9 '16 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ @RuiFRibeiro What alternative medicines? $\endgroup$ – Revetahw Jun 9 '16 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ @RuiFRibeiro I have heard about that, and you have a good point. Giving them antibiotics without the knowledge that lies underneath it could be a really dangerous thing. Anyway, since I upvoted an answer further up which talks about "a campaign of genocide through Central Asia", "wiping out Rome in the 4th century (...) Or maybe all of Italy.", I guess I'll keep my upvote for this answer too :) $\endgroup$ – Revetahw Jun 9 '16 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @RuiFRibeiro I completely, 100% agree. I would assume that someone with such medical history would be aware of future consequences. However, barring that (oblivious?), we can see it as a potential short-term solution for solving the worst parts of the plague. How that works out for us decades or centuries after is probably out of scope, so I didn't want to touch on it. $\endgroup$ – Thebluefish Jun 9 '16 at 19:13
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Preventing the plague before it broke out might be too tricky, but preventing it from spreading from the originating areas to the rest of the world might be possible if you have the correct data.

According to some theories the plague originated in an arae of Kyrgyzstan. If you could convince neighboring areas to cut off relations and create a large enough perimeter around it with poison bait for the rats and other animals that might try to migrate out.

Slim chances anyway as the logistics of it would be a nightmare, but not entirely impossible. Some English villages staved of other epidemics by doing the opposite, that is, denying enterance to travelers and burning bodies found on the roads in the surrounding area.

From wikipedia " Nestorian graves dating to 1338–39 near Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan have inscriptions referring to plague and are thought by many epidemiologists to mark the outbreak of the epidemic,"

Todd the time traveler could possible travel back time by reading earlier inscriptions from the same area.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Martine. Nice answer. For more info on the site check out the help center and feel free to join us in Worldbuilding Chat $\endgroup$ – James Jun 8 '16 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @James Talk in chat is 20 rep. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 8 '16 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling ...I admit I sorta forgot about that. But Martine is halfway there now :) $\endgroup$ – James Jun 8 '16 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ maybe later then ;) $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 8 '16 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ @James There now, so I guess much of this is obsolete. :-) Yet, please keep reputation requirements in mind when suggesting avenues for new users. You can see the reputation requirements on worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help/privileges if you are uncertain. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 8 '16 at 19:35
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I'd like to add to the answer of @Thebluefish which suggests that Todd has enough medical experience to learn how to make antibiotics. I agree with this. Before going back in time, he could train himself in the procedure of making antibiotics. While the procedure is complex, it doesn't seem to depend on anything that was impossible in the 1300's. The main thing that's needed is the knowledge, and Todd has access to that.

The next problem is logistics. Todd can only make a limited amount of antibiotics, and he couldn't possibly distribute it to all of Eurasia. Moreover, he's a nobody in the eyes of the rulers, so it will be difficult for him to convince them to help him.

Therefore, he has to gradually earn trust. He should plan his visit for well before the actual outbreak of the Black Plague. He then needs to get himself something that will work as a laboratory, and start manufacturing a small amount of antibiotics. Once he has them, he needs to seek out people who are sick from a bacterial infection (not the from the actual Black Plague (Yersinia pestis), we are earlier than that in time). His first patients may be suffering from a lung infection or something like that. Many such diseases were thought incurable and often deadly at the time, and his "miracle pills" should certainly give him some attention. If he continues like this, it won't be long before he's invited to the ruler's court to create antibiotics for the people there. Before you know it, Todd will be the head of an educational institution which teaches how to manufacture and administer antibiotics.

Todd can also use this newfound position of respect and authority to spread ideas about hygiene, cats, etc. as discussed in other answers.

Todd needs to execute this plan in the capital of a large empire. That way the knowledge of how to manufacture and distribute the medicine will have spread throughout the empire and to the rest of the region before the outbreak of the Black Plague. Having antibiotics widely available will severely limit, if not entirely prevent the spread of the Black Plague.

Of course, Todd will have to start this plan very early. It will take years for this knowledge to spread. So Todd will have to spend his whole year teaching people about antibiotics. He will then have to leave, and it will be left to his students to continue the spread of the knowledge. This spread will have to go on for years after Todd has left. He will have to see the results of that work once he comes back to the present. (Those results, of course, will be huge, if Todd succeeds.)

There are, of course, many things that could go wrong, such as Todd being hanged for heresy even while trying to treat his very first patients. Or the ruler trying to keep the antibiotics secret to hide them from his enemies.

Also, I don't know if there is some part of the manufacturing process of antibiotics which absolutely requires modern technology (I skimmed the summary of the process, and the only thing I could see was the need to control temperatures, but that can be achieved using ice and tempered water.)

Other than that, it should be feasible for a story.

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  • $\begingroup$ Antibiotics aren't just one substance, and the manufacturing process is presumably different for each type. But giving antibiotics to medieval people would be a poison gift, if you don't also explain the concepts of bacteria, evolution and antibiotic resistance. And all that might be a bit much for them to accept. $\endgroup$ – user2727 Jun 9 '16 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ @KWeiss Yeah, good points. Even if Todd had knowledge about a wide variety of antibiotics, it would be hard to transfer that knowledge to the medieval people. He could teach them how to make an extremely wide, powerful type, but indeed, even if it ends up preventing the plague, it could eventually end up being a curse, due to the reasons you outline. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw Jun 9 '16 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ The trouble with making antibiotics - other than those that can be made using chemical processes, where you only have to get the right chemicals - is finding the appropriate organism that will produce it. That can take years, unless you can get some in the future and take it back with you where the only problems become those of fermentation and distillation. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 7 '18 at 17:18
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I have just finished reading 2 books on the Black Plague of 1347. Sources were mostly actual accounts of people who were there.

NO. The plague could not have been prevented because it was caused by many things happening at once.

  1. 2 years before 1347 the Pope decreed that all cats be killed. This lead to an explosion of the rat population, which carried the fleas which carried the plague. My source was in error. A pope from the 1200s had declared all cats be killed as he declared the cats to be agents of Satan. Looks like it was Gregory IX (1170-1241 A.D.).
  2. Earthquakes in China and disasters in other areas west of China meant that rats that normally stayed in place (in the wild away from people), were forced out of their normal ecosystem into the cities where they sought refuge.
  3. "Mainstream science" of the time was stuck on their own incorrect version of reality. If a character were to suggest that rats carried fleas which carried bacteria which could not be seen, the character would be laughed at, or worse, imprisoned for witchcraft by church leaders.
  4. Religion was the basis for (explaining nearly) everything, and science was in its infancy. If the Bible could not explain it, the Church leadership would condemn it, and the population would have no basis for understanding what was going on. Most explanations were reasoned the plague to be the wrath of God as some punishment. But a few wise people noticed that the plague was spread by contact or nearness to the infected.
  5. Modern germ theory and therefore modern cleanliness rules were completely unknown. They changed their straw bedding about once a year, hardly enough to prevent exposure to biting fleas. They also bathed very little as it was not their custom. Plus it was quite a pain to heat up water, or even take a cold bath, especially in the winter. Have you ever had the power go out and taken a cold bath in the winter? I have.
  6. Communication was difficult and slow, and thus travel could not be controlled quickly enough. Many cities tried to close their doors (if they had walls) but most were too late. An infected person or rats were already in the city by that time.

As I read the books I learned that the leadership (politicians, cardinals, etc) were just as clueless bumbling fools, doing too little too late, just like they are today.

The two free EPUBs about that plague are listed here. There were other plagues that appeared similar but not as bad as this one.

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    $\begingroup$ Your fourth bullet point suggests: Travel back to the Councils of Nicaea and lobby for suitable additions/changes to the text of the Bible $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Jun 8 '16 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ Lol. Close. The time traveller should find a "lost" book of the Bible that talks about germ theory and related things. $\endgroup$ – Bulrush Jun 8 '16 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @HagenvonEitzen You need to go further back: "And one of the multitude asked him 'Master, what about cats? Doesn't their habit of keeping down the vermin population make them favored of God?' and Jesus replied 'yeah, they are good at that, aren't they?'" $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jun 8 '16 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ You overestimate the importance of religion in scientific though. If you look at the scientific (or better say proto-scientific) discourses from that time period, you'll see people referencing Aristotle more often than the Bible. Of course, the Bible played a huge role in shaping the people's view about science, but it was not that exclusive. Aristotle was a "pagan" from a Christian viewpoint, but he was still widely respected among the scholars. Even the Catholic Church used Aristotle more often then the Bible in defending geocentrism, for example. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 9 '16 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz "The name of the rose" comes to mind, where the church controlled WHICH Aristotle's books were known to the "public"... and which were kept locked in secret. $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Jun 12 '17 at 7:42
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Depends on what time he comes from and the technical advances of his era. This was not specified in the question. Current medical knowledge in our era not likely. Current social skills that our modern society have, he would be laughed all the way to the stocks.

Who knows what tech will be like 1, 2, 10k years from now. A time traveler from then may be able to? Who knows. Again, since we are talking about a time traveler, a key piece is missing from the question, "From when he comes."

I say yes because I think barring any extinction level event, if human kind is allowed to evolve themselves and technology over the span of many many thousands of years. Then I have zero doubts that eventually a genome altering vaccine with contagious properties for example could be produced. Vaccinate 1 person and it spreads like the disease but as a cure.

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A time traveller would have to go back in time far enough that any procedures they put in place have time to spread.

That being said, there are a couple of interesting historical anomalies. As given by Dorus above, the Jews did have stricter hygiene laws, and a better survival rate. Even more interesting is the Egyptians cat motif, including a goddess Bastet - a warrior or protector goddess no less.

What if a different timestream did not have Egyptians revering cats, and because of that the Black Plague showed up sooner? After all the Egyptians had a powerful, wide-ranging trade network, so exposure is likely to occur. Perhaps an intrepid time-traveller, trying to prevent an early Black Death instilled a love of cats into the Egyptians early in their history.

On the flip side, the demonization of cats does seem a bit odd. Perhaps that was the work of an alternate time traveller, working at cross purposes to the first, for their own reasons. Quantum Leap FTW!

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  • $\begingroup$ You have the parts of a good answer, but you don't seem to be actually answering the question. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jun 8 '16 at 16:27
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Easiest way to prevent the plague would be to prevent the fall of Rome. This would give a stronger base culture more time for advancement, communication, hygeine, etc.

Easiest way to prevent the fall of Rome would be to assassinate all the wealthy landowners near the time of the fall along with their heirs (the ancestors of kings and queens who would later turn their tenents into serfs, and who turned the power of rome into their tool for personal gain) as well as killing off the Caesers and their line, and any who would pursue it, allowing Rome to finally end it's "perpetual state of emergency" situation that gave the legal opportunity for their to be a Caesar instead of a Senate in the first place.

That'd put the focus of Rome back on Rome instead of the personal gains of would-be kings and emperors, empowering it to handle the plague on its own later (and allowing aqueducts to thrive making a society less susceptible to germs).

... although, of course, they'd have to contend with any more advanced germs that Todd brought back with him unintentionally.

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A lot of people are bringing up the concern of our time traveler Todd lacking credibility, but you're not thinking with time travel. With time travel you have access to every intellectual authority in history.

Go back and teach Aristotle germ theory. That might actually do the trick right there.

While you're at it Todd, I have a bonus mission for you. Have some conversations with him about the importance of the scientific method. History can only be improved by earlier emphasis on evidence based knowledge and decision making.

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Unlikely, as the plague affected many countries and cultures, so appealing to them all would be very difficult.

BUT, if he had the ability to bring back specific knowledge of how to manufacture antibiotics like streptomycin or sulfonamide he could drastically cut down the lethality, assuming he could manufacture enough and distribute it effectively. This could probably, for Western Europe at least, require some sort of appeal to the Church and a demonstration of its effectiveness, all the while not getting branded as a devil worshipper and executed. This would probably require a substantial effort in recruiting/tricking high placed members of the church and their patrons to accept that the antibiotic will work and to manufacture and distribute it to the masses. And most likely the bacteria would develop resistance eventually, so he'd just be delaying the plague.

There are ways of making a vaccine, but they are not very effective in this case and would PREVENT the disease, which is probably a much harder concept to get across back then until the plague is already in effect (in which case folks were doing ANYTHING they thought would protect themselves).

Basic sanitation and hygiene would blunt the disease, but barring significant education and infrastructure reform I don't think it would do much outside of some small areas.

But really, most folks now think that the Black Death was ultimately a GOOD thing (given enough time removed from the human tragedy of it all, of course), so why would this guy want to stop it?

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