From the Wikipedia article Black Death:

The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence, Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague or the Plague, or less commonly the Great Mortality or the Black Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which results in several forms of plague (septicemic, pneumonic and, the most common, bubonic), is believed to have been the cause.

Did any country implement any form of travel ban during this pandemic?

  • 19
    Not exactly an answer, so a comment. In 14th century Britain few working class people were able to travel because they were tied to their master's estate and did not have the means to do so anyway. There was no such thing as a "disposable income". About half the population died from the plague, and the shortage of labour resulted in greater mobility of workers.
    – Weather Vane
    Mar 21, 2020 at 18:04
  • 71
    I have it on good authority that all travel by air was shutdown for several hundred years after this occurred!
    – Doc
    Mar 21, 2020 at 22:41
  • 3
    Back then, there really weren't such things as countries in the modern sense of a central authority.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 22, 2020 at 2:41
  • 11
    @Doc: Not all. You could travel by Trebuchet...although only once...
    – user96551
    Mar 22, 2020 at 16:01
  • 15
    It's worth remember that the world was incredibly more local back then. Even major world rulers had nothing, at all, like what we would think of as modern power to make things happen. They maybe met a few times a year with more local power-holders, and tried to keep them on a leash .. that was about it.
    – Fattie
    Mar 22, 2020 at 17:44

4 Answers 4



Yes, there were some restrictions on movement during the period 1347 - 51 but mostly (with a few exceptions such as some city states and Poland) they were haphazard and depended on local or personal initiatives and / or religion rather than national governments.

Invariably, the measures that were taken were too little, too late. Further, although it was widely recognized that people got sick after being in contact with the sick, travel and gatherings in the form of pilgrimages and processions were actually sometimes encouraged.



Parts of Italy were ahead of most other regions in Europe in imposing restrictions on movement. An early example from 1347 was that many Italian ports

began to turn away ships, fearful that they carried the deadly disease. By March 1348, these protective measures were formalised and Venice became the first city to close its ports to incoming vessels. Those they did admit were subjected to 30 days of isolation, later raised to 40, which eventually lead to the birth of the term ‘quarantine’, for ships were forced to wait in the middle of the Venetian lagoon before they were permitted to disembark.

Other ports, though, were less cautious:

In the western Mediterranean, tales were told of Plague ships from Messina being kept from Genoa by wary authorities, but at least one found port in Marseille, France, in January 1348.

Source: Jospeh P.Byrne, 'The Black Death' (2004)

In Europe, Italian cities led the way in implementing travel restrictions:

Travel bans to or from plague-stricken areas developed early and in Italy among the northern city-states. In January 1348, Lucca banned entry to anyone from Catalonia, Genoa, or the Romagna; in Visconti territories, Milan, Parma, and Padua denied access to any foreigners; and Venice restricted access to ambassadors.

Source: Joseph P. Byrne, 'Encyclopedia of the Black Death'(2012)

In the case of Milan,

in spring 1348, the duke and his councilors decided on two courses of action. First, deny entrance to the city to anyone from any place suspected of plague; and, should plague appear in the city, immediately isolate cases in their own homes. It worked. According to Agnolo di Tura, only three families suffered, and Milan avoided the fate of most urban areas.

Source: Byrne, 'Encyclopedia'

Also in Italy,

in May 1348 the northern city of Pistoia introduced wide-ranging laws affecting many aspects of daily life. Restrictions on imports and exports, travel, market trading and funerals were all brought in, but again to no effect. At least 70% of the population died.

In Florence, and doubtless elsewhere, groups of people isolated themselves, refusing to admit outsiders to their place of isolation. The writer Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75) wrote that:

Some people were of the opinion that a sober and abstemious mode of living considerably reduced the risk of infection. They therefore formed themselves into groups and lived in isolation from everyone else. Having withdrawn to a comfortable abode where there were no sick persons, they locked themselves in and settled down to a peaceable existence...

Source: John Aberth, 'The Black Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-1350'

Often in Europe, though, people waited with dread before fleeing when the plague struck their locality. People coming from infected communities were, unsurprisingly, mostly unwelcome. For example, the chronicler Geoffrey the Baker wrote that the plague

ravaged Devon and Somerset up to Bristol. As a result, the people of Gloucester denied admission to people from Bristol, believing that the breath of those who had lived among the dying would be infectious.

Source: Rosemary Horrox, 'The Black Death' (Manchester Medieval Sources series, 1994)

Despite Gloucester's precautions, the plague spread to there too. It was only when the shortage of labour in England began to affect landlords that laws were passed in 1349 and 1351 which, in addition to attempting to control wage demands, restricted the mobility of peasants. These laws, though, were for economic reasons rather than to prevent the spread of the plague (and they were widely flouted).

Perceived economic necessity was also behind a law in Cahors (France) aimed at preventing people from fleeing the town. The lack of citizens due to fleeing contributed to local financial resources drying up in many areas, hence the advice of the king's advisor:

In August 1348, he told the consuls of Cahors that to raise money for repairing the town fortifications they should levy stiff fines on those citizens who had fled the plague and refused to return to the city.

Source: John B. Henneman, Jr., 'The Black Death and Royal Taxation in France, 1347-1351'. In 'Speculum,' Vol. 43, No. 3 (Jul., 1968), pp. 405-428.

Although it was widely noticed that those who came into contact with sick also got sick (and there are examples of places where people were confined to their homes if they were sick) , the church unsurprisingly focused on prayer, fasting and virtuous living, as did King Edward III in England. Also, far from encouraging people not to travel, the papacy

declared 1350 a Jubilee Year, in which a pilgrimage to the churches of Rome would earn pilgrims a plenary indulgence – the full remission of the penance due for their sins.

Source: Horrox

The Muslim World

In the Muslim world, adherents in Cairo were told not to enter a plague-afflicted area, and nor were they to leave it. Many held to the belief that

the Plague was entirely the will of Allah: it is a mercy to the faithful victims, since they will go immediately to Paradise, and punishment for the infidels.

Source: Byrne, 'The Black Death'


Muslims were to neither flee nor enter a place where the Plague raged

After 1351

The plague recurred many times over the following centuries and, while it often went unchecked, precautions were taken in some places:

A document from 1377 states that before entering the city-state of Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik in Croatia), newcomers had to spend 30 days (a trentine) in a restricted place (originally nearby islands) waiting to see whether the symptoms of Black Death would develop.[13] In 1448 the Venetian Senate prolonged the waiting period to 40 days, thus giving birth to the term "quarantine".

By the 15th century at least, some authorities were becoming more organized. In parts of Italy, Bills of Health (certifying that the bearer was healthy) for travellers were common:

In 1494 the Florentine government reconstituted the health board with which they had experimented in 1348. Five men with six-month terms kept watch on where the Plague was being reported, provided clean bills of health for Florentine travelers, and condemned violators of sanitation laws. As Luca Landucci pointed out in his diary..., during the epidemic of the late 1490s they also expelled poor victims of disease from the city, an action taken by many cities in Europe.

Source: Byrne, 'The Black Death'

However, it took longer for the idea of Bills of Health to take hold in England:

The earliest known English example is York, which required certification from people arriving from plague-stricken Maldon in 1536; York was a century ahead of most of England.

Source: Byrne, 'Encyclopedia'

  • 2
    In 1720 Marseille was quarantined, section by section and to the outside by the army. People refusing to be quarantined were to be shot. Exceptions existed for officials. French romancized version : fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Pestif%C3%A9r%C3%A9s
    – MakorDal
    Mar 23, 2020 at 7:55
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    Germany during that period and later during the middle-ages was divided into many smaller kingdoms, lordships and similar. When you traveled over land you basically passed borders and bridges on almost every occasion (like after a few miles) - and on each occasion some guards needed to be paid "bridge / boarding tax" ... this put up some limitation on travel for most poorer people. On the other hand the virus spread over rat fleas and rats didnt consider borders . they spread as long as they had food - simply to maintain genetic variation within the species ... thus spreading "their" flea .. ,
    – eagle275
    Mar 23, 2020 at 12:47
  • @eagle275 It is unlikely the plague could be spreading even nearly as fast as it was if it was spreaded just by migrating rats and not by people (and perhaps also rats carried by them). Even for a human transmitted disease the spreading speed was impressive. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theories_of_the_Black_Death washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2018/01/16/… and similar sources. This can still assume Yersinia pestis being the pathogen. Mar 23, 2020 at 16:48
  • Unfortunate that Italy didn't act as decisively in 2020! :-(
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 24, 2020 at 23:15
  • @Mikael Dúi Bolinder Thank you for the very generous bounty! May 7, 2020 at 1:57

Based on the accepted answer linked below, Poland did:

In addition to Poland's relatively sparse population, a key factor is that King Casimir the Great wisely quarantined the Polish borders. By holding the plague off at the borders, the disease's impact on Poland was softened.



Well, if you a count a red cross being painted on the door to signify the plague and being locked up in your house with your entire family until everyone either died or recovered, as a travel restriction, then yes.

In the U.K., the later 1665 plague outbreak led to entire villages being quarantined eg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyam The plague still emerges from time to time https://www.livescience.com/40003-plague-still-afflicts-world.html

  • It should be noted that the Eyam quarantine was imposed from within, by voluntary agreement, rather than by an external agency.
    – DrMcCleod
    Mar 24, 2020 at 15:33

In addition to Lars Bosteen's answer, the Decameron also says that Florence denied entry to people who were visibly ill:

In Florence, despite all that human wisdom and forethought could devise to avert it, as the cleansing of the city from many impurities by officials appointed for the purpose, the refusal of entrance to all sick folk, and the adoption of many precautions for the preservation of health; despite also humble supplications addressed to God, and often repeated both in public procession and otherwise, by the devout; towards the beginning of the spring of the said year the doleful effects of the pestilence began to be horribly apparent by symptoms that shewed as if miraculous.

(from Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron)

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