Early Accusations of Well Poisoning against Jews: Medieval Reality or Historiographical Fiction?

in Medieval Encounters
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This article reexamines the idea prevalent in existing historiography that Jews were accused of well poisoning before 1321. It argues that the historians who studied the origins of such accusations were misled by sources written in the early modern period to think that Jews were charged with well poisoning as early as the eleventh century. However, a careful analysis of the sources reveals that there is little reliable evidence that such cases happened before the fourteenth century, much less on a large scale. Thus, the conclusions of the article call for a new chronology of well-poisoning charges made against Jews, starting closer to the fourteenth century.

Early Accusations of Well Poisoning against Jews: Medieval Reality or Historiographical Fiction?

in Medieval Encounters



  • 7

    Barbara John“An Examination of the Origins and Development of the Legend of the Jewish Mass Poisoner,” in Honouring the Past and Shaping the Future: Religious and Biblical Studies in Wales; Essays in Honour of Gareth Lloyd Jonesed. Robert Pope (Leominster: Gracewing2003) 183–184; Jeffrey Richards Sex Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages (London New York ny: Routledge 1990) 103; James Carroll Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History (Boston ma: Houghton Mifflin 2001) 277; Gabriel Wilensky Six Million Crucifixions: How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust (San Diego ca: qwerty Publishers 2010) 35.

  • 11

    Nicolaus PolJahrbücher der Stadt Breslau (Breslau: Graß and Barth1813) 50–51.

  • 12

    PolJahrbücher der Stadt Breslau50–51; Grünhagen Breslau unter den Piasten 85; Bächtold-Stäubli Handwörterbuch 4:825; Dvorský and Bondy Zur Geschichte der Juden 1:8–9; gj 1:64.

  • 16

    Hájek z LibočanKronika česká3:229–231.

  • 18

    Hájek z LibočanKronika česká3:229–231; for a full translation of these passages see the appendix to this article below.

  • 21

    Laura A. Smoller“Of Earthquakes, Hail, Frogs, and Geography: Plague and the Investigation of the Apocalypse in the Later Middle Ages,” in Last Things: Death and Apocalypse in the Middle Agesed. Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press2000) 172–174; Joseph Shatzmiller Jews Medicine and Medieval Society (Berkeley: University of California Press 1994) 2–14 78–90; Guerchberg “The Controversy over the Alleged Sowers of the Black Death” 209–211; Horrox The Black Death 158–194.

  • 23

    Hájek z LibočanKronika česká2:316–318; Hájek z Libočan Böhmische Chronica VVenceslai Hagecij 156r–v. There are a few similarities between this story and the one about the plot of 1161 but in this case well poisoning is indeed presented as the major cause for the plague rather than poisoning by Jewish doctors.

  • 28

    GrayzelThe Church and the Jews2:249–271.

  • 33

    Jeremias SimonEilenburgische Chronica (Leipzig: Lanckisch1696) 532; Bächtold-Stäubli cites Johann Jakob Schudt Jüdische merckwürdigkeiten (Frankfurt: W.C. Multzen 1718) 4:294–295; Schudt cites Simon.

  • 34

    SimonEilenburgische Chronica532; there seems to be no other sources which suggest that the Jews of Eilenburg were persecuted at this time: gj 2:194.

  • 46

    Adolf Neubauer and Moritz Stern eds.Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen während der Kreuzzüge (Berlin: Simion1892) x xiv–xv.

  • 48

    HaverkampHebräische Berichte159–163 281–283; Haverkamp tends to accept Bresslau’s position that the text mentioning well poisoning is a later addition. For Christian documentation of the massacre of the Jews see: Albert of Aachen Historia Ierosolimitana ed. and trans. Susan Edgington (Oxford: Clarendon Press 2007) 50–53; Bernoldi Chroniconm.g.h ss 5:464–465; Sigebertus Auctarium Aquicinensem.g.h ss 6:394; Gesta Treverorumm.g.h ss 8:190–191; Annaies Sancti Disibodim.g.h ss 17:16; Ekkehard of Aura Ekkehardi Chronicon Universalem.g.h ss 6:208.

  • 49

    TrachtenbergThe Devil and the Jews97–108; Baron A Social and Religious History 11:158–164; Robert Chazan God Humanity and History: The Hebrew First Crusade Narratives (Berkeley: University of California Press 2000) 33; Israel Jacob Yuval Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Tel-Aviv: ʿAlma/ʿAm ʿOved 2000) 194–195.

  • 57

    CollardThe Crime of Poison50–54.

  • 58

    Ekkehard of AuraEkkehardi Chronicon Universale219. For alleged conspiracy in 1321 and 1348: Nirenberg Communities of Violence 52–68; Bériac “La Persécution des lépreux” 203–205; Barber “Lepers Jews and Moslems” 1–17; Ginzburg Ecstasies 33–53 63–68; Horrox The Black Death 207 211–222; Graus Pest Geissler Judenmorde 299–334.

  • 59

    YuvalTwo Nations in Your Womb181–187 192–218; Mentgen Studien zur Geschichte der Juden 421–428; Langmuir Toward a Definition of Anti-Semitism 209–298; Baron A Social and Religious History 11:146–150; Trachtenberg The Devil and the Jews 124–139; Poliakov The History of Antisemitism 1:56–64. Only in two cases in Norwich in 1144 and in Valréas in 1247 was the murder linked to a universal conspiracy and this claim had played only a limited role in the formation of the accusations: Langmuir Toward a Definition of Anti-Semitism 225–226 265. Interestingly host desecration allegations which were common in the later Middle Ages tended to produce waves of mass violence quite similar to accusations of well poisoning. See Miri Rubin Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven ct: Yale University Press 1999) 48–56; Mentgen Studien zur Geschichte der Juden 350–360 428–434; gj map at the end of vol. ii/1.

  • 63

    HaverkampHebräische Berichte153–163; Neubauer and Stern Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen x xiv–xv.

  • 68

    ShatzmillerRecherches sur la communauté juive133–135.

  • 69

    NirenbergCommunities of Violence52–56 93–97; Bériac “La Persécution des lépreux” 204–221; Barber “Lepers Jews and Moslems” 3–4 6–9; Ginzburg Ecstasies 33–34 39–44.

  • 70

    YuvalTwo Nations in Your Womb194–195; Chazan God Humanity and History 33; Trachtenberg The Devil and the Jews 97–98 103–104 107; Bächtold-Stäubli Handwörterbuch 4:825; Caro Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden 2:188–189.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 284 282 43
Full Text Views 244 244 8
PDF Downloads 21 21 8
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0