24 Jun: The Town That Danced To Death

‘Dancing Mania’ – in which people spontaneously danced to exhaustion, some until they broke their ribs and subsequently died, took hold of Aachen, Germany on 24th June, 1374.

We still don’t really know why. Had the victims ingested ergot, a mould from rye bread that can inspire hallucinations? Was it a hysterical mass response to a stressful and traumatic environment? Or a kind of pre-smartphone flashmob? 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly consider the likely causes and cures for this curious episode, learn about the equally extraordinary phenomenon of Tarantism, and play ‘guess the Saintly disease’… 

Further Reading:

• ‘A Strange Case of Dancing Mania Struck Germany Six Centuries Ago’, Smithsonian Magazine (2016)


• ‘A forgotten plague: making sense of dancing mania’, The Lancet (2009):


• ‘Tarantism: A Rhythm For Your Soul’ 

(Giuliano Capani, 2008) on YouTube:

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The Retrospectors are Olly Mann, Rebecca Messina & Arion McNicoll, with Matt Hill.

Theme Music: Pass The Peas. Announcer: Bob Ravelli. Graphic Design: Terry Saunders. Edit Producer: Emma Corsham.

Copyright: Rethink Audio / Olly Mann 2021.