Silver pomander in the form of a book, 17th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This pomander, with a rat engraved on its side, contains six compartments and has a chain for suspension. It was probably carried as a protector against the plague. Pomanders were popular in Medieval times. They contained sweet-smelling herbs and spices and were believed to ward off infections carried by foul-smelling air. Regular outbreaks of bubonic plague, a disease transmitted from rats to people by fleas, occurred in Medieval times and continued until the 17th century. The most notable plague outbreak was the Black Death of the 14th century, which originated in China, and is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Europe.