Audience versions of this page: FamilyOn July 22, 1376, legend holds that the “Pied Piper,” a ratcatcher, led more than a hundred children out of their homes in Hamelin, Germany, never to be seen again. This fairy tale, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” (in German called the “Ratcatcher of Hamelin”) has been re-told dozens of times, although scholars cannot agree if the piper and the missing children are symbols of a natural disaster, religious pilgrimage, or migration. In any case, Ratcatcher’s Day recognizes these medieval exterminators.“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” tells the tale of a ratcatcher who is hired by the town of Hamelin to exterminate rats that have overrun the town. The ratcatcher, dressed in multicolored (pied) clothes, does this by playing an alluring song on his pipe. After successfully ridding the town of rats, the people of Hamelin refused to pay the piper. As a consequence, the piper plays a song for the town’s children, luring them away from their homes. The children, and the piper, are never seen again. The earliest mention of the piper is on a Hamelin church window from 1384, reading “It is 200 years since our children left.” The British poet Robert Browning, writing in 1842, placed the date as 1376.Early historians thought the Pied Piper legend may have hinted at an epidemic, such as the plague (which would explain the involvement of rats in the story). Others thought the story might explain deaths due to a natural hazard, such as a flood or landslide. Still others thought the story alluded to “children’s crusades,” where hundreds of children were recruited to combat Muslim armies in the Holy Land.Today, most historians and mythologists think the Pied Piper of Hamelin symbolizes the Ostsiedlung, or expansion of German settlement to the north and east. Thousands of young people emigrated out of the central German territory of Saxony (where Hamelin is located) to eastern regions such as Transylvania (now part of Romania), Pomerania (now part of Poland), Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic), and Prussia (now part of Germany).
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry allude Verb
to refer to.
very tempting and attractive.
large settlement with a high population density.
result or outcome of an action or situation.
Crusades Plural Noun
series of wars in which medieval European kingdoms attempted to gain control of the Middle East or "Holy Land."
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
a group of 12.
to die or suffocate in a liquid.
to move from one's native land to another.
outbreak of an infectious disease able to spread rapidly.
process of enlarging.
to completely destroy.
fairy tale Noun
folk story often involving magic or supernatural creatures, such as elves or dragons.
overflow of a body of water onto land.
Encyclopedic Entry: flood hint Verb
to provide a clue or indirect suggestion.
to employ, or put to work for money or other goods.
Holy Land Noun
ancient kingdom on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, of historic significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
the fall of rocks, soil, and other materials from a mountain, hill, or slope.
Encyclopedic Entry: landslide legend Noun
traditional or mythical story.
object used to attract an animal or other organism.
having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.
to briefly name or allude to.
movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.
having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.
legend or traditional story.
person who is an expert in the development of cultural myths, fairy tales, and legends.
natural disaster Noun
an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.
natural hazard Noun
event in the physical environment that is destructive to human activity.
having patches of two or more colors.
spiritual journey or travel to a sacred place.
very infectious, often fatal, disease caused by bacteria.
abundant or full.
to work to supply a group with new members.
any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
Encyclopedic Entry: region revenge Noun
punishment for an insult or wrongdoing from the person or group who is insulted.
large stream of flowing fresh water.
Encyclopedic Entry: river rodent Noun
order of mammals often characterized by long teeth for gnawing and nibbling.
community or village.
to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.
land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.