The Origin of The Black Death & Its Spread

The Black Death


The Bubonic Plague better known as the Black Death was a deadly pandemic. The origin of the plague links to Central Asia, according to Ole J. Benedictow, a new study traces the beginning of the Black Death to spring 1346, in the Steppe Region. It is there the plague reservoir streams from the Caspian Shores (on the northern western front) to southern Russia. Although rats are the carrier of the pathogen Bacillus Yersinia Pestic Yersin Plague, it is the fleas (vector) who bite the rats transmitting the disease from rats to rats and when all the rats die off, they feed off other hosts (animals and humans).

The drought experienced in Central Asia between 1333-34 CE saw migration of the plague when the fleas shifted to marmots. It is worth noting here that the nature of the plague allows it to spread faster in warmer weather as oppose to the cold of winter. Marmot dealers sold the infected hides through the Silk Road ignoring the reports of illness among the hunters. The Black Death arrived in Kaffa (Crimea) from the West, where the rats died off quickly there and the fleas moved to other animals. Mark Damen explains that by 1346 CE Moslems hear of the deadly disease in Saray and Astrakhan. By May 1347, Italian ships from Kaffa came with the plague to Constantinople. In September of the same year, a ship from Constantinople arrived in Alexandria with the Back Death and soon the disease was in North Africa and the Middle East. When the people of Genoa turned away ships, they went to Marseilles and Pisa taking the plague with them. In 1348 CE, the plague travelled to France, to Bordeaux and a ship with claret carried the plague to England. In 1349 CE, an English ship with a dead crew floats near Sweden, which led to the Swedes stealing the cargo, and the plague spread into the country. By 1350-52 CE, the disease lay waste to Poland, Denmark, Germany and Russia but not Eastern Europe. This is partly to do with the Mongol Khanate.  When the Mongols converted to Islam, they ceased trade with Christian traders thus saving Eastern Europe from the Plague.


It is important to note that the bacillus disease is virulence thus for the disease to survive it spreads very quickly and within far range.  According to Piers Plowman, the famines of 1316-17 and 1322 in Europe left people malnourished and susceptible to disease. Hence, the plague found weak human hosts to contaminate. It is interesting that women and children mortality rates were higher than men were. Although it was not the first bubonic plague to attack [Cadwalader’s Plague in 669 CE in Britain], more travel and trade enabled the disease to spread quickly. In addition, the flagellants and pseudo-flagellants, whilst they were travelling around beating themselves to get rid of the disease in town, were spreading the plague especially when their blood flew in the crowds of onlookers. One must remember that the people did not understand the nature of such diseases and often viewed it as  punishment from God or inflicted from minorities etc.




Work Cited

Benedictow, Ole J. “The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever.” History Today March 2005: Volume 55 Issue 3. Document.

Butler, Chris. “The Black Death and its Impact (c.1300-1450).” 2007. The Flow of History. Document. 12 November 2015.

Damen, Mark. “Man and Disease: The Black Death .” 2015. A GUIDE TO WRITING IN HISTORY AND CLASSICS (USU). Document. 12 November 2015.


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