Geographical Origins

  • John Aberth
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


Most chroniclers testify that the Black Death began somewhere in the East. Louis Sanctus (Document 4) seems convinced that the affliction originated in India. Yet the Muslim author Ibn al-Wardī (Document 2) claims that the Black Death spread to India and China from an unspecified point of origin. Moreover, al-Wardī claims that the plague had been present in a mysterious “land of darkness” for fifteen years, which would date it to 1331–32. Which region is al-Wardī referring to? One scholar believes that it is inner Asia or Mongolia (see map on page 12). For nearly a century the Mongols had been the most hated and feared enemy of the Mamluk dynasty that ruled al-Wardī’s native Syria.1 Giovanni Villani (Document 3) confirms that the plague was very virulent among the “Tartars” or Mongols, and another Muslim author, al-Maqrīzī of Cairo, Egypt, reports that in 1341 the plague began “in the land of the Great Khan,” or Mongolia. Although al-Maqrīzī was writing in the fifteenth century, he claims that his information came from “the land of the Uzbek [modern Uzbekistan in Central Asia].”2 Modern epidemiological studies suggest that the plague bacillus (see chapter 2) is endemic in the rodent populations of the central Asian steppes, where it may have become established by the fourteenth century after Mongol armies had brought it there from the Himalayan foothills.3


Geographical Origin Middle East Himalayan Foothill Papal Court Bacteriological Warfare 
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    Gaston Wiet, “La Grande Peste Noire en Syrie et en Égypte,” Études d’Orientalisme dédiées à la mémoire de Lévi-Provençal, 2 vols. (Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1962), 1:368.Google Scholar
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© Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005

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  • John Aberth

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