How the Black Death Spread Along the Silk Road

The Silk Road, a network of land and sea trade routes that linked China and the Far East to Europe from 130 BC. in 1453 AD, became a vital source for everything from fabrics and leather goods to spices and precious stones. It connected communities and allowed them to share innovations such as paper making and printing technology, as well as language, culture and religious beliefs.

But the medieval superhighway also has a darker and deadly legacy: it allowed one of the first great pandemics – the plague known as the black plague – to spread along its route and ultimately reach the edge of Europe, where it killed more than 50 million people. Between 1346 and 1352.

“The Silk Road allowed, perhaps for the first time, the sustained transmission of diseases endemic to Central Asia to move along the Europe Route”, explains Mark Welford, professor at the University of Northern Iowa and author of the 2018 book Geographies of plague pandemics.

READ MORE: The Black Death: Chronology of the Terrible Pandemic

The Silk Road becomes a network of infection

Marco Polo

The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting China and the Far East to the Middle East and Europe.

As Welford explains, one of the reasons the Silk Road has been so effective in helping the spread of pathogens is that, despite its name, it was not just one road. The land part of the Silk Road was actually a set of paths that separated and reconnected across the steppes of Central Asia, almost like the blood vessels of the human body or the veins of the leaves of plants.

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