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How did the Mongols influence the transcontinental connection?

Transcontinental Spread of Diseases - The Black Death

Mongolia, located on the north of China, is one of the largest inland countries in the world. Although it is not as influential as many other countries, such as China and America, contemporarily, Mongolia was the origin of several powerful regimes in world history, one of which would be the Mongol Empire founded by Chinggis Khan in the 13th century. In 1206, after Chinggis Khan brought scattered Mongolian tribes into a unity, he built the Mongol Empire and started to expand his empire’s influential circle. Until 1241, Mongolians had controlled most Eurasian territories, such as China and Poland, which made the Mongol Empire one of the most influential regimes in world history. Despite destructions which Mongolians brought to countries they conquered, their total control led to prosperity of those Eurasian territories. Not only did trades increase between Europe and Asia, delivering silk to Europe and spices to Asia, but people, particularly skilled craftsmen and scholars, also traveled frequently inside the empire, which allowed religious ideologies and technologies to spread in Eurasia more easily. The prosperity resulted in a peak of the population in Europe – “78.7 million people in 1300” as recorded in Population Growth in Europe – but what Europeans did not know was that a real catastrophe was waiting for them – the Black Death, another “gift” from Mongolians.[1]

Facts About Plague in Medieval Europe

Plague was recognized as one of the most fatal diseases in human history because of high casualties it caused in the medieval age, and the disease, carried by fleas on rats, could be easily spread through contacts between human beings and animals. The Black Death happened at the beginning of the second plague pandemic which broke out around the middle of 14th century. It reached its peak around 1350 in Europe, which eventually took away “30 percent to 60 percent of Europe’s population.”[2][3] When Europeans finally restored their conscience from the Black Death, questions came to some of their minds: where did the disease originate and how did it arrive in Europe? Unfortunately, due to the lack of advanced technologies that would be available for deeper analysis of the disease, Europeans didn’t get answers for those questions. Even today, scholars are still debating over the origin of plague in the medieval age – some may concede that “it was Crimea while others believe that it must be somewhere in East Asia.”[4] Nevertheless, what we could learn from all sorts of historical writings is that Mongolians somehow “helped” the disease spread to Europe through their military actions and increases of societal communications in Eurasian territories controlled by the Mongol Empire, leading to the catastrophic result eventually.

  1. Urlanis, B, pp. 91, 414, 1941.

  2. Howard, J.

  3. A. Morabia, p3.


Spread of Plague To Europe Through Warfare

Theory 1: An Accident

Mongolians “brought” plague to Europe through warfare against European military forces that aimed to expand the Mongol Empire’s influential circle and geographical extent. After 1206 when Chinggis Khan unified the whole Mongolia, he made up his mind to strengthen his empire by taking more territories under their control. Therefore, since then, he and his successors led Mongolian armies to fight abroad against other countries’ military forces to conquer as many regions as they could. In 1252, Khubilai, who was not yet the Great Khan at that time, was ordered by Mongke to attack Yunnan and Dali Kingdom with his armies to conquer the Southern China for the empire, and it is believed by modern scholars that some Mongolians and their animals, like horses and cattle, were accidentally infected with yersinia pestis, one of the main bacteria that led to plague, there.[5][6][7] Nevertheless, for unknown reasons, plague did not break out among Mongolians and other Asians massively;[8] thus, Mongolians did not attach much importance to the pandemic. In this sense, when Mongolians, especially those infected with plague, advanced to farther west from Asia, plague was also brought to human beings and animals in the western world.



5. Huacheng, Li, p3.

6. Sussman, George D., p3.

7. Morgan, David. The Mongols.

8. As scholars pointed out, reasons that plague massively broke out among Europeans but not Mongolians could be due to differences between Asians’ and Europeans’ immune systems as a result of different eating habits and lifestyles.

9. (The Picture Above) Waddle, Dylan & Dennis, Chuck. [Mongolians started a war against Europeans]




10. Kalu, M. Article “Birth of the Black Plague:

11. (The Picture Top Above) Kalu, M. C. (2018, July 28). [Mongolians’ catapults were firing “plague” into the city]

12. (The Picture Bottom Above) [Mongol siege Jami al-Tawarikh in Caffa]



Theory 2: On Purpose

Some scholars conceived another theory that Mongolians “brought” plague to Europe through warfare in another way on purpose. That is, Mongolian armies made use of plague as a biological weapon during their conquests of European regions. It was in 1340s when Mongolians were attempting to conquer the city of Caffa, a town in Crimea contemporarily. After their failure to take over the city with their siege machineries in 1343, the Tartars returned with determination to take down the eastern gate of Europe in 1345. However, before Mongolians “roared” at armies stationed in Caffa with their advanced machineries, something terrible first struck them – plague. The pandemic began with few cases and soon developed into a massive break-out among Mongolians. Having no experiences to deal with the pandemic, Mongolians could only watch their peers “suffering from putrid fever and going beyond help, neither from doctors nor their god”.[10] Eventually, desperate Mongolians fired corpses with their catapults into the city, attempting to conquer the city in this way. [11] Those bodies terrified citizens living in Caffa, driving some of them to escape from the city by sea to other European regions. Although this battle ended in 1347 with a truce, it was the start of the war between Europeans and plague, for the pandemic was spread to other European countries by citizens of Caffa who had infected with the disease when they flew away from the city. All in all, we could conclude that one main way Mongolians spread plague to Europe was through warfare.



Spread of Plague to Europe Through Facilitated Transcontinental Connections

Increasing Trades

Mongolians “helped” to spread plague to Europe through increased transcontinental communications, such as trades and movements of skilled people, inside the Mongol Empire. After the foundation of the empire in 1206, Mongolian Great Khans strove for expanding the empire’s geographical extent and influential circle. In the 13th and 14th centuries, strength of the Mongol Empire led to prosperity in Eurasian territories controlled by Mongolians, resulting in increasing transcontinental communications, such as trades, inside the empire. [13] Consequently, since the foundation of the Mongol Empire, more trading centers started to emerge, such as Taiyuanfu which was described by Marco Polo as a city with “great trade, great craft, and many vineyards producing wine in great abundance and in the entire province of Cathay”.[14] However, increasing trades not only allowed goods, like silk and spices, to be exchanged transcontinentally but also pathed the way to spread plague into Europe. For one thing, merchants and animals were intermediates of plague. Not only might merchants and their animals be infected with plague, “delivering” the pandemic from Asia to Europe, but rats carrying yersinia pestis may also hide in cargos, traveling to European countries where they could spread the disease. Besides, yersinia pestis, which could stay alive for a long time under clammy conditions, may attach to cargos in transcontinental trades, getting Europeans infected after these cargos’ arrivals in European countries.[15]


13. Illustration from History of the Moghuls, a 17th-century Indian text (detail), Gulestan Palace Library, Tehran

14. Polo, Marco. The Description of The World.

15. Just as recent news reported that coronavirus travelled with international cargos and was detected on external packages of those international cargos


16. “Pax Mongolica and A Transcontinental Traffic.”

17. Morgan, David. The Mongols.

18. Pelliot, Paul. Notes on Marco Polo.

19. (Picture Top Above) Wang, Daphne & Willis, Cheyenne & Tai, Andrew & Schiscal, Sam



Movements of Skilled Professionals

Movements of skilled personnel due to increased transcontinental connections also contributed to the spread of plague to Europe in the Mongol Empire. Since 1206, the foundation of the Mongol Empire and policies that had facilitated people, especially skilled personnel like linguistic experts, to travel transcontinentally, as depicted that “sustained transmission of this kind may spring from the displacement of groups of skilled personnel from one part of the continent to another in the immediate aftermath of conquest”.[16] These transcontinental travels inside the empire, together with Mongolians’ slavery of Eurasian labor forces, led to societal developments, cultural communications, wonders’ constructions in Mongolian-controlled territories.[17][18] Nevertheless, this aspect of increased transcontinental connections in the Mongol Empire also resulted in the spread of disease, for it became highly possible for those who traveled frequently between Europe and Asia to get infected by plague and spread it to others after they returned to their hometowns.




To sum up, the Black Death was a curse brought by Mongolians to European countries and a product of transcontinental connections inside the Mongol Empire. However, from perspectives in present-day society, the Black Death is also regarded as the turning point of European history and development of European society. Not only did religions play lesser essential roles in societies after the calamity, since many clergies died of the disease which was considered as God’s way to punish human beings, but new ideologies, like humanism, and technologies also emerged. [20] These religious, social, and economic upheavals and reforms that came after the Black Death constituted a remarkable contribution to formations of European societies, European history, and world history later.

20. Polo, Marco. The Book of Marco Polo.



Reference Lists

  1. Primary Sources:

Polo, Marco. The Description of The World.

Polo, Marco. The Book of Marco Polo: (copy with annotations by Christopher Columbus which is conserved at the Capitular and Columbus Library of Sevilla) (1140162405 858614146 C. Colón & 1140162406 858614146 J. Gil, Trans.). Madrid: Testimonio.

  1. Journal Articles:

Jackson, P. (2017). PAX MONGOLICA AND A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAFFIC. In The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (pp. 210-241). NEW HAVEN; LONDON: Yale University Press. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

Huacheng, Li. (2006, Nov 13). “Did the Plague Originate in China.” Journal of Chinese Historical Geography, vol. 22, no. 3, 2007, p31.

Morabia, A. (2009). Epidemic and Population Patterns in the Chinese Empire (243 B.C.E. to 1911 C.E.): Quantitative Analysis of a Unique but Neglected Epidemic Catalogue. Epidemiology and Infection, 137(10), 1361-1368. Retrieved December 22, 2020, from

Sussman, G. (2011). Was the Black Death in India and China? Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 85(3), 319-355. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

  1. Internet Publications:

File:Mongol siege Jami al-Tawarikh Edinburgh.jpg. (2020, July 11). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 15:57, December 22, 2020 from

Howard, J. (2020, July 06). Plague was one of history’s deadliest diseases-then we found a cure. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

Illustration from History of the Moghuls, a 17th-century Indian text (detail), Gulestan Palace Library, Tehran

Kalu, M. (2019, July 09). Birth of the Black Plague: The Mongol Siege on Caffa. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

Kalu, M. C. (2018, July 28). [Mongolians’ catapults were firing “plague” into the city]. Retrieved December 22, 2020, from,the%20defensive%20walls%20of%20Caffa.

Wang, D., Willis, C., Tai, A., & Schiscal, S. (n.d.). Trade – The Mongol Dynasty [Digital image]. Retrieved from

  1. Professional Publications:

Morgan, D. (2008). The Mongols. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Urlanis, B. T. S. (1941). Rost naselenii︠a︡ v Evrope: Opyt ischislenii︠a︡. Moskva: OGIZ-Gospolitizdat.

Pelliot, P. (1963). Notes on Marco Polo. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.