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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/593

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583
THE BUBONIC PLAGUE.

the bubonic plague, and yet there can be no doubt but that this disease occupied no second rank during the dreary darkness of the middle ages. This era in history may be said to have been ushered in by the Justinian plague, and it was closed by an even more disastrous outbreak of this same disease. All the ravages and slaughter consequent upon the great historic battles, when taken together, pale into insignificance on comparison with that dread visitation of the fourteenth century, the 'black death'.

It is noteworthy that this great historic epidemic did not originate in Egypt, as did many of its predecessors. Without exception the contemporaneous writers ascribe its origin to Cathay, or the China of today. This fact is of interest when it is borne in mind that at the present time we know of the existence of two endemic foci in China, besides that of Gurhwal in India, of Beni Cheir in Arabia and of Uganda and Kisiba in Africa. Whatever may have been its source, the fact is that it advanced from the Orient along the three principal routes of travel. One of these led from the Persian Gulf through Bassorah and Bagdad along the Euphrates, across Arabia to Egypt and Northern Africa. Another route passed from India through Afghanistan, and skirting the southern borders of the Caspian and Black Seas, eventually reached Asia Minor. A third route from Turkestan and China led around the northern shore of the Caspian Sea to Crimea, and thence to Constantinople. It was along these several routes that the plague advanced and spread over most of Western Asia and Northern Africa.

The European black death, however, can be traced with accuracy to the Crimean peninsula. Gaffa, a town in Crimea, now known as Theodosia, had been founded and fortified by the Genoese. It, as well as other cities along the Black Sea, was largely populated by Italians. One of these, Gabriel de Mussis, a lawyer in Gaffa, has left a faithful account of his experience and share in the introduction of the plague into Europe. In 1346 in the Orient numberless Tartars and Saracens were attacked with an unknown disease and sudden death. In the city of Tanais, through some excess, a racial struggle ensued between the Tartars and the Italian merchants. The latter eventually escaped and took refuge in Gaffa, which in time was besieged by the Tartars. During the siege, which lasted three years, the Tartar hordes were attacked by the plague, which daily carried off many thousands. The besiegers, despairing of reducing the city by direct attack, attempted to do so in another way. By means of their engines of war they projected the dead bodies into the beleaguered city, which, as a result, soon became infected. The Christian defenders took to their ships, and abandoning Gaffa, sailed westward, touching at Constantinople, Greece, Italy and France.

Wherever the infected vessels touched they left the plague. Con-