How The Silk Road Helped Spread The Plague

The creation of the Silk Road trade network led to the distribution of goods and knowledge (via History). But most importantly, it brought different cultures together. Although the road connected China and the far east with Europe, it made the world feel a little smaller as people learned that those from far away places weren't that different from themselves.

A consequence of this interconnectedness, however, is the unintentional spread of disease; more specifically, the plague (via UNESCO). Although an outbreak of the plague had happened before, the second outbreak — better known as the Black Death — was by far the largest. The Black Death reached Europe by 1346 and peaked between 1347 to 1351, and it's estimated to have killed between 75 to 200 million people.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of the bubonic plague (as it is now most commonly referred to as) include a high fever, large and swollen lymph nodes that develop and leak pus, and coughing up blood. Likewise, gangrene can also set in. Ultimately, it's the infection that kills its victim. And while antibiotics are now used to treat the bubonic plague, in the 1400s, little if anything was known about the infectious disease that decimated Europe's population.

The Silk Road transported everything ... including the Black Death

The Silk Road was effective in spreading the disease due to the fact that it was not actually one road — it was various paths that split and later reconnected. Along these paths were villages and outposts, and travelers often went back and forth between their homes and these spots. As a result, the Black Death easily spread, History reports.

The bacteria that causes the Black Death is Yersinia pestis (via Science). It's carried by fleas that usually live on rodents, and scientists theorize that a decrease in the rodent population due to climate changes may have caused the fleas to find new homes in camels and humans (via New Scientist). Regardless of how the bacteria reached humans, it killed rulers, weakened economies, and pummeled a population that was already struggling due to feudalism.

Without knowledge of how to treat the disease, Europe and most of the world increased public health measures (via UNESCO). Some of these — such as quarantining — are still used today. And although the Black Death was devastating, the Silk Road undoubtedly augmented the world. Ideas were circulated and various works were translated into a common language that was accessible to all. To put it simply, it was the beginning of globalization.