Medical History

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at EARTHLINK.NET
Wed Oct 29 15:00:55 UTC 2008

Dear Mary,

There has been some discussion in recent years about the assumption that
plagues invariably traveled from the East (China, India) westward across the
Silk Road, eventually infecting Europe, the counterargument (with mounting
evidence) that instead at least some of the major plagues (Black Death,
etc.) started in the Mediterranean or Caspian regions and then spread
eastward as well as through Europe. The Black Plague, for instance, may have
been brought back to China by the Mongolians at that time invading Eastern
Europe and North Africa, bringing an end to the Mongol invasions, and the
end of the Yuan dynasty in China.

One theory on the Justinian plague is that volcanic activity in the
Mediterranean region was a precipitating cause. See

The Mystery Cloud of 536 CE in the Mediterranean Sources
Author(s): Antti Arjava
Source: Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 59 (2005), pp. 73-94
Published by: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University
Stable URL:

If so, then outbreaks in India or China, if they occurred, would be
peripheral collateral damage. There were a variety of smallpox, etc.,
outbreaks in China, some corresponding to dynasty changes, though, as far as
I know, the end of the sixth century through the tenth c. was not a time of
plagues (the Tang dynasty, I believe, was relatively stable, partially due
to the absence of such plagues).

Dan Lusthaus

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