The Crimea and Genoa's colonies, including the city of Caffa. Caffa acted as a major trading center for Italy on the Silk Road. The story of the Black Death begins with the Mongol Empire. Through terror, destruction, and war, the Mongols built the largest empire the world had yet seen, and its crowning jewel was China. The Mongols established their own Yuan Dynasty, but were hated by the Chinese. The Mongols destroyed or corrupted China's meritocracy, and the ethnic Chinese suffered under their rule. The Yuan dynasty was short lived however, as the Red Turban Movement would lead the rebellion against the Yuan and eventually establish the Ming Dynasty. The Mongol Empire. The Crimean made up the Western most part of the Empire. While this map shows the Empire at its height, it would not last long at this size. It soon broke into four separate Khanates, with the Khanate of the Golden Horde in yellow. The Red Turban movement was galvanized by the fact that natural disasters and a devastating plague were sweeping through China: a sign in Confucian philosophy since the time of Mencius, that the Mandate of Heaven had changed, and a new Dynasty was destined to take the Imperial throne. It is this plague that some believe to be the origins of the Black Death which would famously sweep through Europe. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Mongol Empire was their openness to other religions and desire for trade to spread through their empire. This would encourage numerous interactions between East and West, and would aid in an economic boom for Western Europe, as well as the spread of disease. The spread of the Black Death. We believe Caffa was the plague's first entry point to Europe. The Plague's spread west is not well documented, but it first appears on the European horizon when the Mongols besieged the Genoese trading outpost of Caffa. The Italian notary, Gabriele de Mussis, is the first to make the connection, and claims that the Mongols threw plague infected cadavers into Caffa to force its surrender. Some of the men within the city, wanting to escape the siege, fled by boat back to Europe. Almost immediately the plague could be found in Constantinople, Cairo, and then the Italian mainland, following well establish trade routes across the Mediterranean. The Plague famously devastated Florence, as described by Boccacio in his introduction to the Decameron (a book written as a series of tales told by several companions as they waited for the end of the plague). It's spread north would disrupt the Hundred Years War between England and France before spreading into the Holy Roman Empire, Scandinavia, then Russia. It has been estimated that nearly one third of Europe's population died as a result of the Plague. A depiction of a Mongol siege. The Plague's introduction into the West was likely through the Mongol Khanante of the Golden Horde (a Turkic word for 'palace,' not a vast collection of coins...) which had the greatest interactions with Western Europe. Jani Beg Khan was the ruler of the Golden Horde who was credited with catapulting plague cadavers into the city of Caffa which would then cause the disease to spread to Europe. Like other Khans of the Golden Horde, Jani Beg minted a variety of coins with an Islamic influence, consisting of both silver Dirhams, and copper Puls. The Genoese in Caffa seem to have relied mostly on the Mongols' coinage for trade, but there are a few Puls that have been counter stamped with the gates of Caffa which acted as the city's monogram. Genoese Caffa 1360s? AE Pul, 17.29mm x 1.3 grams Obv.: Christogram countermark (from Genoese Caffa?) Rev.: (?) While this pul is not an example of a standard Genoese countermark showing the city's gates, I have found some online references to this countermark being from Caffa. However, those online sources do not mention their sources. So, I question the factual news of this until I can find a more credible source. These counter stamped Puls are rare, and it is much easier to obtain a silver Asper minted in the following century. Caffa's continued trade relations with the Mongols clearly shows on these later coins by including the Tamga, or stamp, of the local Mongol ruler. In terms of value, Peter Spufford in his Handbook of Medieval Exchange lists a Venetian Ducat valued at 34-40 aspers in the late fourteenth century. Venetian ducats were valued around 2s. 9d. to 3s. in English sterling, meaning an aspers was worth a little less than an English penny. Genoese Caffa Filippo Maria Visconti, r. 1421-1435 AR Asper, 16.21 mm x 0.9 grams Obv.: DV_M.D.:CAF The arms of Genoa in a beaded oval of four arches, three dots to side and below of portal Rev.: Small Jujid tamga with 1 dot. Circular Arabic legend, السلطان العادل محمد خان (The Just Ruler, Muhammad Khan) Ref.: Similar to Retowski, Genoese-Tartar Coinage, no. 15 Note: Overstrike This Asper was minted under the rulership of Filippo Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan. The republic of Genoa came under Milanese control as the Visconti family attempted to unify northern Italy in the late 14th century. Filippo Maria was known for his cruelty and ugliness (something which he was over.y sensitive about). He would die without an heir, leaving the duchy, Genoa, at its colonies (including Caffa) to his bastard daughter and her husband. *** Exactly what caused the plague is unknown. For many years it was thought to be Bubonic Plague, or perhaps the bacterium Yersinia Pestis, spread by infected fleas and rats. A recent theory has suggested in was spread through the air, hence why it spread so quickly (in the span of five years, it would reach all of Europe). To be perfectly frank, we do not know what caused the disease. The symptoms however, are better documented: an ashen colored skin, puss-filled buboes along the body, and eventual death. It is this which provided inspiration to the children's nursery rhyme "Ring Around the Rosie": Ring around the rosie (the buboes) Pocket full of posies (aromatic flowers meant to ward off the disease) Ashes, ashes (discoloration of the skin) We all fall down! (Death) Plague victims, showing the buboes along their bodies. The societal effects of the plague were much larger. Because of the large mortality, the manorial system in Europe would begin to break down. There were simply not enough serfs to work the land, and many lords would begin enticing peasants to work their land in exchange for a wage. This naturally disgruntled other lords who would petition their lord or King to return to their traditional methods. This would be enacted in England as the Statute of Laborers, which predictably lead to the peasant revolts of John Ball and Wat Tyler. Not only did Manorialism begin to break down, but the whole 'feudal' system was shaken, as peasants began to question their station in society, and call for equality. These ideas eventually grew into a part of the Enlightenment, leading to the American and French Revolutions. In many ways, it was the events of the Black Death which would begin to pave the way towards the modern world.