THE FIRST USE OF BIOLOGICAL WARFARE AND THE SIEGE OF KAFFA

The siege of Kaffa

The siege of Kaffa

It is recorded that by 1331 The Black Death was ravaging its way through central Asia. It was for a long time a mystery as to how exactly this plague managed to make its way to the shores of Europe but by reading ancient texts historians and biologists think they have traced its advancement to the city of Kaffa in Crimea and the first ever recorded use of biological warfare.

As the plague killed half the population of China and made its way through India and Persia somehow trade managed to continue. It’s of no surprise then that plague infested rats climbed aboard trading vessels and found their way into Southern Russia around 1345.

This was land known as the ‘Golden Horde’ and it was Mongol ruled territory. The plague spread rapidly through this area and made its way to Crimea.

In the city of Kaffa a group of merchants from Genoa were allowed by the Mongols to control the seaport on the Crimean peninsula. The Mongols allowed this as it was highly advantageous to them but tensions often ran high between the Catholic Italians and the Muslim Mongols. As things often do, violence eventually broke out, in a small town called Tana, between the Genoans and the local people, subsequently a Muslim man was found dead.

Although not a picture of The siege of Kaffa, this is a Mongol style siege.

Although not a picture of The siege of Kaffa, this is a Mongol style siege.

Fearing execution by the Mongols the Genoans fled for their lives back to the main city of Kaffa. They were given sanctuary and the pursuing Mongols were refused entry. Incensed by this action the Mongols laid siege to the city but it wasn’t long before in turn The Black Death caught up with them. It is here we have a first-hand account of events by Gabriele de’ Mussi; “whereupon the Tartars (Mongols) worn out by this pestilential disease and falling on all sides as thunderstruck, and seeing that they were perishing slowly, ordered the corpses to be thrown upon their engines and thrown into the city of Kaffa. Accordingly were the bodies of the dead hurled over the walls, so that the Christians were unable to hide or protect themselves from this danger, although they carried away as many as possible and threw them into the sea”

A map showing the progression of the plague from 1346 to 1350

A map showing the progression of the plague from 1346 to 1350

Of course it cannot be proven as to whether it was the bodies that then infected those within the walls of the city or that the rats carrying the disease made their way inside. Either way it was the death knell for many of those holed up inside. In 1347 the Italians finally fled Kaffa and headed for their ships. On their way back to Italy they stopped at Constantinople and infected the city. Thousands upon thousands were killed as it spread its way through Asia Minor and eventually on to infect the Genoans homeland of Italy and the rest of Western Europe.

GJ