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Re: Medieval diseases, or never touch plague rats

Poster: David KUIJT <kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu>

On Tue, 8 Dec 1998, carl christianson wrote:

> My reading of McNeill is that South Asia or possibly the lake district of
> East Africa is the homeland of bubonic plague.  McNeill does say that the
> carrier of the bacillus-infected fleas was the black rat, a native of South
> Asia.  From my understanding of trade in the ancient world, there was
> contact and slave trade on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa, but I am not
> sure just how deeply into the interior this went.  The Arabs were, however,
> very active in the entire Indian Ocean region centuries before the rise of
> Islam, and may well have had contact with the Ganges river valley, which is
> supposed to be a hotbed of disease.

My understanding (from recent reading) is that the Medieval Arab oceanic
trade routes did _not_ extend down the Eastern coast of Africa.  The
current running down that coast was considered (by the Arabs) to be too
swift, making travel back dangerous or even impossible.  There were
advanced African cultures on Madagascar, but I believe they show no
evidence of contact with the Islamic world through the whole Medieval
period.  This is in contrast to the African cultures on the Western Coast
and Timbuktu (central sub-Saharan Africa).

That doesn't necessarily mean that the pre-Islamic Arabs did not have
contact with that part of Africa, but (to my mind) it seems _likely_ that
they also had limited or no contact there.

As for trade contacts between the pre-Islamic Arabs and India, I agree;
that contact is ancient.



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