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Black Death

Early Biological Warfare

The ammunition for mechanical artillery pieces consisted of rocks, stones, darts and arrows. In some cases, artillery pieces were used for the earliest examples of biological warfare. Corpses and filth could be flung into the territory of an adversary in hopes of causing an outbreak of disease such as the plague.

Bubonic plague was the original biological weapon of choice. In fact, one of the first uses of biological warfare killed more than one-third of the human and animal population of Europe. The human death toll was over 25 million people. It made multiple passes through Europe from 1347 to 1531, killing more people each time. The Black Death, as it was affectionately called, was the result of biological warfare gone awry.

The battle that nearly wiped out Europe actually occurred far away at the Black Sea port of Kaffa in the Crimea - now known as Feodosia, Ukraine. In 1346, the Genoese colony there was under siege by the Tartars, led by a khan of the Golden Horde named Yanni Beg. The Tartars brought the plague with them from Asia and were overcome by a severe outbreak of it during the siege. Hoping to inflict the same fate that had befallen his troops upon his adversaries, Yanni Beg ordered that the plague victim’s corpses be catapulted over the walls into the city. The Genoese residents of Kaffa frantically dumped the corpses into the sea, but to no avail – some were already infected. After the colonists began to contract the disease, the terrified Genoese fled the city in their ships, taking the plague back to Italy with them where it soon spread across all of Europe.

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