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. 2002 Sep;8(9):971-5.
doi: 10.3201/eid0809.010536.

Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa

Free PMC article

Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa

Mark Wheelis. Emerg Infect Dis. .
Free PMC article


On the basis of a 14th-century account by the Genoese Gabriele de' Mussi, the Black Death is widely believed to have reached Europe from the Crimea as the result of a biological warfare attack. This is not only of great historical interest but also relevant to current efforts to evaluate the threat of military or terrorist use of biological weapons. Based on published translations of the de' Mussi manuscript, other 14th-century accounts of the Black Death, and secondary scholarly literature, I conclude that the claim that biological warfare was used at Caffa is plausible and provides the best explanation of the entry of plague into the city. This theory is consistent with the technology of the times and with contemporary notions of disease causation; however, the entry of plague into Europe from the Crimea likely occurred independent of this event.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Tentative chronology of the initial spread of plague in the mid-14th century (–14).
Figure 2
Figure 2
The first page of the narrative of Gabriele de’ Mussi. At the top of the page are the last few lines of the preceding narrative; de’ Mussi’s begins in the middle of the page. The first three lines, and the large “A” are in red ink, as are two other letters and miscellaneous pen-strokes; otherwise it is in black ink. Manuscript R 262, fos 74r; reproduced with the permission of the Library of the University of Wroclaw, Poland.

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