How come the plague spread to certain regions?

I have a historical atlas (Atlas of World History, ed by Jeremy Black, published by Dorling-Kindersley, 2000). It has a map (p. 72-73) showing the spread of bubonic plague during the 14th century. It shows the plague outbreaks starting in Pagan (Burma) and Yunnan (China), spreading to the rest of China, then along the silk roads to the Middle East, then to North Africa and Europe.

Persia, India, Ethiopia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and SE Asia all seem to be free of the plague, though. How come? I thought Persia, India, and SE Asia all traded with Europe/China. And weren’t there trading contacts between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa? Is the map just simplifying things too much? Was there something specific to the infected regions that made them more susceptible to plague? Thanks.

Once the plague became known, trading contacts with infected areas were cut off. I seem to remember that the European infection was traced to a single carrier bag of clothes.

Some of these areas remained free of plague because the contacts with other areas were few and involved lengthy journeys. If the travellers were infected, or their goods carried infected rats, then they would die before they got to their destination. The plague entered Europe when a ship carrying infected merchants from Caffa tried to dock in Genoa. They were refused permission to dock, but they were close enough to land for the rats to get ashore. Since the plague vector was totally unknown, there were no attempts to stop the rats.

There were also areas of Europe that remained free of plague. Some just got lucky. You also have to consider that once the population died off to the point that the fleas couldn’t easily transfer hosts, the plague died off. If you look at population densities, you will see some correlations. Not a lot of them, but some.

If you’re particularly interested in the subject, a book I highly recommend is Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond.

Thanks. I’ll check it out.

It should be noted that some places probably did have plague–we just have no written records from these areas.

Either they were destroyed, or censored, or were never made, or the citizens had no written language.

This may be true about portions of Sub-Saharan Africa, but Ethiopia, Persia, India, and SE Asia all had written languages, and I think there’s plenty of historical documentation from these areas, isn’t there? Why would records here be destroyed as opposed to places in Europe or the Middle East? (China, I understand has always had extensively detailed historical records, so I’m leaving them out).

Ethiopia had religious fighting since the time of the plague. Since most historical records were in the keeping of religious groups, I could readily see some or all records of that era vanishing.

And China has had several periods of widespread book burning for political reasons, although the admirable Chinese record of widespread literacy greatly offsets this.