In the mid-14th century, the so-called second plague pandemic reached the Middle East as well as Europe. It arrived from Central Asia and the Northern shores of the Black Sea. How it got to Egypt, Syria and the Hejaz, the territories which, at the time, constituted the Mamluk sultanate, remains unclear, though. As has recently been demonstrated with regard to Europe, a massive climate crisis in the 1340s formed the background upon which the spread of the Black Death on the continent needs to be understood. The climate anomaly of the 1340s affected the Middle East, too, but has, so far, gone unnoticed in research on the region. The years 1343 and 1345 to 1347 witnessed an accumulation of locust infestations and extreme weather events, especially during the winter months, a crucial period for agriculture.
The lecture will combine epidemic, climate and economic history to shed some light on plague transmission routes that have, so far, largely remained in the dark: A fatal chain of climate crisis, harvest failures, famine and the sultan’s efforts to secure food supply in his territories culminated in the biggest calamity in the 14th-century Mideast: the plague wave that hit Egypt, Syria and the Hejaz in 1348 and 1349 and exacted an unparalleled death toll on the region’s population.
Undine Ott is a doctoral candidate at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the ERC project “Mobility, Empire and Intercultural Contacts in Mongolian Eurasia” and at the Alexander von Humboldt Kolleg for Islamic Intellectual History at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. Her Ph.D. topic is “Erinnerungsort Grab. Funktiones muslimischen Totengedenken in Zentralasien im 12./6. bis 14./8. Jahrhundert”. She was researcher at the Georg-August-University Göttingen and at the GWZO project “Early Medieval Centres on the Danube”. Since April 2020 she is a research assistant at the GWZO in the junior research group “Dantean Anomaly”