In all of our collective history, the spread of disease is one of the most influential events that shaped the world into the form that we know now. At the height of trade during 1000 to 1500 BC, people from Asia vigorously traded with European nations. However, more important than the trade of goods and materials, the trade routes along the Silk Road resulted in the exchange of ideas and culture among its participants. This exposure to different cultures accelerated the cultural development of the participants, with each one affecting and enriching the other.
The trade routes that were established during the Roman Empire made it easy for merchants to travel and peddle their goods. However, as more and more people participated in the trade the trade route also facilitated the spread of diseases. These diseases were the controlling factor that prevented full cultural homogeneity which would have happened had the trade went on unabated. Among the deadliest of these diseases was the bubonic plague that swept Eurasia, killing almost half of the entire population. This pandemic known as the Black Plague killed more people than all of the previous wars combined.
The Black Plague sliced thorough Europe and Asia, leaving a trail of some 75 million people dead. The bubonic plague came from Asia and spread to Europe along the trade route. It was this very trade route; the sellers and buyers who were responsible for the spread and development of culture, were also the vectors that spread diseases that halted cultural development. Countries became wary of strangers because of the fear that they may bring infectious diseases. Trade became limited to neighboring areas, resulting in the isolated development of local culture sans the influence of foreign countries.
Diseases have been the limiting factor in the world’s cultural development, particularly during the height of trade along the Silk Road, from 1000 – 1500 BC. Prior to the plague, there was nothing that restricted the assimilation of cultures between the buyers and sellers as they interacted with one another. Merchants from the East who travelled to Europe brought with them an exotic culture that was imbibed by the Europeans, and the merchants, upon their return to their native countries, brought with them new ways of doing things which they adapt. When the plagues hit, this interaction slowed down for several reasons.
Those who survived the plague became wary of strangers for fear of catching another life-threatening illness. Moreover, the catastrophic loss of life made trade less viable. There were fewer people willing to buy, as most were preoccupied with rebuilding their lives. When trades slowed down, merchants used to peddling their goods looked for other means to sell their wares. Rather than travel, they set up shops where people went to buy what they need. When this happened, the interaction among cultures slowed down, which in turn slowed down culture change as well.