It is generally conceded that the introduction of the Plague1 into Europe in 1348 had its very terroristic beginning in the Genoese trade and port city of Caffa, the result of a series of various sieges and bad blood between them and their Mongol hosts.
The background to this confrontation is pretty extensive, with sieges laid to Caffa several times over a hundred year period. The Genoese established themselves at Caffa (which today is the city of Feodosija, Ukraine) via and agreement with the Kahn of the Golden Horde (the remnants of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan), which was a seaside link that reached across Russia and into the Far East. The city was besieged in 1308 due to diplomatic/trade/ethnic etc. unpleasantnesses, and the Genoese wound up firing and evacuating the city, only to be invited back again in 1312 with the acceptance f a new Khan. A major city developed which by 1343 consisted of two concentric rings of fortress protecting a diverse population of 20,000. But it was in this year that the second siege began, lasting four years, with the Genoese (having access to the sea and supplies and new military input) finding themselves with a string of victories against the Mongols.
The Mongols at this time were also laid low with what turned out to be the Black Plague. Anxious to share this disaster with the Genoese, they catapulted their fallen, diseased soldiers over the siege walls and into the Caffa, with devastating effect. The scene was recorded by the contemporary Gabrielem de Mussis (the account found in Mark Wheelis’(U Cal Davis) CDC article “Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa”), which begins “In the name of God, Amen. Here begins an account of the disease or mortality which occurred in 1348, put together by Gabrielem de Mussis of Piacenza” and continues:
“The dying Tartars, stunned and stupefied by the immensity of the disaster brought about by the disease, and realizing that they had no hope of escape, lost interest in the siege. But they ordered corpses to be placed in catapults and lobbed into the city in the hope that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside. What seemed like mountains of dead were thrown into the city, and the Christians could not hide or flee or escape from them, although they dumped as many of the bodies as they could in the sea. And soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.
“Thus almost everyone who had been in the East, or in the regions to the south and north, fell victim to sudden death after contracting this pestilential disease, as if struck by a lethal arrow which raised a tumor on their bodies. The scale of the mortality and the form which it took persuaded those who lived, weeping and lamenting, through the bitter events of 1346 to 1348—the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Medes, Kurds, Armenians, Cilicians, Georgians, Mesopotamians, Nubians, Ethiopians, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs, Saracens and Greeks (for almost all the East has been affected)—that the last judgment had come.
“…As it happened, among those who escaped from Caffa by boat were a few sailors who had been infected with the poisonous disease. Some boats were bound for Genoa, others went to Venice and to other Christian areas. When the sailors reached these places and mixed with the people there, it was as if they had brought evil spirits with them: every city, every settlement, every place was poisoned by the contagious pestilence, and their inhabitants, both men and women, died suddenly. And when one person had contracted the illness, he poisoned his whole family even as he fell and died, so that those preparing to bury his body were seized by death in the same way. Thus death entered through the windows, and as cities and towns were depopulated their inhabitants mourned their dead neighbours.”
The end result of the mountains of dead flying plague-ridden corpses was the retreat of the Genoese, who also brought back the disease to (at the very least) southern Europe, with spectacularly bad results, killing millions and millions of people.
1) “The catastrophic pandemic has, generally been considered to have been plague, a zoonotic disease caused by the gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis, the principal reservoir for which is wild rodent.”--Wheelis
Fuller quote, below, in continued reading: