Investigating the Black Death Contents

Activity 2: Growing Trade Routes

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Activity 2: Growing Trade Routes

From the middle of the 11th century, European explorers such as Marco Polo opened up the ‘world of the East’ to Europe. Trade was also beginning to boom between European towns and places such as Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), Moscow in Russia and Alexandria in North Africa. Goods were carried back and forth along a network of land and sea trade routes, often be sold in huge open-air markets.

Growing trade routes

Much early medieval trade between the West and the East took place along the Silk Road. By the mid-1200s, the Mongol Empire controlled most of the Silk Road. However, by the late 1400s and beyond European sailors from Portugal and Spain began to create new sea routes for trade. These sea routes were faster than land travel and made it possible to transport larger volumes of cargo.

Trade was the key link between medieval societies. It encouraged people to think differently, and to share knowledge. However, it was also the trigger cause of the spread of the Black Death in Europe and beyond. Many merchants unknowingly carried the disease, spreading it from China, through the Mongol Empire and eventually into Europe and Africa.


  1. List two trade routes that rely on travel. Use the scale on the map to estimate the distance of some of these journeys.

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