Food Crops Diffused Through Trade Networks and Diversified Food Supplies
Food crops spread across networks of exchange. These crops made diets more nutritious, leading to population growth.
Across Afro-Eurasia, various crops made their way to new locations through trade networks. As new food sources became available, people’s diets diversified, and their daily calorie intake increased. As a result, it became easier for communities to prevent famines. If one crop failed, other crops and nutrition sources could feed populations until the following year’s harvest.
The following are significant crops that diffused through exchange networks before the 16th century.
Champa rice is fast-growing and drought-resistant rice. Champa rice first arrived in China after the Vietnamese Champa kingdom sent it to the Chinese emperor as a tribute gift. Champa rice allowed one farmer to produce two crops of Champa rice instead of the usual once-yearly harvest. After adopting Champa rice, the Chinese population doubled within just a few centuries.
Bananas in Africa
Bananas originated in Southeast Asia on the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesian seafarers brought them to the east coast of Africa across the Indian ocean. Bananas grew well in the tropical areas of Africa and provided additional nutrients beyond the traditional diet of yams. The introduction of Bananas to Africa resulted in a population increase. The cultivation of Bananas across Southern Africa’s tropical regions also led many African nomadic groups to settle down and start cultivating the land.
Citrus in the Mediterranean
Citrus fruits originated in South and Southeast Asia. They slowly made their way west region across exchange networks. By the 10th century, sour oranges and limes had spread from Asia to the Mediterranean. By the 15th century, farmers also cultivated sweet oranges in the region.
Diseases Transferred Through Exchange Networks
The black death spread across Afro-Eurasia along exchange networks. Its spread resulted in significant changes across Afro-Eurasia as the influence of old powers decreased.
Diseases also moved across trade routes.
The Black Death
The Black Death was the deadliest pandemic in human history. The disease killed millions as it spread across land and sea trade routes from China across Afro-Eurasia during the 14th century. Researchers estimate that 75-200 million people died between 1346 and 1353. The global population at the time was between 375 and 425 million. Europe, it is possible that depending on the location, 30-50 percent of the population died from the disease. The bacteria yersinia pestis caused the plague and lived in ticks that lived on rats. The ticks jump onto people and bite them, spreading the plague.
Effects of the Black Death
The plague had significant consequences across Afro-Eurasia.
The collapse of Mongol power
In the decades before the plague appeared, Mongol power was already weakening. The plague quickened their destruction. In Central Asia, the Chaghatai Khanate broke into several smaller pieces in 1347. The Mongol Yuan dynasty in China ended in 1368.
The weakening of Central Asian nomadic tribes:
The plague also weakened the various non-Mongol nomadic tribes of Central Asia. These groups had always been powerful forces able to protect themselves from the settled agricultural societies in places like China and the Middle East along their borders. After the plague, these societies were increasingly under the influence of their more powerful neighbors. Many of them eventually found themselves incorporated into the Chinese and Russian empires.
The weakening of feudalism
The plague weakened feudalism and the Catholic Church. With so many dead, the value of grain grown on the land of feudal lords dropped, leaving the nobility with less money. At the same time, due to a labor shortage, the value of labor increased. Many serfs broke free from the slave-like relationships that tied them to their lords’ manors. Peasants managed to demand higher pay for the agricultural work they performed on the estates of wealthy landowners. A weakened nobility increased the power of European kings and queens.
The weakening of feudalism
Many Europeans questioned why God would inflict the world with such a terrible disease on Christians if the Pope and Church were in God’s good graces. As more people challenged the Church, its prestige decreased. Like the weakening of the feudal nobility, this also increased the power of kings and queens.