Volcanic Eruption Caused Social and Political Unrest Leading to Rise of Roman Empire

Related Articles

Related Articles

The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 BC triggered a 17-year power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic leading to the rise of the Roman Empire.

To the south, Egypt, which Cleopatra was attempting to restore as a major power in the Eastern Mediterranean, was shook by Nile flood failures, famine, and disease. These events are among the best known and important political transitions in the history of western civilization. A new study reveals the role climate change played in these ancient events.

An international team of researchers, including Yale’s Joe Manning, used historical accounts and climate proxy records — natural preservers of an environment’s history (such as ice cores) — to uncover evidence that the eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano in 43 BC caused global climatic changes that sparked the period’s political and social unrest and ultimately changed the course of ancient history. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The interdisciplinary team analyzed volcanic fallout records in six Arctic ice cores, and found that the largest volcanic eruption in the northern Hemisphere of the past 2,500 years occurred in early 43 BC The researchers found that the geochemistry of tephra — rock fragments and particles ejected by a volcanic eruption — originated from the Okmok volcano in Alaska. Climate proxy records show that 43 and 42 BC were among the coldest years of the recent millennia in the Northern Hemisphere at the start of one of the coldest decades. Further research suggested that this high-latitude eruption led to pronounced changes in hydroclimate, including colder seasonal temperatures in specific Mediterranean regions during the two-year period following the eruption.

The team synchronized these scientific findings with written and archaeological sources from the period, which described unusual climate, crop failures, famine, disease, and unrest in the Mediterranean immediately following the eruption — suggesting, Manning said, that the otherwise sophisticated and powerful ancient states were significantly vulnerable to these climatic shocks from a volcanic eruption located on the opposite side of the earth.

The decade of the 40’s BC was a period of food insecurity and famine in Egypt during the reign of Cleopatra, both of which took place during a time when the Nile River failed to flood. While there is some rain in the region, there is not enough to sustain agriculture, and Egyptians relied heavily on annual Nile River flood to water their crops, said Manning, the William K. and Marilyn Milton Simpson Professor of Classics and a scholar of ancient Egyptian history. “We know that the Nile River did not flood in 43 BC and 42 BC — and now we know why. This volcanic eruption greatly affected the Nile watershed.”


Subscribe to more articles like this by following our Google Discovery feed - Click the follow button on your desktop or the star button on mobile. Subscribe

One of the texts that corroborated these findings is dated about 39 BC — year 13 of Cleopatra’s reign — but refers to large-scale famine and social distress of the previous decade. The inscription describes a local governor who saves the population from widespread famine by finding food when there hadn’t been a Nile River flood for several years. He is recognized as a savior by priesthoods, said Manning. “This inscription does not describe collapse or resilience,” he said. “It is a more complicated story of trying to survive and to figure out how to distribute grain during a very chaotic time.”

Today, Okmok Island, located in the mid-Aleutian Islands, has a population of about 40 people and 7,500 head of cattle. Manning finds irony in the fact that one of the most significant places in world history is in an extremely remote part of the world: “This large volcanic eruption that happened in the winter of 43 BC had cascading impacts on the climate system and on human societies in the Mediterranean during a vulnerable period of time.”

Yet, he added, “Neither Roman scientists nor ancient priests had any notion of Okmok Island.”

The new research “allows us to rethink ancient history, especially with regard to environment and climate, and to create a vision of a dynamic, three-dimensional society,” Manning said.

In addition to Manning, the team involved in the paper included researchers from the Desert Research Institute, University of Cambridge, University of Bern, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Oxford, Trinity College-Dublin, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of Göttingen, and University of Copenhagen.

Manning and Francis Ludlow’s (Trinity College-Dublin) work on the PNAS paper was funded by an NSF grant for the Yale-led project “Volcanism, Hydrology and Social Conflict: Lessons from Hellenistic and Roman-Era Egypt and Mesopotamia.”

YALE UNIVERSITY

Header Image Credit : Christina Neal

- Advertisement -

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Volcanic Eruption Caused Social and Political Unrest Leading to Rise of Roman Empire

The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 BC triggered a 17-year power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic leading to the rise of the Roman Empire.

Diets of Bronze-Age People in Southern Poland was Largely Vegetable Based

New study suggests that ancient Neolithic and Bronze Age people living in the southern parts of modern-day Poland survived mainly on a vegetable-based diet.

New Interactive Map Reveals the Lost Continent of Zealandia

A new mapping interface by the GNS Science’s Te Riu-a-Māui / Zealandia research programme (TRAMZ) reveals the geology of Aotearoa New Zealand and the lost continent of Zealandia.

Werwolf – The Classified Wehrmacht Bunker

Führerhauptquartier Werwolf was the codename for a bunker complex built during WW2 as a military headquarters for Adolf Hitler and his generals to monitor the eastern front.

Sunken Temple Resurfaces in Mahanadi River

Archaeologists from the Indian National Trust for Art (INTACH) have announced the appearance of a submerged temple in the Odisha region of India.

Study Suggests Pluto Started Out With Liquid Oceans

A new study suggests that Pluto and other large Kuiper belt objects started out with liquid oceans which have been slowly freezing over time.

Scientists provide new explanation for the far side of the Moon’s strange asymmetry

The Earth‐Moon system's history remains mysterious. Scientists believe the two formed when a Mars‐sized body collided with the proto‐Earth.

300-million-year-old fish resembles a sturgeon but took a different evolutionary path

Sturgeon, a long-lived, bottom-dwelling fish, are often described as "living fossils," owing to the fact that their form has remained relatively constant, despite hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

Study Suggests Cosmic Body Destroyed Ancient Village 12,800 Years Ago

A study submitted in Scientific Reports suggests that the debris stream from a short-period comet may have destroyed the archaeological site of Tell Abu Hureyra.

Archaeologists Find Large Neolithic Structure at Durrington Walls

Archaeologists from the University of Bradford have announced the discovery of a large prehistoric site at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge in England.

Popular stories