Did a volcanic eruption in Alaska end the Roman republic?

Caesar's death. Vincenzo Camuccini / Wikipedia
Julius Caesar was born on March 15, 44 BC. BC Murdered and a bloody civil war ensued. This brought the Roman Republic to a standstill and replaced it with a monarchy led by Caesar's nephew Octavian, who lived in 27 BC. Chr. Became Emperor Augustus. A group of scientists and historians suspect that a massive volcanic eruption in Alaska played a role in this transition and helped to end Cleopatra's Egypt.
The study, led by Joseph R. McConnell from the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, shows how careful scientific research into the ancient climate can add context to our more traditional science. At the same time, research raises challenging questions about how we can integrate such data into historical narratives without simplifying the story too much.
Caesar's murder came at a time of unrest for the old Mediterranean. This was exacerbated by strange atmospheric phenomena and unusually cold, wet weather that caused crop failures, food shortages, disease, and even the failure of the annual Nile flood upon which Egyptian agriculture relied. In 1988, the classic Phyllis Forsyth suggested that Mount Etna erupted in Sicily in 44 BC. Chr. Is responsible for these problems, since the aerosol particles released into the atmosphere reflect the sunlight back into space and cool the climate.
While McConnell's team agreed that the Etna eruption may have caused some of these disturbances, they have now argued that it was a later massive eruption of the Okmok volcano in Alaska that changed the climate and contributed to the weakening of the Roman and Egyptian states. They relied on three lines of evidence to support their claim.
The first came from ice samples from the depths of the Arctic ice sheet, which trapped air for hundreds of thousands of years during their formation and provided a datable record of atmospheric conditions. These ice cores showed that in the early 43 BC. There was an increase in solid particles, dust and ash due to a volcanic eruption. The researchers then showed that the geochemical properties of these particles matched samples from the Okmok volcano.
They then examined tree rings and speleothems (stalactites and stalagmites) from different parts of the northern hemisphere, including China, Europe and North America, as evidence of the old climate. These indicated that 43 BC BC to 34 BC The fourth coldest decade in the past 2,500 years was and 43 BC BC and 42 BC The second and eight coldest year.
Research data was then fed into a computer-aided climate modeling system called the Community Earth System Model (CESM), which created a climate simulation. This showed that the Okmok eruption occurred in 43-42 BC. BC, which lasted until the 1930s, could have led to a cooling from 0.7 ° C to 7.4 ° C in the southern Mediterranean and North Africa.
This could also have led to increased summer and autumn rainfall, which would have damaged the harvest. At the same time, drier conditions in the upper reaches of the Nile could have led to 43 BC. BC and 42 BC BC was not flooded.
In this way, McConnell's team makes a good argument for the possible effects of Okmok on temperature, precipitation and the resulting change in agricultural production in 43 BC. BC and after. However, the conclusions they draw about the impact on the overall historical picture are less certain.
The 10 km wide caldera on Alaska's Unmak Island was created during the outbreak of Okmok II in 43 BC. Chr. Kerry Key (Columbia University, New York, NY)
One of the main problems in scientific work where climate events are blamed for major historical changes is that they are unable to fully analyze the historical problems themselves. As a rule, these are reduced to simple events or problems, which can then be easily “explained” or “solved” by science. The realities are much messier as you zoom in.
Rome's transition from a republic to a monarchy - through a reign of the competing triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus - was a long and complex process. Many people and parties with different motivations and plans were involved. Historians are always faced with a challenge, and entire books have tried to describe and explain them.
However, this civil war was only the last in a series of escalating conflicts in the later years of the Republic, in which the behavior of former figures like Sulla, who had taken control of Rome decades earlier, became precedents for the possible.
The outcome of the war and the establishment of a monarchy were not inevitable. Instead of narrating the crisis, decline and fall, time can even be seen as a time of political experimentation, state building and attempts to solve the problems of the republic.
More complicated picture
The war was based on labor and the ability of the state apparatus to extract and redirect food and money from society. Despite ancient sources reporting difficulties with this extraction, we should remember that the machines that made it possible remained essentially functional. Without them, armies would not have been fed and the civil wars could not have taken place.
And while the failure of the Nile floods in 43 and 42 BC Chr. Certainly would have been bad, Egypt was ready for action again soon after. Antony and Cleopatra were able to raise and maintain armies, fought and were only 31 BC. BC defeated in the Actium Naval Battle. When people went hungry, the conflict itself and the profiting grain traders might be more to blame than the climate (as was the case in the Ethiopian famines of the 1980s).
The effects of Okmok's eruption in 43 BC BC could have been serious, as McConnell's team argues. But it is also very clear that personal, political and military decisions - and chance - were the direct determinants for the development of history in Rome and Egypt. In the years after 44 BC There were many points at which things could have developed very differently, regardless of the climate.
The military activity of this period alone seems to show that both Rome and Egypt were generally quite resilient to the natural hazards and continued to change as states in a constantly changing world.
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The conversation
Guy D. Middleton receives funds from the European Regional Development Fund - Project "Creativity and Adaptability as Conditions for the Success of Europe in a Coherent World" (No. CZ.02.1.01 / 0.0 / 0.0 / 16_019 / 0000734).

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