Lecture: Climate, Disease, and the End of Rome? New findings and old debates in the environmental history of Late Antiquity

Moore Auditorium, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham Hill, TW20 0EX, 6 March 2019, 18.15-20.15

Environmental change always played a significant role in the discussions on the causes for the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in modern scholarship. This has become even more true against the background of the debate on present-day climate change, as also reflected in the recent bestselling monograph of Kyle Harper (“The Fate of Rome. Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire”, Princeton 2017). The book, however, has found rather mixed reception within the community of environmental historians of Late Antiquity, which has emerged on the basis of a new cooperation between humanities and natural sciences during the last years.

The presentation will provide an overview of the state of the debate and the underlying methods and data across disciplines, covering a “Long Late Antiquity” from the crisis of the 3rd century CE to the 9th century CE within the Mediterranean and beyond. Besides climatic changes, epidemiological phenomena (such as the “Justinianic Plague”), “short-term catastrophic events” (such as earthquakes or floods) and the reactions of past societies to these challenges will be discussed.

Dr. Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Institute for Medieval Research/Division of Byzantine Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences (member of the “Climate Change and History Research Initiative” – CCHRI/Princeton)

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