Climate impacts and societal resilience in the Mediterranean of the last millennium; the cases of medieval Byzantium and Ottoman Little Ice Age crisis

Seminar by Dr. Elena Xoplaki from University of Giessen

06 November 2018
KST 09:30 – 11:00

We address the possible causal relationships between climatic andsocio-economic change and assess the resilience of the medieval Byzantium and the Little Ice Age Ottoman Empire socio-economic systems in the context of climate change impacts. Our interdisciplinary analysis includes information on the climate and society (textual (documentary), archaeological, environmental, climate and climate model-based evidence) about the nature and extent of climate variability in the Mediterranean. We suggest that climate change was an important contributing factor to the socio-economic changes in medieval Byzantium and the 16th century Ottoman Empire. While the sophisticated and complex Byzantine society was influenced by climatic conditions and displayed a significant degree of resilience, external pressures and tensions within the Byzantine society contributed to an increasing vulnerability in respect of climate impacts. The “Ottoman Little Ice Age crisis” was triggered by multiple environmental and human stresses, positive feedbacks between famine, violence, population displacement and infectious disease which led to population losses between the 1580s and 1630s of more than half in parts of the empire. Our research further emphasises the challenges, opportunities and limitations of linking proxy records, palaeoreconstructions and model simulations to better understand how climate can affect human history.

This work presents the advantage of a collaborative approach and fruitful interdisciplinary exchange between natural scientists, archaeologists and historians who attempt i) to unify different research methodologies that address similar problems, in the case of societal and environmental phenomena that no longer exist, ii) to communicate their research results with common narrative structures and iii) to overcome practical issues that hinder communication.