Call for Papers: The End of the Roman Climate Optimum and the Disintegration of the Roman Empire

CfP

International Conference | 29 Aug – 1 Sep 2022

Deadline: 30 November 2021

Palaeoclimatologists believe to have identified a period of unusually warm and humid weather in Europe and the Mediterranean that expanded from roughly 200 BCE to 150 CE, which they called the ‘Roman Climate Optimum’ or the ‘Roman warm period’. Some historians have linked this overall perseverance of unusually stable and favorable climatic conditions to the expansion of the Roman Empire to its greatest height, and argue that these predominantly warm and humid conditions in large parts of the Empire enabled the delivery of sufficient supply to the growing urban population around the Mediterranean and to the Roman army. From the middle of the second century CE, climate change occurred at different rates, from apparent near stasis during the early Empire to rapid fluctuations during the late Empire. A general cooling trend coincided and, as some scholars argue, contributed to the crisis of the Empire, the Germanic migration, civil wars, and the subsequent ‘decline’ or ‘transformation’ of the Roman world. Furthermore, differences in climate conditions in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean have been hypothezised to mirror the diverging fates of the Roman West and the Byzantine Empire. More recently, other scholars based on regional datasets of climate proxies have reasoned that establishing such a connection between the climatic conditions and its consequences for the history of the Roman Empire does not do justice to the multitude of microclimates in Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa on the one hand and the complexity of the material available on the other one.

This international conference will be the first that is specifically devoted to the notion of a Roman Climate Optimum and its impact on the fate of the Roman Empire. The conference will examine the implications of a Roman Climate Optimum for writing Roman environmental, political, social and economic history, and will bring climate scientists, ancient historians and environmental archaeologists around one table. We aim at papers that focus on regional studies and pursue a synthesis of the evidence from written, archaeological, and natural climate archives. Special emphasis will be placed on the challenges of a collaboration between ancient historians, archaeologists and palaeoclimatologists, the methodological difficulties in distinguishing between correlation and causality, and methods of assessing the impact of climatic variability or change on ancient societies without oversimplifying causal connections.

The event is part of the research project ‘The Roman Egypt Laboratory: Climate Change, Societal Transformations, and the Transition to Late Antiquity’ (PI: Sabine R. Huebner) and is sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Swiss Association of Classical Studies (SVAW/ASEA), and the Swiss Academic Society for Environmental Research and Ecology (SAGUF). 

Confirmed speakers include:

  • John Haldon (Princeton University)
  • Joseph McConnell (University of Nevada)
  • Annalisa Marzano (University of Reading)
  • Timothy Newfield (Georgetown University)
  • Lee Mordechai (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Kevin Bloomfield (Cornell University)
  • Paolo Maranzana (Boğaziçi University)
  • Petra Vaiglova (Washington University)
  • Christophe Corona (University of Clermont Auvergne)
  • Brandon McDonald (University of Basel)
  • Matthias Stern (LMU Munich)
  • François Blondel (University of Geneva)
  • Charlotte L. Pearson (University of Arizona)
  • Markus Stoffel (University of Geneva)

We welcome abstracts of about 300 words. Papers should be 20 minutes in length, allowing for 10 minutes of discussion time after each paper, and should be in English. We encourage junior researchers and recent PhD holders to apply as well. The results of this conference will be published in form of an open-access peer-reviewed volume in the new series “Studies in Premodern History and Environment”, ed. CCHRI, Oxford University Press.

Please submit your abstract by e-mail to Prof. Dr. Sabine R. Huebner (sabine.huebner@clutterunibas.ch), including the full title of your paper and a short biographical note on your affiliation and previous research. The deadline for proposals is 30 November 2021.