An Alaskan Volcano Helped Cause the Decline of the Roman Republic


How an Alaskan Volcano Is Linked to the Decline of the Roman Republic

by Theresa Machemer/

The two years after Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. were rife with bad luck. The sky turned dark, the weather grew cold, and Mediterranean civilizations experienced drought and famine.

Now, a multidisciplinary team of researchers has pinned down an explosive explanation for these strange occurrences: As detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a volcanic eruption some 6,000 miles away from Rome may have thrown off the region’s weather patterns—and perhaps even contributed to the rise of the Roman Empire.

The new study combines evidence from ice cores, tree rings and historical records to identify an eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano in 43 B.C. as the cause of unusual weather following the Ides of March, reports Paul Voosen for Science magazine. The enormous eruption triggered an average 13-degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature across southern Europe and northern Africa.

“This is the second coldest year in the last 2,500 years—I mean, that’s not a small thing,” lead author Joe McConnell, a snow hydrologist at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, tells Atlas Obscura’s Isaac Schultz. “And when you’re talking about an agrarian society that’s living close to the edge as it is, it had to have had a big impact.”

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  1. John and Gary, Once upon a time I lived on Adak, Alaska, an island in the Aleutian Island Chain. The volcano on the island next door, I think Kanaga, erupted during a very rare snow storm (the Pacific to the south of the island and the Bearing Sea to the north made for usually rainy conditions with gale force winds) and the next day the world was gray, not white. Of course all of those islands were created by volcanoes. It was interesting because Adak was west of that island. I have some awesome pictures of the development of the smoke from it….somewhere.

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