History’s chilling climate warning as drought drives starving Huns to invade Rome

Climate-induced drought may have triggered the invasion of the Huns in ancient Rome, according to a new study, which could have chilling consequences for humanity today.

Archaeologists suggest dry summers in the 5e century may have encouraged animal herders to become raiders, with devastating consequences for the Roman Empire.

The study, published today in the Journal of Roman Archeologyargues that similar periods of extreme drought from the 430s to 450s CE disrupted ways of life in the Danube frontier provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire, forcing the Hun peoples to adopt new strategies to “protect themselves against the serious economic challenges.

The research comes at a time when more people than ever are being forced to flee their homes because of the climate crisis.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather events – such as floods, storms, forest fires and high temperatures. extremes – since 2008. These figures are expected to increase in the coming decades with forecasts by the international think tank IEP predicting that 1.2 billion people could be displaced worldwide by 2050 due to climate change and natural disasters .

Water conflicts have escalated into violence in Sudan. File image (GETTY IMAGES)

The threat of war from dwindling climate-related resources, such as water, is also increasing.

The violence in Sudan’s Darfur has been described as the first world war on climate change in a UN report, where a combination of political instability and lack of water has led to dwindling resources and conflict between two communities that have lived side by side for centuries.

The authors of the Hun study, Associate Professor Susanne Hakenbeck from Cambridge’s Department of Archeology and Professor Ulf Büntgen from the university’s Department of Geography, reached their conclusions after evaluating a new tree-ring-based hydroclimatic reconstruction. , as well as archaeological and historical evidence.

Professor Hakenbeck cautions against drawing direct parallels between the Hun invasion and the current conflicts and migrations triggered by the climate crisis. However, she said: ‘I think what our research has shown is that climate stress, particularly drought, causes people to change their lifestyle.

“They can migrate to an area where they have resources or they can also turn to violence.”

The study argues that some Hun peoples radically changed their social and political organization to become violent raiders.

Hakenbeck added: “Climate alters what environments can provide and this can cause people to make decisions that affect their economy and their social and political organization. Such decisions are not directly rational, and their consequences are not necessarily crowned with long-term success.

“This historic example shows that people respond to climate stress in complex and unpredictable ways, and that short-term solutions can have negative long-term consequences.”

Andrew Heath is the international media manager for UK charity Practical Action, which works on the frontline on climate change in Darfur. He says that the historical situation is reflected today in Sudan.

The sedentary farming population and the migrating pastoral community often compete for access to water, but they have also seen drought and tree felling cause desertification and reduced pasture for livestock.

Conflicts are exacerbated by access to weapons and have led to outbreaks of conflict, which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in recent decades.

He said: “When people first get together they can often be extremely angry. Practical Action’s work is implemented by people in Darfur. They give both sides time and space to talk and eventually the tensions go down and people realize that coexistence is good for them.

“Our work tries to manage water more efficiently, so that huge dams can capture rainfall, increase fertility and replant trees. We also work with both parties to mediate between them and make sure they agree on the routes the livestock can take and the areas in which farming is allowed. Everyone agrees that the environment and climate change are a huge problem.

The incursions of the Huns into Eastern and Central Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries CE have long been considered the initial crisis that triggered the so-called “great migrations” of the “barbarian tribes”, leading to the fall of the empire. Roman.

New climate data reconstructed from tree rings by Prof. Büntgen and his colleagues provides information on annual changes in climate over the past 2000 years. It shows that Hungary experienced episodes of exceptionally dry summers in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Hakenbeck and Büntgen point out that climatic fluctuations, particularly periods of drought from 420 to 450 CE, would have reduced crop yields and pastures for animals beyond the Danube and Tisza floodplains.

Büntgen said: “Tree-ring data gives us an incredible opportunity to relate climatic conditions to human activity on an annual basis. We found that dry spells recorded in tree-ring biochemical signals coincided with an increase in looting activity in the region.

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