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Title: Climate change and major plagues in the Roman period
Author: McDonald, Brandon
ISNI:       0000 0005 0291 6861
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis examines the climate of the ancient Mediterranean from the second century BC to the sixth century AD, as well as major outbreaks of disease, with the principal aim of investigating potential explanations for apparent connections between climate change and the major pandemics of the Roman world. In addition, I consider the influence of the three great Roman "plagues" on society, assessing whether their effects, or lack thereof, are as apparent as scholars suggest. Incorporating paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental research into the study of ancient history and classical archaeology has become an important addition to the sphere of classical studies; as has the history of disease through the use of archaeogenetics and phylogenetics. These are the fields of science that I utilise in this thesis to explore possible relationships between climate and environmental change and outbreaks of the Antonine Plague (AD 165-190), the Plague of Cyprian (AD 251/2-270), and the first wave of the Justinianic Plague (AD 541-544). It becomes apparent that significant climatic and environmental variability probably contributed to the diseases of the Antonine and Justinianic pandemics reaching the Empire, while climate change does not appear to be linked with the Plague of Cyprian. The debates concerning the impact of the three pestilences on Roman society continue to be vigorous. However, both exaggerated and understated interpretations of their effects dominate the histories of these pandemics, in spite of the evidence. This thesis approaches the question of impact with caution, by avoiding generalisations and focusing on case studies that depict local effects. I argue that impact should be assessed regionally, and that in many cases the consequences of the "plagues" are not at all clear. Ultimately, the thesis provides a method to synthesise evidence from a range of historical and scientific disciplines with the aim of explaining how ecological calamities affected the Roman world.
Supervisor: Wilson, Andrew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: ancient history ; climate history ; classical archaeology ; disease history