The birth of the Roman Empire was approached by a gigantic eruption of a volcano

The eruption of the volcano resulted in crop failure, general poverty, social unrest, and power struggles that swept away the Roman Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Roman Empire.

The murder of one of the most powerful men in ancient history, Julius Caesar, in 44 BC dates back to a time when chronicles describe an unusual winter, food shortages, disease and famine. These phenomena were the result of the eruption of a powerful volcano in Alaska.

Historians have long believed that the extreme weather in the years around Caesar’s death was associated with a volcanic eruption, but were unable to determine where and when the eruption occurred.

An interconnected world

New research by Joe McConnell’s team at the Desert Research Institute in Reno attributes the eruption of the Okmok volcano, which rises on one of the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Volcanic ash has found its way into the high atmosphere and reduced the amount of sunlight falling on the Mediterranean.

The result was a crop failure, general poverty, social unrest, and power struggles that ended the Roman Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Roman Empire.

“It is fascinating to discover that the eruption of a volcano on one side of the world could have led to the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire,” hydrology professor McConnell said in a press release. “It shows how interconnected our world was two thousand years ago.”

The Alaskan volcano Okmok has been a suspect before, but there was no evidence of its eruption at the time. Researchers used a thorough analysis of volcanic ash preserved in Arctic ice in Greenland and Russia to find two powerful volcanic eruptions in 45 and 43 BC.



The first eruption in 45 BC was strong but short. Two years later, another explosion ejected so much ash into the atmosphere that significantly reduced sunlight, and thus average temperatures for at least another two years, to a lesser extent probably longer.

An analysis of tree rings, which allows accurate data to be determined, showed that 43 and 42 BC were among the coldest in the last millennium. 400 percent.

It is estimated that the second Okmoku eruption may have reduced average temperatures by up to seven degrees Celsius. It is even possible that the eruption is one of the strongest in the last two and a half thousand years.

Ashes in the air, misery on the ground

Is human history at the forefront of natural phenomena?

While one eruption probably helped the empire, another could herald the demise. Research by the German Center for the Study of Oceans and Climate GEOMAR two years ago concluded that the eruptions of 536 and 540 AD, which reduced average temperatures by two degrees Celsius for a decade, made the final point in antiquity.

This had a fatal impact on the agriculture of that time. The result was famine and disruption in Europe.

The Okmok volcano erupts in 2008 in a NASA satellite image source:

Both studies suggest that human history is more at the forefront of natural phenomena than we admit. As usual, in the case of history, it is not possible to determine exactly which factor is more significant. It is not possible to simulate parallel historical scenarios, without a volcanic eruption, or, conversely, without the assassinations of Caesar, and compare the results. Nevertheless, it would be surprising if the described natural phenomena had zero effect on society.

However, the impact of volcanic eruptions, and therefore other natural events, cannot be overestimated. The unrest in the Roman Republic was evident before the magma in Okmok erupted. The collapse of the Roman Empire also occurred before the eruptions of the sixth century. Even in ancient times, people had their destiny in their own hands, at least to some extent.

Volcanic eruptions or other natural disasters could worsen the scale and severity of conflicts. Maybe the Roman Republic could have survived, or survived a little longer, had it not been for Okmok. Who knows.

The study was published in PNAS.