Okmok and ancient Rome

vics Okmok Fig2 Michael Sigl web smallMembers of PAGES' VICS working group have found evidence connecting an unexplained period of extreme cold in ancient Rome with a massive eruption of Alaska's Okmok volcano.

Around the time of Julius Caesar's death in 44 BCE, written sources describe a period of unusually cold climate, crop failures, famine, disease, and unrest in the Mediterranean Region – impacts that ultimately contributed to the downfall of the Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.

Historians have long suspected a volcano to be the cause, but have been unable to pinpoint where or when such an eruption had occurred, or how severe it was.

In a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a research team of international scientists, led by Joe McConnell from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, USA, used an analysis of tephra (volcanic ash) found in Arctic ice cores to link the period of cold in the Mediterranean with the eruption of Alaska's Okmok volcano in 43 BCE.

"To find evidence that a volcano on the other side of the Earth erupted and effectively contributed to the demise of the Romans and the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating," McConnell said. "It certainly shows how interconnected the world was even 2000 years ago."

The discovery was initially made last year in DRI's Ice Core Laboratory, when McConnell and Swiss researcher Michael Sigl from the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern, Switzerland, happened upon an unusually well-preserved layer of tephra in an ice-core sample and decided to investigate.

Access the paper and a compilation of additional information, including press releases, images and media mentions, here.

Find out more about the VICS working group here.