Climate and Political Climate

Environmental Disasters in the Medieval Levant


The twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the Levant saw a substantial rise in the number of droughts. This coincided with some of the most violent tectonic activity the region had witnessed. Nature, however, could conjure other powerful disasters: swarms of locusts, armies of mice, scorching winds and thick dust storms.
The data for this research is drawn from contemporary Arabic and Latin sources. The main aim is to try and determine the long and short-term repercussions of environmental disasters on the political, military and social affairs in the Levant during the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. Did environmental disasters spur or hinder conflict?
This research examines the most destructive disasters and gradual climate changes within a broader historical context.

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Sarah Kate Raphael, Ph. D. (2008), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Currently works as an archaeologists in Jerusalem. She has published articles on the medieval Levant and a book, Muslim Fortresses in the Levant Between Crusaders and Mongols (Routledge, 2010).
"The study contributes to a new and crucial recognition of links between climate and human history."
- Reference & Research Book News December 2013

"The study of Raphael gives a good synopsis and expands our knowledge particularly about the influence of droughts and earthquakes in the Levant"
- Thomas Wozniak (Institut für Mittelalterliche Geschichte, Philipps-Universität, Marburg), sehepunkte 14 (2014), Nr. 6
List of Figures, Tables and Maps ix
Acknowledgements xiii
Notes on Transliteration xv
Abbreviations xvii
Introduction 1
Historical Background 4
The Geographical Framework 5
Resources, Environmental Disasters and Conflict 6

1. A Short Survey of Climate in the Levant, Iraq and North Africa 13
The Defijinition of Drought 19
Assessing the Severity of Medieval Droughts 21
2. Agriculture in Greater Syria 29
The Agricultural Hinterlands of the Syrian Cities 30
Grain-growing Regions in the Eastern Mediterranean 33
Salination, Soil Erosion and Black Winds 40
Animal Husbandry and the Role of Nomadic Tribes 44
Drawing the Line: Defending Sedentary Interests 52
3. Preparing for and Coping with Droughts and Famines 55
Granaries and Storage Conditions: Fortresses in the Levant and their Role as Granaries 56
Preparing for and Coping with Droughts among Nomads 68
Rituals, Famine Foods and the Question of Cannibalism 69
4. Droughts and Famines: Social, Military and Political Consequences 73
Conflicts and Peace Treaties Driven by Droughts and Famines 74
1178-1181, the Longest of the Twelfth-Century Droughts 76
The Longest of the Thirteenth-Century Droughts 87
Mega Droughts across the Middle East 90
5. The Fourteenth Century: Gradual Changes in the Weather 95
Long and Short-term Relief Programs Initiated by al-Nāṣir Muḥammad 97
The End of the Medieval Warm Period in the Levant (?) 101
Rare and Unusual Weather Tales 106

Assessing the Force of Historical Earthquakes 115
A Brief Geological Survey of Faults and Plate Tectonics in the Levant 118
6. Twelfth and Early Thirteenth Century Earthquakes and their Impact on Crusader-Muslim Afffairs 127
I Feel the Earth Move under My Feet: Twelfth Century Earth quakes 127
The 1202 Earthquake—A Link in a Series of Peace Treaties 138
Domestic Architecture and Earthquakes 143
Raw Materials and Structural Behaviour 144
Trial and Error—Some Archaeological Evidence Depicting Changes in Fortress Construction 147
The Citadel of Damascus 150
Crac des Chevaliers (Hisn al-Akrad) 151
The Round Free Standing Tower at Safad 155
The Mamluk Octagonal Towers at al-Ṣubayba and Karak 158
The Active Fault below the Crusader Fortress of Vadum Jacob 161
7. The Curse of Insects and Rodents on an Agricultural Based Economy 167
Locusts 168
Recipes for Disasters 172
Waves of Mice and Rats 178

8. Climatic Fluctuations, Political Stability and Military Strength 187

Glossary 195
Bibliography 197
Index 209
This book is meant for BA, MA, PhD students and scholars in the following fields: history, climate, geology, geography and environmental studies. General academic libraries, and libraries of Institutes that serve students and scholars that study and research the medieval Middle East.