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José Antonio López-Sáez, Sebastián Pérez-Díaz, Didier Galop, Francisca Alba-Sánchez and Daniel Abel-Schaad


Fossil pollen records from 70 sites with reliable chronologies and high-resolution data in the western Mediterranean, were synthesised to document Late Holocene vegetation and climate change. The key elements of vegetation dynamics and landscape construction during Late Antiquity are clear in the light of the fossil pollen records. These are: fire events (natural or anthropogenically induced); grazing activities in high-mountain areas; agriculture; arboriculture; and human settlement in the lowlands. In terms of anthropogenic pressure, the differences recorded between highlands and lowlands suggest an imbalance in land use. Such practices were related to three main types of activities: wood exploitation and management, cultivation, and pastoralism. In lowland areas there seems to be some synchronism in vegetation dynamics during the late antique period, since most of the territories of the western Mediterranean had been deforested by the Early Roman period. However, in mountainous regions, pollen records document a clear asynchrony.

Benjamin Graham and Raymond Van Dam


Provisioning the city of Rome required complex systems of management and procurement. Despite the importance of wood for baking the grain of the annona and heating the water for baths (among other applications), there is little evidence for the human or ecological connections that supplied Rome with this crucial fuel. By examining parallel institutions, this article provides a model for explaining how the city of Rome met the energy demands of its massive population. We suggest some ways urban labour was linked to Italian forests, creating a sustainable mode of supply that lasted for centuries.

Timothy P. Newfield


What influence did climate have on disease in Late Antiquity? Natural archives of pre-instrumental temperature indicate significant summer cooling throughout the period. The coolest stretch spanned the 6th and 7th c., and corresponds startlingly to the appearance of the Justinianic Plague in the Mediterranean region. Drawing on principles from landscape epidemiology, this paper marries textual evidence for disease with palaeoclimatic data, in order to understand how gradual and dramatic climatic change, the 535–50 downturn especially, may have altered the pathogenic burden carried in Late Antiquity. Particular attention is paid to the Justinianic Plague, but the potential impacts of a changing climate on malaria and non-yersinial, non-plague, epidemics are not overlooked.

Giovanni Stranieri


This paper focuses on the interactions between the environment and human society from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages in southern Apulia, at the heel of Italy, at the lower part of the Adriatic region. The results of recent archaeological investigations and palaeoenvironmental studies, has led us to establish a correlation between the indicators of extensive olive cultivation, the archaeological markers indicating the movement of goods either side of the Adriatic Sea, and Byzantine economic and political dominance over all or part of the region, as well as the lower Adriatic.

Katerina Kouli, Alessia Masi, Anna Maria Mercuri, Assunta Florenzano and Laura Sadori


Vegetation patterns during the 1st millennium AD in the central Mediterranean, exhibit a great variability, due to the richness of these habitats and the continuous shaping of the environment by human societies. Variations in land use, witnessed in the pollen record, reflect the role that local vegetation and environmental conditions played in the choices made by local societies. The interdisciplinary study of off-site cores remains the key evidence for palaeoenvironmental transformations mirroring the ‘semi-natural’ vegetation, and revealing temporal fluctuations and the amount of human impact on a regional scale.

Volume-editor Adam Izdebski and Michael Mulryan

Neil Roberts


The latter part of the Beyşehir Occupation Phase (BOP) corresponds in space and time to the Late Roman empire in the eastern Mediterranean. The emphasis on tree crops in pollen records, particularly olive trees, implies long-term investment, stable trade networks and regional economic integration. The onset of the BOP was time-transgressive, starting between the Bronze Age and Hellenistic times in different localities. During the mid 1st millennium AD, the BOP came to an end, often abruptly, with a marked decline in agricultural indicators and an increase in forests, implying partial landscape re-wilding. This termination is most commonly dated to the 7th c. AD, coinciding with Arab attacks on Byzantine territory, and this, rather than climate change, seems the most likely explanation for the regional collapse of the rural agrarian system. The end of the BOP marks the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Medieval era, a transition which appears to have been notably later in date and more dramatic than elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Paolo Squatriti


This essay discusses the introduction and circulation of plants in the western Roman empire between roughly AD 300 and 800. It focuses on one cultivated plant, rye, and on a few ecologically different regions in Gaul and Italy, in order to probe the causes of botanical successes and failures. It suggests that late antique people increasingly took care of rye for economic, social, and cultural reasons. It reaches this conclusion through an analysis of other explanations for the success of rye, such as late antique climate patterns and late antique human migration. It suggests that these explanations are unsatisfactory because they do not account for all the varied instances of increased rye cultivation between the 4th and 8th c. in Europe.

Adam Izdebski


Environmental history is a well-established discipline that until recently focused mainly on the modern era and was dominated by historians. Numerous scholars agree today that this needs to change: a focus on Late Antiquity can help this happen. To make it possible, we should concentrate our efforts on three parallel projects. First, make late antique studies more interdisciplinary, i.e. joining the efforts of historians, archaeologists and natural scientists. Second, look at Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages as a source of case studies that are relevant to the central themes of environmental history. Third, use environmental history as a new framework that has the potential to modify our vision of the 1st millennium AD, by getting us closer to the actual experience of the people who lived this past.

Alexandra Chavarría, Tamara Lewit and Adam Izdebski


This paper outlines some key transformations in rural society and settlement patterns in the 4th to 7th c. western Mediterranean, as revealed by archaeological evidence. An overview of discernible trends and current debates about their socio-political contexts is illustrated with examples of well-investigated sites. From this data, two contrasting patterns emerge: intensive, and partly state-stimulated, cultivation of land; systematic animal breeding and specialised production up to the end of the 4th c.; and much more varied patterns of exploiting the landscape, including changes in animal husbandry, changes in land use and crops, and increasing use of uncultivated areas, in the 5th–7th c. This overview is intended to provide a broader framework for the detailed examination of environmental evidence which follows in this volume.