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Julius Caesar and the Alaskan volcano

23 June 2020

William sent in this link and it reports on a new idea concerning the blip in cold weather around 44 to 43BC, at the time Caesar died. See www.yahoo.com/news/did-volcnic-eruption-alaska-end-190549444.html … a group of scientists are arguing that the Okmok volcano in Alaska led to unrest in the Mediterranean around the time of Caesar's death in AD44 with major political repercussions. This appears to ignore that his successor, Augustus, made use of an unusual comet apparition at this time in order to deify Caesar, and therefore himself – leading to unrest in the empire. It seems that residue of the volcano has been analysed (from Greenland ice cores) and Okmok has been found to be the culprit. Previously, historians had thought Etna was to blame for what appears to have been a dust veil event in 43-42BC. Tree rings confirm the dates. The scientists go on to claim 43-34BC was the fourth coldest decade in the last 2500 years. Baillie, on the other hand, in his book Exodus to Arthur, compares 43/42BC to 208/7BC and AD536/541. So that is three of the coldest decades, we might imagine – and at this point we have not reached the Little Ice Age. A bit of scepticism might not go amiss but that does not detract from the fact 43-2BC was related to a volcanic eruption, somewhere. The evidence now is that it was an Alaskan volcano, which we may note is within research purposes, easily accessible to American volcanologists. It is also not too distant from Greenland and it would make sense that an Alaskan volcano was recorded in ice cores. Most of Siberia is remote and is largely ignored in such discussions. Never mind. We might ask if Etna really erupted or was it another of those rumbles that occur frequently, promising much but achieving little apart from some magma intrusions and lots of steam etc. A full blown eruption of Etna at this time would have been a major player in the Roman world and although Etna's eruption is recorded by Plutarch we don't actually know how intense it might have been – but I'm sure scientists can refute that statement. Mike Baillie in his book, 'A Slice Through Time', addressed more to a science audience than the more popular 'Exodus to Arthur' which was deliberately slanted to the interested lay person, says there was a significant dust veil event 44-42BC, and is confirmed in bristlecone pines (La Marche and Hirschboek, 1984). The death of Caesar was also associated with earthquakes along with an obscuration of the sun's rays. The Sun rose and was but a pale orb according to contemporaries such as Plutarch. In the same year Chinese sources record a red daylight comet in May and June, the colour produced by volcanic dust. In China, the three years, 44-42BC, are associated with a failure of the grain harvest, and so on.

The piece is derived from The Conversation, and rather than just parrot what the scientists say they point out the politics of the period were much more complex. However, they also note there was a failure of the Nile flood in 43 and 42BC (less water  arrived than in normal years). However, we might expect this as a result of cooling temperatures (and a shift in the monsoon track). In this case just for a couple of years, and no more. Egypt was up and running again in no time at all – and so was Rome. The cold weather was basically a deep blip. Lived and outlived. Augustus, of course, for political reasons, took advantage of the dust veil event. He also focussed prominently on a comet that had an unusual shape and appearance. This was an omen it was alleged, the will of the heavens in respect of his proposed deification of Caesar. The cold weather itself was integrated into the comet theme but was not given prominence for itself.


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