According to new research, scientists are saying that a huge volcanic eruption in Alaska during ancient times led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Mount Okmok erupted in the year 43 BC (the event is called “Okmok II”) which led to a massive climate shock that was felt all the way to the other side of our planet. The particles of ash from the volcano cooled down the planet by limiting solar radiation from entering our atmosphere. The cooler temperatures specifically affected the Mediterranean which caused the second-coldest summer in the past 2,500 years.
As a matter of fact, the two years after the Okmok II eruption had some of the coldest temperatures recorded in the Northern Hemisphere during the past 2,500 years (with temperatures dropping as much as 13 degrees Fahrenheit) and the following decade had temperatures that were registered as the fourth coldest. Additionally, the precipitation amounts in the southern part of Europe were exponentially higher with 50 or 120 percent increases in the summer and 400 percent higher in the fall.
Writers from that time period described cold temperatures, the spread of diseases, failure in crop production, and famine in the Mediterranean. The lack of food in Rome – which was the result of the ash from the erupting volcano in Alaska cooling down the temperatures – as well as the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, ultimately led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. While it’s obviously not the only reason for the fall of the Republic, the eruption certainly would have had a significant role in it.
The researchers performed chemical analysis and aging on volcanic ash (also called tephra) that was found in the cores of the Arctic ice. They conducted studies on six ice cores containing tephra that were collected at different times over the last several decades. They were unable to determine the exact date of the tephra but they were able to confirm how old the layers in the ice were that contained the volcanic ash. They found two possible sources for the ash: one was a strong but short-lived eruption in that area in 45 BC and the other was the “Okmok II” event which happened two years after and was the most probable source of the ash since it was so massive and widespread.
Dr. Gill Plunkett, who is an archaeologist at Queen’s University Belfast as well as a co-author of the study, explained, “We compared the chemical fingerprint of the tephra found in the ice with tephra from volcanoes thought to have erupted about that time,” adding, “It was very clear the source of the 43 BC fallout in the ice was the Okmok II eruption.”
For a long time, historians believed that the cold weather and other unfortunate circumstances in the Mediterranean were caused by a volcano but they couldn’t figure out where the eruption took place or how massive it would have been. But now with the new analysis conducted on the Mount Okmok eruption in 43 BC, scientists are pretty confident that they have answered those very questions.