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«RICHARD B. STOTHERS Institute for Space Studies, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, U.S.A. Abstract. Somewhere in ...»

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Hansen et al., 1996; Kelly et al., 1996; Parker et al., 1996). After the 1258 eruption, the peak cooling in England did in fact occur 3 years later. Finally, in Europe a relatively normal, or even warm, first winter tends to follow modern large tropical eruptions (Bradley, 1988; Groisman, 1992; Robock and Mao, 1995; Kirchner and Graf, 1995; Kelly et al., 1996). After the eruption of 1258, just such a mild first winter (1258–1259) occurred.

The warm, or at least unexceptional, summers of 1259 and 1260 would be expected to have produced normal growth rings in north temperate trees. In this respect, the summer warmth apparently extended over much of the northern region of the world that dendrochronologists have studied: Fennoscandia (Sirén, 1961;

Briffa et al., 1990), Québec (Yamaguchi et al., 1993), and the western United States (LaMarche and Hirschboeck, 1984; Scuderi, 1990). In 1257, however, the Sierra Nevadan foxtail pines (Pinus balfouriana) produced very little ring growth (Scuderi, 1990). Since rainfalls over France and England were unusually heavy and frequent during the summer and autumn of 1257 (Quintum Supplementum Majoris Chronici Lemovicensis, 1274; Matthew Paris, 1259; John de Taxter, 1265), severe storminess may have been common throughout a wide latitudinal band, including the Sierra Nevada.

4. Famine

Famine was frequent in pre-industrial societies and was often highly localized.

What we are looking for, however, is something bigger: evidence of a general European agricultural failure that might have been climatically related. During the four-year period 1258–1261, only the year 1258 fits this criterion of universality.

The heavy summer and autumn rains in 1257 and 1258 ruined crops throughout England, western Germany, France, and northern Italy. Severe famine is explicitly attested in many localities, and can also be inferred elsewhere from the high prices of staple agricultural commodities.

England was especially hard hit. Famine in the countryside drove thousands of villagers into London, where many of them perished from hunger (Flores Historiarum, 1265; Arnald Fitz-Thedmar, 1274). Richard of Cornwall, the king of Germany, was able to ship some grain from Germany and Holland into London to alleviate the distress of the poor who could afford to buy (Matthew Paris, 1259).

The price of food throughout England rose, nonetheless (John de Taxter, 1265;

Annales de Dunstaplia, 1297; Titow, 1960), and eventually specie itself became in short supply, having been already depleted by heavy tax exactions at the hands of both the church and state (Matthew Paris, 1259).

366 RICHARD B. STOTHERS The situation in France was almost as grim. A severe grain shortage across the country led to widespread famine and sudden inflation of food prices in 1258 (Quintum Supplementum Majoris Chronici Lemovicensis, 1274; Alexandre, 1987).

In northern Italy, food prices were also very high – for example, in Bologna and Parma (Albertus Miliolus, c. 1265; Annales Parmenses Maiores, 1335). Yet this inflation may well have been due more to the decades-long Italian wars between the papal (Guelph) faction and imperial (Ghibelline) faction, which peaked in the years just before 1260.

Finally, in the Middle East the historian Bar-Hebraeus (1286) reports a famine during 1258 in the general region of Iraq, Syria, and southeastern Turkey. Nevertheless, this disaster may have been just one of the side effects of the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in that year, which brought about the end of the Abbasid caliphate.

5. Pestilence

Pestilences of various kinds often break out in times of prolonged wet weather and famine. Unless an accurate description of the symptoms is reported, however, it becomes next to impossible to diagnose the particular disease with certainty.

Unfortunately, most medieval descriptions of disease outbreaks in the general population are much too brief and vague for us today to identify the specific ailments referred to.

In England, the cold winter and spring of 1258 produced outbreaks of murrain in sheep, as well as various famine diseases within the human population, especially among the numerous urban paupers (Matthew Paris, 1259). French and Bohemian livestock, too, were afflicted with heavy mortality (Richer, 1267; Continuator of Cosmas, 1283).

The main scourge of human beings in the period, however, was the great pestilence of April 1259. This epidemic is known to have struck London (Matthew Paris, 1259), Paris (Notae Constantienses, c. 1260), other parts of France (Annales Sancti Benigni Divionensis, 1285), Italy (Salimbene, 1287), and, probably, Austria (Annales Sancti Rudberti Salisburgenses, 1286). Riccobaldo of Ferrara (1313) also mentions the pestilence, but under the year 1258. The chief symptoms were chilliness and listlessness (frigor) that could linger for several months or else kill rather suddenly. Although an influenza epidemic is a possible explanation, the diagnostic data are too few for us to go beyond this mere speculation.

In the Middle East, there was also reported a great pestilence in 1258, affecting Iraq, Syria, and southeastern Turkey (Bar-Hebraeus, 1286). It was called ‘plague’ by the 14th century Syrian chronicler Ab¯ l-Fid¯ ’ (Dols, 1977), and was said to u a have been especially severe in Damascus; it is also mentioned by the 15th century Egyptian historian al-Maqr¯z¯ (von Kremer, 1880). This pestilence continued until ıı 1260, or perhaps it merely reappeared then, at least in southeastern Turkey (alCONSEQUENCES OF THE MASSIVE VOLCANIC ERUPTION OF 1258 Mak¯n, 1260; Bar-Hebraeus, 1286). Because the Middle East has been historically ı prone to epidemics of bubonic plague, possibly that is what it was.

–  –  –

Flagellation, or scourging, had long been practiced as an occasional form of discipline or penance within Christian monastic communities. In the spring of 1260, however, a popular penitential movement of self-flagellation arose in Perugia, central Italy, and spread south, in the autumn, to Rome and north toward central Europe.

Wholly orthodox at first, it attracted not only members of the clergy but all ranks and ages of pious lay people. Early in the following year, though, it degenerated into a heterodox movement of peasants and malcontents, which was put down finally by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. In its typical manifestation, bands of unshirted male flagellants marched through the streets in double file, uttering hymns and religious slogans and flogging their backs with whips until blood began to flow. Troops of flagellants traveled from town to town. It was one of the oddest mass social phenomena of the Middle Ages.

The origin and spread of the flagellant movement of 1260 have been much analyzed (Dickson, 1989, and references therein). Although the episode arose in the general context of 13th century religious revivals and the Crusades, there was abundant social distress in Italy from local wars at the time, with a serious threat of a Mongol invasion of eastern Europe looming. For the latter reason especially, Austria, Germany, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary were very fertile ground for such a penitential revival, whereas England and France (though not Provence and Alsace) seem to have been spared (Förstemann, 1828; Goll, 1913; Dickson, 1989).

It may be significant that a small flagellant band of ‘Western Franks’ even arrived at Acre in the Levant (al-Mak¯n, 1260).

ı Since the geographical distribution of the various flagellant pilgrimages does not closely correspond to the areas hit hardest by the famines and pestilences of 1258 and 1259, some reasonable doubt seems to exist as to a possible connection between those natural disasters and the flagellant movement. Frugoni (1963) and Dickson (1989) have in fact denied such a connection even in the case of Italy, where a potentially best case might be made. Dickson emphasizes the flagellants’ cry for ‘mercy and peace’, not for better harvests or relief from pestilence, which were, at other times, a cause for initiating such solemn processions. Indeed, the organized English processions of 1258 and 1260 are known to have been occasioned by harvest failures (Matthew Paris, 1259; Flores Historiarum, 1265), while those in France during 1260 or 1261 were authorized by King Louis IX to avert the Mongol menace in the East (William of Nangis, 1300).

But is it correct to deny any socioreligious impact whatsoever in Italy from the natural disasters of the time? Such a denial would defy common sense, and, indeed, Gregorovius (1906) includes these disasters in the litany of the various forces that 368 RICHARD B. STOTHERS provoked a religious revival in 1260. The deliberate Christian symbolism of the flagellants’ suffering and blood could relate equally well to the deadly ravages of famine and pestilence as to the bloodshed of the Guelph and Ghibelline wars.

Considering also the human deaths and material damage to many Sicilian towns caused by the severe earthquakes in 1259 (Menco, c. 1275), the much-feared New Testament prophecies of the four signs preceding Christ’s Second Coming – namely, strife among nations, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (Matthew 24: 7; Luke 21: 10–11) – might seem to have been fulfilled, to the religious mind of 1260.

Nevertheless, it was not until the Black Death in 1348 that a pestilence would inspire, directly and unambiguously, a revival of mass self-flagellation across Europe.

7. Discussion

Contrary to what might be naively expected, some of the climatic aftereffects of the 1258 eruption seem not to have been very extraordinary. Prompt cooling in Europe occurred, but the following years, except for 1261, were not particularly cold for an eruption of twice Laki’s size. The most probable explanation is the eruption’s tropical location.

Another large tropical eruption for which such mixed climatic effects might potentially be detected easily in the historical record is the great explosion of Tambora in early April of 1815. This eruption produced roughly as much aerosol as Laki did (Stothers, 1984). To obtain a meaningful comparison with the climatic effects of the 1258 eruption, we shall examine a time series of central England surface air temperatures compiled by Manley (1974). Monthly mean temperatures during the 30-year period 1801–1830 reveal that February and March of 1815 were 2 ◦ C warmer than usual, while April through October had approximately normal temperatures. Now according to Hamilton and Garcia (1986) and Quinn et al.

(1987), a major El Niño/Southern Oscillation event (a tropical Pacific ocean and atmosphere warming) occurred in 1814. Although this event has been questioned by Ortlieb and Macharé (1993), it would, if real, have surely warmed much of the global troposphere for approximately a year, counteracting any possible volcanic cooling (Angell, 1988; Robock and Mao, 1995; Kirchner and Graf, 1995; Parker et al., 1996). Thus, the abnormal warmth in England during February and March of 1815, followed by apparently normal temperatures from April through October, suggests that a prompt, but disguised, volcanic cooling did begin in April. Although most of the recent El Niño events have not led to particularly noticeable warmings in the British Isles (Fraedrich and Müller, 1992; Halpert and Ropelewski, 1992;

Benner, 1999), the tropical-extratropical teleconnection may be stronger under certain circumstances, such as an origination of the El Niño in the far western Pacific (Hamilton, 1988).


A second observation for central England during this period is that the first winter after the Tambora eruption was nearly normal. However, the remainder of the year 1816 became exceptionally cold and rainy, with only a partial recovery of normal warmth in 1817 (Post, 1977). We may conclude that, when a proper allowance is made for the El Niño warming effect, the weather patterns over England after Tambora did conform more or less to what followed after the great eruption of 1258.

Since other well-dated tropical eruptions generated less than half of Tambora’s aerosols, the natural variability of the climate (including El Niño warming) could possibly have hidden any potential climatic effects of these lesser eruptions. Although the method of superposed epoch analysis is sometimes used to try to bring out the volcanic signal, it will prove more useful here to consider the largest of these eruptions on an individual basis.

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