Cold – A
Death Blow to Empire
by Tim Case
by Tim Case
manufacturing country is peculiarly exposed to temporary reverses
and contingencies, produced by the removal of capital from one
employment to another. The demands for the produce of agriculture
are uniform; they are not under the influence of fashion,
prejudice, or caprice. To sustain life, food is necessary, and the
demand for food must continue in all ages, and in all
David Ricardo (1772–1823), English Economist
nothing else, is the story of civilizations and their use or abuse
of creation. We all intrinsically know it but few have verbalized
No matter where
we look the first prerequisite for any of mankind’s endeavors is to
secure that which is needed from nature’s abundance. There are no
exceptions! Civilizations or empires – whether evil or just – rise
and fall totally depending on the abundance or scarcity of
It is no wonder
then that the human priority is for a continuous supply of food, and
clothing. For without these necessities every other human desire
becomes unthinkable and unachievable.
The majority of
civilizations have been dependent on agriculture to supply these
However, to be
successful man must obey the immutable – if not inviolable – laws
that govern agricultural production, otherwise all his efforts are doomed.
For the purpose
of this article we need to understand two such laws; one which
governs animal husbandry and the other intrinsic to crop production.
Both of these laws have had a profound effect on and an important
role in history.
The law of
animal husbandry is known as "carrying capacity." It is generally
defined as the number of AU’s (Animal Units) a particular piece of
land is capable of sustaining over a year (AUY). Horses, sheep,
goats, bulls, and mother cows are assigned a number called an animal
unit equivalent (AUE) which is based on the daily forage in dry
matter consumed by various kinds and classes of animals.
discussion say that a particular piece of land is capable of
supporting 100 AU’s and those animal units are mother cows with
This means that
the feed, water, and facilities of the land will sustain, unaided,
100 cow/calve pairs for 12 continuous months. Now, for some reason,
maybe greed or conquest, we have acquired another 100 cow/calve
pairs, doubling our herd to 200 mother cows.
happen? You may be thinking that only 100 cows with their calves are
going to starve to death but you are wrong. In a herd of 200 cows
each individual will eat to satisfy their daily needs every day for
6 months. All 200 cows with their calves will grow fat and look very
healthy. Then starting on the seventh month all the feed will be
depleted and the WHOLE herd will begin to starve.
It is a simple
equation. Instead of the land being able to support the needs of the
herd for 12 months we now have a herd consuming twice as much feed
thus, the land can only sustain our herd of 200 mother cows for 6
Now, let’s take
this one step further using our original herd of 100 mother cows.
What happens if our land can sustain 100 mother cows for 12 months
under normal conditions but then we are faced with a period of time
when it can’t produce the feed we need due to draught or extended
As we have
seen, our animals will feed as a unit and consume their daily
requirement of feed for as long as the feed is available. After the
feed is gone the herd will again starve en masse.
In each case
our options are limited. We either have to acquire more land to
sustain the herd at its present size or reduce the herd size to a
level that the land will support.
given much to man and civilization but they feed on vegetation and
that vegetation comes from seed; which bring us to our second
what seed you sow there are four environmental requirements for seed
germination. These requirements are water, light, oxygen and OPTIMUM
soil temperature which is species dependent.
and oxygen are self-evident, but every farmer will tell you that
around planting time, if the weather becomes problematic, between
placing the seed in the ground and germination of that seed, it will
have a disastrous effect on crop production, which in turn will
directly affect the farm’s profit.
Here is why. In
the spring when the weather turns nice we all get the urge to be
outside: to prepare the garden, start mowing the lawn, or just to
bask in the warmth of the spring sun.
warm days are nice but they have little effect on soil temperature
and it is soil temperature that is critical to seed germination.
Only when the days and nights both stay warm for an extended period
of time will the soil temperature start to rise. If the soil
temperature is not warm enough for the variety of seed planted, then
the seed will often rot in the ground before it has a chance to
germinate, resulting in crop failure.
vegetable varieties will suffice as an example:
Optimum Soil Temperature for Germination
Days to Germinate at Optimum Soil Temperature
to 85 degrees F
to 10 days
to 70 degrees F
to 14 days
immediately apparent is that the soil temperature must remain
constant for between one week and two weeks for the seed to
germinate. What happens if there is an extended period of cooling
resulting in longer winters and shorter growing periods?
This might not
be a problem for crops that can be harvested in 60 to 70 days from
germination. However, the staple of society, corn, rarely reaches
maturity in less than 85 to 120 days after germination.
Then there is
barley which reaches maturity 70 to 80 days after germination:
spring wheat takes 80 to 90 days: flax which takes 90 to 100 days
and soybeans require 105 to 120 days to reach maturity.
If many of
these crops cannot be planted until late June or early July harvest
cannot take place until late August in the case of some varieties of
corn and barley. However, other crops wouldn’t be ready for harvest
until the middle of October or the first of November and perhaps not
at all due to the colder temperatures encountered with the changing
It is painfully
obvious what the consequence would be on a society as centralized
and complex as the United States. Food prices would rise, poverty
would increase and starvation on a massive scale could become a
If we look at
history we find some very interesting events surrounding temperature
change and agriculture during the last years of the Roman
For much of the
history of the Roman Empire, ca. 500 BC until the Empire fell apart
just prior to 500 AD the Roman Empire (including England) flourished
owing to mild weather conditions. Warm weather allowed grapes and
olives to be grown further north, and good rains allowed the Romans
to buy abundant crops of grain from across the Mediterranean and in
The three most
important agricultural products traded in the Roman world – grain,
wine and olive oil – were abundant and they created a very wealthy
class of merchants. Great care was also taken to secure the routes
needed to maintain a constant supply of corn from Egypt and Africa
to feed the population of Rome.
However, by the
close of the second century
AD and early part of the third century, the Empire’s monetary
policies were playing havoc with the
Empire’s agriculture production. These monetary problems were
nothing compared to what transpired when weather became a factor
after 235 AD and the end of Severan dynasty.
The period from
235 AD to
284 AD was a half-century of unmatched calamity which nearly
brought the Roman Empire crashing down on itself and was the result
of constant unrepressed statism which had matured on the corpse of
individualism and self-reliance with the passing of the Roman
The rigidity of
the Roman psyche at this time, would not allow anything to exist in
Roman territory that didn’t fit the Roman ideal of the Empire’s
status quo. So when the Franks, Jutes, and Germanic Alemanni crossed
the Rhine River and began to move back onto their ancient lands, and
the Vandals, with the Goths, crossed the Danube River settling in
the empire’s northeastern providences, there was nothing the Roman
State could do but "suppress the uprisings." The question is; were
these migrations really uprisings against a failing Roman Empire or
was something else the cause of these migrations?
There is a
growing body of
evidence that suggests the third century AD was
the beginning of one of the coldest periods in European history. If
the data is correct then it would go a long way toward explaining
those migrations from the north that the Romans ineptly called
temperatures have a complex effect on weather and patterns of
rainfall; only a few degrees difference are required to produce
dramatic results. We have only to remember the two laws stated above
and the events which occurred in Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s to
make the point that disaster can result from even short-term
fluctuations in climate patterns.
However, in the
case of the Roman Empire during the late third century we have more
than a short-term fluctuation in temperature, we have what very well
could be described as a calamity of four centuries duration.
evidence points to the fact that those first migrating northern
people did not plague the Roman Empire as invading armies but rather
as desperate peoples seeking land. It is far more likely that
widespread droughts, short growing seasons, storms, and cold weather
north of Danube and Rhine Rives resulted in hunger which in turn
drove the first northern European peoples south to assault the
granaries of the failing Roman Empire.
to harsh weather conditions could also be the reason such varied
peoples as the Attacotti, Franks, Vandals, Alans and the Visigoths
(western Goths) were willing partakers in the Roman
foederati. These peoples and tribes normally would have
been enemies, but since they found life easier because of Roman
subsidies, which took the form of money, foods, and eventually even
land, were willing to put aside their differences and fight to
preserve the Roman Empire.
There is no
doubt that the fourth century AD saw the prevailing weather patterns
of Europe change for the worse. People of the south watched as their
crops failed for the lack of rain while in the north there was too
much rain and long cold snowy winters.
have confirmed that from about 100 AD until 500 AD the mean
temperature in northern China was dropping from 35.2 F° (1.75 C° )
to 32.5 F° (.25 C° ). These changes in the climate of Eurasia appear
to have played a major role in the waves of conquering horsemen who
rode out of the plains of central Asia into China and Europe called
Of the external
forces that aided in the disintegration of the Roman Empire we have
to place the Huns at the top of the list.
arrived in southeastern Europe around 370 AD with an army of an
estimated 300,000 to 700,000 light cavalry.
We don’t know
much about the Huns, prior to their arrival in Europe, but what we
do know is that they came from the Eurasian Steppes.
Eurasian Steppes are temperate, short grass plains which offer
feeding grounds for pastoral animals (such as sheep and goats) and
are easy to traverse on horseback. However, being a temperate
grassland means it only has two seasons: a growing season and a
dormant season. Anytime the weather becomes too cold the grasses go
dormant and cease to grow.
The same is
true of the eastern steppes of Mongolia and Siberia where grass is
less abundant due to the harsher climate.
Here we need to
remember the law of "carrying capacity" mentioned earlier. Using
very conservative figures for a Hun cavalry along with the goats and
sheep to feed and clothe just the army (excluding women and
children) would require approximately 3,293,000 tons of feed yearly.
Given that this is the steppes and feed would be very limited per
acre, even in the best of times, a conservative estimate of the
acres needed to supply this army would be 2,634,424 or just over
4,116.25 square miles yearly.
It is easy to
understand then that if the weather remained cold for an extended
period of time and the grasses of steppes weren’t producing the feed
needed, that it wouldn’t be long before the Huns would have to find
new grasslands to feed their stock and maintain their standard of
Thus as this
large group of people began moving south and west they would push
weaker groups ahead of them in a domino effect. The net result being
that the northwestern providences of the Roman Empire were quickly
overrun with migrating peoples. (See Map)
Empire, which had been built by warfare and sustained by welfare,
was now battling the effects of colder weather and it was too much;
nothing could save the empire. By the beginning of the fifth century
AD as much as one third of the cultivated land which had sustained
the empire was lost to trees and deserted fields of abandoned
estates left by fleeing wealthy Roman land owners.
In the west,
the Roman Empire began to shrink as its borders from the Black Sea
to the North Sea were inundated with migrating, fleeing and
dislocated peoples due to the continuing advance of the Huns from
The result was
the Roman Empire of antiquity passed into history.
and science inform us that a warmer planet is beneficial to
civilization. Warmer days result in longer growing seasons, and
increased rainfall. The greatest benefit of warmer weather comes in
milder winters and in springs when there are fewer crop-killing
scientists are now issuing a warning of changing
weather patterns that could bring extended a period of colder
winters, with shorter summers and even another ice age.
We have just
seen that colder weather does not bode well for a warfare/welfare
Another Little Ice Age,
like the one that subjected Europe and North America to bitterly
cold winters from about 1250 to 1850, in today’s societies, would
decimate populations through hunger, and disease.
It has happened
before and it is a warning that should be heeded.
dim-witted politician or spurious give-a-way program was harmed
during the writing of this article.
January 31, 2008
Tim Case [send him mail] is a
30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the
first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: “Only the educated
Copyright © 2008 LewRockwell.com