Historical Evidence forClimate Instabilityand EnvironmentalCatastrophes inNorthern Syria and the Jazira:The Chronicle o fMichael MAGNUSWIDELL

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Historical Evidence for Climate Instabiluityand Environmental Catastrophes inNorthern Syria and the Jazira:The Chronicle of Michael the Syrian


Oriental Institute

University ofChicago 1155E. 58thStreet

Chicago, IL 60637, USA

Email: widell@uchicago.edu


Significant cataclysms occurred frequently throughout the history of northern Syria and the Jazira, and had severe short-and long-term implications on the region’s economy and the social structure.This paper uses theChronicle of

Michael theSyrian, a Patriarch ofAntioch in the late twelfthcenturya.D., as a representationofenvironmentalandclimaticcatastrophestakingplace innorthern Syria and theJazira inthethirdand early secondMillennium b.c.The proportions,

general frequency and the clustering tendency of the differentdisasters in the Chronicle are treatedindetail, aswell as theirgeneral economic, environmental

and social significance. The article argues thatdiversified subsistence and a high degree of flexibilitywere essential forancientMesopotamian societies toabsorb

themany risks that life in thismarginal semiarid environment involved.

Jazira,northernSyria, climate, environment,disaster


Inmodels of ancient societies, climate, and especially abrupt climate changes, are often considered, perhaps even reconstructed, in order to explain cultural change or unfamiliar and new settlementpatterns.The climate of northernSyria and the Jazira in theBronze Age (or,more specifically, during the end of the thirdand theearly secondmillennium b.c.) has recentlybeen a subject of rather intensedebate. Most notably,Harvey Weiss andMarie-Agnes Courty have ar

EnvironmentandHistory 13 (2007): 47-70 ? 2007 TheWhite Horse Press

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gued ina series of articles foran abrupt climate change, drastic arid conditions, sociopolitical collapse and site and regional abandonment. These anomalous conditions of extreme aridification and cooling remained for 300 years until ca. 1900 b.c. when the climate returned to normal, which according toWeiss and Courty roughly corresponded to thepresent. Others have noted that in the

mid-to-late Holocene, small-scale climate changes were rather frequent, and that some of these changes lasted forup to 300 years. In fact, the critique that the above described scenario has received has not been primarily concerned

with the notion -that the end of the thirdmillennium may have experienced a climate change a fact that seems to find support in several independent sci entific studies – but ratherhow, ifat all, thischange would affect thepeople

living innorthernSyria and theJazira.Climatic change may have played a role

in the alleged urban and demographic collapse, but climate changes or other environmental anomalies should not be isolated from theireconomic, historic,

and structuralcontexts.Moreover, groups of people may respond to climate change inmany differentways and it is necessary to consider environmental disasters more broadly, not just climate change.1

While modern science often can reconstructclimate changes over large re

gions, albeit seldom ingreatdetail orwithout a significantlevelof interpretation/ adaptation, itremains very difficult todetermine thedirect significance of these

changes to the populations of specific areas. Palaeo-climatic studies of soil micromorphology, isotope composition of lake,marine and ice cores, or solar



fAntioch a

Aleppo SYRIA



FIGURE and History 13.1

1.NorthernSyria and theJazira

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variability of the thirdmillennium are often unable toprovide thedetails and/or

thehigh temporal and geographical resolution provided by textual sources, and such studies are thereforeoften less suitable to reconstructnatural and climatic idiosyncrasies on a human scale. On theother hand, therecan be no doubt that climatic data with a higher temporal resolution are necessary for studies on the social and economic history of the highly sensitive semiarid environment of

northernSyria and theJazira.Gil Stein has recentlypointed out thatalthough theaverage annual rainfall in northernMesopotamia and Syria may suffice for cereal agriculture, 30-year records ofmodern (that is between roughly 1940 and 1970) rainfall in the region show ‘an extremely high rate of interannual

variability,oftenrangingfrom30 to35percent’.2
Climate is in constant change and there can be no doubt that the climate

and environment of every period of history should be considered unique. Nev ertheless, itshould also be stated thatregardless ofhow we choose toview and label the indisputable climatic variations of thehistory of Syria and the Jazira,

by far thegreatest changes on the climate, agricultural production, erosion and

land degradation of this region are certainly anthropogenic and have occurred inmodern times. The main reasons for these drastic modern changes can be

found in the significant increase of atmospheric C02 levels, the introductionof

chemicals and mechanised deep ploughing in the agricultural production, the introductionof new crops, largerfarmsand a shifttomono-agriculture, severe

overgrazing, excessive pumping of groundwater and large-scale dam construc tions in Syria and Turkey.While itcertainly remains problematic to determine

exactly how, and to what extent, these factors together have influenced the modern climate and environment of the region, there can be littledoubt that modern climate and environmental data simply applied to ancient societies in

this region should be regarded with caution. Thus, while we acknowledge that conditions constantly change and that the climate and environment in the third millennium b.c. certainly was not the same as in the firstmillennium a.D., it

seems reasonable to assume thatany pre-industrial differenceswere, at least by

comparison, relatively small.3
The most comprehensive pre-industrial account on theclimate and environ

ment of northernSyria and theJazira isprovided tous inamediaeval manuscript usually referred to as theChronicle ofMichael the Syrian. The dry farming region innorthernSyria and theJaziradescribed byMichael relied onwheat and barley as themain cropswhile cash crops included olives and grapes. This does

not appear tobe differentfrom thegeneral picture archaeologists have depicted

of dry-farming agriculture in this region in antiquity.Recent anthracological data from the site of Emar show thatboth olives and grapes were cultivated (or

growing wild) innorthernSyria at theend of the thirdmillennium b.c.Moreo ver, cuneiform texts dated to around 2400 b.c. fromTell Beydar, situated on theminor north-southWadi Awaidj in thewestern Habur, show thatbarley and

wheat as well as grapes were cultivated in the region. Furthermore, contemporary Environment and History 13.1

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records fromEbla, situated on the fertileplain of north-western Syria about 53 kilometres southwest ofAleppo, contain references to thousands of olive trees growing in northernSyria. In view of these similarities, it seems reasonable to consider theclimatic and agricultural data provided by theChronicle ofMichael theSyrian suitable formore general reconstructionsof theclimate, environment and agricultural disasters of northern Syria and the Jazira in the late thirdand early second millennium b.c., as well as in antiquity in general.4

To provide amore transparentoverview of theevents described byMichael, thisarticleattemptstosummariseand analyse thedisastrous elementsofMichael’s

history of the region. The focus in the article is on extreme, usually irremedi able, natural calamities on a communal or regional level thatseverely disrupt the normal routine of life and cause significant loss of property, life or livelihood.

A few remarks aremade also on theproportion/frequencyof thedifferentcli matic and natural disasters described as well as theireconomic, environmental

and social significance.When a known specific catastrophe is not recorded in Michael’s Chronicle foruncertain reasons, theanalysis has been supplemented with data from theChronicle ofZuqnin and other sources. Finally, the author

of the present article is focusing mainly on the ancient history of Syria and Mesopotamia, and it should be stated that thiswork is significantly indebted to

Michael G. Morony’s excellent, and much more profound, study on Michael the Syrian and his Chronicle.5


The Orthodox PatriarchMichael theSyrian’smonumental Chronicle, encompass ing21 books, represents themost voluminous historical compilation transmitted to us in Syriac. The comprehensive account ofMichael the Syrian, who was

elected Patriarch of Antioch 1166-1199, provides valuable information con cerning abnormal conditions and various climatic and agricultural catastrophes taking place in northern Syria and the Jazira from the sixth century a.d. until

thedeath of Saladin ina.d. 1196.6 Unfortunately,wedonotknowallofthesourcesthaMtichael usedtocompile

his Chronicle. From theChronicle ofZuqnin itbecomes evident that there are severalgaps inMichael’s informationconcerning thestorms,droughtsandother

severe conditions adversely impacting agricultural production in the region.A lack of references to agricultural disasters inMichael’s account does not neces

sarilymean thatnothing happened in a particular year. On the other hand, the Chronicle ofZuqnin sometimes fails torecord severeweather ornaturalcalamities

thatare found inMichael’s history.As already stated byMorony, bothMichael and the author of theChronicle ofZuqnin based theirearliest accounts on the sixth-centurySyriac writer JohnofEphesus. Michael also used theChronicle of

Dionysius ofTellMahre, whose history started in582. As can be seen inTable 1, Environment and History 13.1

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Spring500 528/29

543-14 546-54 Spring583

Disaster Locusts
Severe winter Plague

Crop failure; Flood 549/50


Claimed Results Famine

Wheat fields went unharvested; Live stock dying

Eight year famine; Flood ruined the vine

Lack of bread

Sources8 Zuqnin; Zuqnin Zuqnin

Zuqnin Michael



1.SummaryofdisastersinnorthernSyriaand theJazirainthesixth century a.d.


Michael seems tohave missed most ofwhat happened in the sixth century,and his record from this century cannot be considered reliable.7

The agricultural and climatic disasters or catastrophes reportedbyMichael from 600 to 1196 are more interesting (see Appendices 1 and 2). During the

initial 176 years from600 to775, which Michael reconstructedusing theChroni

cle ofZuqnin and theChronicle ofDionysius, Michael recorded 41 different

catastrophes occurring in33 differentyears. Statistically, thatwould mean that tragedywould strikeevery 5.3 years, or that therewas an 18.8 per cent risk for

one or several disasters in any given year.
For thefollowing 68 years from776 to843,Michael reliedon thefinalpart

oftheChronicle ofDionysius. Tenofthese68years(14.7percent)arereported tohave been afflictedwith catastrophes.Michael reported 13 separate disasters for these tendisastrous years: Locusts (8 differentyears), Hail (2 different

years), Storm wind (1 year), Snow (1 year), Freeze (1 year). Unfortunately, the ecclesiastical history of the ninth-centuryPatriarch Dionysius is lost and the onlyreasonthatweknowthaMtichael reliedonitisbecauseheisquotingsome passages of it inhis own work. Thus, we cannot deduce the extent ofMichael’s reliance on theChronicle ofDionysius or how truehe was to it,nor can we saymuch about thehistorical and narrative reliability ofDionysius’ work. The overrepresentation of locusts and theunexpected absence of severewinters and droughts (see below) suggests thatMichael’s reportof thisperiod does not of fer a representative picture of the actual situation, and calls for furthercaution as forusing thisdata in statistical analyses. After theend of theChronicle of

Dionysius in 843, there is a severe gap inMichael’s information lasting until the twelfthcentury.Michael’s apparent lack of reliable sources formore than three centuries, from 775 to the end of the eleventh century,makes this entire

period less suitable for statistical studies.
For the events of the last 100 years of his Chronicle, from 1097 to 1196,

we have toassume thatMichael had sufficientaccess tofirsthandsourceswho

personally witnessed or experienced thevarious events (in addition, of course, toMichael’s ownexperiencesandnotesduringhisownlifetimeM.ichael died

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in 1199, threeyears after theend of his Chronicle). For these 100 years,Michael reported 27 disasters occurring in 20 differentyears. The statistical 20 per cent

risk of having one or several catastrophes in any given year during thisperiod corresponds well with the 18.8 per cent risk in theperiod from600 to775 (see

above). Moreover, a detailed comparison of thedifferentcatastrophes attested in the two periods displays very similar proportions (see Table 2).

TABLE 2. Disasters innorthernSyria and the Jazira in the periods a.d. 600-775 and a.d. 1097-1196


Severe winter


Drought Snow

600-775(176 years) 1097-1196(100years) Total (276 years)

Storm Freeze Hail Flood Plague

Mildew Rain Rats




27 20

27.0% 68 20.0% 53

24.6% 19.2%

Attesta Yearly risk Attesta

Yearly risk Attesta tions

7.0% 16
5.0% 15 5.4% 7.0% 13 4.7% 3.0% 5 1.8%

1.0% 5 1.8% 1.0% 3 1.1% 1.0% 3 1.1%

2 0.7% 1.0% 2 0.7% 1 0.4% 1 0.4% 1 0.4% 1 0.4%


5.1% 10 5.7% 6 3.4%

2 1.1% 4 2.3% 2 1.1% 2 1.1% 2 1.1% 1 0.6%

1 0.6%


0.6% 41 23.3% Affected years: 33 18.8%


Yearly risk


Unfortunately, theChronicle ofMichael is ratherlaconic in its informationcon cerning theactual resultsof itsenumerated catastrophes and itremainsdifficult

toreconstruct theconcrete impact and severityof thedifferentevents.Moreover, due to the somewhat sensational character of theChronicle ofMichael, we have to allow for exaggeration in both the extent of the development and the consequences of the events described. In addition, some events were no doubt

more local, such as the chicken plague in 1141 or the hail breaking trees and grapevines in the region ofMilitene in the same year, and did not have wide

spread effects.Other disasters, however, such as thefrequentplagues of locusts Environment and History 13.1

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(see below), could be devastating to huge areas. As far as catastrophes related to climate are concerned, it should be noted thatmore recent climate records

from the twentiethcenturydisplay very high levels of correlation between the climatic events of Syria and northernMesopotamia. It is therefore likely that

such catastrophes affected relatively large areas.9
It is importanttopoint out thatthe table above only offersa simplified repre

sentationof theprobabilities of catastrophes innorthernSyria and theJazira.The occurrences of climatic and environmental events should not be understood as a stochastic process defined by random variables. The table shows, forexample, that there is an average 5.8 per cent probability that any given year within a period of 276 years is going to have a severe winter. However, the underlying mechanisms for every severe winter can be connected to a number of factors, including the climatic and environmental events of previous year(s). The prob ability fora certain catastrophic eventmay increase (ordecrease) depending on

immediately preceding events. For example, the probability for a widespread outbreak of an epidemic of any disease is affected by the population’s resist

ance tohuman disease, which may be significantlydecreased due tonutritional deficiencies. Thus, all outbreaks of epidemics aremore likely tooccur together with other disasters and general famine. Depending on theparticular nature of

thedisease, some disasters, such as large areas of flooded land, could further exacerbate theoutbreak,while otherdisasters, suchas extremecold, actually could

lessen theprobability of amajor outbreak. Similarly, thecatastrophic gregarisa tion of the locust from its largely harmless solitary phase is not a random event

but is determined by an extremely complex and only partly understood array of external climatic and environmental factors. By performing a large number of random simulations usingMichael theSyrian’s 68 disasters over 267 years,

we areable toestimate theexpected distributionofdisasters iftheeventswere completely random occurrences (see Table 3 and Figure 2). The upper part of the table (A) and thefigure show thatcompared to a random distribution, the risksofhaving several differentdisasters occurring inthesame year aremuch higher inMichael’s Chronicle. Moreover, there is a clear tendency forMichael the Syrian’s disasters to cluster and occur in consecutive years. The lower part of the table (B) shows thatwhile single year events dominate in the random distribution (61.0 per cent of all affected years), only 39.6 per cent of theyears affected with one or more disasters inMichael’s Chronicle were single-year

events.Moreover, Michael theSyrian reportsfive separate sequences with three consecutive disastrous years and one consecutive period of five years with dis asters. The statistical probability for this level of clustering with a distribution of five (ormore) separate periods with three consecutive disastrous years and one (ormore) period with five consecutive years is only 0.0009 (that is, this distribution occurred 9 times out of the 10,000 performed simulations).

The sequential and accumulative nature ofmany climatic and environmental disasters isextremely important.Inhis studyof long-termmacro-climatic change

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TABLE 3.The 68 disastersfromTable 2 distributedover276 years independently using 10,000 simulations (two identical disasters cannot occur in the same year) and

according to theChronicle ofMichael theSyrian

#ofaffected 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 years
# from

10,000 simulations


Michael the M Syrian

of the number of affected years with one or several disasters simulations)usingMichael theSyrian’s 68 disasters.The probabilityforMichael the Syrian’s distribution with 53 affected years is 0.0003. Roughly 83% of the simulations

A. Distribution

(out of 10,000

Sequences of years

with disas

1 2 year years







B. Average

61.0% 26.8%

21 12 15









are in the range 59-64 affected years. 4 5 6 7

9 Total

years #of affected

years Average # 37.4102 16.4570 5.3676 1.5492 0.4085 0.0960 0.0238 0.0104 0.0018 61.3245

sequential years from

10,000 simulations

% of the total # of affected



years in Michael the

% of the

total # of affected years

number of consecutively affected years in 10,000 independent simulations and the number of consecutively affected years in theChronicle ofMichael the Syrian. Single year disasters are significantly more common in the random distribution while three consecutive disastrous years are more than three times as common inMichael’s

Chronicle than they are in the randomly generated distributions. Environment and History 13.1

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83% of the simulations

39.6% 22.6% 28.3% 0.0% 9.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%




O ^_ LO


o LO



50 55 60 65

Number of affected years

2. Independentdistributionof 68 disastersover 276 years using 10,000 simulations (two identical disasters cannot occur in the same year). The arrow indi

cates the distribution inMichael the Syrian

and itseffectson, among others,Mesopotamian societies,HarveyWeiss raises the importantquestion of when we may assume thatcrop failure and reduced

agro-production result inpermanent changes tohuman societies. This question, of course, depends largely on the socio-economic structuresof the affected

societies. The high frequency of constantly reoccurring disasters recorded in theChronicle ofMichael the Syrian demonstrates the resilient character of the

settlements innorthernSyria and theJazira.While any natural disaster in this

regionmay have caused severe implications for independent households, the settlements as a whole would be able to deal even with extremely catastrophic

years as long as theywere followed bymore regular years. Only a series of consecutive years with disasters would be able to affect an entire community on a more permanent level.10

From Table 2 itbecomes clear that severe winters were themost frequent disaster followed by plagues of locusts and droughts (especially ifwe include here references to ‘snow’ and ‘freeze’ as well). The extreme cold could kill ani

mals and wither and sometimes kill trees,both ofwhich would have long-term Environment and History 13.1

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effectson theeconomy. The olive tree,forexample, isextremely slow-growing

but very long-lived (trees produce good yields for 50 years ormore). Itwould take a settlementvery long to recover from the losses of itsolive trees.

On some occasions, the cold would freeze all available water, a condition that could rapidly cause animals to die of thirst (for example thewinters of

For example, a modern donkey requires 15-30 litres of unfrozen water per day and will not break any layer of ice on water because of its sensitive nose. A dehydrated donkey might not drink even ifdehydrated. It

will become fussywith its food and eventually stop eating all together. Itwas not only thewinter deep-freeze thataffected livestock such as donkeys, but also

thegeneral harsh conditions ofwinter could adversely affectanimals and their owners. In his article on the life in theBalikh valley, Norman Lewis quotes the British Consul’s economic report of theVilayet ofAleppo for the year 1911, which describes the terriblewinter of 1910/11. In January severe frost set in, accompanied by heavy falls of snow,which continued fornearly twomonths. Sheep and their shepherds are reported to have perished in the snow.Accord ing to the report, 80 per cent of the sheep in the entireVilayet ofAleppo died of cold and hunger.Despite thecold winter and the snow, theharvest of 1911

was reported to have been ‘fairlygood’. This devastating report is verymuch in accordance with reports of severe winters and the deaths of animals in the

Chronicle ofMichael theSyrian (i.e. thewinters of 684, 768/69, 1173/74 and

1175).11 losses of labour or animals would have effectson Large draught long lasting

theeconomy.Moreover, such losses would restrictthepossibilities of transport inggrain and other commodities fromone region toanother and lack of traction

and labourwould certainly exacerbate any agrarian crisis. During thedevastat ing plague in 543-44 as well as during the three successive severe winters of

750/51-752/53 many fields were simply unharvested.12
In thecuneiform textsfromancientMesopotamia, severewinters and cold

weather with snow and frost is a common topic.Moreover, several different accounts fromvarious periods and regions reveal theseverityand oftendevas

tating effects of cold weather in antiquity. In a letterfrom the later part of the second millennium b.c. addressed to theking ofUgarit in north-western Syria from one of his generals, we learn of a fivemonth long cold spell thatwas destroying chariots, killing horses and exhausting the troops (Ugaritica V 20 lines 27-8). A similar concern over the vulnerability of horses in extreme cold is found in a contemporary letterfrom theHittite king Hattusili III to theKas site king Kadashman-Enlil II inBabylon (KBo 110 line 64). In this long letter, the land of Hatti inAnatolia is described as a land with severe winters where old horses are unable to survive. In addition, an analogous reference to severe cold in a fragmentary letterfrom theNeo-Assyrian period, dated to the eighth centuryb.c.,shouldbementioned.Thisletterw,hichwasdiscoveredinNimrud just northofAssur, describes severe cold weather killing both troops and horses.

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1173/74 and 1175).


Another so-called Nimrud Letter (C77V5316 = ND 2777) describes how severe

snow in early shabat (Month XI, January-February)made the roads toKalhu

(ancient Nimrud) impossible to travel. These examples are all somehow con nected towarfare, and theconcern is thereforeplaced on troops,chariots, roads and horses rather than on regular people, farms and livestock. However, a few other textsoffer some glimpses of thevery real concern people had regarding severe winters and cold. Hence an Old Babylonian letterdiscovered in Sippar,

located about 35 kilometres southwest ofmodern Baghdad, where Iltani – the author of the letter- ends his letterby describing his predicament as follows:

am starvingand thecold has prostratedme.’13
These numerous attestations in thecuneiform record show thatcold winters

were a major concern in northern Syria and Mesopotamia for both humans and animals throughoutantiquity,verymuch in accordance with thenumerous reportsof severe and devastating winters described in theChronicle ofMichael

the Syrian.
Almost as frequent as severe winters, and one of themost devastating natu

raldisasters innorthernSyria and theJazira,were plagues of locusts.Ruinous

swarms of locusts – theEighth Plague ofEgypt (Exodus 10:12-15) – are known

tohave been ravaging Syria since thebeginning of history.A group of letters dated to theOld Babylonian king Zimri-Lim ofMari shows that the eastern

parts of Syria suffered from two locust infestations that lasted for at least two consecutive yearseachduringthefirsthalfoftheeighteenthcenturyb.c.Swarms

of locusts appear inearly springwhen thecrops are ripening and can destroy an entire year’s harvest. In addition, the locusts will devour seeds and vegetables

and ravage trees and orchards. In some years (that is 1081, 1121, 1135 and 1136) invasions of locusts are recorded tohave done only littleor no damage.

The exact nature of these harmless outbreaks remains unclear. In some cases, outbreaks or upsurges of locusts do not lead tomore serious plagues because of poor rainfall ormigration to unfavourable areas. Two kinds of locusts can cause plagues inwestern Asia.14

The Moroccan locusts (Dociostaurus maroccanus, Thunb.) will eat anything

and appear in temporarybreeding areas where they increase extremely rapidly. The females lay theireggs in springor early summer inbare, often stony,areas

located in the lower slopes of borderingmountains. The eggs will hatch some

tenmonths later in the spring of the following year when the crops are green

(forexample theyears713-714,804-805-806-807,830/31-831 /32)W.olfgang Heimpel has suggested the ranges of theJabal Sinjar and Jabal Abd al-Aziz

to the east and west of theHabur river in north-eastern Syria, or Tur Abdin in

southeastTurkey, as possible hatching areas for theMoroccan locust in theOld

Babylonian period. Since infestationsare known to spread concentrically up to two hundred kilometres from theoriginal hatching areas, thiswould mean that

almost theentireregionofnorthernSyria and theJaziracould have been regularly affected by swarms ofMoroccan locusts in thisperiod. Today, theMoroccan

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locusts have permanent breeding areas in theHabur area and all over central Anatolia. One of themost famous references to locusts in ancientMesopota mia is ametaphor of the invadingGutians in theCurse ofAgade. The text is a

poetic narrativewritten during theUr III period (2111-2003 b.c.), or perhaps even earlier,describing thefall,destruction, and ultimate curse of theAkkadian capital and state.Because of the sacrilegious deeds of kingNaramsin ofAkkad, thegod Enlil summoned thefierceGutians from thedistantmountains to invade the land (lines 157-8): ‘Enlil brought them (theGutians) from themountains, like hordes of locusts, theycovered theearth’. The fact thatthishostile invasion intoMesopotamia from themountains was poetically described as an invasion of locusts, suggests that locust infestations inMesopotamia were traditionally considered to originate inmountainous regions. This would fitnicely with the breeding habits of theMoroccan locust.15

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria, Forsk.) is less common in Syria

butpotentially evenmore devastating thantheMoroccan locust toagricultural areas. It lives in its solitary phase in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa,

theMiddle East, and southwestAsia. Gregarious locustsmigrate invery large swarms. They invade new regions far outside their recession habitat and can cause extreme damage to crops and pasture over huge areas. The desert locusts also appear in the springbut unlike theMoroccan locusts, theireggs have a very shortincubationperiod of 10-65 days depending on soil temperatures.The larval

period (hopper stage) lasts 30-40 days and is often devastating to crops, which are stillgreenwhen marching bands of hungryhoppers are formed.The females

lay theireggs inbare areas of slightlymoist and sandy soil in intervalsof 6-11 days. Because the laying takes place in intervals, the eggs do not hatch at the same time, and swarmsmay contain locusts in various stages of development. The new generation desert locusts (the fledglings and adults) will devour the

same crops as theearlier generation and those thatripen later in theyear.16 The frequency of locust infestations recorded byMichael the Syrian can

be compared tomore modern data. According toMichael the Syrian, northern Syria and theJazirawere invaded by locusts roughly every 23 years (at three separate occasions the infestations lasted for two consecutive years). This can be

compared to data on infestations in Israel between 1860 and 1960 when seven

outbreakswere recorded fortheyears 1865,1878,1900-1902,1915,1928-1930, 1941-1944,1959-1960. Thus, theoutbreaks innineteenthand twentiethcentury

Israel occurred, on theaverage, roughlyevery 14years, significantlymore often (and formore prolonged periods) thanMichael theSyrian recorded fornorthern

Syria and theJazira.The average numberofyearsbetween theoutbreaks inIsrael was 13.5 years (with a standard deviation of only 3.89). The regularity of the outbreaks is remarkable, and ithas been suggested that locust invasions in the

Near East are periodic events occurring every 11 to 13 years. However, the idea of such inherentbreeding cycles should be rejected, and theoutbreaks recorded byMichael theSyrian do not suggest any periodicity.The number of uninfested

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years between the outbreaks inMichael the Syrian’s Chronicle vary from 1 to

74 years with an average of 22.6 years (standard deviation: 25.64).17
Finally, severe droughts should be mentioned as one of themost frequent reasons forwidespread famines in northern Syria and the Jazira inMichael the

Syrian’s Chronicle. Not only could the lack of rain ruin vegetables and crops but itcould also completely dry up the springs and rivers and cause people and animals to die of thirst(for example, the years 721/22 or 1148). According to

Marten Stol, theAkkadian word fordrought is ublum. Only a fewOld Babylo nian lettersand other textsfrom theearly secondmillennium b.c. are concerned with droughts and the effects of drought. In the fragmentary letterAbB 5 198

discovered inNippur insouthernMesopotamia, theauthorof theletterpleads

that the ‘youngmen (or servants) should not die throughdrought’. In another

letterof complaint, theauthor laments will die throughfamine and drought.’ Finally, an Old Babylonian incantation addressed to the god Enki concerning theeffectsof black magic, enumerates various disasters being endured: ‘hehas

cast overme famine, thirst,drought, cold andmisery’. The particular enumera tion in this textof drought and cold isworthy of note, andmay imply thatthese

differentdisasters were associated in the ancient world.18


The data from theChronicle ofMichael the Syrian suggest that climatic and

agricultural disasters were very common in northern Syria and the Jazira in

antiquity.On the average, about 1 year in 5 was affectedwith one or several

catastrophes in theChronicle. The most common and serious disasters were

severe winters, plagues of locusts and droughts, which each occurred on the

average roughlyevery 20 years.How were theancient settlementsable tohandle

frequentcatastrophes anddisasters thatconstantlyoccurred inthismarginal area of northernSyria and theJazira?

Many of theclimatic or environmental catastrophes enumerated byMichael theSyrian, such as extreme droughts or plagues of locusts, could affect several

or all aspects of theeconomy. However, other catastrophes could be devastating to one or a few sectors of the economy while they apparently did littleor no direct damage to other areas of the economy. As an example of the latter type

of disaster, extremely cold winters can be mentioned. Severe winters and cold weather could kill large numbers of animals and trees,but such winters were often followed by normal, or even exceptional, harvests. Other studies have

shown that there is a strong association between cold winters and increased average annual rainfall in theMiddle East, and only once during the276 years discussed in thisarticle do we find evidence thatcolder winters coincided with

droughts; according toMichael the Syrian, the year 1135 was affected by a drought thathad started already in 1133. This long drought was immediately

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ErsterBand (Heidelberg:CarlWinter, 1920),Abb. 45) Environment and History 13.1

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FIGURE 3. Relief fromthepalace of Sennacherib (704-681 b.c.) with locustsand otherfoodstuffpreparedfor thegrill (BrunoMeissner, Babylonien undAssyrien,


followed (and alleviated?) by the severe winter of 1135/36.19
Years with warm winters would be beneficial to the social organisation based on livestock raising, but such years would also be more likely to experience

extremely dryweather resulting in crop failures.Although the economy of the settlements in northernMesopotamia was based on cereal farming, there can

be no doubt that sheep and goat herding (both nomadic and sedentary) played a crucial role in the region. The animals themselves served as a necessary store

of grain surplus from years with good harvests for the constantly reoccurring bad years.Moreover, a diversified subsistence of the settlementswas essential inorder to absorb some of the risks that life in thismarginal semiarid environ

ment involved.20
Large swarms of locusts could be devastating to cultivated fields, pasture,

and even trees, and would thereforehave devastating effects on every aspect of the economy. However, it should be noted that the locust itself is extremely nutritious.Around 62percentofthedryweightofanadultdesertlocustconsists of protein and around 17 per cent of fats. Inmany parts of theNear East, locusts are eaten during periods of increased locust activity, and thismay, at least to some extent,counteractwidespread famine, especially since locusts can be dried and eaten later. Indeed, cuneiform texts and iconographie material show that

roasted locusts were considered a delicacy in ancientMesopotamia.21
The local character of some of thedisasters described byMichel theSyrian

is noteworthy and it seems possible that transportsof grain between different villages and regions could have been used to relieve severely hit areas. Jean

etteC. Fincke has recently suggested thatoverland transportsof agricultural produce in theNuzi statemay have been initiated to help specific areas with

crop failures. Such potential relief transports should be taken into account in

any reconstructions of early interregional transportsof grain, andmay suggest that the functionalistic position that transportson land (by pack animals either alone or pulling carts) of grain innorthernMesopotamia in the thirdmillennium

were uneconomic, and thereforeof insignificant importance, should be recon sidered.Moreover, as already noted by Gil Stein, the environment and climate of the northmade urbanism ‘a risky business’. A flexible and more dispersed

settlementpatternwith smallerruralsettlements,ratherthanafewlargertowns, makes more sense in an environment of local catastrophes.22


In the scenario proposed by Harvey Weiss et al., the collapse of urban-scale settlements in northern Syria in the late thirdmillennium is explained by an extreme aridification which resulted in recurring droughts. The aridification

reduced agro-production and ultimately led to site and regional abandonment of the rain-fed agricultural zone of northern Iraq and Syria. The data derived

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equally – or even more – devastating to the region.More importantly,thenega tive effects of extremely bad winters would be sufferedfor several consecutive years, since theywould kill trees and animals. The losses of trees and draught animals would have long lasting effects on the agricultural production while widespread losses of sheep and goats would completely exhaust several years

ofcollectedagriculturalsurplusW.hile severedroughtsarelikelytoincreasein

frequencyduringaperiodofaridificationandcooling, soareseverewinters,and thedata suggests thatwinters and cold weather may have been an equally serious

threatto thepopulations of northernSyria and theJazira, especially when such winters were not followed by any intensificationof annual precipitation. The

extended catastrophic results of cold winters and thenegative effectson several

differentaspects of theeconomy are extremely important.The constantly recur ring catastrophes enumerated byMichael theSyrian demonstrate theresilient nature of the settlements in this region in antiquity. It seems clear thatonly a recurrent series of several extreme disasters would cause permanent changes

to the settlementpatterns of the region, especially if several importantaspects of theeconomy were affected simultaneously.

from theChronicle ofMichael the Syrian confirm thatdrought indeed was a recurringthreattothefarmersinnorthernSyriaand theJazira,even inaperiod ofmore normal climatic conditions. However, ancient references todroughts in this region are surprisingly rare. In fact, in both theChronicle ofMichael theSyrian and in thecuneiform textrecord, references to locust infestationsor, in particular, extremely cold weather are farmore frequent than the references todroughts. Extreme winters with snow and frozen riversappear tohave been

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APPENDIX 1:Years affectedwith catastrophesinnorthernSyria and theJazira 600-1196

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APPENDIX 2: Summaryof disasters innorthernSyria and theJazira600-1196

Year 600-601


iSpring605 607

611 647 655 669 678/79

[Spring680 684

687 694 706



[May714 714


ISpring721 721/22


1Spring739? 742/43?

744_45 Zu

qnin: 743 750/51 752/53


Drought; Storm wind

Locusts Locusts

Severe winter

Drought Storm wind

Severe winter Rats

Severe winter

Drought Freeze

Locusts; Storm wind

Freeze Locusts

Drought Hail

Locusts Drought

Locusts Flood

Severe winter; Storm wind; Flood

Severe winter

3 Severe winters; Locusts; Mildew;

Claimed Results
Olives and other treeswithered

Destroyed seeds and fruits
Euphrates froze; Seeds and treeswithered

Crops perished; Famine

Weevils [Spring763 Locusts

Olives, vines withered; People, animals died of cold

Lack of grain; Famine
Lack of grain; Famine Olives, vines withered Trees uprooted by thewind

Trees, plants, vines withered Destroyed fields, plants, vines

Killed animals, including camels and donkeys Destroyed olives, figs, vines

Springs, rivers dried up; Lack of grain, veg etables; Desertation of many places

Destroyed harvest; Famine

Presumably, Michael and ZuqninlDionysius are here referring to the same eventful year.

According toMorony (2000, ?7, n. 28), Zu qnin is notoriously cavalier about chronology.

Severe Famine; Epidemic bubonic plague

Rivers froze, Damage to vines, olive trees, gardens, seeds; Pests damage vines, trees, fruit,wheat; Many fields unharvested; Famine

Destroyed seeds Killed horses

Destroyed seeds Killed cattle, sheep

No winter rain, ruined the crop Ruining vines, trees


ISpring766 768/69

772/73 Fall 773



Locusts Snow

Drought Snow; Hail

and History 13.1


Destroyed seeds; Famine

of grain; Famine

other trees, vines withered

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Year 773/74





Spring807 Jan 810?

830 or 831

831 or 832 833 842/43 843


Spring1081 1082

Spring1121 1121/22

1123 1127/28 1133-35

ISpring1135 1135/36

!Spring1136 1136/37


[May 1141 June 1141

Severe winter

Locusts Locusts Locusts Locusts Locusts

Storm wind Hail; Locusts


Claimed Results
Destroyed vines and withered trees (Olive,

1151/52 Snow; Rain 1165


1178/79 ISpring1196


Drought Locusts

Destroyed grain; Famine Destroyed grain, vines



Freeze Hail; Locusts


Severe winter

Drought Severe winter

Drought Locusts

Severe winter Locusts

Severe winter; Snow

Severe winter Hail

Storm wind


Plague Drought

Freeze; Snow Severe winter Severe winter

Pomegranate, Palm)
all crops and vegetables; Famine all crops
crops; Famine
crops; Famine
crops; Famine

Fig, Apple,






All vine,

Destroyed olive trees

Destroyed crops, vine, trees Lack of grain; Famine

Seeds fail to germinate; Famine; Disease

Destroyed seeds, crops; Famine; Disease Lack of grain; Famine

Little damage
Lack of grain, vines; Famine

Little damage Rivers froze

Famine that lasted until 1125 Famine

grain, fruits destroyed
crops; Locusts destroyed vines,

to the crops

Rivers froze; Late harvest Ruin vines, trees

Trees uprooted Killed chickens

Springs dried up; Desertation of many places Destroyed seeds, crops
Lack of wheat

Ruin vines, olives, sesame, crops All water froze; Thirst; Famine

All water froze; Cattle, donkeys, horses died; Thirst; Famine

Destroyed seeds, grain; Desertation of places; Famine

No damage

No damage Rivers froze

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Environment and History 13.1




This articlewas writtenwithin theprojectModeling Bronze Age SettlementSystems inaDynamic Environmentof theUniversityofChicago (OrientalInstituteandDepart

ment ofAnthropology),theUniversityofDurham and theArgonneNational Laboratory, fundedby theNational Science FoundationProgram:Dynamics ofCoupled Natural and

Human Systems (GrantNo. 0216548). An earlierdraftof thepaperhas benefitedgreatly from comments by Jesse Casana, Gil Stein and Tony Wilkinson. I am also most grateful toDarongsai Kwon andBenjaminVerschuere fortheirinvaluableassistancewith the statisticalsimulationsin thispaper.

References to cuneiform texts in this article follow the abbreviations and conventions

used inThe AssyrianDictionary of theOriental Instituteof theUniversityofChicago (Chicago and Gl?ckstadt: The Oriental Institute,1956ff.)andWolfgang Von Soden,

AkkadischesHandw?rterbuch (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1959-74) (hereafter CAD andAHw).

1For a most recent study on the profound impact that environment has on practically

everything, see Shepard Krech III, J.R.McNeill and Carolyn Merchant (eds.), Encyclo pediaofWorldEnvironmentaHlistory,3vols.(NewYork:Routledge,2004);seealsothe extensivereviewbyTed Steinberg,’FertilizingtheTree ofKnowledge: Environmental

HistoryComes ofAge’, JournalofInterdisciplinarHyistory 35/2(2004): 265-77, em phasising the unnatural aspects of many historical ‘natural’ disasters. For the climate of northern Syria and the Jazira in the Bronze Age, see, for example, Hasan Niizhet

Dalfes,GeorgeKukla andHarveyWeiss (eds.),ThirdMillenniumBC ClimateChange


Springer-Verlag, 1997); H. Weiss, M.-A. Courty, W. Wetterstrom, F. Guichard, L. Sen ior,R. Meadow and A. Curnow, ‘The Genesis and Collapse of Third Millennium North

Mesopotamian Civilizations’, Science 261 (1993), 995-1004; Harvey Weiss, ‘Beyond

theYoungerDryas:Collapse asAdaptation toAbruptClimateChange inAncientWest Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean’, in Environmental Disaster and the Archaeology ofHuman Response, ed. Garth Bawden and Richard Martin Rey craft (Albuquerque:

MaxwellMuseumofAnthropologyU,niversityofNewMexico,2000),75-98;Marie Agnes Courty and Harvey Weiss, ‘The Scenario of Environmental Degradation in theTell LeilanRegion,Ne Syria,During theLateThirdMillenniumAbruptClimateChange’,

inThirdMillennium BC Climate Change and Old World Collapse, ed. Hasan Niizhet

Dalfes, George Kukla andHarveyWeiss, NATO ASI Series I:Global Environmental

Change 49 (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1997), 107^17. Note, however, a general settle ment increase – rather than decrease – that appears to have taken place in some areas

of northern Syria at the end of the third millennium b.c. (T.J. Wilkinson, Excavations

at Tell Es-Sweyhat, Syria, Volume 1: On theMargin of theEuphrates: Settlement and Land Use at Tell Es-Sweyhat and in theUpper Lake Assad Area, Syria [Chicago: The Oriental Institute2,004], 193).

For numerous climate changes in the mid-to-late Holocene in northern Syria, see Frank Hole, ‘Evidence forMid-Holocene Environmental Change in theWestern Khabur Drainage, Northeastern Syria’, inThird Millennium BC Climate Change and Old World Collapse, op.cit., 39-66,41 ;see also J.Neumann and Simo Parp?la, ‘Climate Change and

theEleventh-Tenth-Century Eclipse ofAssyria and Babylonia’, Journal of ear Eastern Studies46 (1987), 146-82; andBurchardBrentjes, ‘KaltzeitenundV?lkerbewegungen. Thesen zum Zusammenhang von Klimaschwankungen und V?lkerbewegungen im sp?ten

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2 Jahrtausend .Chr.’, inLandwirtschaft imAlten Orient, ed. Horst Klengel and Johan nesRenger,BerlinerBeitr?ge zumVorderenOrient 18 (Berlin:DietrichReimerVerlag, 1999), 59-63. For a balanced discussion of climate change and itspotential impacton

site and regional abandonment, see Richard L. Zettler, ‘Reconstructing theWorld of Ancient Mesopotamia: Divided Beginnings and Holistic History’, Journal of theEco

nomicand Social History of theOrient 46 (2003), 3-45; KarlW. Butzer, ‘Sociopolitical Discontinuity in theNear East C. 2200 B.C.E.: Scenarios from Palestine and Egypt’, in

ThirdMillenniumBC ClimateChange andOldWorldCollapse, op.cit.,245-96.
2Gil J. Stein, ‘Structural Parameters and Sociocultural Factors in the Economic Organiza tionofNorthMesopotamianUrbanismintheThirdMillenniumB.C. ‘,inArchaeological

Perspectives on Political Economies, ed. Gary M. Feinmann and Linda M. Nicholas (Salt

Lake City:UniversityofUtah Press,2004), 61-83,62, withdata fromHarveyWeiss ‘The Origins ofTell Leilan and theConquest of Space inThirdMillenniumMesopotamia’, in

The Origins ofCities BC, ed. HarveyWeiss see also T.J. Wilkinson,

inDry Farming Syria andMesopotamia in theThirdMillennium (Guilford:Four Quarters PublishingCo., 1986), 71-108, 77;

‘The Structure and Dynamics of Dry-Farming States inUpper Anthropology 35 (1994), 483-520, 499-500.

Mesopotamia’, Current
3For amost recent study on the effects of the industrialisation and increased atmospheric

C02 levels on climate and agriculture, see Jos? Luis Araus, Gustavo Ariel Slafer, Ramon

Buco and inPrehistoric Mod IgnacioRomagosa,’Productivity AgricultureP:hysiological

els for the Quantification of Cereal Yields as an Alternative to Traditional JournalofArchaeological Science 30 (2003), 681-93, 683.

4For a general picture of dry-farming agriculture in northern Syria and


the Jazira in an

see also Katleen Deckers,AnthracologicalResearchattheArchaeologicalSiteofEmaronthMeiddle

tiquity, see ‘ Stein ‘Structural Parameters’, 67-8; with further references;

Euphrates, Syria’, Pal?orient. Revue pluridisciplinaire de pr?histoire et protohistoire
de l’Asiedu Sud-Ouest etde l’Asie centrale31/2 (2005), 153-67. For thecultivationof

barley,wheat and emmer in thecuneiformtextsfromTell Beydar, seeMagnus Widell, ‘Some Observations on theAdministration, Agriculture and Animal Management of

Tell Beydar’, Ugarit-Forschungen. Internationales Jahrbuch f?r die Altertumskunde

Syrien-Pal?stinas 35 (2004), 717-33, 724-26; for wine or grapes in Tell Beydar, see Walther Sallaberger and Philippe Talon, ‘Transliterated Texts’, inAdministrative Docu

ments from Tell Beydar (Seasons 1993-1995), ed. Farouk Ismail, Walther Sallaberger, PhilippeTalonandKarelVanLerberghe,Subartu2(TurnhoutB:repols,1996),127-74, 130 (textno. 6). For thecultivationofolives inEbla, seeHartmuWt aetzoldt, ‘?lpflanzen

und Pflanzen?le im 3. Jahrtausend’, Bulletin on Sumerian Agriculture 2 (1985), 77-96, 77 and 79-80; Alfonso Archi, ‘Culturede l’olivier et productionde l’huile ? Ebla’, in

Marchands, diplomates et empereurs. ?tudes sur la civilization M?sopotamienne offertes ?Paul Garelli, ed.Dominique CharpinandFrancisJoannes(Paris:?ditionsRecherche

surlesCivilisations, 1991),211-22.
5Michael G. Morony, ‘Michael the Syrian as a Source for Economie History’, Hugoye:

Journal ofSyriac Studies 3 (2000), available from http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/. Al though Michael’s chronicle records ravaging or pillaging at the hands of humans, such

data cannotbe applied on thecompletelydifferentculturaland political settingof the


Michael’s reportonMuslims killing pigs in 994 or 820). Nevertheless, it should be stated that conflicts, wars and ravaging groups also constituted an additional constant

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threat to the farmers of the thirdmillennium b.c. It goes without saying that this threat became more serious in times of famine, when large groups in the society were unable to produce food by peaceful means and when the settlements were less able to defend

themselves. See further Neumann and Parp?la, ‘Climate Change and the Eleventh-Tenth


Great, see DorotheaWeltecke, ‘TheWorld Chronicle by PatriarchMichael theGreat (1126-1199): SomeReflections\JournalofAssyrianAcademicStudies 11(1997),6-30, 17);seealsoAbdulmesihBarAbrahem,’PatriarcMhichael theGreat:BeyondhisWorld

Chronicle’, JournalofAssyrianAcademic Studies 12 (1998), 33-45, 33-8.
7For a recent, more comprehensive, study of the historical and narrative reliability of the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian, see Dorothea Weltecke, ‘Originality and Func tion of Formal Structures in theChronicle ofMichael theGreat’, Hugoye: Journal of

Century Eclipse’,
6ForanoutlineofthelifeofMichael theSyrian(sometimesreferredtoasMichael the

Syriac Studies 3 (2000), available from http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/. used by Michael the Syrian, see also BarAbrahem, ‘Patriarch Michael

For the Chronicle of Zuqnin – presumably an eighth-century monk

For the sources the Great’, 41-3.

at the monastery of Zuqnin in Tour Abdin – see Amir Harrak, The Chronicle of Zuqnin, Parts III and

IV,A.D. 488-775 (Toronto:PontificialInstitututoefMediaeval Studies, 1999);Witold

Witakowski, The Syriac Chronicle ofPseudo-Dionysius ofTell-Magre.A Study in the

History ofHistoriography (Uppsala:Almqvist& Wiksell International,1987);Witold

Witakowski, Pseudo-Dionysius ofTel-Mahre, Chronicle, Part III (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996). For John of Ephesus, sometimes referred to as John of Asia,

see furtherMorony, ‘Michael the Syrian’, ?5; Susan A. Harvey, ‘Theodora the “Believ

ingQueen”: A Study inSyriacHistoriographicalTradition’,Hugoye: JournalofSyriac Studies 4 (2001), ??16-18, ?30, available from http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/. As for the unreliable nature ofMichael the Syrian’s account for the sixth century, it should be

noted thatMichael hardly seems to acknowledge the well-known and significant global event around 536-45, documented by David Keys, Catastrophe. An Investigation into theOriginsofthMeodernWorld(NewYork:Ballantine,1999);andJoelD.Gunn,The

Years without Summer: Tracing A.D. 536 and itsAftermath, BAR International Series 872 (OxfordA: rchaeopress, 2000), with furtherliterature.
8 Josue = Chronicle of Josue the Stylite. Paulin Martin, Cronique de Josu? le Styl

ite,Abhandlungen f?r die Kunde des Morgenlandes 6, Band 1 (Leipzig: Deutschen Morgenl?ndischen Gesellschaft, 1876); Michael = Chronicle ofMichael the Syrian. Jean-BaptisteChabot, Cronique deMichel leSyrien (Paris:E. Leroux, 1899; rpt.edn., Bruxelles: Culture etCivilisation, 1963); Zuqnin = Chronicle ofZuqnin. Harrak, The

Chronicle ofZuqnin.
9Hence, the locusts of the year 500, which are reported to have devoured everything from the territory of Assur to theMediterranean and the land of Urtea in the north, or the outbreakof 1196,which affectedtheentirearea fromthebordersofEgypt toIberiaand fromIran to theBlack Sea (seeMorony, ‘Michael theSyrian’, ?19 and ?23). There can

belittledoubtthatsuchlargeinfestationwserecausedbythedesertlocust(seebelow). For the climatic correlation between Syria and northern Mesopotamia, see Neumann and

Parp?la, ‘Climate Change and theEleventh-Tenth-Century Eclipse’, 168-71.
10See Weiss ‘Beyond theYounger Dryas’, 91: ‘First, precisely when does crop failure and reduced agro-production generate abandonment, habitat-tracking, nomadism, and system collapse, within various politico-economic systems and across various terrains

Environment and History 13.1

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inGreece, Palestine, Egypt, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and the Indus?’
11Norman Lewis, ‘The Balikh Valley and its People’, inHammam Et – Turkman I.

Report on the University of Amsterdams 1981-84 Excavations in Syria II, ed. Maurits N. Van Loon (Leiden:Nederlands Instituutvoor hetNabije Osten, 1988), 683-95, 689.

For the report, which was unavailable tome, see Raff A. Fontana, Report for the Year 1911 on theTrade and Commerce of theVilayetofAleppo. ParliamentaryPapers,Vol.

C, 1912-13(1912).
1F2or the important role of donkeys and other draft animals in the agricultural production

in northern Syria in the Bronze Age, seeWidell, ‘Some Observations on theAdministra

tion,Agriculture and Animal Management of Tell Beydar’, 717-33.

13For numerous references towinters, frost and cold weather, see CAD and AHw under

e/arijatu, halp?, hurb?su, kupp?, kussu/k?su, mamm?, salgu, sur?pu, surupp?, taks?tu. Other relateddisastersdescribedbyMichael theSyrian,suchas hail, isalsowell attested

(seeCAD underahnuA6 andAHw under tiku2c).
For a recentEnglish translationofKBo ITO, seeGary Beckman,HittiteDiplomatic

Texts, Second Edition (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 138-43. For theNeo-Assyrian letter describing cold weather killing troops and horses, see H. W. S. Saggs, ‘The Nimrud

Letters, 1952-PartV, Iraq 21 (1959), 158-80, 172 (textLXI). AdditionalNeo-Assyr ian letters referring to extreme cold and its effect on livestock, plants and roads can be found in Govert Van Driel, ‘Weather: Between the Natural and the Unnatural in First

Millennium Cuneiform Inscriptions’ inDiederik J.W Meijer (ed.) Natural Phenomena.

Their Meaning, Depiction and Description in theAncient Near East (Amsterdam, 1992), 39-52,47-49. Note also theOld Babylonian letteArRM 167,whichdescribesabriefbut devastating hail storm that destroyed agricultural fields in north-eastern Syria. The letter

was written by Yaqqim-Addu, governor of the province of Sagar?tum in theHabur area,

tothefamous Zimri-Lim inMari For thecorrect of king (1779-1757 b.c.). interpretation

this text, see Jean-Marie Durand, ‘Trois etudes surMari’, Mari Annales de Recherches

Interdisciplinaires3 (1984), 127-80, 137.
14For these ancient plagues of locusts in Syria, see Wolfgang Heimpel, ‘Moroccan Lo

custs inQattunan’, Revue d’assyriologie et d’arch?ologie orientale 90 (1996), 101-20; Brigitte Lion and C?cile Michel, ‘Criquets et autres insectes ?Mari’, Mari Annales de

Recherches Interdisciplinaires 8 (1997), 707-24; Niele Ziegler’s extensive review of Maurice Birot, Correspondance des gouverneurs de Qattun?n, ARM 27 (Paris: ?ditions

Recherches surlesCivilisations, 1993), inArchivf?rOrientforschung46-47 1999/2000),


1F5or a detailed description of the development stages, general behaviour, and habitat of theMoroccan locust, see Boris P. Uvarov, ‘Ecology of theMoroccan Locust in Iraq and Syria’, Bulletin ofEntomological Research 24 (1933). For a translation and commen taryof theCurse ofAgade, see JerroldS. Cooper, The Curse ofAgade (Baltimoreand

London: JohnsHopkinsUniversityPress, 1983); forthepassage inthistextconcerning locusts, see also Wolfgang Heimpel, Tierbilder in der sumerischen Literatur (Rome:


For a detaileddescriptionof thedevelopmentstages,generalbehaviour,andhabitatof the

desert locust, see Philip. M. Symmons and Keith Cressman, Desert Locust Guidelines. 1.

BiologyandBehaviour (Rome:Food andAgricultureOrganizationoftheUnitedNations,

2001, Second edition), available from http://www.fao.org/ag/locusts/oldsite/PUBS 1 .htm; Ezekiel Rivnay,Field Crop Pests in theNear East (TheHague: W. Junk,1962).


Environment and History

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