Nat-Disastrs-art - 2/25/17
"Natural Disasters of the Middle Ages" by THLady Lorraine Devereaux.
This article was added to this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium, with the permission of the author.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
This article was first published in "The Clarion", the newsletter for the Barony of Forgotten Sea in 2006.
Natural Disasters of the Middle Ages
by THLady Lorraine Devereaux
A year ago we witnessed one of the worst natural disasters to strike the United States. Hurricane Katrina killed more than a thousand and destroyed the homes of hundreds of thousands, including some of our friends in Gleann Abhann.
But the United States and modern times do not have a monopoly on natural disasters. During SCA period, severe natural disasters occurred all over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
What follows is a list of some significant natural disasters during SCA period. The list was drawn from The Pessimist's Guide to History by Stuart Flexner (New York: Avon Books, 1992). I have included natural disasters, but not acts of aggression or outbreaks of disease. That list would be way too long.
817 AD: Rome Burns: First one fire burns for six days, then a second begins shortly afterward and burns for three days. In all, only four of the city's 14 districts remain undamaged.
1040 AD: Persia Shakes. The city of Tabriz (in modern Iran) suffers a major earthquake that kills 50,000. This is one of five large earthquakes that will destroy the city over a period of several hundred years.
1106 AD: Venice Sees Fire and Rain. In January heavy rain and wind-driven waves flood Venice and wash nearby Malamocco completely into the sea. (Seven hundred years later, the ruins of Malamocco will still be seen below the sea at low tide.) Within days a fire spreads through Venice's six parishes, burning what the waters left intact. Then in April an even greater fire devastates the city, spreading across the Grand Canal and destroying most wooden buildings, including 24 churches. After that, "use of wood for building was actively discouraged in Venice."
1169 AD: Mount Etna Erupts: For the first time in centuries, Mount Etna explodes, blowing out part of the volcano cone and causing earthquakes and tidal waves. "Hell visited earth" one Sicilian wrote. More than 15,000 die.
1200-1202 AD: The Nile Dries Up. Two months before the annual flooding of the Nile, Egyptians notice a greenish tint and foul smell in the river. Insufficient rain at the Nile's source caused the discoloration. More importantly, it meant the annual flooding of the lower Nile that replenishes farm fields and irrigates crops was far less than normal.
Before long the people are starving. Accounts claim the Egyptians ate their dogs, then carrion, then each other. According to Flexner, one inheritance was passed on to 40 heirs in one month.
Flexner says young children were kidnapped and eaten, and that eye witnesses described cauldrons with children's heads floating in them. If those eyewitnesses were Christian, I'm not sure how reliable their observations were. Nonetheless, hundreds die each day in Cairo and "only the vultures did not go hungry."
The Nile fails to rise again in 1201, but by then the population is so reduced, the effect is less dramatic. To add insult to injury, an earthquake strikes Egypt in May 1202.
1212 AD: London Burns. Flames start in the Church of Saint Mary in Southwark and spread unchecked in the second major fire to destroy London. When fire reaches both ends of the wooden London Bridge, thousands trapped on the bridge die. In all, roughly 3,000 are killed.
1268 AD: "Cradle of Civilization" Rocks. Asia Minor suffers a violent and widespread earthquake that kills 60,000.
1277 AD: Floods and Foes Wreak Havoc in Holland. A terrible storm floods the country surrounding the Zuider Zee, allowing enemy troops to capture the flooded cities by boat. It wasn't Holland's first flood, and it won't be the last.
1421 AD: Dikes Burst in Holland: Near the city of Dort the dikes that keep the sea at bay burst without warning. The flooding wipes out 72 villages and kills more than 100,000.
1456 AD: Earthquake Destroys Naples. A massive earthquake in southern Italy leaves Naples almost completely in ruins and kills 35,000.
1502 AD: Hurricane Destroys the Spanish Treasure Fleet. Christopher Columbus warns the fleet of 30 Spanish ships that it looks like a hurricane is developing, but they leave Santo Domingo harbor anyway. All are heavily laden with gold and other valuables, including a gold nugget said to be the size of a dinner plate. Some sink; others are battered to pieces against the reefs. A day and a half later only four ships survive. More than 500 are killed.
1528 AD: Hurricane Wrecks Another Spanish Fleet. Explorers returning from one of the first expeditions to Florida sail into a powerful hurricane. All the ships are wrecked, and of 400 on board, only 20 survive.
1530 AD: Floods Devastate Holland. High winds drive raging waves into the Low Countries, flooding Holland and causing the dikes to burst. More than 400,000 die in this country where more than two-fifths of the land is below sea level.
1531 AD: Lisbon Shakes. A major earthquake hits the Portuguese capital, demolishing roughly 15,000 homes and killing 30,000.
1570 AD: Storms and Waves Hit Holland (Again). High winds drive the sea inland, smashing dikes and killing another 50,000.
1574 AD: Holland Is Saved by Floods. Dutch citizens of Leiden resist their Spanish overlords as the Spanish besiege the city. However, the outnumbered Dutch soon feel the pinch of famine. Hundreds die of famine, while others eat grass and pray. Their prayers are answered on October 1 when a fierce storm strikes, breaking the dikes just miles from the Spanish encampment. Some 20,000 Spaniards drown in the flood and the siege of Leiden is broken.
1600 AD: Storms Destroy Spanish Ships (Again). A fleet of 60 Spanish ships sailing from Spain to Veracruz sail into storms that sink 17 ships and kill 1,000.
Copyright 2006 by Lorraine Gehring. <lorrainegehring at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.