The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pirenne in Anatolia

John Haldon has led a team to write The Climate and Environment of Byzantine Anatolia. It is interesting in the facts it lays out, which prove the existence of the Byzantine Dark Age and place its onset in the 600s AD. It is also interesting in how hard it works to avoid saying this.

Pages 138-40, "gathering the data":

A close look at palynological data from a series of sites across the western half of Anatolia is highly informative. Pollen from flora representing both human activities (from cereals and nut trees, for example, or the weeds and grasses favored for grazing livestock) and the natural vegetation that replaces crops or expands to occupy formerly tilled land are suggestive of particular agricultural patterns. A first conclusion is that Anatolia’s arable and pastoral land, even the marginal areas, was, with regional variations according to local conditions, put to relatively intensive use during the sixth and seventh centuries. Both the palynological re-cord and the archaeological evidence indicate that much of the region was densely inhabited and characterized by mixed farming.

Beginning in the seventh century, however, this intensive and relatively homogen{e}ous exploitation of land receded, at different / rates, across the southern Balkans and much of Asia Minor with the entire BOP [Beyşehir Occupation Phase] agricultural régime. In its place, many locations under-went a sequence of progressive expansion of nonanthropogenic vegetation — increasingly prominent indications of post-arable growth, followed by scrub, and either wild grasses and steppic vegetation or woodland re-growth. Other locations show evidence of continued anthropogenic land use but with a much more limited range of crops that varied according to specific local conditions. Cereal production and livestock raising began to dominate, and the cultivation of vines and olives to decrease dramatically in many areas.

The "Beyşehir Occupation Phase" involves vines and olives. These are the sort of crops people plant when they are planning ahead. Which implies, when they feel able to plan ahead. This phase ended in the seventh and eighth centuries AD: Haldon, 132. Specifically, for Lakes Beyşehir and Hoyran it fell in the mid 600s: Haldon, 133; in Nar Gölü, abrupt termination in the region between, roughly, 670 and 690: Haldon, 141. In each place after its respective Last Decade, as I've boldfaced, there were no people at all to plant such crops. To resume:

Palynological investigation shows considerably less pollen from fruit trees of all types for this period. Parts of inland Bithynia in northwest Anatolia, close to Constantinople, however, appear to defy this trend to some extent, showing signs that the BOP suite of cultivars continued unbroken, albeit with an overall reduction in the volume of production. By contrast, the evidence suggests that the coastal regions of Bithynia increased their reliance on pastoral farming at the expense of cereal and fruit production, possibly testifying to the frequent sea-borne attacks there during the second half of the seventh and early eighth centuries, which made such cultivation risky. The survival of traditional agriculture in inland areas, away from the threatened coastal areas, may reflect market demand from Constantinople.

As a whole, Anatolia in this period evinces a much simplified agro-pastoral regime and a reduced level of activity. The wholesale retreat from many of the marginal areas that had formerly been farmed and the often dramatic reduction in farming elsewhere might be indicative of a reduced rural population in some areas as well—certainly in the Konya plain region, where a hitherto dense settlement relying on extensive seasonal irrigation vanished in the later seventh / early eighth century. A similar pattern is evident inthe material remains at Çadìr Höyük (in the basin of the Kanak Su, Yozgat province), where the wealthy settlement of the late antique period was replaced by a smaller habitation. Although the dates are still difficult to assess, these changes appear to have been roughly contemporary with those in the broader region. Similar developments appear to have occurred in Cappadocia, Bithynia, and eastern Paphlagonia. Although the evidence for these developments is patchy, and many more sample sites are necessary to ensure comprehensive coverage (particularly in the lowland sites where many cities were located), the overall picture appears to ªt well with the textual and the archaeological evidence about the collapse of established urban and agricultural customs, the downward demographic trend, and the general militarization of the Empire’s provincial society.

Could we blame "climate change" for the end of the classical world - of the "BOP": Haldon, 128? I agree it's not to be ruled out on principle. This is how Haldon & Co. conclude the project: that climate change as a "cooling trend" from the mid 600s on caused the Byzantines to switch from "marginal" crops like olives to cereals and sheep. Except that the essay had already snuck in the contrary at page 149:

Nevertheless, by using a multi-proxy approach from the same core sequence, it can be demonstrated that because the onset of drier and probably colder climatic conditions did not begin before the end of the BOP (dated in this case to sometime between 600 and 735 c.e.), it cannot have caused the end of the BOP.

Indeed. The "wet phase" starting (with the recovery from Justinian's Years-Without-Sun and ensuing plague) in 560 AD didn't end until 730 AD: Haldon, 126 - and this is a minimum bound: 137. The Abrupt End Of The B O P, as I've already repeated with boring repetition, struck in various times in various places over the later seventh century AD / first century AH. This means that the climate didn't change here under the Heraclidae or even for the first generation under the Isauridae. The climate was in fact rather nice for crops - and for weeds.

The real story is: For as long as the Umayyads ruled in Syria, opposed to Byzantium, the weeds were king in Anatolia. Today we find the weeds rule in Afghanistan, in Mali, and in northern Nigeria; and, very soon, in western Iraq.

Or, you know, as alternative to this rather stark conclusion, one might instead print humbug:

The upshot is that integrated regional and chronological synthesis, in the context of a broader picture, is an excellent platform on which historians, archaeologists, and environmental scientists can work together to interrogate evidence of causal and explanatory relationships for long-term socio-environmental change.

Probably the original essay's authorial "et al." had somewhat to do with said essay's abject surrender to academic political-correctness. Still. At least it offered the facts, for the rest of us, that we might draw some more meaningful conclusions.

posted by Zimri on 18:53 | link | 0 comments

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