Monday, 11 February 2013

Famine in the ancient world

Hunger and famine were ever present dangers in the ancient world. The chronicles are filled with accounts of hunger, famine and the mass deaths they caused. For today’s readers, who need only visit the local shops to find an adequate range of foods on sale, it is difficult to appreciate fully the terror and familiarity of famine. We can even buy luxury fruits out of season after they have been flown in by jet aircraft from other countries. For the ancients there was no such supply system. If a crop failed, people starved.

Although the dwellers round the Mediterranean had access to a vast range of foods, they all relied for survival on a single staple crop: grain. Most villages and small towns depended almost exclusively on the grain fields in their immediate area for supply. In the vast majority of years these fields grew enough grain to feed the people, usually with a small surplus which could be charred and stored for the future. But if there was a wet summer or if crop disease struck, the food supply failed. Lacking a secondary staple crop, such as rice or potatoes - both of which were unknown in Europe at the time - there was no crop that could thrive in conditions fatal to grain.

The problem was especially bad in cities where large numbers of people were dependent on food imported from the surrounding countryside and were unable to fall back on wild plants or game in times of crisis. In AD362 the entire area around the city of Antioch was struck by drought and the grain crops withered in the fields. Thousands of people starved to death as a result.

from "The Age of the Gladiators. Savagery & Spectable in Ancient Rome" by Rupert Matthews

Buy your copy HERE

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Capella; 1st.ed. edition (2003)
  • ISBN-10: 1841931853
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841931852
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.2 x 2.6 cm

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