The Geographical Environment of Roman History

  • M. Cary
  • H. H. Scullard


Roman history is the record of a state that extended its boundaries from a narrow territory in the Tiber valley to include all the lands of the Mediterranean seaboard. Its scene was laid in every part of Italy and in every district of the Mediterranean area. This geographical background of Roman history will require a brief introductory description.


Mediterranean Area Summer Drought Ancient Army Ancient History Winter Grazing 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    On Mediterranean geography in general see J. L. Myres, The Mediterranean Lands (1953);Google Scholar
  2. E. C. Semple, The Geography of the Mediterranean Region: its Relation to Ancient History (1931), especially chs xi–xx; M. Cary, The Geographic Background of Greek and Roman History; and for Italy, see Italy, 3 vols, Admiralty, Naval Intelligence Division, Geographical Handbooks.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Evidence is forthcoming of long-term fluctuations in the volume of Mediterranean rainfall in prehistoric times: cf. C. E. P. Brooks, Climate through the Ages (1926).Google Scholar
  4. Further, it has been argued by Rhys Carpenter, Discontinuity in Greek Civilization (1966), 18 ff., that climatic changes through Mediterranean lands from 1200 to 850 B.C. caused drought and famine, while at points the sea-level seems to have been lower than today. This was followed by a period of abundant rainfall, so the climate may have been colder and perhaps wetter during the classical period. The effects of this change, if it is a fact, may well have been felt in the Alpine regions of Italy, where Brooks believed open communications were greatest between 1200 and 900. But thereafter changes are more likely to have been caused by local conditions: the clearing of forests and the consequent effect on the rainfall, together with the sweeping away of soil and the choking of river mouths which has continued since then (thus in Roman times difficulties of silting occurred at Ostia, Rome’s port at the Tiber mouth, which today is two miles inland). J. B. Ward-Perkins (Landscape and History in Central Italy, Second J. L. Myres Memorial Lecture) emphasises the evil effects of deforestation upon southern Italy, including Sybaris, and points out (p. 6) that ‘the great Roman ports of the northern Adriatic, Aquileia and Ravenna, are both now far inland; Spina too, the Adriatic port for northern Etruria, is high and dry’. For an attempt to discover how far the Mediterranean streams have modified their valleys during the last 2000 yearsGoogle Scholar
  5. see C. Vita-Finzi, The Mediterranean Valleys (1969) (he incidentally agrees that ‘climatic conditions in Roman times were not effectively different from those of today’, p. 113). This last point is also made abundantly clear from conditions described by Greek and Roman writers. Also the distribution of plants in the ancient and modern Mediterranean area shows that the isotherms remain virtually unchanged. Further, when Livy often records winter blizzards and prolonged summer rains in central Italy, this may have been because they were the reverse of normal. For further discussionGoogle Scholar
  6. see M. Cary, The Geographic Background of Greek and Roman History (1949), 2 ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The representatives of the estate of the late M. Cary and H. H. Scullard 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Cary
    • 1
  • H. H. Scullard
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LondonUK

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