Did Earth Processes “Do In” Ancient Rome and Egypt?

Aerial view looking north of Okmok caldera, a 9.3-km- diameter (5.8 mi) circular crater that truncates the top of a large shield volcano on the northeastern part of Umnak Island in the eastern Aleutian Islands. (J. Reeder. Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

Okmok. In remote Alaska. A strange name and an odd place for what some scientists and historians now say caused the downfall of the Roman Republic and the Egyptian Ptolemaic Kingdom shortly after the demise of Julius Caesar.


A detailed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that Mount Etna in Sicily erupted at about the time of Caesar’s death in 44 BCE. Some have speculated that this eruption may have resulted in a cold-weather period accompanied by crop failures, famine, and other natural problems resulting in civic unrest and violence all around the Mediterranean region, just as the coronavirus pandemic is leading to social dissonance and upheavals all around today’s world.

One problem: that eruption of Mount Etna, truly, just wasn’t all that big. Now, a thorough analysis of volcanic debris in Alaska, ash found trapped in Greenland ice cores, tree ring analysis in Europe and North America, and deposits in a cave in China all point to a truly massive eruption of Alaska’s Mount Okmok with worldwide implications.

The volcano apparently let go with a mighty bang about the time Roman Senators were too busy assassinating Caesar to take note. Evidence collected from all the locations noted above seems to indicate that 43 BCE and 42 BCE were among the ten coldest years within the past 2,500 years of Earth history. And, per the evidence recently reported, that cold snap likely was caused by the ash and gas unleashed into the atmosphere by Okmok.

While we may more-or-less ignore natural Earth processes, such processes can apparently have very grave consequences—as can the uncontrolled release of ash and gas by human-made processes today. To politicians who often seem far-too-busy assassinating each other’s character on either side of an imaginary political divide rather than paying attention to the very real problems facing each and everyone of us “ordinary folk”: kindly take note and, please, take heed! Et tu, Brute?