Spain, 1,300 years ago: climate change and drought are nothing new

Climate Change and drought are nothing new Photo: Wikimedia CC / Dennis Jarvis

Between 695 and 725, the Iberian Peninsula experienced its worst drought for 5,000 years, according to a study of pollen samples.

The Visigothic kingdom, one of the most powerful, cultured and wealthy in Western Europe, plunged headlong into crisis between the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century. In just a couple of decades, its entire domain was swept away by the Moors. The causes are varied, but in recent years some researchers have pointed to the importance of climate change in the collapse of the socio-economic system of this people and in the success of the Islamic conquest.

In his book The Visigoths. Hijos de un dios furioso (The Visigoths. Children of an angry god), historian José Soto Chica explained that from the year 680 onwards, crops and the economy collapsed due to a drop in temperature and a decrease in rainfall. These led to devastating famines that contributed to the weakening of the population and, consequently, to the strong reappearance of the bubonic plague, which killed a 3rd of the population in just 3 decades.

Worst drought for 5,000 years

Researchers from the University of Granada and the Spanish National Research Council conducted a study published in the journal Nature Communications, which looked at more than a hundred pollen records from different sites and caves in the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. They concluded that the worst drought for the last 5,000 years was recorded in the period between 695 and 725.

During this period, vegetation declined and the Visigoths, whose economy was based primarily on crop success, introduced a series of measure to combat the water shortage. These included the use of irrigation ditches to refill aquifers, tougher laws to avoid disputes over water and ensure its proper use and various policies regarding the possession of land and the management of land. Very similar to measures being introduced now on the Costa del Sol, with the addition of golf courses and swimming pools now included!

Famine and political unrest

“The people were starving. There is scientific evidence that proves that at the beginning of the 8th century the Iberian Peninsula experienced a period of extreme aridity such as has never been seen again”, says the medieval historian José Soto Chica.

He added: “In a late ancient society based on agriculture, that meant famine, political unrest, increased exposure to pandemics such as bubonic plague…. In short, the collapse of a kingdom. It is much easier to conquer a kingdom with those problems of famine, epidemics, political strife and social disorder than to take on one in its heyday.

It is now clear that climate change played a very important role in explaining the fall of the Visigothic kingdom, the Islamic conquest of Spain and the creation of al-Andalus which we now know as Andalucia.

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Written by

Kevin Fraser Park

Kevin was born in Scotland and worked in marketing, running his own businesses in UK, Italy and, for the last 8 years, here in Spain. He moved to the Costa del Sol in 2016 working initially in real estate. He has a passion for literature and particularly the English language which is how he got into writing.