The Fevered Climate

In the sunken
Eagle’s nest
silted scripts
tell tales
of ancient skies,
against the
quickened pulse
and gentle sigh
of life.
Through time’s
unbending lens
stories unfold
in layers of earth –
a chronicle of climate
into an empire’s
Cold spells,
lined up with
unseen storms
of pestilence,
As if the Earth itself
sought to dim
the eternal flame.
Every stratum
a vestige
to the enormity
of life,
and the folly
of our designs.

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that climate change likely triggered pandemics in antiquity.

Understanding how ancient societies dealt with natural climate changes can shed light on how people might respond to current environmental challenges and the connections between the environment and diseases. When we look into the past, particularly through detailed climate records that track changes over short periods of time, we gain insights into how environmental stresses influenced societies. Such records can tell us not only about the weather patterns but also about how these patterns may have affected health and the spread of diseases, especially when we can see these changes on a local scale.

This study presents a detailed climate history from 200 BCE to 600 CE, using marine sediments from Southern Italy to trace the Roman Empire’s zenith and decline. It provides the first detailed climate records (with a resolution of about every three years) for the empire’s heartland, revealing marked climate instability and cooling from 100 CE, intensifying after 130 CE. The research identifies specific cold spells – around 160 to 180 CE, 245 to 275 CE, and after 530 CE – that aligned with pandemic outbreaks. These findings indicate that climate shifts significantly influenced societal and biological factors, affecting ancient societies’ health and stability. The link between climate stress and disease highlights the importance of including health in current climate change risk assessments, highlighting the long-term interaction between human societies and their environment.

3 thoughts on “The Fevered Climate”

  1. There’s not enough of this sensible research going on Sam. At 63, I remember when ‘scientists’ and ‘experts’ first postulated ‘climate change – global warming’, and for much of the time after that, gave grave, (hysterical in my opinion) predictions of enormous sea level rises by 2050. This is not going to happen is it? What humanity is doing and has done to the very thin crust of the earth, and its lack of ‘humanity’ and ‘humility’ in doing so is of course pure exploitation: humans and certain other species have thrived due to this, whilst others have died and failed. Where Wallace and Darwin’s theories fit into all of this, for me is now debatable and needs to be seriously reassessed. Not only does humanity need to look into the near past, but the geological past. It is very probable that we are still in the middle of an ‘Ice-age’ cycle, and that the very thin surface of the earth was going to warm up ‘naturally’. The same ‘disasters’ would have occurred, even without the industrial revolution and its consequences. It is, as your poem suggests, how humanity prepares for these. Humanity never will as it is now, ‘God’ driven: resulting in an overwhelming majority believing that the earth was put hear for them to live on, and exploit, and that the earth was always as it is now, and should continue that way. Until that virtually universal concept is challenged…’we are all doomed!’ But we are anyway! Humanity is too full of its own self-importance.

  2. Hi Sam, thank you for this poem. Its language is economical – references to the eagle of the Roman legions and the ‘eternal’ flame of Vesta, which was believed to protect Rome from pestilence and disaster as long as it didn’t go out, are woven into the poem as metaphors and the very short lines encourage the reader to think about each line individually. In particular I like
    “As if the Earth itself
    sought to dim
    the eternal flame”
    which neatly brings in the idea of the planet as a living organism that needs to make adjustments to keep its own health in balance. How far it will go to achieve this and how many of us will live to tell the tale remains to be seen.


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