Europe’s ‘Great Famine’ Years Were Some of the Soggiest in Centuries

State of the Planet Blog | Baek et al.
September 22, 2020

A global pandemic is a good time to reflect on the reality that history is full of much more misery and strife. For example, even by the standards of Medieval Europe, when deadly wars, famines, and diseases were common, the 14th century is particularly heartbreaking. Among many notable and terrible events of that age, the Great Famine, the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death all stand out as infamous events in one of Europe’s most miserable centuries.

A new paper from our team at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, published in Communications Earth & Environment, specifically revisits the infamous and devastating European Great Famine of 1315-1317. During this period, much of Europe experienced unrelenting rains that were compared to the fulfillment of Noah’s Ark prophesy. Historical records report that excessively wet conditions made planting difficult, crop yields poor, and frequently made it difficult to transport what could be harvested to market. The consequence was massive crop and market failures, which led to widespread death and starvation; in some places infanticide and cannibalism were reported, which purportedly gave rise to the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Famine spread across the British Isles, France, the low countries and Germany, and approximately 10-25% of Europe’s population perished.  Read More

A similar blog piece is also available at Nature's Sustainability Blog.