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Old April 23rd, 2013, 09:21 AM   #1

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Mosquitos and the decline of the Roman empire


To what extent did malaria cause the decline of the roman empire.
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Old April 23rd, 2013, 11:53 AM   #2

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I understand that this line of inquiry is the topic of some interesting recent studies. I don't think that malaria itself is sufficient to explain the "fall of Rome" (the Etruscans and Romans having had to deal with it throughout their history). As with outbreaks of plague, there are usually other social and economic factors involved to make any single one 'devastating'.
I might look for variables which would make it harder for local populations to deal with malaria.
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Old March 6th, 2014, 10:46 AM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tuthmosis III View Post
I understand that this line of inquiry is the topic of some interesting recent studies. I don't think that malaria itself is sufficient to explain the "fall of Rome" (the Etruscans and Romans having had to deal with it throughout their history). As with outbreaks of plague, there are usually other social and economic factors involved to make any single one 'devastating'.
I might look for variables which would make it harder for local populations to deal with malaria.
Although Rome had forms of malaria since the foundation of the city I think it is now thought that the most dangerous type, P. falciparum may only have been introduced to Rome from North Africa around the start of the common era.

Here is an interesting read. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. Disease and death in the ancient city of Rome PDF. https://www.google.com/#q=Disease+an...ty+of+Rome+pdf

And here's another. BBC - History - Ancient History in depth: Malaria and the Fall of Rome

Last edited by Jax; March 6th, 2014 at 10:48 AM.
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Old March 6th, 2014, 01:43 PM   #4
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If anything I would say that malaria had more to do with the rise of Rome than its fall.

The Cloaca Maxima was built by one of the earlier Kings of Rome and then massively expanded by the last King, sometime about 600 BCE, and it did much to drain the local marshes and control the mosquitos and corresponding malaria, allowing Rome to grow as a city.

Though the Romans didn't know that mosquitos were the carriers of malaria they did know standing water left after the Tiber flooded the riverbanks bred the insects and made people sick. So the sewer was constructed to help drain this water from the central part of Rome, it still works even today.

In later centuries when the government neglected its public works or was unable to revive them after damage caused by natural events or barbarians the sewer systems fell into disrepair and malaria became a huge problem again. Without proper infrastructure to drain this water (plus the aqueducts being cut by barbarians and never repaired) the population of Rome plummeted from like a million at its peak in the 100s CE to something like 50,000 in 550 CE at the end of the Gothic Wars.
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Old March 6th, 2014, 10:43 PM   #5

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Romans recovered a lot of marshy lands, overall in central Italy. They did this because of agricultural, urban and logistic reasons [to build streets, fortresses, aqueducts ...]. But doing that they improved a lot the sanitary conditions of that reason erasing the environment where mosquito found its proper "home". This affected the endemic presence of malaria in that area of the peninsula.

They did something similar also in the provinces of the Republic / Empire where they needed to improve the territory.

This said ...

Such a management of the territory requires constancy, regularity, generation after generation. So I would infer that from the beginning of 4th century CE, when the administration of the imperial territory begun to show visible problems, a certain part of the recovered marshy lands saw a contrary process, with the deterioration [from a human perspective] of their conditions.

So, I can say that malaria came back because of the worsening of the Roman administration of the territory. Then the plague affected the population [we could say "giving a hand" in weakening the imperial society in some areas].
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Old March 6th, 2014, 10:54 PM   #6

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Pometia


Probably the most interesting case of management of a marshy territory is the Pontina marsh [not far from Rome].

After being a low lake for centuries in ancient time it became a wide marshy land with a tremendous presence of mosquito. Before of Romans, already the Volsci made more than an attempt to recover and dry it. We can make reference to the settlement of Suessia Pometia.

Anyway the most impressive result in taking lands to the marsh can be dated to the imperial age. When, along the Ancient Appia Way, where there was the marsh, they were able to create stable and healthy settlements [like Tres Tabernae, Tripontium and Forum Appii]. These cities have even mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles [Paul would have spent some nights there, traveling through the region].

It's really meaningful that in the period of the so called Barbarian Invasions the territory went back to the marsh, despite the attempts to reclaim the soil by King Teodorico [The Great VI century CE].

This seems to sustain my hypothesis about the decreasing level of maintenance of the territory during the last centuries of the Empire.
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