The Fate of Rome | Kyle Harper

Summary of: The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire
By: Kyle Harper


What role did climate and diseases play in shaping the Roman Empire’s fate? ‘The Fate of Rome’ by Kyle Harper takes you on a captivating journey that unveils Rome’s secret past. In this summary, you’ll discover how favorable climate conditions contributed to Rome’s prosperity. But you’ll also learn how poor health and devastating diseases, such as the Antonine Plague and the Black Death, constantly plagued its population. Amidst the empire’s greatness, its journey was affected by climate change, infectious diseases, and eventually led to its collapse. Dive into this gripping narrative filled with surprising historical insights and intriguing revelations.

The Role of Climate in the Roman Empire’s Prosperity

Life in the Roman Empire was tough with high infant mortality rates and a life expectancy of only 25 years. However, an incredibly favorable climate contributed to the empire’s prosperity during the Roman Climate Optimum (RCO) period. The RCO saw stable, warm, and wet weather, which was ideal for farming, and volcanic activity was almost absent. This resulted in bumper crops and fertile regions like North Africa that provided grain for the empire. However, the Roman Empire’s extensive trade routes and high connectedness meant that infectious diseases thrived, posing a major challenge to the empire. Though the empire eventually slowed its expansion and achieved widespread peace, its growth was closely linked to the RCO.

The Contributing Factors to Height Variation and Ill Health in the Roman Empire

The variation in height across different populations is primarily caused by nutrition. However, for the Romans, their small stature was likely due to disease rather than poor diet. The high density of cities and connected trade routes in the Roman Empire facilitated the spread of infectious diseases like typhoid and dysentery, which were prevalent and caused high mortality rates, especially in late summer and early fall. The Roman Empire’s urban areas were also dangerously dirty, making them a breeding ground for intestinal parasites like roundworm and tapeworm. Finally, the Antonine Plague had a tremendous impact on the population’s health as it devastated the Empire and caused millions of deaths.

Rome’s Antonine Plague

Rome’s Antonine Plague triggered by mosquitoes and smallpox, proved to be a devastating epidemic that left Rome vulnerable to economic crisis. The outbreak began in the year AD 166, affecting a population already weakened by malaria, and continued for eight years. The disease particularly impacted the military, causing a sharp drop in silver mining that led to profound economic suffering. The economic crisis that ensued deprived the Roman Empire of its ability to withstand neighboring threats.

The First Fall of Rome

The City of Rome in AD 248 faced a crisis caused by devastating drought, a new pandemic, and barbarian invasions resulting in its first fall. The Roman Empire faced continuous internal rebellions and barbarian intrusions across the river Danube and in the East after an aristocrat named Philip became Emperor in AD 244. The Roman Climate Optimum drew to a close, and the climate regime known as the Late Roman Transition began, bringing with it a deep drought striking North Africa and Palestine. A plague event that started in AD 249 further led to the destabilization of the Roman currency, causing the prices of goods to wildly oscillate. The military loss, coin debasement, and imperial fragmentation inspired the assassination of the emperor in AD 268 but luckily his successor ushered in an age of recovery that allowed the empire to flourish once again.

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