Frosts, Floods, and Famines – Climate in Relation to Hunger in North-East Europe A.D. 1100–1550

Frosts, Floods, and Famines – Climate in Relation to Hunger in North-East Europe A.D. 1100–1550

By Heli Huhtama

Master’s Thesis, University of Eastern Finland, 2011

Abstract: This Master’s thesis examines the relation between climatic conditions and hunger in Northeast Europe in A.D. 1100–1550. The focus of the research is on the interpretation of the climatic fluctuations of the Middle Ages and on their impacts on food systems.

The climatic information was collected from historical sources and paleoclimatological reconstructions. As medieval sources from the studied time and area, such as chronicles and administrative records, had not previously been used as a source of climatic information, this paper had a special emphasis on the evaluation of the medieval documents’ climatological value. This paper introduced a method to combine and compare climatic information from historical documents with paleoclimatological reconstructions. It was found that historical documents may provide new information of temporal, regional and low-frequency climatic fluctuations.

Hunger records for this study were collected from the same sources as the historical climate data. It was found that long-term climatic trends did not have a significant effect on the frequency of hunger or famine. Rapid and unexpected climatic phenomena were more likely to cause hunger. Medieval hunger did not exist only because of unfavourable climatic conditions, and the pivotal reason for hunger was usually found in socially produced vulnerability. The level of vulnerability was in relation to the transformation processes of the medieval North-East European societies. When administrative power grew stronger and/or agricultural economy became permanent and more specialized, vulnerability most likely increased.

The results of the research show that it is inadequate to study climatic changes in relation to hunger without taking into consideration the social processes that happen simultaneously. In future research, special attention should be given to the variations of vulnerability and its impacts on food systems, especially from a historical perspective.

Click here to read this article from the University of Eastern Finland