The Danube Floods and Their Human Response and Perception (14th to 17th C)
Rohr, Christian(Department of History and Political Science, University of Salzburg, Austria)
History of Meteorology, 2 (2005)
There are hardly any studies on floods in Late Medieval, Early Modern and Modern Austria, except some case studies and concise surveys on natural disasters in general. All studies on climate history only deal with the times from the beginning of systematic measurement of temperature and water level during the second half of the 18th century. Therefore, contrary to some neighbour countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech lands, any major and more general publication on the history of floods before the 18th century is still missing. This paper will, therefore, also show some major lacunae to be filled by future studies. My habilitation study People and Natural Disasters at the End of the Middle Ages and in Early Modern Times (13th to 16th c.), to be concluded in early 2006, will try to cover the history of the floods prior than 1600 from the perspective of cultural history. The analysis is based on a comparative study of different natural hazards: floods, earthquakes, other natural hazards and risks, including animal plagues, but excluding diseases and epidemics. In this way it may be carved out, which hazards had been experienced as disasters and which had not.
In this paper, emphasis will be given to a “mentality bound approach”, which asks for the perception, interpretation, management and cultural responses to floods. It will be shown that these aspects are influenced rather more by the expectation of floods than by religious beliefs. Contrary to many other natural hazards, such as earthquakes, floods were almost common to people living near the riverside. Towns, located on the banks of a river, were confronted repeatedly with two different “faces” of the water way: the axis of trade and wealth could turn into a threatening enemy, causing enormous or, at least, some damage to their property and their lives.