Starvation Under Carolingian Rule. The Famine of 779 and the Annales Regni Francorum

Starvation Under Carolingian Rule. The Famine of 779 and the Annales Regni Francorum

By Stephen Ebert

Famines During the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1300–1800): Socionatural Entanglements in Premodern Societies, edited by Dominik Collet and Maximilian Schuh (Springer, 2017)

The growth of Frankish power, 481–814, showing Francia as it originally was after the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire

Abstract: How vulnerable was the Frankish society to famines in the Early Middle Ages? Modern concepts of vulnerability and resilience are mainly used to describe susceptibility of present day social and ecological systems to climate change. Since vulnerability and resilience have also become key concepts in famine studies, this paper approaches these concepts as a method to analyze natural impacts and cultural reactions on a historical level.

Examining historiographical and administrative documents from the eighth and ninth century as well as dendrochronological data, the paper discusses potential natural impacts, preventive and coping strategies in case of a famine dated to 779. Following this approach, insights into Carolingian exposure to famines are provided, shedding light on early medieval interrelations of nature and culture.

Introduction: Life was tough in the Early Middle Ages. The days were dark and rainy, the muddy fields produced very little, and people starved in their cold, poor homes. This popular image of the epoch that scholars call the Early Middle Ages might be nothing more than a present-day figment of a long gone past. In order to entertain an intended audience, contemporary films and documentaries, from which this image may derive, tend to blur the real conditions of everyday life in early medieval Western Europe. Nevertheless, one impression received from this image is of a past society being at the mercy of its environmental circumstances.

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