Cover image for The Little Ice Age : how climate made history 1300-1850
The Little Ice Age : how climate made history 1300-1850
Fagan, Brian M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxi, 246 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1350 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
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QC989.A1 F34 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QC989.A1 F34 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QC989.A1 F34 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Only in the last decade have climatologists developed an accurate picture of yearly climate conditions in historical times. This development confirmed a long-standing suspicion: that the world endured a 500-year cold snap-The Little Ice Age-that lasted roughly from A.D. 1300 until 1850. The Little Ice Age tells the story of the turbulent, unpredictable and often very cold years of modern European history, how climate altered historical events, and what they mean in the context of today's global warming. With its basis in cutting-edge science, The Little Ice Age offers a new perspective on familiar events. Renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan shows how the increasing cold affected Norse exploration; how changing sea temperatures caused English and Basque fishermen to follow vast shoals of cod all the way to the New World; how a generations-long subsistence crisis in France contributed to social disintegration and ultimately revolution; and how English efforts to improve farm productivity in the face of a deteriorating climate helped pave the way for the Industrial Revolution and hence for global warming. This is a fascinating, original book for anyone interested in history, climate, or the new subject of how they interact.

Author Notes

Brian Fagan is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

The role of climatic change in human history remains open to question, due in large part to scant data. Fagan, professor of archeology at UC Santa Barbara, contributes substantively to the increasingly urgent debate. Contending with the dearth of accurate weather records from a few parts of the world, for little over a century Fagan (Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Ni¤o and the Fate of Civilizations) draws discerning connections between an amazing array of disparate sources: ice cores, tree rings, archeological digs, tithing records that show dates of wine harvests, cloud types depicted in portraits and landscapes over time. He details human adaptation to meteorologic events for example, the way the Dutch, in the face of rising sea levels, engineered sea walls and thus increased their farmland by a third between the late 16th and early 19th centuries. Explanations of phenomena like the North Atlantic Oscillation (which "governs... the rain that falls on Europe") lucidly advance Fagan's conviction that, though science cannot decide if the current 150-year warming trend (with one slight interruption) is part of a normal cycle, we should err on the side of caution. His study of the potential for widespread famine further bolsters his nonpartisan argument for a serious consideration of rapid climatic shifts. But Fagan doesn't proffer a sociopolitical polemic. He notes that we lack the political will to effect change, but refrains from speculating on future environmental policy. Illus. not seen by PW. (Mar. 1) Forecast: This topical book will appeal to fans of John McPhee, as well as to science and history scholars. With publicity targeted at the coasts (author tour in L.A., San Francisco and N.Y.; a talk at N.Y.'s Museum of Natural History), a forthcoming review in Discovery magazine and Fagan's enthusiastic readership, it should sell well. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The deterioration of the climate in the lands bordering the North Atlantic during the period 1300-1850 has earned this interval the moniker "The Little Ice Age." Fagan (archaeology, Univ. of California at Santa Barbara) offers the latest and perhaps most readable contribution to the voluminous scientific and popular literature addressing aspects of this subject. His style is narrative: of settlers in Greenland finding it increasingly difficult to scratch a living, of fisherman braving a growing storminess in the North Sea, of growing seasons cut short by wet and cold, of populations decimated by disease and famine. The reader feels what it was like to live off the land or the sea, as almost everyone did in this time interval, when pushed right to the margin or beyond by the vagaries and inclemencies of the changing climate. The final chapter discusses global warming, the anthropogenic climate change of the 20th century, in the context of the pace, magnitude, and regionality of the climatic fluctuations of the Little Ice Age. But the author is careful to point out that the social, political and economic structures of the 20th century, with its very much larger population, make the current climatic challenges much different. General readers; undergraduates through professionals. H. N. Pollack University of Michigan

Booklist Review

Life in early 1300s northern Europe was prosperous. Vineyards flourished in England, Vikings settled Greenland, and a wealthy church admired the recently built Gothic cathedrals. The good times stopped rolling in 1315. A deluge ruined spring planting, which caused widespread famine. Centuries of erratic cooling persisted until after the Industrial Revolution had begun. Piecing the period together, Fagan acquaints readers with the fascinating subject of paleoclimatology. Acknowledging that scientists don't agree over the dates of this so-called little ice age (some confine the appellation to the 1650^-1715 period, when the Thames regularly froze), Fagan still convincingly presents the half-millennium-long freeze-out as a coherent event. Its trigger, climatologists believe, was the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a seesaw of high and low pressure that governs westerlies flowing over Europe. The NAO's effect on human history is indirect yet substantial enough to license Fagan's intriguing connections between climate and the influential cod fishery (see Mark Kurlansky's Cod, 1997), France's agricultural backwardness before the revolution, and the Irish potato famine. A nimble, lively, provocative book. Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

During the Little Ice Age approximately the 14th to the mid-19th centuries the climate of northern Europe turned volatile and markedly cooler. As Fagan (archaeology, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) explains, while this did not directly cause major historical events, it catalyzed significant social, political, and economic changes throughout the region. Widespread reliance on subsistence farming meant that bad weather and shortened growing seasons led to food shortages, even famines. Hunger, in turn, along with disease, war, crime, and economic forces, provoked widespread sociopolitical upheaval, including the collapse of Norse settlements in Greenland, the French Revolution, and the Irish Famine. While not unique in examining the influence of weather on the history of civilization (see John D. Post's The Last Great Subsistence Crisis in the Western World, 1977. o.p., and Fagan's own Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Ni$o and the Fate of Civilizations, Basic, 2000), this book is noteworthy for its chronological and geographical scope. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Medieval Warm Period I beseech the immaculate Master of monks To steer my journeys; May the lord of the lofty heavens Hold his strong hand over me. ù [Anonymous] , Hafgerdinga Lay ("The Lay of the Breakers") The fog lies close to the oily, heaving water, swirling gently as a bitterly cold air wafts in from the north. You sit gazing at a featureless world, sails slatting helplessly. Water drips from the rigging. No horizon, no boundary between sea and sky: only the gray-shrouded bow points the way ahead. The compass tells you the boat is still pointing west, barely moving through the icy chill. This fog can hug the water for days, hiding icebergs and the signs of rapidly forming pack ice. Or a few hours later, a cold northeaster can fill in and sweep away the murk, blowing out of a brilliantly blue sky. Then the horizon is as hard as a salt-encrusted knife, the sea a deep blue frothing with white caps. Running easily under reduced sail, you sight snow-clad peaks far on the western horizon a half-day's run ahead--if the wind holds. As land approaches, the peaks cloud over, the wind drops, small ice floes dot the now-calm ocean. The wise mariner heaves to and waits for clearer weather and a breeze, lest ice block the way and crush the ship to matchwood.     Icebergs move haphazardly across the northern seas. Pack ice floes undulate in broken rows in the endless ocean swell. Far to the north, a ribbon of gray-white light shimmers above the horizon, the ice-blink of solid pack ice, the frontier of the Arctic world. To sail near the pack is to skirt the barrier between a familiar universe and oblivion. A brilliant clarity of land and sky fills you with keen awareness, with fear of the unknown.     For as long as Europeans can remember, the frozen bastions of the north have hovered on the margins of their world, a fearsome, unknown realm nurturing fantastic tales of terrible beasts and grotesque landscapes. The boreal oceans were a source of piercing winds, vicious storms and unimaginably cold winters with the ability to kill. At first, only a few Irish monks and the hardy Norse dared sail to the fringes of the ice. King Harald Hardråde of Norway and England is said to have explored "the expanse of the Northern Ocean" with a fleet of ships in about A.D. 1040, "beyond the limits of land" to a point so far north that he reached pack ice up to three meters thick. He wrote: "There lay before our eyes at length the darksome bounds of a failing world." But by then, his fellow Norse had already ventured far over northern seas, to Iceland, Greenland and beyond. They had done so during some of the warmest summers of the previous 8,000 years.     I have sailed but rarely in the far north, but the experience, the sheer unpredictability of the weather, I find frightening. In the morning, your boat courses along under full sail in a moderate sea with unlimited visibility. You take off your foul-weather gear and bask in the bright sun with, perhaps, only one sweater on. By noon, the sky is gray, the wind up to 25 knots and rising, a line of dense fog to windward. The freshening breeze cuts to the skin and you huddle in your windproof foulies. By dusk you are hove-to, storm jib aback, main with three reefs, rising and falling to a howling gale. You lie in the darkening warmth belowdecks, listening to the endless shrieking of the southwester in the rigging, poised for disaster, vainly waiting for the lesser notes of a dying storm. A day later, no trace remains of the previous night's gale, but the still, gray water seems colder, about to ice over.     Only the toughest amateur sailors venture into Arctic waters in small craft, and then only when equipped with all the electronic wizardry of the industrial age. They rely on weather faxes, satellite images of ice conditions, and constant radio forecasts. Even then, constantly changing ice conditions around Iceland and Greenland, and in the Davis Strait and along the Labrador coast, can alter your voyage plans in hours or cause you to spend days at sea searching for ice-free waters. In 1991, for example, ice along the Labrador coast was the worst of the twentieth century, making coastal voyages to the north in small craft impossible. Voyaging in the north depends on ice conditions and, when they are severe, small boat skippers stay on land. Electronics can tell you where you are and provide almost embarrassing amounts of information about what lies ahead and around you. But they are no substitute for sea sense, an intimate knowledge of the moody northern seas acquired over years of ocean sailing in small boats, which you encounter from time to time in truly great mariners, especially those who navigate close to the ocean.     The Norse had such a sense. They kept their sailing lore to themselves and passed their learning from family to family, father to son, from one generation to the next. Their maritime knowledge was never written down but memorized and refined by constant use. Norse navigators lived in intimate association with winds and waves, watching sea and sky, sighting high glaciers from afar by the characteristic ice-blink that reflects from them, predicting ice conditions from years of experience navigating near the pack. Every Norse skipper learned the currents that set ships off course or carried them on their way, the seasonal migrations of birds and sea mammals, the signs from sea and sky of impending bad weather, fog, or ice. Their bodies moved with swell and wind waves, detecting seemingly insignificant changes through their feet. The Norse were tough, hard-nosed seamen who combined bold opportunism with utterly realistic caution, a constant search for new trading opportunities with an abiding curiosity about what lay over the horizon. Always their curiosity was tempered with careful observations of currents, wind patterns, and ice-free passages that were preserved for generations as family secrets.     The Norse had enough to eat far from land. Their ancestors had learned centuries before how to catch cod in enormous numbers from open boats. They gutted and split the fish, then hung them by the thousands to dry in the frosty northern air until they lost most of their weight and became easily stored, woodlike planks. Cod became the Norse hardtack, broken off and chewed calmly in the roughest seas. It was no coincidence Norse voyagers passed from Norway to Iceland, Greenland and North America, along the range of the Atlantic cod. Cod and the Norse were inextricably entwined.     The explorations of the Norse, otherwise known as Vikings or "Northmen," were a product of overpopulation, short growing seasons, and meager soils in remote Scandinavian fjords. Each summer, young "row-men" left in their long ships in search of plunder, trading opportunities, and adventure. During the seventh century, they crossed the stormy North Sea with impressive confidence, raided towns and villages in eastern Britain, ransacked isolated Christian settlements, and returned home each winter laden with booty. Gradually, they expanded the tentacles of Norse contacts and trade over huge areas of the north. Norsemen also traveled far east, down the Vistula, Dnieper, and Volga rivers to the Black and Caspian seas, besieged Constantinople more than once and founded cities from Kiev to Dublin.     The tempo of their activity picked up after 800. More raiding led, inevitably, to permanent overseas settlements, like the Danish Viking camp at the mouth of the Seine in northern France, where a great army repeatedly looted defenseless cities. Danish attackers captured Rouen and Nantes and penetrated as far south as the Balearic Islands, Provence, and Tuscany. Marauding Danes invaded England in 851 and overran much of the eastern part of the country. By 866, much of England was under the Danelaw. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Vikings occupied the Orkney and Shetland Islands, then the Hebrides off northwestern Scotland. By 874, Norse colonists had taken advantage of favorable ice conditions in northern seas and settled permanently in Iceland, at the threshold of the Arctic.     The heyday of the Norse, which lasted roughly from A.D. 800 to about 1200, was not only a byproduct of such social factors as technology, overpopulation and opportunism. Their great conquests and explorations took place during a period of unusually mild and stable weather in northern Europe called the Medieval Warm Period--some of the warmest four centuries of the previous 8,000 years. The warmer conditions affected much of Europe and parts of North America, but just how global a phenomenon the Warm Period was is a matter for debate. The historical consequences of the warmer centuries were momentous in the north. Between 800 and 1200, warmer air and sea surface temperatures led to less pack ice than in earlier and later centuries. Ice conditions between Labrador and Iceland were unusually favorable for serious voyaging.     The Norse were not the first visitors to Iceland. Irish monks, seeking peaceful refuges far from the political and social turmoil at home, had preceded them. The oceangoing prelates settled the Faeroe Islands by A.D. 700 and sailed as far north as Iceland by 790. Legend has it they followed the spring migration of wild geese to land. But these remarkable seamen were unable to (or in any case did not) maintain a permanent settlement. Norse ships arrived three-quarters of a century later, at a time when January pack ice rarely reached the island's northern coast and both winter and summer temperatures were usually higher than today.     The ocean currents and atmospheric conditions near Iceland have an important bearing on temperature and rainfall throughout northwestern Europe. Warm water from the Atlantic and cold water from the Arctic converge on Iceland's shores. A branch of the cold East Greenland current sweeps along the north and east coasts of the island. The warmer Irminger current flows along the south shore and is an arm of the North Atlantic current, which, in turn, originates in the Gulf Stream deep in the North Atlantic Ocean. Today, in average years, the January to April pack ice edge lies about 90 to 100 kilometers off the northwestern corner of Iceland. In a mild year, the edge is 200 to 240 kilometers away, whereas an exceptionally cold season can bring pack right to the north coast and even around the eastern side of the island to the southern shore. An Irish monk named Dicuil, writing in A.D. 825, recorded that his brethren living in Iceland found no ice along the south coast but encountered it about a day's sail away from the north shore, the position the pack has occupied for most of the twentieth century. In contrast, during a period of great cold between 1350 and 1380, sea ice came so close to land that Greenland polar bears came ashore.     The new colony would never have survived had not the winters been milder than in earlier centuries. Even in good years, the Icelanders scrabbled for a living from thin soils and bitterly cold seas. In bad years they courted disaster. Oddur Einersson observed in 1580 that "the Icelanders who have settled on the northern coasts are never safe from this most terrible visitor.... Sometimes it is absent from the shores of Iceland for many years at a time.... Sometimes it is scarcely to be seen for a whole decade or longer.... Sometimes it occurs almost every year." In a bad ice year, such as those of the 1180s or 1287, people starved, especially when several harsh winters followed one upon the next. In the extreme winter of 1695, ice blocked the entire coast in January and stayed until summer. A contemporary account tells us: "The same frosts and severe conditions came to most parts of the country; in most places sheep and horses perished in large numbers, and most people had to slaughter half their stock of cattle and sheep, both in order to save hay and for food since fishing could not be conducted because of the extensive ice cover." Icelandic agriculture is vulnerable to harsh winters to this day. For example, intense icing and low temperatures during the severe winter of 1967 reduced farmers' productivity by about a fifth--this in an era of improved farming methods and livestock, indoor heating, and a sophisticated transport infrastructure.     The Norse brought with them a medieval dairying economy like that at home, which they combined with seal hunting and cod fishing. Warmer summer temperatures allowed them to obtain reasonably ample hay harvests for winter fodder and also to plant barley, even near the north coast, where it was cultivated until the twelfth century. After that, farmers could never grow barley in Iceland until the early 1900s. * * * Sometime in the late tenth century, Eirik the Red and his father Thorvald Asvaldsson left their home in southwestern Norway "because of some killings." They sailed westward to Iceland but had to make do with far-from-fertile land. Eirik was quarrelsome and endowed with a temper that matched his red hair. He married a well-connected Icelandic woman, there were more killings, and he was forced out to a farm on a windswept island. Even there he quarreled with a man named Thorgest to whom he had lent his ornamented high seat posts. The resulting bloodshed caused Eirik to be banished for three years. He took his ship and sailed boldly westward to explore some mysterious islands sighted by a drifting ship captained by a relative about a half-century earlier.     Armed with an invaluable body of sailing lore collected over generations by his kin, Eirik set off into unknown waters with a calm confidence that he would find new lands. Like other Norse skippers, he was an expert latitude sailor who used the sun and North Star to stay on course. He also carried a sólarsteinn , or "sun stone," a bearing dial or sun compass in stone or wood that allowed a ship's captain with a knowledge of the sun's positions to steer by a thin radial shadow cast on the disk when held level in his hand. Eirik sailed westward, steering for some snowy peaks that loomed over the horizon when the expedition was still not far from Iceland. The sailors approached land, then coasted southward and westward until they reached a deeply indented coastline dissected by deep fjords behind sheltering offshore islands. They had reached southwestern Greenland.     They had the land to themselves, a place where green summer pastures and thick willow scrub offered pasture and fuel. The summers were brief and fairly warm, with longer days than Iceland. The winters were long and harsh, but the Norse were accustomed to climatic extremes. They found much better grazing land than that at home, abundant fish and sea mammals, and edible birds aplenty. Eirik sailed back to Iceland with glowing reports of a land so fertile he named it Greenland, "for he said that people would be much more tempted to go there if it had an attractive name."     He must have been a persuasive leader, for twenty-five ships of potential colonists sailed back to Greenland with him. Fourteen reached what was soon called the Eastern Settlement, in the sheltered waters of the southwest in what are now the Julianehåb and Narsaq districts. Eirik built his chieftain's seat at Brattahlid ("Steep Slope") in the heart of the richest farmland. At about the same time, another group of colonists pushed further north and founded the Western Settlement, centered around Sandnes Farm (Kilaarsarfik), in the modern-day Godthåb district at the head of the sheltered Ameralik fjord. Life in Greenland was easier than on the crowded, hardscrabble fields of Iceland, with, as yet, no competition from indigenous Inuit people, plenty to eat, and harsh but usually endurable conditions at sea.     The Norse soon explored the fjords and islands of the west coast. The shoreline was relatively ice-free most summers, thanks to the north-flowing West Greenland current, which hugs the west coast and flows into Baffin Bay. The favorable current carried the colonists' ships into the heart of a land of islands and fjords around Disko Bay they called Nororseta, which teemed with cod, seals and walrus. Nororseta became an important hunting ground, where the colonists obtained food for the following winter and precious trade goods, especially narwhal and walrus tusks, which were much prized. For many years, the Greenland churches' tithes to the diocesan authorities in Norway were partly paid in walrus ivory. * * * Greenlanders sailing to Nororseta must have quickly become aware of lands to the west, if only because the prevailing currents in the northern hunting grounds carried them that way. The Davis Strait is little more than 325 kilometers across at its narrowest point. Even a modest journey offshore in good visibility would bring the high mountains of Baffinland into sight. The Norse found North America through a combination of accident and inevitability, having sighted the Arctic islands and mainland long before they set foot on western shores. They arrived in Nororseta at a time when summer ice conditions were usually less severe than in later centuries, which made it easier for them to take advantage of currents along the American side of the Strait.     The West Greenland current flows into Baffin Bay and the heart of Nororseta, where it gives way to much colder south-flowing currents. Much cooler water passes southward along Baffin Island, Labrador, and eastern Newfoundland. This circulation pattern affects ice formation. The Baffin/Labrador coast has heavier ice cover and a longer sea ice season, whereas Greenland coast sea ice forms late and disperses early. There is often a coastal belt of ice-free water all the way up to the Arctic Circle on the eastern side of the Davis Strait. The climate of the Medieval Warm Period may have permitted easier navigation between Baffinland and Labrador during many summers.     Yet the first documented sighting did not come from such a northern coasting voyage. Bjarni Herjolfsson, a young merchant shipowner and "man of much promise" who dreamed of exploring foreign lands, arrived in Iceland from Norway in about 985 and was shocked to find that his father had emigrated to Greenland with Eirik the Red a short time before. Refusing to unload his ship, he set off for Greenland at once, taking advantage of a fair wind. The wind dropped. For days Bjarni and his men sailed in northerly winds and fog with no idea of their position. Eventually they sighted a flat, well-forested coastline quite unlike their destination, "for there are said to be huge glaciers in Greenland." Bjarni stayed offshore and coasted southward, sighting more land at intervals. Eventually a southwesterly gale carried them offshore for four days. They made land at dusk at a promontory that had a boat hauled up on it, and so finally reached their original destination.     The cautious Herjolfsson was criticized heartily for not setting foot on the mysterious coastline. Lief Eirikson, the son of Eirik the Red, bought Bjarni's ship, recruited a crew of thirty-five men, and sailed westward to Baffinland. Eirik himself reluctantly stayed behind after injuring himself on his way to the boat. Lief anchored off a rocky, glacier-bound coast, then cruised southward to a flat, well-wooded shore with sandy beaches, which he named Markland ("Forest Land") "for its advantages." He had reached part of modern-day Labrador, south of the northern limit of forests, somewhere near Hamilton Inlet. A favorable northeast wind carried them even further south, to the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River and to a region they called Vinland ("Wine Land"), perhaps after its wild grapes.     The famous L'Anse aux Meadows archaeological site, in extreme northern Newfoundland, may be where Lief Eirikson and his crew wintered over and founded a transhipment station, where timber and furs were processed before being carried on to Greenland. Archaeologists Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine unearthed eight sod-walled structures on a terrace overlooking a shallow bay. The settlement had a work shed, a smithy, also storage structures and four turf boat sheds. The Norse knew how to choose a winter settlement. L'Anse aux Meadows lies at a strategic point on the Strait of Belle Isle, at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, surrounded by water on three sides, with ample summer grazing for cattle. From L'Anse and perhaps other camps, the Norse ranged widely, but how far south they sailed along the mainland coast remains a matter of controversy.     All the information about Markland and Vinland was held by Greenland settler families with close-knit kin ties. They kept their information and sailing directions to themselves, just as fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Atlantic explorers did. Later expeditions encountered numerous indigenous people, who fought them so fiercely that the Norse never settled permanently in the western lands. But they visited regularly in search of timber, which was scarce in the Greenland settlements and easier to obtain from the west than from distant Norway. For two or more centuries, Greenland ships took passage to North America by sailing north and west and letting southerly ocean currents carry them to their destination. Then they sailed directly home on the prevailing southwesterly winds.     These voyages were wracked by human and natural dangers: hostile indigenous people, polar bears, icebergs, sudden storms far offshore where rogue waves might swamp a laboring ship before the steersman could bear off before the menacing sea. But the greatest danger was suddenly massing sea ice, which could crush a stout Norse merchant ship in minutes. Even in summer, crewmen kept axes handy, ready to chip mantles of ice off the rigging before the boat became top heavy. The prudent navigator kept well clear of the ice margins, using word of mouth and years of experience to navigate Greenland waters. We know some of these verbal sailing directions from Konungsskuggsjá (The King's Mirror) , a compendium of information about Greenland and adjacent lands written in the form of a sage's advice to his son in 1260. The anonymous author writes: "There is more ice to the northeast and north of ... [Greenland] than to the south, southwest, and west; consequently, whoever wishes to make the land should sail around it to the southwest and west, till he has come past all those places where ice may be looked for, and approach the land on that side."     Abundant cod and centuries of unusually mild conditions allowed the Greenlanders to voyage to North America and trade freely with Iceland and Norway in walrus ivory, wool, and even falcons. Their ships often carried exotic, valuable cargoes. In 1075, a merchant named Audun shipped a live polar bear from Greenland as a gift to King Ulfsson of Denmark. Four centuries later, no one would have dared carry such a cargo eastward. If not for the Medieval Warm Period, hundreds of years might have passed before anyone colonized Greenland and voyaged beyond its fjords. * * * As the Medieval Warm Period dawned and the Vikings crossed to Greenland and North America, Europe was a patchwork of feudal states and warring lords, unified only by the Christian faith. King Charlemagne founded his Frankish empire in 800. The Holy Roman Empire came into being in 962 but offered little security. The Norsemen ravaged the northern coasts for more than two hundred years, then acquired a veneer of culture from the lands where they settled. Knut the Dane, or "Canute the Great" (1016-35), famous for his attempts to control the tides, presided over a North Sea empire that linked Britain and Denmark. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, conquered the kingdom of England in 1066. He parceled out his new domains among his Norman lords and created a feudal realm, a dense network of contractual relationships, which connected the highest to the lowest in the land. Not that the vagaries of the weather made William's task easier. Persistent northwesterly winds delayed his Channel crossing until October. Furthermore, two centuries of warm conditions had caused significant sea level rises. A shallow fjord extended deep into eastern England as far as Norwich. The low-lying English fenlands became a labyrinth of shallow channels and islands so difficult of access for an invader that the Anglo-Danish inhabitants of the city of Ely, led by Hereward the Wake, were able to hold off the Normans for a decade after 1066.     For all the conquest and adventuring, Europe was a rural continent. Long before the Romans tamed Britain and Gaul two thousand years ago, Europe's economy was anchored to the land and the sea, where the vagaries of floods, droughts, and severe winters affected everyone's economic fortunes. Several wet springs and cool summers in a row, a sequence of severe Atlantic winter storms and floods, a two-year drought--such brief climatic variations were sufficient to put people's lives at risk. The annual harvest drove everyone's fortunes, monarch and baron, small-town artisan and peasant. The generally stable weather of the Medieval Warm Period was an unqualified blessing for the rural poor and small farmers. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Brian Fagan. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xix
Author's Notep. xxi
Part 1 Warmth and Its Aftermath
1 The Medieval Warm Periodp. 3
2 The Great Faminep. 23
Part 2 Cooling Begins
3 The Climatic Seesawp. 47
4 Storms, Cod and Doggersp. 61
5 A Vast Peasantryp. 79
Part 3 The End of the "Full World"
6 The Specter of Hungerp. 101
7 The War Against the Glaciersp. 113
8 "More Like Winter Than Summer"p. 129
9 Dearth and Revolutionp. 149
10 The Year Without a Summerp. 167
11 An Ghorta Morp. 181
Part 4 The Modern Warm Period
12 A Warmer Greenhousep. 201
Notesp. 219
Indexp. 235