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Can the Assassination of Roman Emperors Be Linked to Drought?

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

ONTARIO, CANADA—Economic historian Cornelius Christian of Brock University thinks the assassinations of Roman emperors could be linked to decreased rainfall and lack of food for the Roman military, according to a Live Science report. Christian compared ancient climate data collected in a previous study from fossilized tree rings in France and Germany—the Roman frontier—with records of mutinies and emperor assassinations. If local farmers could not produce enough food, he reasoned, hungry Roman soldiers could have been pushed into mutiny. “And that mutiny, in turn, would collapse support for the emperor and make him more prone to assassination,” Christian said. He pointed to the death of emperor Vitellius in A.D. 69 as an example. “Vitellius was an acclaimed emperor by his troops,” he explained. “Unfortunately, low rainfall hit that year, and he was completely flabbergasted. His troops revolted, and eventually he was assassinated in Rome.” Critics of the idea say the correlation of drought and assassination merits more research, but note the influence of inflation, disease, and war on the stability of the Roman Empire. To read more about the lives of Roman soldiers, who often lived in harsh conditions, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire." 

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