The Mediterranean Climate in Modern and Roman Times
Florence, Italy lies in the Tuscan region in the middle of the Italian peninsula, and is a part of the temperate Mediterranean climate region. Being in such a temperate zone means that Italy is less subject to extreme climate change than other parts of the world. This does not mean that throughout recorded history the climate of the region has been static, however we can see many similarities between the climate today and that of the time of the Roman Empire.
H.H. Lamb describes a gradual global warming in Europe leading up to AD (CE) 400. As he says, this is consistent with a rising sea level during the same period of time. We have evidence of Roman writers indicating that olive and the vine could be grown farther north than earlier in Roman history (Lamb, 157). As those two crops are very prominent cultural aspects of Rome, this is a very culturally pertinent piece of evidence. Not only was this northern cultivation of olive and vine possible during Pliny’s time (1 st century CE), but it is still possible now, as olives and wine are two very important parts of Mediterranean culture.
Ptolemy kept a weather journal in the 2 nd century, near the time of Pliny, which Lamb refers to, citing “occurrence of rain in every month of the year except August, of thunder in all summer months, and in that days of great heat were commonest in July and August” (Lamb, 159).
This is still more or less true of the Mediterranean, particularly Florence. [tu30.jpg]While Lamb says that “today the continual north and northwest winds off the sea in [July, August] lower the temperature,” Ptolemy kept his journal in Alexandria, farther south than Florence. While Florence may not have experienced the same “great heat” the Ptolemy did, it is still evident that the warmest days of the year occur during the months of July and August, with high temperatures generally peaking in the 90s (Fahrenheit). Consistent with the temperate nature of the Mediterranean, average temperatures in the cold months (January, February) are usually in the mid-40s, meaning the temperature is never unpleasant.
In consistency with Ptolemy’s report, rain is not uncommon around the Mediterranean, being present in every month of the year this year except July and August (according to www.wunderground.com’s weather history). In terms of climate, the temperate region of the Mediterranean has not undergone great change since Ptolemy’s time. Lamb even says that it was the Romans who pushed their crop further northward, cultivating vines and olives in areas such as England and Germany, evidence that the time was extremely temperate. And while those crops are not generally associated with those regions, it is still possible to grow them there.
In the book The Long Summer, Brian Fagan writes extensively about the ways in which climate affected the sway of power in the Roman Empire. The term ecotone refers to the barrier between two...