Volcanic Eruption Helped End Roman Republic

Transition to Roman Empire influenced by Okmok, an Alaskan volcano 6,000 miles away

Okmok Volcano

Courtesy: Alaska Volcano Observatory, USGS

The eruption of the Okmok volcano contributed to the fall of the Roman Republic, researchers announced in a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 17, 2020. Though Okmok is located in the Aleutian islands of Alaska, some 6,000 miles away, its eruption cooled the Mediterranean by as much as 7 degrees celsius for the next two years. This cooling, and accompanying precipitation probably caused crop failures, leading to famine and deadly disease. The worsening social unrest was a major factor that caused the Republic to fall, and the Roman Empire rise in its stead.

Jesus didn’t only live in a client kingdom, but also under the aegis of empire.  The Imperial Theology, deification and worship of the Roman Emperor, enforced Roman rule. This had “implications for the people of Israel and, by extension, for Jesus and the authors of the New Testament,” as explained by Theology Curator in “The Roman Empire During the Time of Jesus.”

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Rome had been a republic when it took control of Judea in 63 B.C.E.  The republic was unstable before Okmok: Julius Caesar had been assassinated after declaring himself dictator for life in 44 B.C.E. Then in 43 B.C.E. the volcano blew, in one of the strongest volcanic eruptions of the past 2,500 years. An unusually cold and difficult decade ensued in the Mediterranean region, probably contributing to the unrest. Political stability didn’t return to Rome until Augustus Caesar became emperor in 27 B.C.E.

That Rome was an empire, no longer a republic, played some role in the development of Christianity in the Middle East, and later throughout the Western World. Evidently, the explosion of the Alaskan volcano Okmok influenced the change of the most powerful government in the ancient western world. The demise of Ptolemaic Egypt, which ended with the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C.E., may have also been influenced by Okmok’s effects. As the researchers investigate, and as the New York Times further explores, major climate disturbances can greatly influence the political fate of states. This may have serious implications as our planet seems likely to be entering a period of climactic instability.


This post originally appeared in Bible History Daily in June, 2020.

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The Volcano Explains Everything—Or Does It?: Does this crater from an ancient volcanic eruption hold the answer to the mysteries of the Exodus? Until now, Biblical scholars have not found specific archaeological evidence for the Exodus. The chronology proposed in the film is based on the volcanic eruption at the Mediterranean island of Thera (modern Santorini), more than 500 miles from Egypt, and the phenomena that followed. In the film, the Biblical narrative is explained in terms of this eruption and its aftereffects.

High Art from the Time of Abraham: Was this the lost continent of Atlantis? Did a volcano part the Red Sea? BAR readers may well wonder what a small volcanic island—now a cluster of islands—in the Aegean Sea has to do with Biblical archaeology…. As we shall see, the volcanic eruption on Thera may have produced a legend with interesting parallels to the Biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Saved from Vesuvius: Rare Wooden Furniture from Pompeii and Herculaneum Herculaneum and Pompeii were both destroyed by the same eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. For archaeologists, however, it must seem that they were leveled by different volcanoes entirely. Pompeii was smothered beneath a shallow blanket of volcanic pebbles (lapillae) and dust. It has been relatively easy to excavate, and today two-thirds of the ancient city is visible to modern visitors. Herculaneum, on the other hand, was buried alive.

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1 Responses

  1. jetron says:

    B.C. has been satisfactory for most for hundreds of years. Why change to B.C.E.? It is hard to trust people who try to alter tradition.

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1 Responses

  1. jetron says:

    B.C. has been satisfactory for most for hundreds of years. Why change to B.C.E.? It is hard to trust people who try to alter tradition.

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