DATE2016-06-05 05:02:12
AUTHORSAdam Izdebski (1)
  1. Jagiellonian University Krakow (Poland)
ABSTRACTRecent studies revealed that Byzantium was relatively resilient in the face of climatic changes. In AD 350-700, it went through a period of multi-decadal drought without any major crisis, and then managed to benefit from long-term wetter conditions. In AD 900-1200, it sustained economic growth despite unstable climate, and – paradoxically – even the profound political crisis of the late 12th c. seems unrelated to the harsh conditions of AD 1175-1200. However, this vision remains simplistic, as it focuses on the key political institutions or the productive base of the economy; there is a whole spectrum of social and economic actors between these two extremes. In a highly complex society, resilience, or the ability to maintain the same structure in new conditions, cannot be attributed to the society as a whole. Rather, some elements are able to remain relatively unchanged, while others have to change in order to make the resilience possible. In particular, climate renders certain lifestyles or social-ecological models less viable, or demanding much greater effort for their continuation. This leads to re-allocation of resources, which in turn involves changes in the social structure. In this paper, I will present selected cases from the history of Byzantium illustrating two aspects of the ways in which complex societies could adapt to climatic changes. First, I will focus on the role played by the socio-economic structure and the ability of elites to control resources. This is particularly clear in the rising significance of village societies and aristocracies in Late Antiquity, at the expense of the cities. Second, I will show how a moment of climate-induced crisis has the potential to shift the balance between different groups within the same society. Such transformation occurred in Byzantium in the 920s-930s or in the 1260s. The Byzantine case shows that adaptation to climate change, and the resilience of political institutions or productive potential, involves profound social change. Different social actors negotiate what has to be changed and what is maintained. The history of how Byzantium coped with unstable climate makes us more aware of the types of social transformation that could be involved in adaptation to climate, in both the past and in the future. As well as seeing the danger of climate-caused poverty along the global North-South divide, we should also recognize the threats that it can pose to to social cohesion in complex social systems.