8/27/08

Russia's Worst Famine.  Opera fans (and fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle), take note:  The overthrow of Boris Godunov was instigated by his failure to come to grips with climate change (though not anthropogenic climate change).  The Russian famine of 1601 was probably caused by the eruption of a volcano in Peru in 1600, which changed Russian climate, and caused crop failure."

Through a chance meeting on an airplane, Verosub found that Huaynaputina may have triggered substantial social upheaval as well. While he chatted with a seatmate about his research on the effects of volcanic eruptions, a fellow seated in the row behind — Chester Dunning, a historian specializing in Russian history at Texas A&M University in College Station — overheard the conversation and introduced himself.  “So,” Verosub asked Dunning later in the chat, “did anything interesting happen in Russia in 1601?” The reply: “Oh, yeah. That was a terribly cold time in Russia.” That cold spell was just the beginning of the nation’s woes, Dunning continued  Large portions of Russia received heavy rains in the summer of 1601, and by the end of the growing season it was clear that most crops would fail. In that age, Dunning explains, most farmers expected to occasionally experience a bad year and stockpiled accordingly, so farmers and their families didn’t suffer immediately. However, another agricultural failure the following year led to widespread starvation in both 1602 and 1603.  This lengthy famine — Russia’s worst, says Dunning — claimed the lives of an estimated 2 million people, or about one-third of the population, and more than 100,000 died in Moscow alone. Government inability to alleviate both the calamity and the subsequent unrest eventually led to the overthrow of Czar Boris Godunov, a defining event in Russian history.

posted August 27, 1008 at 7:50 a.m.