Did volcanic eruptions destroy ancient Egypt? New research shows natural disasters did in fact contribute to the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Life under the kingdom was fairly prosperous and lasted almost three centuries from 305 B.C. to 30 B.C. But new research shows that volcanoes and Cleopatra are intrinsically linked, even if volcanoes in ancient Egypt don't exactly seem to make sense at first thought.
The queen ruled during the latter part of the Ptolemaic period, which began with Ptolemy I Soter following the death of Alexander the Great and ended with Cleopatra's death in 30 B.C. During that time, volcanoes in Alaska, Russia, and Greenland erupted and adversely affected the climate in Egypt.
Scholars have evidence that shows these eruptions made a major impact on the Nile River, which provided food and crops to the Egyptians. When the flooding of the Nile was interrupted, the people struggled to feed themselves. This, combined with a few other factors, led to the downfall of the last dynasty of ancient Egypt.
Cleopatra and her family ruled ancient Egypt 2,300 years ago, when Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria and scientist Archimedes were her contemporaries. The Ptolemaic dynasty controlled Egypt, but many were unsatisfied under the rule, leading to unrest, and infighting among those seeking land and territory. This stress and tension has been attributed to the fall of the empire. But it is not be the only factor - the natural environment is also be to blame.
Scholars believe that more than 2,300 years ago natural disasters contributed to the demise of the empire, including destructive volcanic eruptions that occurred in the third and first century B.C.. Debris from volcanic eruptions covered the sun, rivers supplied less water to the Nile, and fewer monsoons resulted in less rainfall, thus escalating the civilization's downfall.
Climate historian Francis Ludlow fof Trinity College, Dublin, and his colleagues proved that huge volcanic eruptions occurred during these periods by examining ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland. These eruptions lowered the number of monsoons in the region and disrupted the Nile's ability to flood, which was hugely important to the agricultural output of the region. The researchers also examined climate models and writings from ancient Egypt and concluded that the eruptions contributed to the fall of the empire.
Joseph Manning, the paper's lead author and professor of History and Classics at Yale University, stated:
“Ancient Egyptians depended almost exclusively on Nile summer flooding brought by the summer monsoon in east Africa to grow their crops. In years influenced by volcanic eruptions, Nile flooding was generally diminished, leading to social stress that could trigger unrest and have other political and economic consequences."
When the volcanoes erupted, the sulfurous gases caused earth to cool. Instead of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet, it was reflected back into space. In addition, the eruptions resulted in less rain from tropical monsoons - an consequence that lasted for several years. The researchers stated in their report summary:
"Ptolemaic vulnerability to volcanic eruptions offers a caution for all monsoon-dependent agricultural regions, presently including 70% of world population."