Over the past few weeks the denial movement has gotten excited about the “Roman Warming Period” (RWP), based on the comments and criticisms of Tony Abbot’s comments to school children about it being hotter “when Jesus was alive” (the Roman Warming Period, or RWP).
As Tim Lambert at Deltoid has shown Abbot’s comments have been informed by contrarian scientist Ian Plimer in his book “Heaven and Earth”. Plimer states:
Temperatures in the Roman Warming were 2 to 6°C warmer than today. Sea level was slightly lower than today despite the fact that times were warmer… suggesting that land movements associated with the collision of Africa with Europe influenced local sea level. Roman clothing also shows that it was warmer than today.
Yes, you read correctly. Toga’s meant the world was much warmer then.
Plimer: togas falsify global warming!
Of the many foolish things that Plimer has written, that last throw away line is one of the silliest.
I call this the “Carry On” version of history, named after the low-budget English movies made between the late 1950’s and 1970’s. They were slapstick comedies often featuring scantily clad “dolly birds”, the most famous being “Carry on Cleo” set during the time of Julius Caesar. It’s a cartoon version of history, fun and silly.
But for those with a cartoon idea of history thinking it was “hotter” because the Roman’s wore togas would make sense. It’s like saying all those classical statues proved the ancients walked around nude.
But it has gone on to be one of those pernicious memes that floats through the denial blog-0-sphere. Perth denier Jo Nova repeats it in a recent post as well:
We know it really must have been warmer in Europe thanks to written historical records and artefacts that pop out of melting glaciers. As William Kinninmonth points out, Hannibal took an army of elephants across the Alps in winter in 200 BC. And we all know that the Romans are not known for wearing fur coats.
Let’s deal with the last – and very silly – claim of Plimer and Nova.
There is evidence from the ancient Historian Tacitus and other sources that when stationed in colder climates, Roman soldiers adopted the cloths of the local natives. This included trousers worn by the Celts when they moved further North into less Mediterranean climates.
They also adopted the method of piling on multiple layers of clothing.
Yes, amazing. Not only did the Romans conquer most of Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle-East, they also managed to work out that piling on multiple layers could keep you warm.
Who’d of thunk of that?
One of the great web sites summarising this information is RomanArmy.net:
The idea that Roman soldiers went everywhere dressed simply in tunic and boots (in addition to their personal equipment) is patently false, yet most Roman re-enactment societies, including our own, propagate this false idea to the public by displaying in the expected tunic and boots clothing option whatever the weather. An inescapable fact however, is that the Roman army was a body (or a number of bodies) of seasoned professional men, who would not only have been used to tough conditions and been acclimatised to them, but would also have been sensible enough to know that dressing for the weather can be the difference between sickness and health. The phrase ‘any fool can be cold’ was probably no less true then than it is now…
…Despite their apparent rarity in the sculptural record, we know that socks (udones) were fairly common. As most people reading this will already know, socks are in fact mentioned in one of the Vindolanda letters (which also tells us that soldiers could also receive clothing as gifts from their families) and are probably shown on the Cancalleria reliefs…
..Next come leg wrappings and leg bindings. The former are the rectangular pieces of cloth which are wrapped around the lower leg and tied off with strings made from warp threads which have been left long and then been twisted together (rather than ties which have been sewn on). These probably had a Germanic origin but would almost certainly have been used by Roman soldiers in Britain who had previously been stationed in Germany. Leg bindings look very similar to the puttees worn by late 19th and early 20th century soldiers.
Other items of clothing such as the”paenula“, similar to today’s poncho would have sufficed.
The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, was known to be sensitive to the cold and would wear three to five cloaks at a time while residing in his palace in Rome.
The truth is the extent of the Roman Empire meant it’s soldiers experienced diverse climates. As a consequence they adapted to their environments and either adopted native clothing or piled the layers.
Kininmonth: Hannibal crossed the Alps in winter!
One of the little throw away lines sometimes used by deniers to is the fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps in winter:
Hannibal took his army and elephants across the Alps about 200BC in winter!
This claim was made by Australian denier William Kininmonth in his “Open Letter to Tony Abbot” supportive of his comments about the RWP. Jo Nova also repeats this claim.
Let’s be clear, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Hannibal and his army – ancient sources suggest he lost half his army to the cold and desertion. Hannibal’s march over the Alps amazed the Romans who thought the Alps to be impenetrable during Winter. They understood how harsh the conditions could be (in was literally in their backyard).
Indeed, the ancient historians Livy and Polybius – seem to concur that the conditions where harsh.
From the historian Livy:
From the Druentia Hannibal advanced towards the Alps mainly through open country, and reached the foothills without encountering any opposition from the local tribes. The nature of the mountains was not, of course, unknown to his men by rumor and report – and rumor commonly exaggerates the truth; yet in this case all tales were eclipsed by the reality. The dreadful vision was now before their eyes: the towering peaks, the snow clad pinnacles soaring to the sky, the rude huts clinging to the rocks, beasts and cattle shriveled and parched with cold, the people with their wild and ragged hair, all nature, animate and inanimate, stiff with frost: all this, and other sights the horror of which words cannot express, gave a fresh edge to their apprehension.
Polybius notes the harshness of the conditions:
These conditions were so unusual as to be almost freakish. The new snow lying on top of the old, which had remained there from the previous winter, gave way easily, both because it was soft, having only just fallen, and because it was not yet deep. But when men and beasts had trodden through it and penetrated to the frozen snow underneath, they no longer sank into it, but found both their feet slipping from under them, as happens when people walk on ground which is covered with a coating of mud.
Granted, these historians where writing after the events. However there was sufficient local knowledge and records for them to refer too. Hannibal made a gamble, and it worked. It has nothing to do with climate temperatures.
Does mean the world was make it hotter then?
Actually by that same logic it proves the world was actually colder!
Take that deniers! Try and disprove me!
It’s like saying Napoleon made it back from Russia in 1812, but missing the fact that most of his army was destroyed. When half an army is destroyed crossing the Alps in winter, it was most likely very cold.
It also makes it very likely the deniers have no clue what they are talking about.