3. The Drying of the Mediterranean
The first few natural disasters on this list occurred quickly and suddenly. Yet often the biggest and most dramatic changes occur slowly. In fact, sometimes the changes can occur so slowly that individual generations barely even notice them.
For many people alive today, it’s hard to imagine the Egyptians erecting pyramids out of the desert sands, and civilization taking root in the now harsh Fertile Crescent. In fact, these civilizations didn’t spring up in the harsh terrains we know today.
Much of the Mediterranean and Middle East was far more lush and fertile than it is now. In fact, many scholars now believe that “Old Egypt”, the Egypt that built the pyramids, was destroyed by droughts. Crops died, sandstorms became larger and more common, and famine would have almost certainly been widespread. The Egyptians were extremely advanced for their time, and yet they may have been wiped out by climate change.
Droughts and changing weather may have also played a role in the collapse of the late Bronze age empires, including the new Egypt, the Hittite Empire, and early Greek city-states. Scientists have found evidence that a severe drought may have struck at the beginning of the decline of these ancient civilizations, all of which collapsed in close proximity to each other (time-wise).
The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East was also likely more lush in the past. The rivers that flow through the region were able to supply extensive irrigation networks, and it is believed that there was more rain. The same is true of many other parts of the Northern Africa and the Middle East. To be sure, the region has always been on the dryer side, but it has only continued to dry over the era.
Likely, the fall of many ancient empires in the region can be traced to the subtle, but steady climate change in the region. Whether or not this climate change was man-made or natural remains up for debate.