Yale History Podcast, Episode 5: “The Okmok Eruption and the Roman World” with Joseph Manning

October 20, 2021
The Yale History podcast is a new project at the History Department at Yale University that will present a series of interviews with historians from our department on a wide range of historical topics based on their research and expertise. You can find this and future episodes on the Yale History Podcast playlist on Yale’s Soundcloud or listen with the player below.
The middle decades of the first century BCE include some of the best-known figures and events in the history of the ancient Mediterranean. It was an age of Roman civil wars and Egypt was drawn into the struggles. These conflicts resulted in the end of the Roman Republic and the Ptolemaic Kingdom. But how might we think about this era in new ways? In this episode, we talk to Professor Joseph Manning regarding what seems at first glance to be an unrelated event in 43 BCE: the eruption of the massive Okmok Volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. As part of a team of researchers, Dr. Manning raises questions about the possible impacts of volcanic activity and disruptions in climate on the political and social upheavals of the years immediately after the assassination of Julius Caesar. While not claiming to definitively offer a new interpretation of Rome’s transition from the Republic to the Empire, their work calls for a reevaluation of this era in light of environmental factors. The resulting article, “Extreme climate after massive eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano in 43 BCE and effects on the late Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Kingdom,” was published in July of 2020 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
Professor Manning’s participation in the Okmok study is the result of a long-term collaboration with Dr. Joseph McConnell, the lead author on the PNAS study (and a graduate of Yale College), and his team at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada. Joe is a pioneer in ice core geochemistry and high-resolution chronologies of volcanic eruptions derived from polar ice: https://www.dri.edu/directory/joe-mcconnell/.
Joseph Manning is the William K. and Marilyn Milton Simpson Professor of Classics and History, Professor in the School of the Environment, and Senior Research Scholar in Law at Yale University. He is a specialist in the history of the Hellenistic world. His work has focused on Ptolemaic Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, addressing issues of law and the state, economic institutions, papyrology, and sources. His previous works include The Hauswaldt Papyri. A Family Archive from Edfu in the Ptolemaic Period. Demotische Studien, vol. 12 (Würzburg, 1997), Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt. The Structure of Land Tenure 332-30 BCE (Cambridge University Press, 2003), The Last Pharaohs. Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305 – 30 BC (Princeton University Press, 2009), The Open Sea: The Economic Life of the Mediterranean from the Iron Age to the Rise of Rome (Princeton University Press, 2018), along with several edited volumes.
He discusses his work with Kevin Gledhill (Ph.D. Yale, 2020), a 2020-2021 Graduate Alumni Fellow at Yale and historian of Iran and the Caspian Sea in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dr. Gledhill teaches history at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT.