How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe

The Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire which followed it, was one of the most successful multi ethnic, multi cultural, multi linguistic and multi theistic societies in history.  This ability to absorb foreigners and to assimilate them into the Roman way of life was, as Amy Chua, a historian at Yale University, the reason why it was one of only five hyperpowers that have existed in history.   What does this teach us about modern societies today and what will it teach us about our future?

If multi ethinc societies are so successful and resilient…

Chua argues that societies that are open and tolerant of other people’s belief systems and customs are more successful than those that do not, simply because they have access to more people and more ideas.  More people can translate into more soldiers and more ideas into better ways of defeating one’s enemies. Putting this into a more modern context, if Imperial Japan had actively co-opted Koreans and Chinese into its empire, or had Nazi Germany embraced Jewish scientists, Ukrainian freedom fighters and White Russians they may have had a better chance of defeating the Americans and the British during the Second World War.

The Roman Empire did not just pay lip service to immigrants, with ethnic Romans running the empire politically and economically.  Vespasian, the Roman Emperor from 69-79AD marked the beginning of the end of ethnic Roman domination of the political sphere.  He came from the Sabine region of Italy, one of the first parts of Italy to be absorbed into the Roman Republic. Trajan, the Emperor from 98-117AD, came from Hispania as did his successors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius (121-180AD).  During the third century a group of Emperors, including Aurelian, Diocletian and Constantine, came from Illyria, a major recruiting ground for the Roman legions, in what is now the western Balkans.  It is partially due to this lack of personal attachment to Rome, coupled with its poor strategic location away from troubled frontiers, that the city of Rome declined in importance in the Empire and was not the political capital of the Roman Empire for a long time before the fall of the Roman Empire in the West.

…why did the Roman Empire collapse?

In many respects, it is amazing that the Roman Empire lasted as long as it did.  It was frequently hit by almost insurmountable problems and it was its non ethnically Roman citizens who frequently kept it going.  But while foreigners may have kept Rome alive, it was also foreigners that helped to destroy it.  In a previous article on Chinese colonisation of Africa we referred to the concept of “inverse Roman colonisation” and that:

From the 300s onwards the Roman Empire stopped expanding and consolidated its borders.  Border tribes became increasingly Romanised and wanted to move into the Empire.  This desire to move into a highly prosperous region was enhanced as waves of new tribes – such as the Huns – pushed whole nations against the borders of the Roman Empire.

The Romans had good systems to deal with large numbers of immigrants.  The young and able were frequently mustered into joining the army, rather like the Union States does today with its own immigrants.  Family groups were sometimes separated and the population dispersed throughout the empire.  In 376AD this system abruptly broke down when what should have been a regular border crossing turned into a riot.  The Romans had abused their position, sold many of immigrants into slavery and stripped them of their wealth.  Rising up in arms, a wave of Visigoths rolled into the Empire, unchecked.

Over time, this became the norm, with successive Germanic nation groups settling in France (Franks), Spain (Visigoths), Italy (Ostrogoths) and North Africa (Vandals).  These nations eventually stopped paying taxes to the Roman central government and the Roman Empire in the west withered away, finally ending when the Germanic ruler of Italy usurped the young Emperor Romulus Augustus in 474AD and sent the imperial regalia to the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople.  Unlike Greek and Roman colonies, this form of colonisation was unplanned and large numbers of people simply overwhelmed the local Roman populations.

What triggered this huge wave of German immigrants, this barbarian horde, was an external force  pushing them into the Roman Empire- the Hunnic Empire that was eventually led by Atilla – and the pull of great wealth in the Roman Empire.

Germanic tribes carve up the Western Roman Empire

What are the parallels with our societies today?

So what might happen in our societies today?  The United States and the European Union are, like the Roman Empire, highly successful multi ethnic, multi cultural, multi linguistic and multi theistic political entities.  Amy Chua refers to the United States as one of history’s five hyperpowers.  Both entities are bordered to the south by highly populous poor nations that see the great wealth of their neighbour to the north.

Even prior to the recent unrest in North Africa, North Africans and sub Saharan Africans were fleeing north every week in small boats across to Spain and Italy.  These numbers are starting to add up and  countries further north have started to reimpose passport requirements from people moving from Spain, Italy, Greece and France.  However, the numbers are still relatively small and the European Union appears to be able to manage the settling in process, in a way that is not too dissimilar to the Romans prior to 376AD.

The United States also has an illegal immigration issue.  It has created long border fences to keep Hispanics from Central and Southern America out and many states have introduced legislation that makes it easier to spot immigrants once they have entered the country.  As with the European Union, whilst these numbers are large and increasing, they are manageable.

What overwhelmed the Roman Empire was entire nations crossing into the Empire at the same time, forced into the Empire by external forces.  Once they were in they established de facto nation states within the Roman Empire which, over time, became the de jure nation states that would evolve into France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Is there a trigger that might force whole nations into the European Union and the United States?

What might trigger entire nations to move into the European Union and United States today?  There is no major military threat from the south that is driving North Africans into Europe or Hispanics into the United States.  So there is no Hunnic Empire equivalent.  We are safe.

However, as the Huns pushed against Germanic tribes north of the Danube River what they were effectively doing was reducing the amount of land available for the Germans to live off: the Germans were beginning to starve as the land available could not support their population.

Here, we have a parallel and thus a potential problem. The population of North Africa and the Middle East is exploding and has jumped by over 100 million people over the past 20 years, and is expected to jump by another 100 million by 2030.  Climate change is going to reduce their ability to grow their own crops.  More people are living off a smaller agricultural food base.  Already 50% of the region’s food is imported.  If their economies don’t grow sufficiently to keep up with population growth they will no longer be able to feed themselves from purchased imported food, and as their populations increase their ability to feed themselves from domestically grown food will also decline.

Population growth in Middle East and North Africa over the past 18 years

 

At some point, this divergence between population growth and food availability will result in the prospect of widespread starvation in North Africa.  As with Germanic tribes 1,650 years ago, North African family groups and political leaders will have to ask themselves a tough question: are we more likely to die by staying here and starving or crossing the Mediterranean Sea into the European Union en masse and confronting a military response by the European Union?

Given the fact that the European Union is politically divided, militarily weak and culturally pacifist is is highly unlikely that any useful military response would be forthcoming.  If I were a Libyan, I would stake my life on crossing into Europe rather than staying behind to starve.

What about the United States?  Whilst the population to the south is increasing rapidly, there appears to be no expectation for the region not to to be able to feed itself in the near to medium term.  Unlike North Africans, who face the expanse of the Sahara to the south, inter regional migration is also available to Central and Southern Americans.

For the citizens of the European Union the unwelcome arrival of a whole nation’s worth of people will not be a comfortable process.  As with the Western Roman Empire, it is unlikely that our political structures would be able to survive.  For European Union citizens, it will feel as though the barbarian hordes have returned.

 

About the Author

- Tristan Fischer is the author of all the articles on History Future Now. He is the Chairman of Lumicity Ltd, a company developing renewable energy infrastructure projects, Chairman of Fischer Farms Ltd, a vertical farming company using hydroponics, and a board Director of Fish From Ltd, an onshore salmon company. He previously worked for Camco International, Shell Renewables and Citigroup. He was educated at Cambridge University. To find out more click here: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/tristanfischer

  • New Article: How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe. A look back to 367AD and parallels today. http://t.co/h1AaDUTd

  • Mr Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

    HISTORIA EST MAGISTRA VITAE

    Interesting paralel between the Roman Empire, the Us, and the EU. However, I don’t think that the fate of our current societies we live in has been written in the history.

    European and American leaders have their own choices. The future hasn’t passed, yet.

    In history, there is no question beginning with “What if….”. We cannot change the past. But we are the master of the future.

    The responsability lies in our own hands – and we cannot point at the ruins of an old Empire.

    “LIFE ALWAYS OFFERS YOU A SECOND CHANCE, ITS CALL TOMORROW.”

    Mr Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK – EU policy expert

  • Ray Lalonde

    Very interesting topic Tristan. A good overview of the potential scenarios has been covered in a book by Gwynne Dyer titled “Climate wars”.
    I am going to use your link in the “Ancient History Group” as I think they will find the comparison to the Roman experience interesting.
    Posted by Ray Lalonde

  • Friday Read: More people & less food pushed barbarian hordes into Roman Empire. Is history repeating itself? http://t.co/h1AaDUTd

  • Edward Synge

    It is possible that the horde you mention will be China once the underclass become un controllable and the leaders decide that they must have the Russian minerals and oil not to mention the food growing areas. I do NOTbelieve that they will attack Europe as they need our financial centres in Frankfort and London in tact. We have little else they want so I think the horde will stop at the borders of Poland having added what they need to keep growing materially to satisfy there aspiring billions.
    Posted by Edward Synge

  • Dr James Nemo

    You are a little behind the times. It started about 1960.
    Posted by Dr James Nemo

    • Edward Synge

      So good to know that I am not alone in my potty belief which I first voiced at college in 1965 and got c-!!
      Posted by Edward Synge

      • Tristanfischer

        Dear James and Edward,

        What you seem to be referring to is immigration from former colonies, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan from the 1960s onwards. While the numbers may appear large, they are at levels that the Romans prior to 376AD would have understood and managed.

        What I am referring to is something different, a sudden, very large number of immigrants who maintain their political structures intact and then set up effective colonies. That is what the Germans did after 367AD.

        This makes the immigration that we have seen post 1960 quite mild in comparison.

        • Dr James Nemo

          I have no idea what went on under the Romans but I should be highly surprised if the concentration of immigrants was anything like the level we have suffered since the 1960’s.
          We had a very sudden and extremely large influx of immigrants who stuck rigidly the their customs and religions. They have exercised such a level of ingenuity that they have made it virtually illegal to criticise them. There will be bloodshed on a wide scale in this country before 2050.
          Posted by Dr James Nemo

          • Edward Synge

            James I am for what it is worth in total agreement butI am not a scholar like yourself I think this will happen before the end of the 2020s.
            Posted by Edward Synge

  • Michael Marston

    A quick, off the top of my head response – the analysis overlooks a couple of major differences between the now and the then. What is driving the illegal immigrants into Europe and elsewhere now? I believe it is being driven by incompetent/corrupt government in the source countries, with these incompetent policies leading to food shortages and general insecurity. European and US government subsidies of their own agricultural producers, and the subsequent export of that subsidised product to 3rd world countries driving out local producers, and the use of “local” land to grow biofuel feedstocks rather than food also contributes a lot. Also, the US of A’s unbelievably stupid antagonism towards population control methods as part of aid programmes doesn’t help matters.

    The analysis also overlooks the ability of western countries to influence some of the drivers of illegal immigration via education programmes and food technology research.

    The next 50 years will be interesting to say the least, but I don’t think we are looking at whole-sale disaster… then again, I live on a big island thousands of kilometres from every where, and in a country with a high level of income and a reasonably civilised and educated society. I might have a different attitude if I lived in Bangladesh, which is danger of being drowned, or in Pakistan/Afghanistan which will run out of water when the feeder glaciers retreat to a tiny fraction of their current size.
    Posted by Michael Marston

  • aldo marturano

    t is very strange to find in the XXI cent. such expressions as BARBARIAN HORDE. This kind of views go back to the Renaissance and by now already have been effaced in the current historiography. I wish I could hear of no longer in layworld. Let’s see deeper. Barbar has a long history and I will not otuch it, so will I do with Horde. What irritates me is Barbarian Horde. This is firm European-Westerner’s Stand point. We are used to brand the others as Barbarians. Were we not B. during the Crusades? Were we not the B. in the construction of World colonialistic Empires? Are we not B. today in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kossovo etc.? No, we justify all these Barbarian Invasions by the fact that we were bringing along the True faith, our technology (military above all), our Way of living etc. In other word we were the teachers and the others must be our schollboys. Apart from this the Barbarians at the time of their Invasions (the German and Russian historiography in this case is, say, more careful and they prefer to call the B.I. VOELKERWANDERUNG and resp. PERESELENIE NARODOV i.e. migrations) brought in to Europe many useful things/animals/palnts/handicraft and ideas which we use still in the everyday life but do not recognize. And, noreover, they are not trifle things tho!
    Posted by aldo marturano

    • Tristanfischer

      I thought about the use of the term “barbarian horde” before I posted the article.

      The Greeks referred to everybody who was not Greek as a barbarian – it did not have the same negative connotation that it has today. German tribes were definitely referred to as barbarian.
      Hordes are nomadic bands of warriors. The Huns, Tartars and Mongols could all reasonably be called hordes. The Germanic nations that moved into the Roman Empire were not really hordes – but nation groups.

      So referring to the Vandals, Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths etc as “barbarian hordes” is technically inaccurate, and making use of the term to refer to North African family groups fleeing starvation in 20-30 years time is also inaccurate.

      But using the term “barbarian hordes” sounds so much better as a title!

      • aldo marturano

        Wherefrom did u deduct that Hordes is more accurate for Huns, Tatars and Mongols and not for the Germanic Tribes? Horde is a word that started to circulate in XV cent. to indicate just the Tatars (Mongols) that were frightening the Balcans especially.The Slavs didn’t transalte the turcic ORDU meaning campsite and passed the word as it was. It was the catholic church that loaded this word with negative weight (alongside TARTARS instead of TATARS). For this reason is anachronistic to set side-by-side the earlier German (multiethnic always!) tribe movings with the Tatars later movings. The Germanic tribes that u list up were never GERMANS altogether. Just the military élite who had the project in mind for the moving was headed by Germans and these élites had contacts with the Empire provoking the general denomination of the whole group moving into the Empire territories. It was simpler to say: They are Vandals etc. instead of (as we would today, XXI cent.) saying: The chiefs are mostly Vandals.
        Posted by aldo marturano

        • Michael Marston

          the terminology isn’t germane to the discussion… move on maybe?
          Posted by Michael Marston

      • aldo marturano

        It is very strange to find in the XXI cent. such expressions as BARBARIAN HORDE. This kind of views go back to the Renaissance and by now already have been effaced in the current historiography. I wish I could hear of no longer in layworld. Let’s see deeper. Barbar has a long history and I will not otuch it, so will I do with Horde. What irritates me is Barbarian Horde. This is firm European-Westerner’s Stand point. We are used to brand the others as Barbarians. Were we not B. during the Crusades? Were we not the B. in the construction of World colonialistic Empires? Are we not B. today in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kossovo etc.? No, we justify all these Barbarian Invasions by the fact that we were bringing along the True faith, our technology (military above all), our Way of living etc. In other word we were the teachers and the others must be our schollboys. Apart from this the Barbarians at the time of their Invasions (the German and Russian historiography in this case is, say, more careful and they prefer to call the B.I. VOELKERWANDERUNG and resp. PERESELENIE NARODOV i.e. migrations) brought in to Europe many useful things/animals/palnts/handicraft and ideas which we use still in the everyday life but do not recognize. And, noreover, they are not trifle things tho!
        Posted by aldo marturano

  • John Thompson

    I say, you chaps aren’t PC at all! Good on yer.

    Three things:

    1) The issue is not so much immigration as it is assimilation. While the Roman Empire could assimilate most of those who came to Rome — turning the city into a cosmopolitan (not a multicultural) entity, the Empire did well. When assimilation no longer worked, even though many of the intruding Germans wanted some degree of romanization, the Empire ended.

    2) The US, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the UK have a long history of accepting immigrants and assimilating them. The experience of the last few centuries for most of the rest of Europe is emmigration, not immigration and they’ve not been dealing that well with it… but then neither have the Dutch or the British lately. The percentage of foreign born residents to native-born citizens is highest in Australia and Canada (18-19%) but even they are having problems with one particular culture… guess which one?

    3) The main driver is not climate change, but economic conditions. However, if the real expected climate change occurs — which is to say the next ice age — the immigration situation will reverse, quite quickly. We’ll all be heading south.
    Posted by John Thompson

    • Dr James Nemo

      It is quite true that England has an impressive record in accepting immigrants: Jews, Emigres and Hugenots, etc. However these people were the smallest fraction of the indigenous population and simply added a little colour to an already colourful island.
      The postwar situation is quite different because the flow of immigrants has been many times higher than any immigration known in the past. Indeed the rate has been such as to resemble a conquest – a term used advisedly since we are now prevented by law from uttering much in the way of criticism.
      Posted by Dr James Nemo

  • Lori Gonzales

    While climate change may have an impact on the number of people emigrating from underdeveloped countries, to blame it on climate change singularly is too simplistic. IMO, the reliance on monoculture and genetically modified foods will be the heart of the situation. Instead of promoting agricultural variety, big business has been allowed to enter many poorer countries with promises of feeding the masses on one sustainable crop!

    We fail to realize that in many instances, those suffering from famine and malnutrition do so because they are already living on a limited, nutrient poor diet. Monoculture and genetic modifications are generally specific, in that they are “designed” for resistance to particular pests and diseases. These strains are unable to build naturally occurring immunity or make adaptations to environment. It has been documented that one of the overarching problems with monoculture, is the higher susceptibility of disease. In the U.S., we have seen this over and over again in our soy and corn producing regions. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that cultures relying on one or two major food sources could easily be wiped out by a single crop failure or disease.

    When we combine this with our reliance on laboratory hybridized plants, we could be in even more trouble. Naturally occurring hybrids differ from those created in the lab. Seeds from lab hybrids are unreliable and often do not germinate. When they do, the offspring seldom resemble or carry the same characteristics as the parent.

    I mention these things, only because the author of the article has failed to do so. The Irish potato famine had more to do with the limited diet of the poor and the propensity to rely on one particular crop for sustenance than it did with the actual condition of blight. This resulted in a dependence upon more costly imported food, which sadly did not come to fruition for the poorer classes, due to the negligence and greed of the government and elite classes. This disaster was a result of naturally occurring climate conditions at the regional level, which encouraged the growth and spread of the fungus. In conclusion, climate change in itself, is not the problem.
    Posted by Lori Gonzales

  • Duncan McLean

    Ridiculous tosh.

    This is the description given in the article of the supposedly “successful multi ethnic, multi cultural, multi linguistic and multi theistic” Roman society.

    “The Romans had good systems to deal with large numbers of immigrants. The young and able were frequently mustered into joining the army, rather like the Union States does today with its own immigrants. Family groups were sometimes separated and the population dispersed throughout the empire. In 376AD this system abruptly broke down when what should have been a regular border crossing turned into a riot. The Romans had abused their position, sold many of immigrants into slavery and stripped them of their wealth.”

    It is entirely inappropriate to use terms such as ‘barbarians’ and ‘flood of immigrants’ to refer to people who, it is argued, will be forced to move home because they are no longer able to feed themselves due to the damage done to the environment by the process of industrialisation that has been led by European countries.

    Such sloppy writing makes it easy to blame the victim instead of addressing the problem, which is not only climate change, but also the maldistribution of economic power.

    To see solar and wind farms sprout up in Africa to feed power to Europe while local populations starve would be an absurdity, but unless action is taken in parallel on these two issues, this is likely to happen.
    Posted by Duncan McLean

  • Christopher Webber

    Well it’s disappointing that that article does not mention that some people say that climate change may have had a role to play in encourageing the hordes to march westward and overwhelm the Roman empire. The threat from climate change of a sudden increase in immigration is not likely but waves of increased immigration are possible. Although sea level rises will occur slowly, there will be massive natural disasters occuring before areas become totally inhabitable – one only has to think of highly populated low lying areas such as Bangaladesh that are subject to storm surges and cyclones. There will be a reduced ability to accept those immigrants as highly populated areas of Europe (e.g. London) are susceptible to the same forces and could also go underwater eventually. There are already low lying island nations that have lost large parts of their land due to seawater penetration of their water tables so there has been an increase in immigration from those countries (typically to Australia and New Zealand in the case of the Pacfic island communities)..
    Posted by Christopher Webber

  • aldo marturano

    I have in mind that climate changes are so slow that a generation cannot be able to esteem to which changes its culture will undergo. I’m over 70 and I lived changes that just upset my habits in living and thinking but, as I love changes and learning how to face them, do not see any kind of such a menace like Triggering an invasion perhaps may suggest. The terms are too extreme as they recall images that belong to the past and can’t repeat in the present unless a madcap comes up and starts a new world war. In Europa (but also all over the world) moves of large or small human group are always on the fore as today we know of them and they do not arrive unexpectedly. There is a possibility of deviating them or choose to receive them. The climate? It is no more such an important factor as it was in the Middle Ages. Catastrophes? They may happen of course and destroy people and things but ultimately he who remains alive has all possibilities and technologies to start all over again. Who has not migrated during his lifespan in Europe? Who does not claim for a better place to live in and a better life and therefore who has to right to stop such efforts? Don’t forget that the migrant is always biologicall the best individual as lame, stupid, not in order mentally always lag back home.
    Posted by aldo marturano

  • How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe History, Future. Now. http://t.co/eJbaNdFc #cultura #historia #globalizacion

  • Pingback: Standing on the shoulders of toddlers- why we have never grown up and what this means for our future - History, Future. Now.()

  • Pingback: Why the loss of middle class jobs will usher in the rise of political extremism - History, Future. Now.()

  • Pingback: The North African Threat and Mediterranean Reunification - History, Future. Now.()

  • Pingback: Dealing with the consequences of climate chance inaction: the impact of food - History Future Now()

  • How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe – History Future Now http://t.co/It7VFQWe

  • Saturday Read: What does the collapse of the Roman Empire have to do with North Africa today. Everything. Read why. http://t.co/h1AaDUTd

  • How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe – History Future Now: http://t.co/oPzY9q4F

  • Giles Dearden

    Interesting article!

    The word nomad derives from the Greek ‘nomos’, meaning ‘to pasture’.
    They are not aimless barbaric wanderers. There would have been climatic,
    population growth as well as internal political reasons why ancient
    nomadic tribes left their homelands to invade settled lands. As the
    historic records only come from the ‘victims’ then of course they would be
    ‘Barbaric’. It usually didn’t take long for the invading elite to
    subsume the best that settled life could offer. In fact such tensions
    between settled and non-settled peoples can be
    placed at the door of many an ancient and also increasingly modern
    conflict. The ever increasing populations in Africa and lust for poorer countries commodities by
    the ‘west’ is unlikely (in my view) to create a forced
    immigration / invasion over Europe in itself – but the political fallout
    and agendas rising from economic disparity (whether climate, population and / or rampant capitalism) anywhere in the world are of real and urgent concern.

HFN on Twitter