A Massive Volcanic Eruption in Alaska May Have Doomed the Roman Republic

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

The fall of the Roman Republic gave rise to the Roman Empire, making it one of the most significant events in Western history. According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it may have been hastened by a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world.

The year 43 BCE was a time of social unrest in ancient Rome. Julius Caesar had been assassinated a year earlier, sparking fights for political control that led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the Ptolemaic Kingdom. This was also a period of devastating climate change. Accounts from the era describe crop failure, famine, and disease plaguing the Mediterranean region as temperatures dropped. The new study from an international team of scientists connects these disasters to the massive eruption of an Alaskan volcano around the same time.

Researchers looked at Arctic ice cores containing millennia of geological data and found that a volcanic eruption—one of the largest of the past 2500 years—occurred in 43 BCE. Further analysis of the volcanic material inside the cores linked the event to the Okmok volcano in Alaska. Using Earth system modeling software, researchers digitally recreated the impact of the volcanic activity on a global scale. The model showed colder, rainier weather patterns in the Mediterranean for two years following the eruption, with seasonal temperatures dropping more than 10°F below normal in some places.

The connection between a volcanic eruption and climate change thousands of miles away isn’t hard to make. During violent eruptions, volcanoes spew debris and gases into the atmosphere. Such materials can block energy from the sun and absorb warmth from the Earth, disrupting the planet’s radiative balance and triggering a cooling trend.

The link between the 43 BCE eruption and the fall of Rome, however, is harder to prove. While data shows that the eruption spurred Mediterranean climate change at this time, written evidence showing that the harsh weather (and the death and hardship it caused) were behind the region’s political upheaval is sparse. Many factors contributed to Rome’s demise, and if this event played a role, it was in further destabilizing a kingdom that was already on the brink of collapse.

“[Caesar] was killed on the Ides of March in 44 BCE by his rivals in the Senate, but rather than stabilizing the Republic, it instead launched a power struggle to see who would succeed Caesar,” Joseph R. McConnell, an environmental and climate scientist at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada and the study's co-author, tells Mental Floss. “Exactly when this power struggle was at its apex in 43 and 42 BCE, the Mediterranean experienced some of the worst weather of the past 2500 years as a result of the early 43 BCE Okmok volcanic eruption. While we can’t actually prove that the extreme weather and likely crop failures, food shortages, epidemic disease that resulted caused the downfall of the Republic 2000 years ago, it seems only logical that it must have played a significant role.”

Natural disasters triggering societal collapse have been a common story throughout history. Over a millennium before the Roman Republic ended, the Icelandic volcano Hekla erupted and caused cooling in Northern Europe. The large number of refugees that fled south as a result spelled ruin for the Eastern Mediterranean, which had been a thriving civilization up to this point. McConnell emphasizes that civilizations are no less vulnerable to cataclysmic disasters now than they were thousands of years ago—especially during politically volatile times.

“There are some interesting parallels to today, with democracies on the ropes and authoritarian wannabes on the rise, just like at the end of the Roman Republic,” he says. “Let’s hope our democratic institutions survive this time, because they didn’t 2000 years ago.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The Psychological Tricks Disney Parks Use to Make Long Wait Times More Bearable

© Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
© Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

No one goes to Disneyland or Disney World to spend the day waiting in line, but when a queue is well-designed, waiting can be part of the experience. Disney knows this better than anyone, and the parks' Imagineers have developed several tricks over the years to make long wait times as painless as possible.

According to Popular Science, hacking the layout of the line itself is a simple way to influence the rider's perspective. When a queue consists of 200 people zig-zagging around ropes in a large, open room, it's easy for waiting guests to feel overwhelmed. This design allows riders to see exactly how many people are in line in front of them—which isn't necessarily a good thing when the line is long.

Imagineers prevent this by keeping riders in the dark when they enter the queue. In Space Mountain, for example, walls are built around the twisting path, so riders have no idea how much farther they have to go until they're deeper into the building. This stops people from giving up when they first get in line.

Another example of deception ride designers use is the "Machiavellian twist." If you've ever been pleasantly surprised by a line that moved faster than you expected, that was intentional. The signs listing wait times at the beginning of ride queues purposefully inflate the numbers. That way, when a wait that was supposed to be 120 minutes goes by in 90, you feel like you have more time than you did before.

The final trick is something Disney parks are famous for: By incorporating the same level of production design found on the ride into the queue, Imagineers make waiting in line an engaging experience that has entertainment value of its own. The Tower of Terror queue in Disney World, which is modeled after a decrepit 1930s hotel lobby down to the cobwebs and the abandoned coffee cups, feels like it could be a movie set. Some ride lines even use special effects. While waiting to ride Star Wars: Ride of the Resistance in Galaxy's Edge, guests get to watch holograms and animatronics that set up the story of the ride. This strategy exploits the so-called dual-task paradigm, which makes the line feel as if it's going by faster by giving riders mental stimulation as they wait.

Tricky ride design is just one of Disney's secrets. Here are more behind-the-scenes facts about the beloved theme parks.

[h/t Popular Science]