Tell me if you think this sounds familiar: In its latter years (500-700 ACE), the Roman Empire faced a formidable challenge from two devastating environmental forces — dramatic climate change and massive epidemic. As Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
During our own bout of climate change and ravaging disease, I’ve been reading Kyle Harper’s book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of Empire. The whole time, rhymes were running through my head. We all know that things did not turn out well for Rome, whose civilization went through the most devastating collapse in world history. The state disintegrated, population fell in half, and the European standard of living did not recover the level it had in 500 until a thousand years later.