Science, Society and Environmental Change in the First Millennium CE

Hail destroying crops. Homilies of Gregory of Nazianzos, (Paris BNF gr. 510, f. 78r)


The Mediterranean in the first millennium CE saw environmental and climatic changes which have been identified as causes for significant short- and long-term societal and political processes and events, such as the rise and fall of empires. SSE1K examines textual, archaeological and environmental evidence to investigate human experiences of environmental and climatic variation in the Mediterranean in the first millennium CE, focusing in particular on how people responded both intellectually and socially to these changing conditions. The project considers the complex relationships between people and their environments, especially in relation to how human perceptions and ways of thinking shaped societal, political and religious responses to environmental and climatic change, and explores issues such as how the circulation of knowledge and adaptability intersect with sustainability and resilience in pre-modern societies.


Written sources

Helen Foxhall Forbes, Vicky Manolopoulou and Razieh Mousavi are looking at a variety of written sources from across the Mediterranean region relating to intellectual and social responses to climatic/environmental change in the first millennium, aiming to integrate this textual evidence with palaeoenvironmental data. Vicky Manolopoulou will look at responses to perceived catastrophes and climate emotions in Byzantium. Razieh Mousavi will focus on Arabic-Islamic geographical accounts and cartography, and compare these with narrative historical texts and travelogues to identify rituals, practices and water-related conflicts and other events. Helen Foxhall Forbes will review evidence of climatic events and possible consequences, such as crop failures for example, and how societies tried to tackle these difficulties, especially looking at sources about the Italian peninsula and nearby territories during late antiquity.

Archaelogical data

Dan Lawrence and Michele Abballe specialise in landscape and environmental archaeology, and are responsible for collecting archaeological data to reconstruct population dynamics and settlement strategies in the long term. In conjunction with Helen Foxhall Forbes, they will identify smaller case-study areas for focused investigation and will also produce large-scale models of human-environment relations across the western Mediterranean. They will also integrate textual evidence from the Western Mediterranean into the datasets, utilising GIS and remote sensing as well as other computational approaches). One additional team member (not yet appointed) will specialise in archaeological data science and will undertake agent-based modeling (ABM) of social-ecological systems. Archaeological data will provide the baseline for settlement patterns, while textual evidence collected by the team will be used to inform the assumptions in the ABM.


Dominik Fleitmann, Dan Lawrence and Ismini Lipiridou will work with existing large-scale datasets to review scholarship relating to established climatic conditions and fluctuations in this period, and will select a number of extreme events as case-studies. Dominik Fleitmann and Ismini Lipiridou will develop new high-resolution speleothem-based hydroclimatic reconstructions from key sites in the central and eastern Mediterranean. They will also reconstruct large scale land use and work with Vicky Manolopoulou to identify and incorporate relevant textual material for comparison with the palaeoenvironmental records.



file pdf 24 and 28/02/2024 - Michele Abballe at "Cervia Archeologica 2024" [ITA]
24/02/2024 - “Cervia al centro dell’archeologia europea: il progetto PRIN22 Ambiente, insediamento e produzione. L'interazione uomo/ambiente nei paesaggi produttivi dell'Italia medievale”
28/02/2024 - “Mani in ‘terra’: dal record sepolto alla ricostruzione del paesaggio cervese”
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file pdf 03/02/2024 - Michele Abballe, “Nuovi dati geoarcheologici dalla Cassa di Colmata del Lamone” [ITA] 91 KB





Helen Foxhall Forbes

Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy
Project Principal Investigator - Full Professor

Helen Foxhall Forbes is Full Professor of medieval history and PI of SSE1K. She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge (2001-2008) and Theology at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg-im-Breisgau (2007-2008). Subsequently she held posts at the universities of Cambridge (2008-2009), Leicester (2009-2012), Exeter (2012-2013) and Durham (2013-2022). Her research focuses on Europe and the Mediterranean from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. Her particular research interests include environmental history and the links between human beings and their environments, the history of Christianity and of Christian theology, as well as intellectual history and the history of science. Her first book, Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England: Theology and Society in an Age of Faith (2013), was funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship held at the University of Leicester. This research demonstrated the important connections between theology and its social context in early medieval England. She is a member of the Bova Marina Archaeological Project and has been involved with excavations in Calabria since 1999. She is also a member of the international advisory board for the Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies and Manuscript Research (Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI) and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Michele Abballe

Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy

Michele Abballe obtained a PhD in Archaeology from Ghent University (BE), as part of a Joint Programme with the University of Verona (IT), focusing on reconstructing the diachronic evolution of the hinterland of Ravenna through geoarchaeological methods (2023). Between 2022 and 2023, he worked on remotely sensed data as a Post-graduate Research Fellow at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC), National Research Council (CNR) of Italy. Prior to his PhD, he worked in commercial archaeology for six months after completing his BA and MA in Archaeology at the University of Bologna (2011-2017), with research stays at the University of Leicester (UK) and Leiden University (NL). Michele currently leads the GEOARCHAMMI project (GEOARCHAeological Mapping with VHR Multispectral Imagery) supported by ESA (2022-2024). Additionally, he is respectively co-director and field director of RecLands (since 2023) and Faventia (since 2019) projects, studying settlement patterns evolution in the plain north of Ravenna and Faenza with a strong focus on human-environmental interactions over the long term. As part of the SSE1K project, Michele is investigating how settlement patterns in the Western Mediterranean coped with climate and environmental variations during the 1st millennium CE, combining available archaeological data (such as settlement data and C14 dates) with natural proxies (such as hydroclimatic reconstructions and pollen data).

Dominik Fleitmann

University of Basel, Switzerland
Full Professor

Dominik is Full Professor in Quaternary Geology, at the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University of Basel, Switzerland. As a Quaternary geologist and palaeoclimatologist, Dominik is working on a variety of climate archives, including speleothems (stalagmites, flowstones), lacustrine sediments, spring carbonates and corals from Europe, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. One primary goal of his research is to construct precisely-dated and highly-resolved time series that provide new insights into climatic and environmental processes over a variety of geologic timescales, ranging from seasonal to glacial/interglacial cycles. It is therefore not surprising that his research interests and experience span a wide range of topics from paleoclimate, geochemistry, hydrology, biology, meteorology to archaeology and climate modelling. Because of the strong interdisciplinary nature of my research, Dominik has developed a rich network of national and international collaborations.

Isidora Freris

Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy
Project manager

Isidora Freris is a Research Manager specialising in EU fund project management. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry (Monash University, Australia) and over twenty-five years of combined experience in academic research, technology transfer, grant writing, and industrial R&D. Her post-doctoral research fellowship undertaken at Ca' Foscari University (Italy) from 2007 to 2013 evolved into the creation of a co-founded technology-based start-up company in 2012, and an independently managed scientific editing company in 2015. In 2023, she returned to Ca’ Foscari University, joining the Research Unit within the Department of Humanities to support ERC grantees with post-award grant management and administration.

Dan Lawrence

Durham University, England

Dan Lawrence is Professor in the Archaeology of Southwest Asia at Durham University in the UK. He studied at UCL and Cambridge before coming to Durham for his PhD as part of the Fragile Crescent Project, supervised by Professor Tony Wilkinson. Dan has remained at Durham ever since, initially as a postdoctoral researcher on the ERC funded Persia and its Neighbours project, and then as Assistant Professor (2015-2018), Associate Professor (2018-2023) and Professor (2023 to present). Dan is a landscape archaeologist with methodological interests in GIS, remote sensing and computational approaches to the past. He is director of the Durham Archaeology Informatics Laboratory, a specialist hub for computational archaeology in the department. His research interests include climate change, urbanism, water management and inequality. He is PI of the CLaSS project, an ERC Starting Grant which investigates the relationship between the emergence of social complexity and climate change across Southwest Asia over the Holocene, and is Co-PI on several projects examining landscape change across Southwest Asia and North Africa. Dan also has interests in heritage management, and is a Co-PI on the Oxford led Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project.

Ismini Lypiridou

University of Basel, Switzerland
PhD candidate

Ismini Lypiridou is a PhD candidate at the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Basel. Understanding the complex relationship connecting climate and human activities throughout history has been proven a challenge, especially for the first millennium CE. During this period, the scarcity of high-resolution climate records has inhibited this connection, making it difficult to discern detailed climatic patterns and their impact on human societies. Having generated and worked with paleoclimate reconstruction records during her MSc degree, she will provide the necessary climatic and environmental framework in central and eastern Mediterranean covering the first millennium CE. She will achieve this by examining already published records and developing new high-resolution speleothem-based reconstructions. In addition, she will be focusing on extreme and abrupt climatic events and transitions as case studies for closer investigation of their socio-economic impacts. To do so, she will collaborate closely with the historians and archaeologists of the project and integrate their expertise in interpreting historical and archaeological data with the paleoclimate reconstructions. By combining scientific methods with historical analysis, she aims to contribute valuable insights into the complex interactions between climate dynamics and human activities. Thus, shedding light on the resilience and adaptability of past civilizations in the face of environmental challenges. 

Vicky Manolopoulou

Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy

Her work on human-environment interactions in Byzantium during the first millennium takes place at the intersection of the ecological, affective, and digital humanities. Her core expertise includes liturgical experiences, perceptions of nature (affective ecocriticism), climate emotions, ritual landscapes (including processions and pilgrimage), and the application of digital tools and methods of analysis for the study of Byzantium. In her current post at Ca’ Foscari, she explores how people in Byzantium perceived and responded to environmental change during the first millennium. She is particularly interested in approaching emotional responses to the environment from a historical and landscape perspective. Before her current post, she was part of the History Department at Durham University, where she worked as a Lecturer in Early Medieval History. She has also held research and teaching positions at Princeton University, King’s College London, Northumbria University, and Newcastle University.

Razieh S. Mousavi

Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy

Razieh’s academic interest encompasses a multidisciplinary exploration of the history of science and environmental history. After winning a scholarship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, she pursued her doctoral studies at Humboldt University, obtaining her PhD in 2023. Her research focused on a ninth-century Arabic astronomical treatise, shedding light on the crucial role of seasonal knowledge in harnessing water resources within the expanding urban centers of the Abbasid Empire. One of the main goals of her project was to facilitate a dialogue between the history of astronomy and other scholarly fields, with the intention of gaining a more profound understanding of humanity’s historical engagement with nature. In January 2024, Razieh joined the ERC project at Ca’Foscari University, continuing her investigation into astro-meteorological history during the early Islamic centuries. Her interests extend to examining the evolution of ecological perspectives and environmental determinism during the spread of Islam in the late first millennium CE. Additionally, she seeks to bridge the gap between paleoclimatic evidence and the technological advancements made by Muslim engineers for water management, elucidating how societies historically responded to climatic challenges. Razieh's research also intends to capture a clearer image of societal resilience in the face of environmental changes, considering both socio-cultural dynamics and environmental hazards.