Rethinking the climate’s impact on Ancient Rome

What does the massive eruption of a volcano in Alaska 2000 years ago have to do with the rise of the Roman Empire? Quite a lot according to scientific research published this week.

Researchers used historical accounts and analyses of ice cores and the geochemistry of tephra, which are natural preservers of the Earth’s history, as evidence that the eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano in 43 BCE caused global climatic changes.

These changes sparked the period’s political and social unrest on the other side of the world and ultimately changed the course of history.

Among the best known and important political events in the history of western civilization is the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. This triggered a 17-year power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic and led to the rise of the Roman Empire. At this time the Egyptian Ptolemaic Kingdom also fell.

Written sources describe unusual climate, crop failures and disruption to the seasonal flooding of the Nile in Egypt, famine, disease, and social unrest in the Mediterranean in the two years following the eruption.


Joe Manning, a professor of classics at Yale University and a scholar of ancient Egyptian history says the new research “allows us to rethink ancient history especially with regard to the environment and climate.

Okmok volcano’s impressive crater was created when it erupted in 43 BCE. Credit: Christina Neal/Wikimedia Commons

Newton and the apple

When scientist and polymath, Isaac Newton famously said “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants“, one of the giants he was referring to was Galileo.

Newton (1643-1727), who emerged as one of the greatest minds of the 17th century, discovered the laws of motion and described gravity.

A century earlier Galileo proved that objects fall at the same speed regardless of their mass. Newton understood that this phenomenon also worked in space and used mathematics to prove that the whole universe is governed by the same laws of physics. Gravity effects a falling apple in the same way as it effects an orbiting planet.

Green Initiatives

In 2019, after serving 12 years as Director of Travelling Exhibitions, Thomas Rizzo accepted the position as CEO of Artisans of Florence, bringing with him a focus on meaningful change in our sustainability practices. Since then we have seen a number of fantastic changes in how we conduct our business.

All the Artisans’ flights are carbon offset, at no cost to our customers. We have invested in solar energy to power our head office and sought biodegradable packaging for our travelling exhibitions which has considerably cut down our carbon footprint as an organisation. You can learn more about why we choose to use GreatWrap by following this link.

This is all in addition to our decades-long practice of comprehensive tour schedules which eliminates the need for our exhibitions to travel back to Italy between International shows.

We are looking forward to implementing more green, philanthropic and kindness initiatives in 2020 and beyond!

Key Initiatives

  • Solar powered head office
  • Biodegradable packaging used on touring exhibitions
  • Carbon offset for the Artisans’ flights
  • Greatly reduced international travel for exhibitions

Galileo and the Science Deniers

A new biography about Italian scientist, astronomer and mathematician, Galileo Galilei, makes a compelling argument that is as important today as it was 400 years ago. In Galileo and the Science Deniers, Mario Livio reveals Galileo’s courage and the personal struggles he endured throughout his life because of his unwavering search for the truth supported by science.

It seems unthinkable now because we take certain scientific facts for granted, but in 1633 Galileo was tried, convicted, and sentenced to house arrest by the Catholic Church. His “crime” was to challenge the widely-held belief that the universe was a creation of God, with the Earth firmly located at its centre. Thanks to Galileo and his powerful telescope, he was able to prove that the Earth is one of the many planets that rotate around the sun.

Each beautifully written and insightful chapter delves into the discoveries for which Galileo has been named the father of modern science.

Adam Riess, Nobel Laureate in Physics, writes of the book;

It is fashionable to invoke Galileo on both sides of any debate to claim the mantle of truth. In Galileo and the Science Deniers, Livio teaches us the method by which Galileo found the truth – a process more powerful than rhetoric – examination.  Today more than ever we need to understand what made Galileo synonymous with finding the truth.

Mario Livio, author of Galileo and the Science Deniers, is an internationally renown astrophysicist. His best selling books include The Golden Ratio and Brilliant Blunders.

Galileo’s professional rivalry

While teaching as head Mathematician at Padua University, Galileo became embroiled in an ongoing and heated public debate with his colleague Cesare Cremonini, a renowned Natural Philosopher.

Cremonini, who followed the Aristotle school of belief that the planets (including the sun) orbit the Earth publicly denounced Galileo writing; It is hard to realize what a fundamental blow to all Natural Philosophy it would be if a mere Mathematician could prove actual change in the heavens.

As Cremonini believed that heavenly bodies were created by God, he argued that Galileo’s measurements could not be accurate because he was using mortal instruments to measure the divine.

Galileo responded by publishing a well-reasoned discussion, in colloquial dialect rather than high Latin, between two rural peasants.

One of the peasants remarks: When it comes to measuring things we shouldn’t trust Philosophers, after all, what have they ever measured? We should instead trust in the measurements of the Mathematicians who care not whether something is fashioned from the divine or from polenta, because their measurements will still hold true.

The origins of quarantine

Did you know?

The word “quarantine” originates from the word for “forty” in the Venetian dialect (quarantena). This is due to the 40-day isolation of ships, people and goods entering a port as a means of disease prevention during the time of the black death (Bubonic plague) which spread through Europe between 1348 and 1359 killing 30% of Europe’s population!

(Photo: Plague Doctor mask at Venetian Carnivale)

Did you know that Galileo was the first scientist to measure heart rate?

At a young age, while watching a lamp swinging in the Pisa Cathedral, Galileo discovered that each full swing of a pendulum takes exactly the same amount of time regardless of whether the arc of the swing is wide or narrow. He used his own pulse to measure the time of each of the lamp’s swings. Many years later after studying medicine at the University of Pisa he used this knowledge to create the Harmonic Oscillator, a machine that accurately measures the human heart rate.

Scientist rebel

Galileo (1564-1642) challenged some of the fundamental knowledge of his time, providing proof that certain long held beliefs were incorrect, and paving the way for a better scientific future.

In his time it was accepted that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and the planets, including the sun, rotated around it. Thanks to Galileo’s tenacious observation of the natural world with his new and ultra powered telescope,  coupled with his meticulous note taking, he was able to plot the movements of the planets around the sun.

Galileo’s game-changing ball experiment

Never happy to take someone else’s word, Galileo wanted to test everything for himself before forming his beliefs. This led him to his most famous experiment. Legend has it, he simultaneously dropped a heavy ball and a light ball from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test which would fall the fastest.

Counter to the ‘understood knowledge’ of the day, Galileo was able to prove that the balls would reach the ground at the same speed, despite their different weights.