The Little Known Huge Deforestation During the Roman Period


If you search deeper you’ll find that deforestation is not new and it certainly was brought about by the innovations of the best chainsaw brand leaders. It already happened during the Roman period, and just like today, it had devastating effects. It affected the environment, the people’s livelihood, agriculture and industry, and even led to the fall of a great ancient empire.

Factors that accelerated deforestation

1. Building and housing.

Wood was the most basic building material during the period. Trees were cut to build houses for the increasing Roman population. Together with a higher standard of living and more extravagant lifestyles in the urbanized capitals of the Empire need for timber became extensive.

2. Fuel consumption.

Need for fuel increased and the main source of heating and light at that time was wood. Ceramic making, smelting and mining were already established industries then, which required large quantities of wood and charcoal as fuel. The first areas to suffer deforestation were the forests surrounding mining centres. When the supply of wood was exhausted, the mining centres were shut down, only to move to other areas where wood was abundant, and the cycle of deforestation was repeated.

3. Increase in agricultural areas.

The demand for food exponentially grew as well. With the higher demand, trees growing in many areas had to be cut down to clear land for agricultural crops. Agriculture was also a major industry that boosted the Romans’ economic prosperity. Land areas became overworked due to the increasing demand for agricultural products. Soon they exhausted the fertility of most of the lands’ topsoil. With that, the armies were tasked to find more fertile lands to conquer.

4. Overgrazing.

The introduction of farm and domestic animals further degraded forests and prevented them from regenerating. Swine, goats, sheep and cattle all had different dietary needs and together, they effectively destroyed the vegetation they were able to reach. The herders opened lands so the animals can graze; swine ate the seed that fell on the ground and goats consumed young trees and bushes, preventing them from growing and maturing. The denudation caused erosion and when hillsides were stripped of soil, bare rocks were exposed. Gravel and silt that were washed down from mountains and hills caused siltation and flooding. Marshland became shallower due to siltation.

5. Military manoeuvres.

The military played a big hand in deforestation. They cleared large areas of the forests to prevent sneak attacks and invasion threats. The military also conquered lands to ensure that the empire will have a continuous supply of timber.

6. Shipbuilding.

Military conquests overseas required the Roman Empire to build ships, with warships taking precedence over merchant ships. Wood was used to build ships and these vessels were used to conquer lands rich in timber, which is crucial in supporting the flourishing economic life of the ancient Romans.

Deforestation left the empire with vast tracks of unproductive lands, which led them to be dependent on other countries such as North Africa for food supplies. Industries moved to other places, making shipping costs higher and drained the empire’s resources. Their currency became useless due to lack of silver supply. Population decreased, the treasury became empty and invaders can no longer be kept at bay. In 476 AD, the Roman Empire fell.

Also read: The Governance Of Rome & How It Is Relevant Even Today?

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