The History Of The Ancient Roman Empire Written Down In The Arctic


Without a reason of doubt, the ancient Roman empire left its mark in history.

“We found that lead pollution in Greenland very closely tracked known plagues, wars, social unrest and imperial expansions during European antiquity.”

From majestic roads, sanitation, to education systems, the ancient Roman Empire made sure it would remain forever in the history books.

Now, researchers exploring Arctic Ice sheets have found traces of the rise and fall of the Roman empire embedded in ice.

Experts have managed to track the Roman Empire’s economic ups and downs, due to the empire’s increased coin-making production, which experts found preserved for centuries after their collapse, in Greenland’s Ice Sheet.

Scientists say that most of the lead emissions of the period are linked to the massive production of silver.

As experts explain, pollution from the lead mines of the ancient Roman empire that boomed during the expansion of the empire drifted all the way to the ice sheets of Greenland. It is believed that lead emissions were preserved thanks to falling snow, which computed in layers and layers of ice.

Speaking about the discovery Joe McConnell, a hydrologist at the Desert Research Institute said:

“Our record of sub-annually resolved, accurately dated measurements in the ice core starts in 1100 BC during the late Iron Age and extends through antiquity and late antiquity to the early Middle Ages in Europe – a period that included the rise and fall of the Greek and Roman civilizations.”

“We found that lead pollution in Greenland very closely tracked known plagues, wars, social unrest and imperial expansions during European antiquity.”
These ancient traces have now been identified by experts, surviving thousands of years after the fall of the Roman empire.

Ice Cores extracted by scientists in Greenland have offered an unprecedented and unique vision of the past, allowing experts to go back in time, and understand how pollution left behind by the empire through thousands of years influenced not only Europe but the Arctic ice Sheet as well.

“We found that lead pollution in Greenland very closely tracked known plagues, wars, social unrest and imperial expansions during European antiquity,” said Professor McConnell.

Researchers from different fields participated in the study. From experts in hydrology, ice-core specialists, to economic historians, experts gathered to find never-before-seen details about the Roman Empire.

The new study offers a historical record that includes more than 21,000 lead and other chemical measurements.

Experts found that lead pollution emissions began rising around 900 BC, as the ancient Phoenicians began expanding their prosperous trading routes into the Mediterranean. Furthermore, lead emissions are believed to have increased due to mining activity by the ancient Carthaginians and Romans, mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, reaching its zenith during the Roman Empire.

Experts have linked lead emissions to significant historical events.

Researchers found that lead emissions reached an all-time low during the last 80 years of the Roman Republic, known historically as the Crisis of the Roman Republic.

“The nearly four-fold higher lead emissions during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire compared to the last decades of the Roman Republic indicate substantial economic growth under Imperial rule,” said coauthor Andrew Wilson, Professor of the Archaeology of the Roman Empire at Oxford.

As noted by the Independent, “the new study carried out by Dr. McConnell and his team used state-of-the-art simulations of lead pollution’s transport in the atmosphere to work out the scale on which mining and smelting operations in Europe were taking place.”

Furthermore, scientists also discovered how lead emissions varied during wars and political unrest, particularly during the Roman Republic. Experts also found how lead emissions took sharp dives when two notable plagues struck the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

You can read more about the study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Ivan is editor-in-chief at, he also writes for Universe Explorers.
You may have seen him appear on the Discovery and History Channel.

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