EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The volcanic 'triple event' of the 160s BCE and the causes of famine in Judaea during the Maccabaean Revolt

Selga Medenieks
Selga Medenieks
  • Trinity College Dublin, Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities, Department of History, Ireland (

Ongoing research shows an association between volcanic eruptions, the resulting disruption of climatic and hydrological patterns, and socio-economic disturbance in ancient Egypt during the final three centuries BCE (Manning, Ludlow et al. 2017). The present paper explores how this paradigm can extend our understanding of Judaea in the 160s BCE, a decade marked by consecutive famines amid intense political and social upheaval, particularly the so-called Maccabaean Revolt against Seleucid rule. Making use of state-of-the-art ice-core evidence that identifies three substantial volcanic eruptions within that timespan, as well as modelling that sheds light on the likely climatic impacts of the eruptions, this paper puts forward explanations to supplement those based upon the ancient (literary) sources alone, suggesting that volcanic forcing was a critical factor in these significant events in Judaean history. 

            The Maccabaean rebellion and its aftereffects on Jewish identity politics in posterity cannot be overstated, yet heretofore the contribution of famine conditions (now plausibly linked to external climatic forcing) to this watershed period have hardly been taken into account. Mindful that studies claiming climatic pressures as primary catalysts of important human historical events have often proved overly simplistic, the interaction of other contemporaneous stressors is also examined. Correspondences with the Egyptian and Chinese data are observed here too, especially in relation to conditions surrounding the onset and cessation of military action, and interference in religious matters in order to control a predominantly Temple-managed resource management and taxation system.

How to cite: Medenieks, S.: The volcanic 'triple event' of the 160s BCE and the causes of famine in Judaea during the Maccabaean Revolt, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10004,, 2022.