Dr. Amanda Laoupi (Archaeoenvironmentalist / Disaster Specialist) Centre for the Assessment of Natural Hazards & Proactive Planning – NTUA email@example.com
Disaster Archaeology and the Classics. Environmental Crises, Societal Collapse and Disaster Management in the Works of Plato and Aristotle
Abstract The first attempt to tame topics that cross biological, ecological, physical and sociocultural concepts is dated back to the 1990’s, when a PhD. thesis under the general title “Attica of Classical Era as Human Ecosystem. The Eco-philosophy of Aristotle and various methodological issues of Environmental Archaeology” began to take shape. Main target was the analysis of the Classical city-state of Attica, within the schema of its natural, rural, urban and peri-urban landscapes. The works of Aristotle and Theophrast offered an enormous help, because these philosophers filled the methodological gap between the physical and cultural systems. Later on, after many years of environmental / ecological study and a new discipline established (Disaster Archaeology: Laoupi, 2006), the interdisciplinary research focused on the undisputable triad of eco-analysis: Plato, Aristotle and Theophrast. Among the multi-dimensional parameters of analysis are the concepts of Carrying Capacity and Population Pressure, along with various categorizations within the geopolitical structures, the life-cycle analysis, the sustainable development, urban metabolism, system limits, urban flows, the concept of niche, hierarchy and unfamiliar, alien or hostile landscape, of Copying Capacity, Vulnerability, Disaster and Collapse. The ancient Greeks authors were fully aware of the crucial role of natural phenomena and human-induced hazards that may cause perturbations in the equilibrium of ecosystems and the life of the cities. Plato with his ideas on urban management, environmental crises and the famous disaster myth of Atlantis, Aristotle with his thoughts on social metabolism, disaster management and the Atlas of human ecosystems, along with Theophrast with his detailed studies on ecosystems and natural equilibrium, having filtrated all the preceded knowledge (mythological cycles, Homeric Epics, Pre-Socratic Philosophers, Greek Geographers & Historians) contributed greatly to an early scientific approach to Disaster Studies, as we acknowledge today.
Keywords: Disaster Archaeology, Eco-philosophy, environmental crises, Life Cycle Analysis
1. Introduction Disaster Archaeology (Laoupi, 2006), an upcoming interdisciplinary science, emerges and establishes itself as a uniquely significant part of the fields that deal with hazards, risk management, prevention policies and mitigation plans all over the world. Increasing possibilities of multifarious and costly natural and human-induced
disasters force both civil and private sectors to move deeply and heavily into broader approaches of such events. Considering that the functions and the results of disasters, the human response to hazards and the carrying capacity of natural and human ecosystems do not vary considerably in space and time, as several constants exist in Nature and Society, modern scientists can detect the spatial and temporal distribution of hazards. But firstly, we must define clearly the aims, the scope, the methodology and the applications of this discipline, which can provide modern researchers with a huge spectrum of information concerning hazards and disasters of the past. Generally speaking, Archaeology of Natural Disasters: a) defines the identity, the impact and the dynamics of natural hazards into the evolution of human civilization, b) tries to find and analyze the kinds, frequency and magnitude of natural hazards that are hidden in the ‘archaeological landscapes’, c) searches for the adaptation process in past human societies and the ‘unfamiliar landscapes’ formed after natural disasters. The ‘reconstruction’ of the natural and cultural landscapes of the past that were ‘used’ and modified by humans, is a vital priority (Gould, 2007; Torrence & Grattan, 2002; World, 2002; Byrne, 1997; Blaikie et al., 1994). Nevertheless, the natural hazards could happen in chaotic patterns, varying in frequency, magnitude or functional structure. They may also have several impacts on the evolution of human civilization (biological, ecological, environmental, socioeconomic, political, technological, geographical and cultural results) that are not always clearly defined, even by the victims or the generations following the event. Moreover, these effects could be hidden in the ‘archaeological landscapes’, due to diverse parameters (e.g. natural phenomena that constantly change the landscape and falsify the evidence, applied techniques and methods concerning the retrieval of information). Finally, many ‘entities’, for example the vulnerability of ancient societies to environmental or human-made risks, and their adaptation process to the ‘unfamiliar landscapes’ formed after natural disasters are not measurable as other proxy data can be (paleoclimatic, hydrogeological, paleoantrhopological e.t.c.) .. Consequently, Disaster Archaeology utilizes the contributions of a wide area of scientific fields, in order to study and interpret the remains of ancient human cultures. Its objectives combine scientific and humanistic goals, including the identification and analysis of archaeological systems to illuminate the long-forgotten cultural processes that created them. As a multidisciplinary enterprise, Disaster Archaeology includes attempts to reconstruct the full spectrum of elements composing a vanished society, before combining the existing evidence with complex information retrieved by other sciences, because the environmental setting is equally important when we study past catastrophic events. Despite their undoubted and valuable help, the final evaluation of information remain a strictly archaeoenvironmental business. The pivotal principles of disaster analysis can be found in the texts of ancient writers (e.g. Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, pre-Socratic philosophers, Hippocrates, Thucydides, tragic poets, Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, et al.), where a serious attempt to categorize the causes of natural and man-induced changes both in the environment and human societies, is easily recognizable. 2. The systematic approach of Culture and Nature The first attempt to tame topics that cross biological, ecological, physical and socio-cultural concepts is dated back to the 1990’s, when a PhD. thesis focused on Attica of Classical Era as Human Ecosystem, and on the Eco-philosophy of Aristotle
& various methodological issues of Environmental Archaeology. This attempt had firstly to confront many misconceptions, for example that cities are separate from nature and not participating in the ecosystems’ analysis, along with various methodological and practical issues, such as the lack of a framework within which to interpret empirical studies, if any. The lack of a comparative or reference framework ended when a systematic methodology had been chosen .. Main target was the analysis of the Classical city-state of Attica (due to the plenteousness of archaeological and philological evidence), within the schema of its natural, rural, urban and peri-urban landscapes. The works of Aristotle and Theophrast offered an enormous help, because these philosophers filled the methodological gap between the physical and cultural systems. As it will be discussed at length in a later section of this paper, cosmos was considered as a unified, but diverse whole, whose inseparable aspects were the dualistic pairs (order / chaos, culture / nature). Landscape histories interest a wide range of social scientists, but particularly archaeologists, who are compelled to read the paleoecological records. Furthermore, the exploration of historical records may explain the growth and collapse of specific spatio-temporal structures, as it has been demonstrated by Tainter et al. (2003) in the case study of Roman Empire. The main concept of niche & hierarchy can be detected in the ancient Greek texts. Complex systems are systems composed of many heterogeneous components that interact with each other in parallel. Natural complex systems self organize spontaneously to produce global patterns of behaviour that emerge from simple rules. Natural open systems self organize by the dissipation of energy according to the second law of thermodynamics. They are autocatalytic, meaning that the structure they form feeds back to capture and dissipate more energy. All the same, the study of complex human ecosystems is not necessarily human -centred, but rather focuses on the whole system complex dynamics of matter, energy, and information from all temporal and spatial scales, including those that are uniquely human. Primary niche dimension may be analyzed into three major ‘coordinates’: time, habitat (space of habitation, action & reproduction) and resources. ‘Niches’ vary over time and form the landscapes of power, because some centers are more powerful (in population dynamics, sufficiency of resources, environmental parameters, settlements’ organization, transportation lanes, urbanization’s level, e.t.c.) than others. Human societies reflect environmental complexity, being ‘hierarchical’ in their nature (Renfrew, 1984; Kirsch in Schiffer, 1980). The term ‘system’ is used in ancient Greek language at least 2.500 years before our era. Demokritus (D.K. 135 - 136, Testimonia B5 :Diodorus I. 8.1 ff. ) refers to the human societies as cultural systems analyzed into the subsystems of communication and symbolism. Aristotle analyzes the concept of system through spatial & temporal variations, along with observer’s view. He also understands system’s variables, the input of energy, the flow of energy and the transformation of matter, the concept of reversibility, the organization of space and information. Furthermore, structural concepts / ‘laws’ of Biogeography, Ecology, Bioclimatology, Meteorobiology, Historical-geographical Pathology and other modern scientific fields already exist in the texts of Hesiod (e.g. Works & Days, 383 - 694), Herodot (III.108) and the Hippocratic School (e.g. On winds, waters and places). Aristotle and Theophrast were the founders of Human Ecology (i.e. concept of niche, ecosystem, agricultural systems ). It is noteworthy that the teacher wrote an atlas of sociopolitical schemata, while the pupil wrote an environmental atlas of the ancient Greek
world, combining, in this way, the methodological framework of socio-economic and ecological analyses. Urban environments include both physical and human landscapes. The physical landscapes (soil, hydrology, topography, vegetation, climate, animal communities) dictate the kind, rates and limits of human exploitation over the natural resources, by enhancing some strategies / choices against some others. In addition, the landscapes of human activities (humanscapes) play a prominent role within urban environments. The perception of unfamiliar, alien or hostile landscape (landscape of separation) was, also, very clearly expressed in ancient Greek myths, and later, in the Landscapes of Identity within the life of cities. Ancient cities hosted a variety of ‘ moving’ or ‘alien’ population which had its own particularities and experienced the deprivation of ‘home’ , e.g. slaves, metoikoi, political / economic refugees, orphans, very poor, aged or handicapped people, victims of war. The reverse procedure includes the merchants, the soldiers, people in exile or the nomads, the emigrants and the colonists. These landscapes of loss may have been originated in environmental (catastrophic phenomena such as earthquakes, soil liquefaction, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, landslides), or human-induced causes, and were experienced by individuals (e.g. heroes, philosophers, geographers, historians, groups of people (e.g. masters with their pupils, artistic workshops), ‘houses’ / families (Homeric oikos), clans & tribes, or even whole cities. Finally, other rupturing parameters may function on a real or metaphoric level. For example the geographical distance, created the concept of borderlands, as many Greek colonies were built at the margins of the circumMediterranean world. Equally, alienating forces of modernity may rework a landscape, or a person may at the same time feel at home and powerful within a local landscape but marginal in terms of a larger political and economic landscape. The case of the first years of the Peloponnesian War, when the peasants of Attica were forced to move within the Athenian Walls (Aristophanes Peace, 306 - 8, 551 -5 & 582 - 600; Thucydides, II.xiii & xiv; Aristotle Ath. Pol.XXII.24.1), having as a result the disturbance of the socio-economic and sentimental equilibrium of the Athenian society, is quite indicative of the stress experienced in similar cases by people who move violently away from their ‘homeland’, even if they still live within the larger geopolitical boundaries of the same state. 3. Life-cycle Analysis (LCA) of the Polis - City as a living organism The holistic view of universe and all its parts and elements allowed ancient Greek scholars to conceive the analogies between the microcosm and the macrocosm. In the Homeric Iliad, metaphoric expressions echo the common perception that a city has the characteristics of a living organism (Γιατρομανωλάκης, 1991: 82-109; Lévy, 1983: 55-73; Posner, 1979: 28-46). The analysis of the structure of organic nature appeared initially in the mythical narrations and gradually transformed into a scientific / stochastic framework. Bodily-like terms and expressions in the Homeric Epics (i.e. Il. , I.254, 481-2; II. 84, 159, 167, 560; XIV.36; XVI.34, 390-1) and many words that describe abstracted ideas in Greek language unify the physical, biological and intellectual worlds, humans lived in. Ionian philosophers (e.g. Anaximander, Empedocles & Heraclitus), as well as the Pythagoreans tried to conceive the inner common mechanisms that underlay the natural and human world. Parmenides, first, poses the question about the function of cosmos as a living organism (DK. fr. 6, 8, 9). Plato, by using various linguistic schemata, establishes an integrated philosophical system, according to which myth, art and logic are three powerful intellectual expressions of the human brain. On the other hand, the perception of the universe as
being created from a cosmic womb, forged the cosmogenic mentality from the preSocratic philosophers to the Stoics. Universe is a ‘body’ made of various wholes, it is a complex system analyzed into different autonomous subsystems (Plato Phil. 29e 13). In Hesiod, the phenomenon of disease is not only biological but also cosmological, as a manifestation of disequilibrium and malfunction (i.e. Works and Days, 91-2, 102-4 , 189, 255, 269). Moreover, the citizen of the polis may feel that their city is sick, because the moral, intellectual and political aspect of city’s life is strongly interrelated to its biological and environmental situation (Herodot., V. 28 ; Thucydides, II. 31, 49 & 53 ; Aristophanes Peace , 539; Euripides, Hel., 370 ff.; Demosthenes, VI. 9. 39 & XVIII. 13. 45 ). After Plato, Aristotle uses the biological / socio-cultural analogies in the analysis of complex living systems (i.e. Plato Theaet., 153B - C; Gorg, 524B; Phaed., 241 C; Phil., 11 D & 41C. Aristotle Eth. Nic. A6, 1097 b 22 ff., B5, 1106 a 10-14 , Γ7, 1114 a 21 ff. , E15, 1138 a 29-31; Pol. D4, 1290 b 26 ff. , E9, 1309, 26 ff., H1, 1145 a 30 ff. ). Consequently, polis lives , transforms itself and dies like any other living organism in the Universe. Ancient Greek thought is constantly preoccupied with the detection of a universal behaviour in cosmic, planetary, social and cultural level. Earth and humans’ communities live as a global entity, for the mechanical, chemical and organic realities interrelate to each other in ‘cyclic’ patterns. In fact, the word ‘cycle’ is used in order to describe the cycles of life in our planet , for example the hydrological, biological, of solar energy, e.t.c. (Met. A9, 346 b 16-347a 12 ; A13, 349b 3-19; H5, 1044b 29 - 1045a 5. Phys. D14, 223b 23-26. ). In addition, the cycle of people effecting environment and nature limiting human continues spiralling through time, leaving its traces on the modern landscape. On the other hand, Greece is a varied country that presents opportunities for survival, subsistence and livelihood but in different ways as echo the exploitative strategies of ancient inhabitants. Many modern scholars of ecological anthropology have sought to understand the influences of landscape and energy flows on human land use and socio-political organization, although anthropologists rarely venture to compare human organization with that of other living systems (Tainter et al., 2003). Despite this fact, systems theorists (e.g. Miller 1978), biophysical scientists (e.g. Holling, 2001) and Howard Odum (1996) were pioneering thinkers on the relationship of energy to society. Contemporary Urban Ecosystems Analysis re-discovers the blending of socioeconomic and bio-physical factors within urban dynamics (energy, materials, nutrients, genetic & non-genetic information, population, labour, capital organization, beliefs & myths), by understanding the city as an ecosystem or an organism with its own metabolic processes (UNU / IAS report 2003; Douglas 1981 & 1983; Wolman 1965). Especially, the five main methods (UNU / IAS report 2003) are all registered, analyzed and present in the texts of ancient Greek authors: (1) Systems Approach (detection of linkages between particular environmental phenomena and the social & natural systems + hierarchical method of clarifying the relationship of each part to the whole , (2) Biological Analysis (balance, competition, invasion, succession, dominance, hierarchies, perturbation, resilience, resistance, persistence, variability), (3) Spatial Analysis (spatial heterogeneity, scale differentiation, landscape analysis, urban land-cover models), (4) Material Flow Analyses (material flow, energy flow, metabolism, ecological footprint) and (5) Social Analysis (social morphology, social identity, socio-cultural hierarchy, access & allocation of resources such as wealth, power, status and knowledge).
4. Carrying Capacity & Ecological Footprint Analysis The concept of sustainable development and self-sufficiency are specially highlighted by the ancient Greek authors, as they are considered ‘conditio sine qua non’ for the existence and survival of the poleis (i.e. Thucydides, II. 36.3 & II.41.1; Xenophon Ath. Pol., II.7 & 11-12; Aristotle Pol., A2, 1253a 1 ff. ). The wise exploitation of the environmental resources, the assessment of the natural and human-made structures (modern managers call it SWOT analysis), the rational management of the political and socio-economic powers within the city-state define the human role, action and responsibility. On the other hand, there is a maximum potential for environmental ‘productivity’, apart from the Population Pressure (Pp), which is an inherent phenomenon in the communities of living organisms. Consequently, the subsystems of population dynamics, production rates, technology, strategies for survival and natural resources are in mutual interrelation. Human societies organize the annual cycle of their activities according to these parameters, in order to protect their feeding, maintaining and restoring processes (Sallares 1991, Ch. II, par. 2 : 73 - 84 & 100). For non-human species, Carrying Capacity (indicated by ‘K’ in the logistic equation, otherwise known as Cc or Kk) is typically defined as the maximum population that can be supported indefinitely in a defined habitat without permanently damaging the habitat (Meadows et al., 1992; Gever et al., 1991). In fact, according to some scholars, human ingenuity has been so successful historically in pushing back the limits to growth that “this term has by now no useful meaning” (Simon & Kahn 1984). Plato in the Laws (E, 737 C 1- D5; 737 E - 738 B) recognizes the aforementioned parameters that function as a limit between human ‘expansion’ and environmental equilibrium. Aristotle in the Politics (B6, 1265a 39 ff.; H4, 1326a 1b2 ; H6, 1327a ) analyzes the population dynamics and re-defines the concept of self-sufficiency not only in terms of economic management, but of biological / ecological spectrum, too. In reverse, Eco-footprinting is an analytic tool designed to estimate the ‘load’ imposed on the ecosphere by any specified human population. The metric used is the total area of productive land- and waterscape required to support that population (Rees, 1996; Wackernagel & Rees, 1996). Eco-footprinting recognizes that humans remain a part of nature and that the economic production/consumption process interrelates with the biophysical output of a finite area of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. It is also emphasizes biophysical (rather than monetary) measures of humankind-ecosystems relationships. Furthermore, Eco-footprint analysis has helped to reopen the controversial issue of human ‘Carrying Capacity.’ But rather than asking how large population can live in a given area, ecofootprinting estimates how much area is needed to support a given population, wherever the relevant land is located. While trade enables increases in local populations, those populations are now dependent, in part, on the productivity of distant ecosystems. Thus, by shuffling resources around, trade increases total human load but does not increase total Carrying Capacity. Similarly, increasing technological sophistication has not decoupled the economy from the land. On the contrary, as history has proven, humans are more and more land-dependent . Thus, the ecological footprint of a specified population is the area of land and water ecosystems required on a continuous basis to produce the resources that the population consumes, and to
assimilate the wastes that the population produces (Rees, 1996, 1995 & 1992; Rees & Wackernagel, 1996 & 1994; Wackernagel & Rees, 1996). 5. Coping Capacity and the Adaptive Processes Coping Capacity or Adaptive Capacity is the ability of an ‘affected’ (human or natural) system, region, or community to cope with- or adapt to- the impacts and risks of internal or external oscillations (disturbances / perturbations / changes / uncertainties / hazards / stress / shocks). While the concept of Coping Capacity is more directly related to an extreme event (e.g. a flood or a volcanic eruption), the concept of Adaptive Capacity refers to a longer time- frame and implies that some learning either before or after an extreme event is happening. The higher the capacity, the lower the vulnerability of a system, region, community or household (http://www.floodrisknet. org.uk/methods/Coping Capacity/) . Adaptability (or Adaptive Capacity) was originally defined in biology to mean an ability to become adapted (i.e., to be able to live and to reproduce) to a certain range of environmental contingencies (Smit & Wandel 2006). Adaptness is the status of being adapted, and an adaptive trait or an ‘‘adaptation’’ is a feature of structure, function, or behaviour of the organism that is instrumental in securing the adaptness (Dobzhansky, 1968). Adaptive Capacity in natural systems tends to be more limited than this in human systems. In human systems , Adaptive Capacity may be analyzed into different determinants, which include a variety of system, sector, and location specific characteristics: (1) the range of available technological options for adaptation, (2) the availability of resources and their distribution across the population, (3) the structure of critical institutions, the derivative allocation of decision-making authority, and the decision criteria that would be employed, (4) the stock of human capital including education and personal security, (5) the stock of social capital including the definition of property rights, (6) the systems access to risk spreading processes (e.g. insurance systems), (7) the ability of decision-makers to manage information, the processes by which these decision-makers determine which information is credible, and the credibility of the decision-makers, themselves, and (8) the publics perceived attribution of the source of stress and the significance of exposure to its local manifestations (Yohe & Tol, 2002). Of course, in the SES (Socio-economic systems), the criterion for adaptness goes far beyond ‘‘being able to live and reproduce’’, by including the viability of social and economic activities, and the quality of human life. While the responses of biological systems to perturbations are purely reactive, the responses of human systems are both reactive and proactive (Smithers & Smit, 1997). Ancient societies (nomadic, pastoral, agricultural, nautical, industrial, other, mixed) may have chosen diverse methods and ways of proactive planning, mitigation and adaptation: (1) establish a suitable administrative and legislative framework in order to protect the environment and the population from hazards, (2) improve management policies, (3) invest on long term values (e.g. ecosystems’ equilibrium, quality of life, human lives versus economic profit, prevention through education), (4) increase storage capacity, keep a stable transportation network, (5) enhance adaptability to landscapes’ evolution over time, (6) present alternative scenarios for the day after, (7) acquire a profound knowledge of nature’s mechanisms and environment’s potential, (8) tie the bonds between the stronger and weaker members of the society, (9) protect the targets the most easily affected by hazards, (10) overcome political, religious, phyletic or other restrictions when facing hazards, (11)
adopt new technologies, ideas or ways of help to overcome a disaster, or (12) show a more flexible and adaptable profile toward crises. 6. Vulnerability / Disaster / Collapse Human exposure to environmental threats is not evenly distributed. Some locations, such as high latitudes , floodplains, river banks, marshy areas, small islands and coastal areas, may pose more risk than others. Human uses or modifications of the environment such as deforestation, increasing paved areas covered by buildings and roads, and river canalization have created impacts that often affect areas a long way from the source of the environmental change. On the other hand, individual choices have an enormous bearing on where people live and work, with the result that human vulnerability is closely related to population density and distribution. As populations increase and there is more competition for land and resources, areas of higher potential risk are extended. The terms Vulnerability, Resilience and Adaptive Capacity, are relevant in the biophysical realm as well as in the social realm. In addition, they are widely used by the life sciences and social sciences with different foci and often with different meanings, blocking the communication across disciplines. Depending on the research area, Vulnerability’s concept has been applied exclusively to the societal subsystem, to the ecological, natural, or biophysical subsystem, or to the coupled SES, variously referred also as target system, unit exposed, or system of reference. Vulnerability, according to Adger (2006) is most often conceptualized as being constituted by components that include exposure to multi-scaled perturbations or external stresses, sensitivity to perturbation, and the capacity to adapt. Vulnerability is also thought of as a susceptibility to harm, a potential for a change or transformation of the system when confronted with a perturbation, rather than as the outcome of this confrontation (Gallopín, 2006). A system (i.e., a city, a human community, an ecosystem) may be very vulnerable to a certain perturbation, but persist without problems insofar as it is not exposed to it. The ancient writers recognized the importance of environmental and cultural parameters in the longevity and prosperity of the cities. Vulnerable places existed within the geopolitical boundaries of the city-states, prone either to physical hazards or to socio-political structures. Generally speaking, the ‘lifecycle’ of hazards includes several phases, dynamically interrelated (Prevention- Preparedness - Response- Mitigation Recovery). Urban management is present in the works of Hesiod, Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon and other ancient authors, where a serious attempt to categorize the causes of natural and man-induced changes both in the environment and human societies, is easily recognizable (de Romilly, 1977).. Moreover, ancient Greeks were fully aware of the crucial role of natural phenomena and human-induced hazards that may cause perturbations in the equilibrium of ecosystems and the life of the cities. Thucydides refers to a severe drought spell (II.47-48) and describes the notorious Athenian plague (II. 48.1 - 54.5, 57 - 58.3, 64.1 ; III.87.1-3). Xenophon observes that settled areas undergo climatic changes due to the human presence and action, by using the example of snowfall ratio between unpopulated and populated areas (Cyn., IV.9). Aristotle notifies the dynamics of natural subsystems (weather, water, soil and subsoil, plant & animal communities) which exercise strong influence on human societies (On cosmos 6, 339 a 18-30 . Met. A14, 351a 19 - 351b 8), observes the severity of several geological phenomena such as the soil liquefaction (Met. B8, 366a 23-28) and high sedimentation rates (A14, 352 a 6 - 18). Theophrast writes on the
various causes of soil erosion, describes the deforestation effects on the landscapes by using the example of Crete (De plant caus., I.v.ii-iii. On winds, 13 ). Finally, Strabo (XIV.6.v cap. 684) refers to an observation made by Eratosthenes on the irreversible results of forest’s over-exploitation in Cyprus. Especially, the phenomenon of seismic liquefaction, that played a crucial role in the history and destruction of flourishing ancient cities, such as Helike and Boura on N. Peloponnese (Katsonopoulou, Soter & Koukouvelas, 2003; Soter, Blackwelder, Tziavos, Katsonopoulou, Hood and & Alvarez-Zarikian, 2001: 95106. Soter,1999: 275-290; Soter & Katsonopoulou, 1999: 531-563; Stewart & VitaFinzi, eds, 1998: 41-56; Stiros & Jones, 1996; Papadopoulos & Lefkopoulos, 1993: 925 – 938; Ambraseys, 1991: 1 - 105), is firstly analyzed (Laoupi, 1999) by Aristotle (Meteor. B8, 366a 23-28) when he referred to some specified geographical areas of the ancient world – Hellespont, Achaia, Sicily & Euboea – using historical, geological & compositional criteria for the detection of paleoseismic events and the archaeoenvironmental reconstruction of past landscapes. Consequently, the ideas of ecological change, degradation, disaster and collapse had already expressed by the intellectuals of ancient Greek society. Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle were the prominent researchers who detected, analyzed and categorized the disaster criteria related to the rise and fall of civilizations (Laoupi, 1999). Apart from studying the causes of societal and environmental collapse in the civilizations of the past (Laoupi 2006 refers in length to relevant analyses by many modern authors), modern approaches differentiate, also, the criteria of disaster analysis. When referring to ecological degradation, we speak about a number of indices, such as the catastrophe of the biotopes, the exhaustion of natural resources, excessive mass of waste, various forms of pollution, over-exploitation of the environment, degradation of life’s quality, expenses for ecological ‘rehabilitation’, e.t.c. (Harris & Thomas, 1991; Hern, 1979). When referring to societal transformations, we speak about a number of parameters, such as the restriction of social differentiations, minor specialization economic, professional, territorial-, fainter control executed by central authorities, looser administrative bonds, lesser investment on the cultural subsystems monumental architecture, literature, artistic works-, minor information’s flow through several human groups between the centre and the periphery, looser redistributive network of resources, minor cooperation among people, minor territorial sovereignty (Torrence & Grattan, 2002; Tainter, 1988). So, the vulnerability to natural and human-induced hazards is the first step before disaster manifestation. The equilibrium of human ecosystems (nature + culture) is constantly jeopardized by many factors (natural phenomena and social structures). The collapse of a human ecosystem, though, is an extreme case, where the degree of vulnerability is determined by three main interdependent parameters (exposure to stress, high potential risks and limited coping capacity). Such collapse, as a complex natural and cultural phenomenon, could be attributed to the end of 2nd millennium B.C. in the societies and civilizations of circum-Mediterranean area (Laoupi, 1999). 7. The socio-cultural profile of hazards in the ancient Greek mentality Disaster dynamics had proved to be so powerful that they changed the course of human history. Mighty empires collapsed and vanished or shocked irreversibly. Wide-ranging case studies have shown that natural factors triggered the fall of well
organized social systems when their normal coping mechanism failed. Drought or flooding, epidemic diseases like plague, syphilis and smallpox, tremendous volcanic eruptions and meteorites, tsunami and earthquakes influenced the circumMediterranean civilizations, the N.W. European, Asian and American civilizations. Disaster research is a relatively new area of interest among archaeologists, psychologists and other social scientists. The more recent trend treats disasters as social phenomena and tries to identify the underlying psychological aspects ( Eranen & Liebkind, 1993). The prevalence of psychological symptoms and / or disorders (Rubonis & Bickman, 1991) during and after extreme environmental events may show a common profile among different cultures. Firstly, people use to look backward to a prior more fortunate time when humans lived happily by divine grace (e.g. the races of Hesiod, the blissful Atlantis kingdom). Prudence, good behaviour and moral integrity are also considered as ‘remedies’ against the reappearance of the dreadful event. Even the gods and many heroic figures battle against the evil forces which want world’s upheaval (e.g. Egyptian Osiris & Seth, Greek Olympians against the Titans and the Giants). On the other side, the ‘fleet or stay’ dilemma was always present when people was familiar to a specific risk, or the hazard was infrequent or socially controlled. People seemed to be willing to take quite high risks in the case of rare events. Building on flood plains and steep slopes, under the shadow of volcanoes, or in earthquake prone zones are good examples. Another interesting issue is the mechanism of return to homeland. In some cases societies recover and stay in the same environmental setting, while others abandon the initial geographical area for good . This parameter reflects the concept of perception. The perception of hazards is critically important to how a community reacts to a forcing mechanism (Torrence & Grattan, 2002; Bryant, 1991). Delayed recovery may be attributed to the absence of clear perception (e.g. the case of Helike, where inhabitants preferred the place for millennia, although they are signs of previous destructions). Generally speaking, complex societies deal with follow-on effects less flexibly than the simpler ones. Particular social settings create vulnerable communities, the findings of which are echoed in the archaeological record, as the new behavioural traits or material culture may reflect a total replacement of a culture, a societal collapse, or, simply, the abandonment of local settlements. The positive response to hazardous phenomena may vary considerably. During the aftermath of catastrophe or environmental change, technological innovations are illustrated (e.g. agriculture after Younger Dryas crisis, obsidian trade, metallurgy), new lands discovered (e.g. The Iron Age Cold Epoch / climate pessimum / neoglaciation and the Homeric Minimum that drove the ancient Greek colonization during the 9th to 7th centuries B.C.), new subsistence strategies and more efficient techniques were adopted (e.g. new hydraulic technologies in arid climates or after episodes of drought). In essence, crises use to stimulate rather than devastate the cultural traits of a society. The emplacement of nutrient-rich volcanic tephras and alluvial soils counterbalanced the spread of malaria in marshy areas, the dislocation of city’s activities caused by coastal regression or transgression (e.g. ancient Mediterranean harbours, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Ephesos, Oiniades or fertile marshy areas like Marathon) and the repeated repair attempts after the experience of severe effects. Some human groups are extremely adaptable in the face of disasters , being more tolerant of environmental perturbations than others. Two very compelling paradigms arise from the ancient Greek history. In spite the fact that individual
inhabitants were highly vulnerable to ecologically or socially induced stress and catastrophe, poleis were at the same time remarkably resilient. The basic mechanics behind this phenomenon may be the diversification and redistribution of both populations and resources (Mac Kil, 2004). Individual case studies of wandering cities testify the afore-mentioned argument. Myous’ harbor in the early 5th cent. B.C. was an active nautical centre with a capacity of 200 ships. Alluviation in the Great Maeander graben had transformed it into a marsh by the 1st cent. A.D. Then, local inhabitants pressed out by encroaching malarial fens, moved to Miletos and adapted completely to this new environmental and social framework. On the coastal plain of Achaia, between the Selinous and Kerynites rivers, Helike, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Korinth, provided archaeologists and other archaeoenvironmental scientists with intriguing testimonies. So far, clearly marked occupation horizons reflect the Bronze Age, Archaic and Classical, Roman and Byzantine settlements in this highly unstable environment (high rates of sedimentation, active seismicity of Helike fault, phenomena of liquefaction, uplift and subsistence of Helike delta). Although a large portion of Helike’s population died after the earthquake and the tsunami of 373 B.C., the higher areas of the polis continued to be used during Hellenistic Era. But even if the subsistence patterns continued to exist for a long time spread into the whole area, the bond between the physical site and polis’ integrity as a prominent political entity (meeting place of the Achaian koinon) ceased to exist. Additionally, we come upon another highly important parameter. Survivor Mentality may also be a crucial factor in community’s recovery from a disaster. Ancient writers describe profound social unease, panic and eschatological beliefs. The descendants recall the events for a long period of time. In fact, Sigmund Freud (1913) established the theory of collective trauma, according to which underlying catastrophic incidents continue to be suppressed by the subconscious of human race, creating neurotic symptoms and dire psychological effects. On the contrary, Immanuel Velikovsky (1982) speculated that mankind suffers from a neurosis of collective amnesia caused by universal traumas. Other researchers have developed intriguing models of sudden evolution of mankind which gave birth to Homo sapiens schizotypus, a human stage that had the memory of many disasters (de Grazia, 1983 and 2005). Even today, psychiatric reactions to hazardous situations have not received sufficient attention, perhaps because it is widely believed that human beings can endure any kind of extreme stress.. Separation from family, loss of all belongings and displacement provoke reactions merely somatic or sentimental (phobias, mistrust of strangers, life threat , feelings of hopelessness, personality disorders, mental illness, memory and concentration problems, amnesia, horror and nightmares) along with long-term effects (e.g. high rates of accidents or various forms of addiction). Moreover, biological, social, political and economic factors seem to influence the profile of vulnerability within human groups. Females experience stronger and more lasting reactions, older adults are at greater risk than the children and adolescents. Married or parental status seems to be aggravated after disasters. Finally, hazard preparedness after previous disasters seems to facilitate the resilience and recovery attempts. Other factors that influence the disaster profile are the existence of ethnic minorities, living already in a highly disrupted or traumatized community or having bad psychiatric predisposition.. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned criteria are not yet estimated in the existed studies of archaeodisasters, though they open new ways of approach.
Finally, the existing paradigms of both the environmental crisis concept and environmental disaster policy in the works of Plato and Aristotle need rethinking. In fact, when they speak about the ‘ideal polis or state’, and the sustainability (autarkeia), their main concern is to present models of environmental crisis management in the form of simulations and different scenarios of development of expected events and suggest a set of in-advance measures to either prevent or mitigate the future disaster, expressed either as a natural crisis , a cultural disruption or both.. Intended as an answer to “what if?” questions, such models comply with the classical anticipation concept of disaster management and are naturally always proactive in their essence, building the basis for Environmental Sociology. 8. Conclusions The parallel developments within all the modern scientific fields are hardly accidental. Not only are the disciplinary boundaries highly porous and open to question, but also, we have come to recognize that the questions posed and answers posited have a very long history within the philosophical itinerary of the ancient Greek thought. The scholars of ancient Greece, and specially the philosophers, succeeded in the working of integrated philosophical schemata that allowed the understanding, analysis and anasynthesis of the mechanisms behind the cosmos. The prolific language (terminology and linguistic flexibility), the logical argumentation and the thorough detection of common structures, functions and analogies in the planetary, physical, biological, abiotic and socio-economic systems have opened a doorway to new concepts, challenges and perspectives in Science. This huge step was reinforced also by the geographical and environmental reality of Greek landscapes. Mediterranean world is composed of scores of thousand physically differentiated micro-regions, the local ecologies of which have separable identities that continually interact each other. Their evolution and transformation had to take into account longer time frames, in particular intergenerational and historical dimensions, along with other socio-cultural parameters, such as the urban hierarchies and the shift of populations, ideas and products. Human existence holds center place in the urban ecosystems of ancient Greece. The ideals of democracy, spiritual freedom and scientific progress were forged in the physical and cultural landscapes of Eastern Mediterranean, so richly varied and contradictory. Especially Plato and Aristotle presented a profound schema of the life-cycle of nature and culture, as a cosmic phenomenon, where the rise and fall of human societies is tuned with the mystic cosmic rhythms of disaster and rebirth. They also pointed out that the root of any environmental or social crisis is an inner spiritual aridity, and that any truly holistic environmental policy must include this in its approach. Even today, we need not only to conduct research in the physical and biological sciences, we also need to explore the humanistic, psychological and more sacred sciences as well. Acknowledgements I owe thanks to Nicki Goulandris (President of Goulandris Museum of Natural History – GAIA, Centre for Environmental Research & Education), for her insightful and constructive comments on my Ph.D Thesis, in order to present an explicit overview of various systematic analyses of urban ecosystems found both in ancient Greek authors and modern scholars. Later on, Professor Alfred de Grazia and
Professor George Pararas, two of the worldwide leading personalities in Disaster Studies, opened my horizons to new perspectives.
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The ancient Greeks authors were fully aware of the crucial role of natural phenomena and human-induced hazards that may cause perturbations...
Published on May 16, 2010
The ancient Greeks authors were fully aware of the crucial role of natural phenomena and human-induced hazards that may cause perturbations...