Famine in the Ancient Mediterranean
'Bread and circuses' - the control and availability of grain was the key to political power and social stability in the ancient world.
Everyone has heard of the seven fat years and seven lean years of Genesis. The famine of 499-502 at Edessa in Northern Mesopotamia as chronicled by Joshua the Stylite is less familiar:
The famine was sore in the villages and in the city; for those who were left in the villages were eating bitter vetches, and others were frying the withered fallen grapes and eating them, though even of them there was not enough to satisfy them. And those who were in the city were wandering about the streets, picking up the stalks and leaves of vegetables, all filthy with mud, and eating them. Others cut pieces off dead carcases, that ought not to be eaten, and cooked and ate them.
But what caused famine? How frequently did it descend on the Mediterranean region in antiquity? What steps were taken to prevent its occurrence or alleviate its effects? To what extent did 'famine relief' measures evolve in response to popular pressure?