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  • Thumbnail for In search of the Granary of Rome : environmental decline in Roman North Africa
    In search of the Granary of Rome : environmental decline in Roman North Africa by Heberlein, Will Robinson

    Visitors to North Africa have long noticed a sharp contrast between the lush landscape described in ancient texts which supported Roman cities like Leptis Magna, and the more arid, barren landscape of North Africa today. Environmental historians have traditionally attributed this contrast to a decline in the extent of forests and in agricultural fertility since the start of the Roman period, brought on by an overexploitation of Rome’s natural resources. Recently, however, this model has been criticized by several post-colonial and environmental theorists, who argue that the idea of decline in North Africa is a colonial invention that allowed Europeans to exert control over North Africa’s Arab and Berber populations. This essay seeks to evaluate the history and the historiography of the North African environment, and of the Mediterranean environment more generally, to uncover the extent to which decline may have occurred. It concludes that environmental decline did indeed occur in North Africa, but the source of this decline was the Roman Empire itself. The nomadic Arab people of North Africa cannot be blamed for the environmental changes which took place before their arrival. At the same time, human-influenced decline must not be ignored when considering the Roman Empire’s complex legacy.