Andrea Kiss

Floods, droughts, weather and environment - and their societal impacts in medieval Hungary

Guest lecture: Friday 28 February 2020, 6 p.m.

Venue: Conference Room, Faculty Library


In contemporary sources, weather and weather-related events in medieval Hungary (and Slavonia) are only sporadically available until the 13th century. Most of the weather-related information is known from the last two centuries of the Middle Ages, until 1526. Most of the medieval reports on weather and related natural hazards reflect on floods and hard winters, but significant amount of information can be collected regarding droughts, strong winds, convective events (i.e. thunderstorms, hails), too. Weather-related events and their consequences were mainly described in legal sources (charters) in the high- and most of the late-medieval period; other source types such as economic-administrative documentation (i.e. accounts) and narratives became most relevant from the early 15th century onwards. Based on these data, flood-, drought- and hard-winter chronologies were evolved mainly for the late-medieval times. These chronologies are comparable to the climate reconstructions developed based on natural scientific methods (i.e. tree-ring, stalagmite, sedimentary). Regarding floods, evidence is also available on a decadal/multidecadal and centennial level in archaeological evidence; in the presentation these cases, with special emphasis on the Danube, will be also analysed and compared to the documentary-based flood chronology.

Weather extremes were documented predominantly because of their impacts on society; these direct and indirect, immediate and multiannual impacts are an equally significant topic of discussion. In the second part of the presentation, the general and case specific impacts of floods – the best-documented weather-related hazard – is presented as an example in brief. Furthermore, direct and indirect consequences of unfavourable weather conditions, natural calamities such as multiple bad harvests, food shortages and even more indirect consequences such as animal invasions and diseases - with especially severe societal impacts when combined with other, societal problems (e.g. Turkish attacks) - are discussed in more detail. Tax-paying difficulties, food shortages, depopulation, social conflicts could all reflect on increased problems, tension within the society, often reaching a higher extent in times of unfavourable weather conditions of multiple years. The accumulation of weather extremes, affecting harvest results, had special significance, as happened, for example, in the 1340s, 1370s-early 1380s, 1420s-1430s, and particularly from the 1490s onwards.

In the third, last part of the presentation the medieval chronologies and results are placed into a larger-scale context: here the currently running, spatially and temporally more extensive, multi-centennial and European-scale projects, continuing research will be briefly explored.

Brief Biographical Note

Andrea Kiss is a geographer, historian and medievalist (MA, MSc, PhD), currently a research scientist at the Vienna University of Technology, working on environmental history, historical climatology, hydrology of the Carpathian Basin and Europe. As a member of the ERC research group on European Flood Changes (FloodChange), she is responsible for organising the analytic research of river floods in the last 500 years in Europe. She published over 100 scientific papers; author of the book “Kiss: Floods and long-term water-level changes in medieval Hungary”, published in 2019 by Springer (895 p), and editor of the volume “Kiss-Pribyl (eds): The Dance of Death in late medieval and Renaissance Europe. Environmental stress, mortality and social response”, recently published by Routledge (242 p).


Doctoral Programme in Pre-Modern History, Department of History