Every Monday, the LiveScience website publishes an article on a discovery, event, or character that influenced the course of history. This week’s note is “How the Eruption of Thera [modern Santorini] Changed the World”:

The world map might look differently had the Greek volcano Thera not erupted 3,500 years ago in what geologists believe was the single-most powerful explosive event ever witnessed.

Thera didn’t just blow a massive hole into the island of Santorini – it set the entire ancient Mediterranean onto a different course, like a train that switched tracks to head off in a brand new direction.

Minoan culture, the dominant civilization in the Mediterranean at the time, crumbled as a result of the eruption, historians believe, changing the political landscape of the ancient world indefinitely. Environmental effects were felt across the globe, as far away as China and perhaps even North America and Antarctica. [more…]

The growing interest in anthropogenic global warming (oops?) has brought some much needed attention to the influence of climate on culture and history. The effect of climate on societies–especially preindustrial, agricultural societies–would seem to be blindingly obvious, but too often we forget that even slight changes in weather and climate can profoundly influence the course of events. Don’t believe me? Ask Kublai Khan and Monsieur Napoleon.