St. Mary Magdalene’s Flood (1342) at the Intersection of Environmental History and the History of Infrastructures: A Compound Event as a Catalyst of Medieval Infrastructure Development and Public Welfare

Reconstruction of the flood wave in July 1342 for the Main basin. Destroyed bridges in red. Map: Martin Bauch Quelle: Wikimedia Commons: CC BY-SA 3.0)

This recently published  article (in German) sheds new light on the disastrous event of St Mary Magdalene’s Flood in Central Europe in 1342, which scholars have thus far largely neglected, by examining administrative documents like charters and accounts for the first time, while also considering scientific proxy data like precipitation reconstructions based on tree rings. The result is a much more nuanced reconstruction of these two years that included extreme flooding (in February and July 1342 and July 1343), but also pronounced dryness in spring 1342, which might explain the extreme erosion events geomorphologists attribute to the strong precipitation of these years. The events of 1342/43 are a good example of how a pre-modern, multi-factorial compound event could have disastrous consequences when natural extreme events and disadvantageous socio-economic conditions coincided. Examining a wider variety of written sources reveals that the supra-regional dearth and famine in Central Europe was linked to the fact that the flood occured before grain could be harvested in 1342. Furthermore, the article focuses on infrastructural adaptions like changes in bridge design or large water-infrastructures, as well as on normative reactions at a regional or local level that can be understood, at least partially, to have been caused by the flood disaster. These processes of technological and normative adaption can be understood, on the one hand, as second-order-perceptions of nature in Luhmann’s sense; on the other hand, they illustrate the importance of natural extreme events as a catalyst for pre-modern development of infrastruture. In the aftermath of 1342/43, areas to the north of the Alps implemented flood-protection measures to protect the public welfare for the first time, at least such initiatives that went beyond local responses to involve regional and supra-regional powers up to and including the Holy Roman Emperor.

Balduin Bridge over the river Mosel in Koblenz, built in 1341 to 1358 – and most possibly hit (and influenced in its design) by the flood events of 1342/43. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Full article (in German) – read only version here.

Bauch, Martin, Die Magdalenenflut 1342 am Schnittpunkt von Umwelt- und Infrastrukturgeschichte: Ein compound event als Taktgeber für mittelalterliche Infrastrukturentwicklung und Daseinsvorsorge, in: NTM. Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 27/3 (2019), S. 273-309.

Grape Harvest Dates from Burgundy demonstrate (once more) Global Warming since the End of the 20th Century


Organisation of the harvest in 1487; page from the accounting book of the Church of Notre-Dame of Beaune (Archives départementales de la Côte d’Or, B 2918/109)

Records of grape harvest dates (GHD) are the oldest and the longest continuous phenological data in Europe. They have been repeatedly used since the end of the 19th century to reconstruct past climate variations, and in the two last decades to reconstruct spring-summer temperature beyond the instrumental period. Newly, the GHD from the famous vine region of Beaune (Burgundy) between 1354 and 2018 have been entirely drawn from the archives and published in the European Geoscience Union journal Climate of the Past. It constitutes the worldwide longest GHD series in the literature and one of the longest phenological records ever. The 664-year-long Beaune series has been cross-checked with the April-to-August Paris temperature series comprising the 360 years from 1659 to 2018 (R = -0,76), as well as with tree-ring series, with documentary proxy evidence and with the Central European temperature series (from 1500). Statistical models show that the series is very reliable to reconstruct April-to-August temperature in the long run. Of major interest, the series is clearly subdivided into two parts. From 1354 to 1987 grapes were on average picked from 28 September on, whereby during the last 31-year long period of rapid warming from 1988 to 2018 harvests began 13 days earlier. The 33 earlier harvest dates of series are unevenly distributed over time. 26 of them occurred between 1393 and 2002, whereby since the hot summer 2003, 8 out of 16 spring-summer periods were outstanding according to the statistic of the last 664 years. In the Paris temperature measurements since 1659, April-to-July temperature reached the highest value ever in 2018. In sum, the 664-year-long Beaune GHD series demonstrates that outstanding hot and dry years in the past were outliers, whereby they became the norm since the transition to rapid warming in 1988.

Beaune GHD time-series, with indication of the 33 earlier dates (Labbe et al. 2019, p. 1496).

To know more: Labbé, T., Pfister, C., Brönnimann, S., Rousseau, D., Franke, J., Bois, B.: The longest homogeneous series of grape harvest dates, Beaune 1354-2018, and its significance for the understanding of past and present climate, Climate of the Past, 15, 1485-1501,, 2019.

Find here a podcast interview with Thomas Labbé (in German) by