Overcoming Environmental Determinism

Introduced species, hybrid plants and animals, and transformed lands in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds

Authored by: Jared Secord

The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  January  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415738057
eBook ISBN: 9781315686622
Adobe ISBN: 9781317415701


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The possible damage that can be caused by introduced species of animals and plants is a familiar and much-discussed concept in the twenty-first century, but this was not the case in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. 1 There was nothing in antiquity similar to the furor surrounding the gypsy moth, which has attracted so much attention and withstood so many attempts to eradicate it, ever since it was accidentally introduced to the United States in 1869. 2 The closest ancient equivalent is a disaster of a considerably smaller scale. This was the introduction of hares to the small island of Carpathus, an event that gained proverbial status because of the great damage that they caused to the island’s vegetation (Arist. Rh. 3.11 1413a 17–20; cf. Suda λ 30, ο 105, οι 121 Adler; Zen. 4.48). 3 The relative silence of ancient authors compared to their modern counterparts about disasters caused by introduced animals or plants is a reflection not simply of the comparatively limited possibilities in the ancient world for international travel and trade, or even of the difficulties involved in noticing the often subtle and long-term changes that can accompany introduced species. This silence is a reflection also of a substantially different attitude regarding animals and plants in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. There was little concern about the possibility that an introduced species of animal or plant might have a harmful impact on its new land. 4 And, while there was some recognition of the possibility that entire species of animals or plants might become extinct, 5 there was nonetheless little concern about maintaining the original state of the lands to which foreign plants and animals were introduced. The successful introduction of an animal or a plant to a new region was regarded, overall, as something to be celebrated.

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