Blessed Cold: The Medieval Ice Age

Point of interest, gentle viewers: Warm Periods and the Little Ice Age. The Roman Warm Period was followed, in about 400 or so, by an early “Medieval Cold Period” of sorts, exactly around the same time they pulled out of Britain. Likewise, the Medieval Warm Period was followed by the Little Ice Age, much colder than the previous Era of Chill, and possibly exacerbated or even caused by the Samalas Eruption in 1257 Indonesia. There is evidence that the Little Ice Age was felt in Japan; there is as of yet no contradictory evidence to suggest that they didn’t feel anything of the previous Medieval Era of Chill.

Hypothetically, then, what would happen if the two eras switched? That is to say, what if Samalas erupted in 400 instead of 1257, causing a much more potent global chill? Folks in North America will likely struggle on just fine, but the implications for, say, Saxons heading north would be tremendous. (Also for the groups heading west in the first place, the Huns and the like; the Empire might fall a bit more quickly if there’s not even enough grain to feed as much people as last time around.) In the meantime, the greater decrease in temperature affects other parts of the world as well. There’s snow on peaks in Africa, but the area around Timbuktu floods quite nicely, leading to increased agricultural activity and eventually a kingdom based on control rather than trade–something it’ll have to deal with later. Harsher times in the Middle East lead to the conflict between the Byzantines and Sassanids becoming just that bit more stressful. On the other hand, the Maya are facing warmer/rainier weather than before, leading to increased prosperity and the possibility of surviving past the 9th Century collapse. And to the east, typhoons beset the China Sea, making contact with the islands–including Japan–a little more difficult.

So that’s happened. The Celts get a chance at survival thanks to colder climate conditions and the weather warning off many Saxon raiders, and get a decent chance at establishing real, long-term kingdoms on the island, possibly with some using Celtic-derived and others using Romance-derived languages. The Vikings raid–it’s hard to ward them off–but they also do some settling and some trading. Japan’s been slower to accept change from the outside up to now, and less developed in terms of government than they were in OTL at this point–also largely Shinto, by the way, as the Koreans of Baekje never did much over on their islands–but give them time. So now we enter the Medieval Warm Period, 900 to around 1250, and the difference is palpable. The Maya manage to hold on a tad longer down in Mesoamerica, and have a larger population, so when the Collapse hits them they’ve already got places on the coast and are doing some exploring further north and south. The Saxons have been largely barred from England by the bad weather (as, ironically, the Mongols would be barred from Japan), but the Vikings make their show–and why the heck not, they’re good at this stuff–leading to petty kingdoms all around. They’ve settled in the Hebrides, in Iceland, in Greenland–and in Vinland, where (still somewhat pagan, still a little bit easy around non-Christians) they manage to get on a tad better and introduce the other side of the world to European inventions and diseases and such half a millennium earlier, giving everyone time to get better acclimatized. (It makes the locals a little paranoid, that much of the population dying off, but five centuries is more than enough time to bounce back to something approaching their old numbers when there’s nobody actively trying to take over the land.) Runes and wheat spread in the north; Mayan hieroglyphs and maize spread in the south. The Iroquois have their mythical founding in 1142, and trade for the precious seeds of wheat from the east–and for sheep, which does unusual things to their agriculture, and for iron weapons. The Celts in Europe aren’t doing too badly, either–certainly better than ours were–and efforts to “liberate the Empire” have been stewing in the heads of theologians for ages. Japan, by this point, has trade with the mainland at last, and, in an effort to make things a little bit more modern, has made efforts to import Buddhism from the mainland. China…has been China all this time, maybe the dynasties went a little out of whack, but for the most part it’s been largely the same.

Next up, the Medieval Era of Chill! Greenland manages to stick around, it’s not as cold as it could be, and that means sustained trade between Europe and *Vestland (the Americas); the Celts, at least, know about the place. The Mongols, about as large as OTL, try for Japan twice–and this time, on the second time, they make a decent incursion onto the islands, and Japan is forced to adjust to a Mongolian-Chinese province right in the middle of their shogunates. Butterflies in the Middle East have led to Buddhism going berserk instead of Islam, but the Arabian Peninsula now inexplicably Jewish and doing rather well for itself. (The Crusades still happen–it’s the Christian Holy Land held by barbarous Semites, after all–and unfortunately there’s still pogroms in Europe proper, but at least the Middle East is generally welcoming.) African trade routes are blooming under the Malinese, who’re launching naval expeditions around the coast of Africa–and also to a strange world far to the west, islands where men write in pictures and a New Rome is being forged. Christians in Europe, somewhat annoyed by the Buddhists and wanting a piece of the action (plus, there’ve been a few minor itty-bitty skirmishes in the Holy Land and the Crusader States integral to keeping the Arabian Sea open have all been wiped out) plan on launching their own expedition, with the Pope giving young Synesios Gregoras of Malta (still Byzantine, amazingly, but the man’s a Christian for all that and not an Eastern heathen) clearance for a voyage from the docks of Gibraltar in 1387. Coincidentally, Queen Maeve of Ériu has been negotiating with Vinland to allow settlers of her own on the Atlantic Coast.

It is 1400. The Celts are making headway in Europe and headed west, beset by African Buddhists and the Pope. The Haudenosaunee, aided by iron swords and wooden crossbows (as well as sheer power of persuasion plus a rather impressive bureaucracy for a culture that only uses runes sparingly) have been setting up vassal Confederacies across the north, in direct competition with the Vestlanders and the Anishinaabe leagues. The Japanese, after two hundred years, have finally been able to kick the Mongols off their islands, and are building up to bring lands under the sway of the Emperor of Japan as a direct competitor to China. Because things aren’t quite yet that dry in the east (but getting drier by the decade), the Black Plague is yet to hit anyone


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