Klima und Umwelt als Rahmenbedingungen alpinen Wirtschaftens. Beispiele und Perspektiven

Rohr, Christian (2017). Klima und Umwelt als Rahmenbedingungen alpinen Wirtschaftens. Beispiele und Perspektiven. In: Denzel, Markus A.; Bonoldi, Andrea; Anne, Montenach; Vannotti, Françoise (eds.) Oeconomia Alpium I: Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Alpenraums in vorindustrieller Zeit. Forschungsaufriss, -konzepte und -perspektiven (pp. 73-102). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter 10.1515/9783110522310-006

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Daily weather, seasonal weather conditions and anomalies, long-term climate change, and natural disasters have had an outstanding influence on pre-modern Alpine economies. This paper intends to highlight some – but definitely not all – possible aspects, how climatic and environmental factors played a role for the development of Alpine economic structures. On the one hand, it provides an introduction in the methods and potential of historical climatology. On the other hand, focuses on selected aspects showing the impact of weather and climate on Alpine economies, on risk management, and on travelling and transport.
The impact of the High Medieval Climate Optimum or Medieval Climate Anomaly (900/1000-1300) and Little Ice Age (1300-1850) on Alpine economies constitutes a first main emphasis: The relatively warm climate during the High Middle Ages favored a tremendous increase of population both in the plains and in the mountainous regions. This over-population became a contributing factor for moving higher up in the Alps, as the so-called Walser did since the 13th and 14th centuries onwards by cutting forests and enlarging Alpine pastures. However, the permanent settlement in areas higher than 1500 meters above sea level also brought a higher risk of avalanches.
Avalanches also became a risk for high Alpine mining districts, in particular in the 15th and 16th centuries, obviously not only because of the high altitude of the mines themselves, but also because of the ongoing deforestation. Another group threatened by avalanches and floods had been the merchants crossing the Alpine passes also in winter. Numerous reports, mostly from the 15th century onwards, testify how convoys of merchants were hit by avalanches or how transport across the Alpine pass routes with mules (the so-called “Saumhandel”) had to cope with high amounts of snow and the continuous risk of avalanches.
The rivers had been the most important routes for trade in pre-modern times, both for ships and flows, and for rafting timber. Too much water, most frequently in spring, or too little water, like in autumn or winter, could terminate any transport activities on the river. In addition, an extraordinary water level or strong winds sometimes had a fatal impact on different types of mills.
Dry weather and easterly or southeasterly winds could favor the occurrence of locus invasions, which were a major threat to Alpine and pre-Alpine agriculture in particular between the 14th and the 16th century. However, the actual impact on grain prices has been obviously very low and presumably less than a summer with frequent hailstorms.
Long or short winters also influenced the date, when the cows and sheep could be brought up to the spring meadows (“Maiensäss”) and to the highest pastures. Also the number of livestock being allowed for grazing depended on those seasonal weather conditions.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Economic, Social and Environmental History

UniBE Contributor:

Rohr, Christian


900 History




De Gruyter




Christian Rohr

Date Deposited:

15 May 2017 16:37

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:05

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Alpenraum, Mittelalter, Neuzeit, Naturkatastrophen, Lawinen, Heuschreckenplagen, Adaptionsstrategien





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