Der Einfluss von Naturkatastrophen auf das Wirtschaftsleben im Ostalpenraum

Rohr, Christian (31 March 2017). Der Einfluss von Naturkatastrophen auf das Wirtschaftsleben im Ostalpenraum (Unpublished). In: 2. StoAlp-Workshop „Economic History of the Alps in the Pre-Industrial Era. Synopsis, Concepts and Perspectives of the Research Field II / Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Alpen-raums in vorindustrieller Zeit. Forschungsaufriss, -konzepte und -perspektiven II“. Brig, Schweiz. 30. März - 1. April 2017.

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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 will follow up the topics presented at the first conference in Hall (2015), which focused on the threat of avalanches and floods towards Alpine trade routes on the one hand, and on the economic impact of locust invasions on the other hand. In this paper, emphasis is given on damage caused by floods and adaptation strategies in coping with them. The examples are mostly taken from the Eastern Alps, but will be compared with evidence from the Western Alps.
One impact of recurrent floods is the swamp formation in flat valley, which were used for grazing cattle. Areas like the Upper Salzach Valley south of Lake Zellersee had been flooded up to ten times a year, which made the swampy meadows not usable for agricultural use any longer. This fact is also true for areas in Switzerland such as the Linth plain southeast of Lake Zurichsee, the lower reaches of the Guerbe River south of Bern or the Grosses Moos marshland situated between Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten in the Western Swiss Plateau.
Floods had also a crucial influence on the transport of timber, in particular from Alpine forests to the mining districts and to the salterns in Tyrol, in the County of Salzburg and in the Salzkammergut. If one of the wooden rakes (barriers to collect the trunks at the destination) broke due to the power of water, the trunks flushed down the river and became destructive like torpedoes. Bridges and mills were destroyed. Due to the immense loss of firewood the smelting furnaces and the salt production had to be closed for weeks or even months.
If the water on the rivers was too high or too low, the transport capacities on the rivers were significantly diminished, such as salt shipping along the Salzach and lower Inn Rivers. Furthermore, most of the mills could not work during that time, causing a deep impact on local food production (flour etc.) and on the processing of goods.
However, premodern societies in the Alpine areas and the nearby foothills, tried to cope and adapt with the available means. In case of a flood, warning systems existed, e.g. by local skippers. Parts of mills and bridges could be removed or reinforced quickly. The houses of craftsmen in frequently flooded areas of cities such as Steyr or Bern were solidly built of ashlar blocks in the ground floor, with the possibility to evacuate any precious goods or machines to the upper floors. Carpenters in the cities became specialized in the permanent repairs of wooden bridges and made 10-20 percent of their annual turnover by works related floods. Early rectification and drainage projects should make swampy floodplains re-usable for agriculture.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


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
900 History > 940 History of Europe




Christian Rohr

Date Deposited:

08 May 2017 16:34

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:04

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Alpenraum, Hochwasser, Versumpfung, Warentransport, Adaptionsstrategien


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