Famines and Pestilences

d15_50723351For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: Matt. 24:7

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs. Mark 13:8

. . . there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. Luke 21:11 

There were famines in Jerusalem, as well as in Rome leading up to the  destruction of the Temple in 70AD. In the book of Acts, Luke mentions a famine in the time of Claudius Caesar. Upon hearing of the famine, the church in Antioch sent relief to those in Judea.

28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. 29 And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea;  Acts 11:28-29

An early church preacher and historian, Eusebius wrote the about that same famine.

Caius had held the power not quite four years, when he was succeeded by the emperor Claudius. Under him the world was visited with a famine, which writers that are entire strangers to our religion have recorded in their histories. The Famine which took Place in the Reign of Claudius. Eusebius Pamaphilius, Chapter 8

FYI: Caius ruled from 37A.D. – 41A.D. and was succeeded by his uncle Claudius.

Josephus reported a great famine in Judea c. 50-56AD

Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn [Editor note: wheat] in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. Concerning Theudas and the sons of Judas the Galilean; as also what calamity fell upon the Jews on the day of the Passover. Josephus Antiquities Book  20, chapter 5, section 3

Tacitus also mention several famines, including a flooding of the Tibor that devastated Rome in c. 69AD.

Another cause of alarm was the various portents vouched for by many witnesses. In the Capitoline Square, it was said, the figure of Victory had let the reins of her chariot slip from her hands: a ghost of superhuman size had suddenly burst out of the chapel of Juno: a statue of the sainted Julius on the island in the Tiber had, on a fine, still day, turned round from the west and faced the east: an ox had spoken in Etruria: animals had given birth to strange monsters. Many were the stories of these occurrences, which in primitive ages are observed even in time of peace, though now we only hear of them in time of panic. But the greatest damage at the moment, and the greatest alarm for the future, was caused by a sudden rising of the Tiber. Immensely swollen, it carried away the bridge on piles, and, its current being stemmed by the heavy ruins, it flooded not only the flat, low-lying portions of the city, but also districts that seemed safe from inundation. Many people were swept away in the streets, still more were overtaken by the flood in shops or in their beds at home. The result was a famine, since food was scarce, and the poor were deprived of their means of livelihood. Blocks of flats, the foundations of which had rotted in the standing water, collapsed when the river sank. No sooner had the panic caused by the flood subsided than it was found that, whereas Otho was preparing an expedition, its route over the Martian Plain and up the Flaminian Road was blocked. Though probably caused by chance, or the course of Nature, this mishap was turned into a miraculous omen of impending disaster. Tacitus Histories, book 1, section 86

So ended this servile war. Amidst the joy of this success, while everything was prosperous beyond his hopes, tidings of the victory of Cremona reached Vespasian in Egypt. This made him hasten his advance to Alexandria, for, now that the army of Vitellius was shattered, he sought to apply the pressure of famine to the capital, which is always dependent on foreign supplies. He was indeed also preparing to invade by sea and land the province of Africa, which lies on the same line of coast, intending by thus closing the supplies of corn to cause famine and dissension among the enemy. Tacitus Histories, book 3, section 48

I will concern myself with peace at home. Though the weather was still very rough, Vespasian at once launched his fastest corn-ships with a full cargo. For the city was on the verge of famine. Indeed, there were not supplies for more than ten days in the public granaries at the moment when Vespasian’s convoy brought relief. Tacitus,  Histories, Book 4, Section 52

During the siege of Jerusalem (c. 67-70AD) the famine inside the barricaded city was unbelievably desperate. Josephus, who had served the Romans as a mediator to encourage the captives to surrender, had this to say about his first hand observations inside the walls of the city.

The madness of the seditious did also increase together with their famine, and both those miseries were every day inflamed more and more; for there was no corn which any where appeared publicly, but the robbers came running into, and searched men’s private houses; and then, if they found any, they tormented them, because they had denied they had any; and if they found none, they tormented them worse, because they supposed they had more carefully concealed it. The indication they made use of whether they had any or not was taken from the bodies of these miserable wretches; which, if they were in good case, they supposed they were in no want at all of food; but if they were wasted away, they walked off without searching any further; nor did they think it proper to kill such as these, because they saw they would very soon die of themselves for want of food. Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort; but of barley, if they were poorer. When these had so done, they shut themselves up in the inmost rooms of their houses, and ate the corn they had gotten; some did it without grinding it, by reason of the extremity of the want they were in, and others baked bread of it, according as necessity and fear dictated to them: a table was no where laid for a distinct meal, but they snatched the bread out of the fire, half-baked, and ate it very hastily. What Intolerable Things Those That Staid Behind Suffered By Famine, Josephus War book V; chap10; sec 2.

Next Post: Sun, Moon, and Stars