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Burning wood polluted the air in ancient Rome. Source: Ara Hovhannisyan / Adobe Stock.

Ancient Rome’s Polluted Air was Attributed to Burning Wood (Video)

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In ancient Rome, the burgeoning glass industry cast a literal shadow over the city. The demand for vast quantities of firewood to fuel glass ovens resulted in a pervasive haze known locally as "heavy skies” or caeli gravis for the overcast sky. Eventually, the emperor took action, expelling glass blowers from the capital. However, this move came at a cost; the once-abundant forests surrounding Rome had already dwindled. A pivotal shift was on the horizon as coal emerged as a new source of fuel.

Coal, formed through the slow decomposition of organic matter over millions of years, initially found its use in China around 5,000 years ago before spreading globally for domestic and industrial purposes. Despite the dirty byproducts of ash and soot, the efficiency of coal, burning longer and hotter than wood, led to its widespread adoption. This transition, from primitive surface extraction to deeper mining, marked a transformative chapter, influencing not only the atmosphere but also the livelihoods of tens of thousands engaged in the lucrative coal industry.

Top image: Burning wood polluted the air in ancient Rome. Source: Ara Hovhannisyan / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

 
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Robbie

I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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