Great Migrations


What we’re looking at is actually the biggest migration since the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire. There will be tens of millions—scores of millions—of Africans trying to get into Europe. I don’t know how the Europeans will keep them out.

Africa is the only part of the world where the population is still growing and growing rapidly. Africa south of the Sahara was about 6% of the world’s population in the ’50s, now it’s about 16%. But by the turn of the century, it’s going to be 45%.

Why is Africa the only place in the world where the population is still growing? Because it’s largely undeveloped. But that might change soon, because the Chinese are arriving in large numbers.

We’re seeing a veritable recolonization of Africa. Each time I visit Africa, there are more Chinese. It doesn’t matter which country; they’re everywhere…

It’s supposed to be official Chinese policy to migrate about 300 million Chinese to Africa in the years to come. They’re employed in building roads, railroads, ports, mines, and other infrastructure… The Chinese are lending billions to African governments.

If the Chinese develop Africa, its current population explosion will end as living standards rise, and so will the current migration to Europe. And that will probably happen well before the end of this century.

But why was there a barbarian invasion of the Roman empire in about 400 AD? What made millions of Vandals, Goths, and Huns come bursting into Europe from the northeast?

My guess is: climate change. 400 AD was the end of the Roman Warm Period which lasted from 250 BC to 400 AD.  And at the end of this period the Rhine and the Danube – the northern borders of the Roman empire – seem to have frozen over quite frequently. e.g. 378 AD and 405 AD. And when that happened the Vandals, Goths, and Huns could just walk across the rivers. The emperor Marcus Aurelius even fought a battle on the frozen Danube in 173 AD.  And if these major European rivers were freezing over, most likely the Vistula and the Dnieper and the Don and the Volga were freezing over too. So the Vandals, Goths, and Huns were most likely refugees from freezing lands where crops were failing and animals dying. They had no choice but to migrate, and to migrate south. And that’s exactly what they did when they burst into the Roman empire. They spread south into France and Spain and Italy as well.

If this migration stopped, it was probably because these Dark Ages only lasted for a few hundred years, and were followed by the Medieval Warm Period, which was another period of European economic growth and stability.

But the barbarian invasion of the Roman empire wasn’t the only mass migration around this time. There was also a mass movement of Norsemen, also heading south, circa 850 AD. The Norsemen invaded Britain, and also France (Normandy).

And another mass migration came from Arabia with the rise of Islam after the death of Mohammed in 632 AD. Within a century the whole of north Africa had been conquered, and much of Spain. The Moors were only halted at the battle of Tours in 732 AD.

After the end of the Medieval Warm Period, the climate of Europe (and perhaps the whole world) got steadily colder. And by 1640 we were in the depths of the Little Ice Age. And that’s around the time that another vast migration began. For in 1492 the Spanish and Portuguese started to occupy the New World, closely followed by the French, the Dutch, and the British. When the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Britain to Massachusetts in 1620, they were the first of millions of Europeans who migrated to not just the New World, but pretty much everywhere else as well (Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand). This was perhaps the greatest explosion of peoples across the world in the entirety of human history. And it started just when Europe was deep in the Little Ice Age, and it saw millions of Europeans heading south, just like the invading Vandals, Goths, and Huns a thousand years before them.

The period 1400 to 1600 AD was also the time, during the Ming dynasty, when the Great Wall of China was built in stone to stop mass incursions from the north. The Chinese had been building this wall on and off for about 2000 years. So it rather looks like they were facing a new invasion from the north just when Europeans were sailing south to escape freezing Europe. And one of these invaders was none other than the Mongolian Genghis Khan circa 1200 AD, during another cold snap.

This isn’t how history is usually taught. For the most part climate plays no part in history, which is usually said to be driven by completely different factors. But I think that a strong case can be made that a great many mass movements of peoples were driven by climate change, and almost always by climate cooling. For it seems that in warm periods like the Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period and our current Warm Period are times when civilisations rise and technological innovations multiply. And it’s conversely in Cold Periods when civilisations fall. The fall of the Western Roman empire in 476 AD took place during one of these cold periods. And the fall of the Eastern Roman empire in 1453 also took place at the beginning of another cold spell.

Seen this way, we should welcome our current global warming, and encourage more of it. What we should worry about is another period of cooling. The start of a new ice age would be a disaster for Canadians, Americans, Europeans, and Russians, and it would start another powerful southern migration, far stronger than the current northern migration from Africa.

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12 Responses to Great Migrations

  1. Algernon Struthers says:

    That’s novel approach to historical migration, which indeed shouldn’t be overlooked. Who knows, maybe the Chinese realize the same, and are preparing Africa for the onslaught from the north.
    Thanks Frank, for your parallax perspective, sadly missing in educational institutions.

  2. Timothy Goodacre says:

    It is economic migration. Africans see rich pickings in Europe same as the Goths and Vandals did on the Roman Empire. These economic migrants must be kept out or our civilisation will collapse.

  3. Elisa Torrea says:

    So, about this post of Great Migration, just to be clear, if I understood right, are you against migrations?
    After all you said “…There will be tens of millions—scores of millions—of Africans trying to get into Europe. I don’t know how the Europeans will keep them out.”.

    What does that even mean?
    I’m european and no one should want to put anyone out of Europe.
    Europe is a this dream because you can circulate with no restrictions what so ever.
    Nowadays, USA is one of the powerfull countries of the world, and yet, America was founded by a GREAT MIGRATION, for example.
    What about that?

    • Frank Davis says:

      After all you said “…There will be tens of millions—scores of millions—of Africans trying to get into Europe. I don’t know how the Europeans will keep them out.”. What does that even mean?

      I didn’t actually say that. Somebody else did. And I was quoting them. That’s why the passage was indented.

      The author was foreseeing a time when millions of Africans arrive in Europe. And in fact that’s something that’s already happening, encouraged by people like Angela Merkel and Pope Francis.

      But these migrations also always meet resistance. The Romans resisted the invasion of barbarian Vandals and Goths and Huns. And so the African migration is meeting resistance from people like Salvini and Le Pen and Orban.

      I’m european and no one should want to put anyone out of Europe.

      Do you own your own house? Do you keep your front door locked? Or can anyone walk in any time, and make themselves at home, and take whatever they want? I bet you don’t.

      Owning your own home and keeping the front door locked is the same as having your own country and keeping the borders secure.

      • Timothy Goodacre says:

        Well said Frank. Elisa Torrea is clearly deluded.

        • Elisa Torres says:

          Well you didn’t answered my question. And I ask again.
          America was found by a Great Migration, right?
          If they had your thought of closing the doors of the countries, America would not exist.
          America is the living example of a huge migration, to search for a better place to live. Like the Africans you talked about.
          America was founded by Europeans for godsake.

          So why do to others what we don’t want for ourselves?

          It is a fascist and absurd thought, that unfortunatly it’s used to manipulate our ignorant society of today.

        • Furtive Ferret says:

          I can’t reply to Elisa directly but I want to say: The America’s were only founded by Europeans in so much as they were the invaders and they ended up fighting the indigenous people for resources. This is no different to the Romans resisting the barbarian hoards and is no different to resisting African migration to Europe. And if you think otherwise it is you, Elisa, who is deluded.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Yes, America was founded by a Great Migration. In fact, by several Great Migrations.

          And so was Britain.

          And every other country in the world.

          And the invasion of Britain by Angles and Saxons and Jutes and Norsemen was resisted by the native Britons (King Arthur of legend, King Alfred). And the invasion of Britain by the Romans was resisted (e.g. by Caratacus, Boadicea, and others). We British tend to resist invasion.

          And so does every other country in the world.

          It’s perfectly normal and natural to resist invasion. It’s just that sometimes resistance is useless.

        • Rose says:

          I thought that the Romans invaded the barbarians first and the barbarians eventually got them back when the Romans spread themselves too far.

  4. RdM says:

    Malaga Bay
    doesn’t have specific migration or emigration categories, but scroll all the way down through this before selecting any in a new tab to read, and you’ll see interesting discussions on India & UK.

    Quite intellectual, but worth learning to read for that?

  5. Pingback: Buying Greenland | Frank Davis

  6. Frank had some truly great insights and I am SO happy that The Archivist has been doing such an incredible job of preserving them here for us.

    This particularly approach to migration history is beautifully done. While there were likely other factors at play as well, there’s no denying that the cold and warm Euro/Asia/Africa periods played a role, maybe even the driving role, in the migrations that Frank outlined so briefly and clearly!

    – MJM, in the midst of an upcoming Warm Period in Philly… but unlikely to migrate! :>

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