In The Corrupting Sea (2000), the authors state that Cyrenaica's harvest time was "a month earlier than that of most of Greece and well before that of the Black Sea" (p. 72), and because of this the area was very important for Greek economy in the 4th century BCE. For this claim, their source is Brun, P. (1993) 'La stèle des céréales de Cyrène et le commerce des grains en Égée au IVe siècle', which I couldn't find online and even if I did I wouldn't be able to read it, seeing that I can't read in French.

Since no other sources or details are given, I speculated that Cyrenaica's geographical position, closer to the Equator than Greece and the Black Sea, provided it with stronger sunlight, which made harvest times there earlier. But as I said this is mere speculation, seeing that I have not considered soil and other weather conditions. Also, I assumed that the same crops were planted in Greece and Cyrenaica, namely wheat.

The Wikipedia page on Cyrenaica confirmed that this region exported wheat. Also, the most promising page I found was linked to harvest festivals, that could happen in different times of the year in different places because of differing climates and crops, but there was not much information beyond this.

Therefore my question, which I apologize for its very specific nature, is this: what ambiental factors could have lead to this difference in harvest times specifically in ancient Cyrenaica?

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    Cyrenaica has a significantly warmer climate. I'm not sure why you doubt this as an explanation? It seems intuitively satisfactory.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 22:59
  • Because, as I stated in the question, I was just speculating and didn't find backing for this claim. Does a warmer climate always lead to earlier harvest times? I ask because I've only heard about there being larger harvests because of a warmer climate, and not earlier harvests.
    – James Cook
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 23:31
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    I think this should go to earthscience.stackexchange.com, as it is more about biology than history, unless there is some reason to believe that nowadays harvest times have changed. FWIW, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growing_season
    – SJuan76
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 23:33
  • @SJuan76 I think you are correct. I posted it here because I've misread the passages about it in the book. As the authors stated that Cyrenaica's commercial ties with the rest of the Mediterranean got weaker and weaker over time, I assumed it was because of ever lower harvest yields, by some process of desertification. Re-reading this part of the book, I see that only its commercial ties with Rome got smaller by the 5th century, and it still traded with Egypt, for example. My mistake.
    – James Cook
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 23:40
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    JamesCook: Warmer climate is typically linked to earlier harvests, while a higher temperatures can actually reduce wheat yield. But I concur with @SJuan76 that this is more of a science question than a history one, even though desertification has significantly affected modern Cyrenaica.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


The factors that influence the time of harvest are:

  1. The culture harvested - rice takes more time than rye.
  2. Climate seasons - according to water or to warmth.
  3. The light seasons. That factor together with the second one can cause funny results. For example, if we compare the spring in the Czech Republic and in the region around Moscow, according to the warmth the May in CR corresponds to June in Moscow. But according to the light, it is vice versa. So, the blooming of strawberries or of lindens in CR is a month earlier. But the the leaves on the birchs appear about at the same time or even later in CR.
  4. The time of seeding - if the climatic seasons are shifted, the same culture will be simply planted/seeded and harvested earlier in one place than in the other. Places far from sea has the temperature peak a bit after the middle of astronomic summer (21th June in the Northern hemisphere). Places closer to sea has that peak moved to later dates - it takes time to warm the sea.
    Of course, the time of seeding could be defined voluntary, at will of the owner. In the places with very soft climate, as Canaries or Southern Chile, practically anything could be planted/seeded at any time with the same result. Here it is somebody's decision that determines the start of growth and thus the harvest time, too.
  5. How close the weather is to the ideal for the culture - the better the weather - the shorted is the time for riping. Too cold, too hot, too wet or too dry (without watering) weather can slow the growth.

The lighting difference for Cyrenaica and Greece is practically insignificant - they both are far from poles.

The points 2 and 5 depend on the slow longtime changes of the climate and thus are the subject of history. For nowadays Cyrenaica is the part of dezert or very close to it. And it was not in the antic times. So, the agriculture timings now are much more strict. And the time for riping is longer, than in Greece, if you do not water the culture. So, nowadays, it is not so sure about earlier harvesting in Cyrenaica. On the contrary, you could wait for your wheat forever.

As for the antic times, when the Northern Africa grew the wheat for the whole Rome Empire, the desert regions were far from the coast. The region was only somewhat dry.
The temperatures of 350BC, according to 1850-year cycles, should be similar to these of 1500AC, or were at the lower end. So, the winter should be noticeable. And Cyrenaica's inhabitants had to adapt the starts/ends of agriculture cycles to the same season changes, as in Greece. Of course, you are absolutely right, the warmer weather meant earlier spring seeding and harvesting. The dry summer moved the harvesting time in the same direction. They in Cyrenaica had to harvest their spring wheat much earlier.

It is not so simple with the second harvest. I am not sure Greece had one in that climate. So, it is unclear, what is to be compared.
And I don't know if Cyrenaica had enough summer rains to seed wheat in July and not to wait for the September rains.

  • If memory serves, Cyrenaica is also a classic example of how depleting a non-renewable resource can seal an area's fate. It had plenty of aquifers but not enough rain to refill them. It enjoyed a rich agriculture driven economy in the classical period, until water ran out (or rather, became too deep to extract). Also, I seem to recollect that the climate changed dramatically in the Middle East around 800-1,000 CE or so - it became warmer and drier. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 12:34
  • @DenisdeBernardy 1. It is not so sad. About in 900 years the serious rains will come and the equilibrium point will be shifted from desert climate to the Mediterranean one. :-) . But before that it will be even worse. 2. 9-11 cent - yes, it was the time when vikings colonized Greenland. The climate was much warmer then. But it changes. For example, The Aral Sea appears and disappears 1x1850 years.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 20:20

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