How a 17th Ct. Peruvian Volcano Eruption Influenced Croatian Lands

This is a very unique story on how a 17th Ct. Peruvian volcano eruption influenced Croatian lands 10 881 Km away. Of course, the whole World was affected but I will focus only on the local stories and events

The volcano Huaynaputina erupted in 1600. Its name in the Quechua language means “New volcano” and it is located in southern Peru.

Huaynaputina today
Huaynaputina today

Its highest peak is at 4850 m. Thanks to the written testimony of Spanish settlers in that area, we have very detailed information about the event. It all started with a strong tremor on Friday, February 18th at 9:00 PM, which lasted until the next day at 6:00 PM. Then the sky was covered by a compact black cloud from which fine sand began to fall in large quantities. Thunderstorms began, and the darkness was so great that you couldn’t see a man, even if he carried a lamp. The sand was replaced by ash, and the sun briefly appeared on February 23rd, and then darkness returned. Finally, the weather cleared up on March 5th, but the volcano continued to spew hot lava that burned several nearby indigenous villages, and the cattle that survived the first impact died later, as the pastureland was covered with a thick layer of ash. It is estimated that the eruption claimed about 1500 lives locally.

Huaynaputina eruption in a contemporary illustration
Huaynaputina eruption in a contemporary illustration

Huaynaputina is located 50 miles from the Peruvian city of Arequipa. The cliche that locals offer human sacrifices to volcanoes is untrue when it comes to Huaynaputina because such sacrifices were actually offered to this volcano! Following their conquest of Peru and the spread of Catholicism, the Spanish put an end to such customs. But perhaps the locals had been onto something, given what happened soon after the sacrifices were banned: the largest volcanic explosion recorded in recorded history in South America! The results were disastrous locally and had devastating effects all throughout the world, including the deaths of millions of Russians thousands of kilometers away. The locals naturally came to the conclusion that Supay, their deity of death, had become enraged when they ended the sacrifices and decided to give them a lesson. He was really a nasty, evil God and you can learn about him more here.

Supay symbol Inka
Supay – Inca symbol

The Effect of the Eruption on Croatian Lands

According to available sources, changes in the sunlight and lunar light were not observed in Croatian areas, but famous astronomer Johannes Kepler in Graz, located about 200 km north, recorded a reddish color of the Moon, while the Sun also lost its shine and had a red hue. These phenomena lasted throughout 1601 and continued until July 1602. According to records from the Italian city of Alessandria (about 400 km west, on the geographical latitude of Pula), the whole 1601 year the sky was covered with mist, so the Sun was of a cloudy shine. The same optical phenomenon was recorded in 1601 and in Scandinavia.

Intense snowfall and cold affected the countries of the Balkans and the Aegean Sea during the winters after the Huaynaputina eruption, forcing countries to acquire grain from abroad. The Ottoman-Bosnian chronicler İbrahim Peçevi reported that in 1601. the Danube froze and travel was hindered by snow. The extremely cold winters that followed caused the death of large numbers of livestock in Anatolia, Crimea and the Balkans. This weakened the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Empire at its peak

From the Local Records

Sources for Croatian regions are very poor. A Senj resident, Pavao Ritter Vitezović, compiled and printed a collection of historical records at the end of the 17th century, but they were mostly war-related. However, he included a small part of meteorological phenomena that were already described as “worthy” of being entered as extremes, so there can be no talk of acquiring an average However, he noted several extreme weather phenomena that did not fit regular meteorological patterns. Valuable data up to 1612 were preserved by Don Vicenc Frljanić from eastern Istria, from Boljun, but unfortunately most of the notes lack a date. The first fully dated anomaly occurred on November 29th, 1600, when it was so cold that wine froze in glasses. Further, it is briefly mentioned that a strong hot wind in 1602 dried all vegetation, after which there were wildfires. In 1603, hail destroyed crops, and 1604 was a good year. Finally, some devastating, stormy wind on October 21st, 1606 destroyed everything around by sea and land…

Pavao Ritter Vitezović
Pavao Ritter Vitezović

The year 1603 was remembered for the fights and the cold, but we don’t have any indication of which part of Croatia it refers to. Additionally, a letter dated October 7th, 1601 from Senj mentions that a strong wind, known as “bora grandissima,” had recently stopped blowing after 20 days.

A Franciscan named Glavinić recorded the same year the appearance of a strong wind with “supernatural rain” above Bakar.

Thanks to Pečevi’s writings, we know that there was high snow and cold in the Osijek area in the fall of 1601.

Interesting information is preserved in a letter from the Split trader Kavanjina. After arriving in Sarajevo in early November 1605, he remarked that they “didn’t have bad weather” anymore. This suggests that during his previous travels he suffered a lot, probably from the cold and snow. Split suffered from heat and drought from spring to the end of July.

Economy of the Region in Early 1600s

Since the farmers were the base of economy, one would expect more privileged people to take care of them, but this was not the case. The Republic of Dubrovnik stood out for its planned care for the supply of grains to all its population. As it had a large navy, supplies were also provided by sea. Furthermore, the authorities also controlled prices, either by limiting or by subsidizing them, but in longer periods of shortages they were more than in previous or subsequent years. This was also the case at the beginning of the 17th century.

The import of wheat from Bosnia to Dubrovnik started in the 14th century and grew significantly in the mid-16th century after Ottoman rule was established. Popovo, Foča, Pljevlja, and Mačva in the Zvornik district were noted as areas of grain production. Ottoman Bosnia, which then included the present-day Dalmatian karst fields, exported its grain surpluses to coastal cities under Venetian rule.

Šibenik’s Venetian commissioner states that there was a poor grain yield in Bosnia in 1601, which is why Šibenik had to buy grain in Apulia. One of the dukes sent an approval to Trogir confirming another negative event. Namely, that town also bought grain from Bosnia, taught by the great shortage that occurred a few years before 1608. People purchased wheat in a wide area that stretched from the immediate hinterland to Banja Luka.

In 1602, reports recorded a poor olive harvest on the island of Krk. A history of destruction of olives and figs can be traced back to mid-16th century reports from Venetian officials from Istria to Boka. However, despite these extremes, these reports also highlight the inadequate grain yield in average years as a characteristic of the entire eastern coast of the Adriatic.

Climate Change and Plague due to Peruvian Volcano Eruption

Recent research confirms the connection between climate change (due to Peruvian volcano eruption) and the outbreak of plague. The standard delay between outbreaks in the sources and urban centers was 2 to 4 years. The Ottoman Empire was the main link in the spread of plague. All Levantine ports that received goods from the east maintained lively trade with the ports of European countries, starting from Dubrovnik, Venice, Marseille, and Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast.

The Ottoman ports lacked protective measures, making it possible for infected goods to be loaded onto ships without a quarantine period, which allowed the spread of the plague. European ports tried to prevent infectious diseases by building lazarettos and implementing legal measures. Dubrovnik, and then Venice, led the way in this. Since the Serenissima ruled the Dalmatian and Istrian cities, surveillance and suppression began in their area, but the first real trade-sanitary institution was the lazaret in Split at the end of the 16th century.

Lazaret of Split
Lazaret of Split

The second way in which the plague spread in Europe was almost identical to the war campaigns in which the main disseminators of the disease were soldiers during invasions and traders whose caravans linked Sarajevo and Banja Luka with Dubrovnik and Split.

As early as 1602, reports recorded the presence of the plague around the Neretva River. In 1604, it spread over a wider area, reaching from upper Podrinje to Sarajevo. With shorter pauses, the outbreak flared up again in 1605, especially in the spring of 1606 in Sarajevo. From there, it likely reached Split through trade channels. The plague entered Split in late March 1607 and, despite all measures taken by the state authorities and Archbishop Dominis, it took over the city. By the middle of the summer, there were days when over one hundred people died. The outcome of this catastrophe was such that the city’s population of 4223 in 1606 dropped to only 1045 survivors in November 1607.

Plague Doctor from 1600s
Plague Doctor from 1600s

Affects of the Peruvian Volcano Eruption Caused Weather Changes on Military Operations

The weather changes caused by a Peruvian volcano eruption severely affected the opposing warriors, and some of the worst examples of this natural disturbance occurred during the siege of the fortress of Nagykanizsa, located in southwestern Hungary, opposite Koprivnica. Its location made Velika Kaniža an essential part of the defensive line of fortresses. When the Turks conquered it in 1600, they created a dangerous gap, so the Christians decided to quickly retake it. The Christians assembled an army composed of papal units, Tuscan forces, soldiers from Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua, and a smaller number of Germans and Croats. The siege began on September 10, 1601, and after a few weeks, heavy rains began to fall that completely stopped the attackers.

However, the military leaders persistently continued their combat activities, regardless of the temperature fluctuations from daily heat to strong night cold. However, the worst was yet to come in the form of icy winds and blizzards. On the night of November 13, more than 3,000 soldiers died of the cold. These weather conditions became unbearable and Gonzaga decided to give up, but the retreat turned into a catastrophe. The Ottomans seized the guns and the remains of the camp, and contemporary historian Ibrahim Pečevi acknowledges: “We were tired of killing…the remaining half-frozen soldiers.”

Siege of Nagikanyzsa in 1601

In general, the eruption of such a distant volcano shows how fragile the societies were. But could we survive such a catastrophe today?

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  1. Anna says:

    Such an interesting article! I loved learning about all the history. My husband is Peruvian so I showed him this too. I jokingly told him that even today Peruvians are ruining croatian’s lives. 🤣🤣🤣

  2. Alan - secretdalmatia says:


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