The Social Burden of Resilience: A Historical Perspective

Adam Izdebski*, Lee Mordechai, Sam White

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


We examine the social burden associated with resilience to environmental shocks in pre-modern societies. We argue that analyses of state-level interventions to mitigate the consequences of catastrophic events tend to isolate these measures from their larger social contexts and thereby overlook the uneven distribution of their burden across different groups. We use three cases of pre-modern societies in the northeastern Mediterranean - the sixth century Roman Empire, the tenth century Byzantine Empire, and the sixteenth century Ottoman Empire. We demonstrate how the adaptive processes that reinforced resilience at the state level incurred different burdens for those at lower levels of the social hierarchy. We found that some groups sustained losses while others gained unexpected benefits in the context of temporary systemic instability. We also found that although elites enjoyed enhanced buffers against the adverse effects in comparison with non-elites, this did not consistently guarantee them a better outcome. We conclude that the differentiated burden of resilience could in some cases entrench existing political or economic configurations, and in other cases, overturn them. Our case studies indirectly address the pressing issue of environmental justice.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)291-303
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, The Author(s).


  • Byzantium
  • Ottoman empire
  • Resilience
  • Roman Empire
  • Social differentiation


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