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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

2 - Meteorology, Weather Forecasting and the Early Medieval Renaissance of Astronomy


This chapter begins with an account of the roles of Charlemagne and Alcuin in supporting the study of computus and astronomy in the Carolingian Empire. It then offers an outline of the expanded astronomical and meteorological information found in Carolingian ‘encyclopedias’ of computus. A key problem for users of these collections was the lack of accurate astronomical observations and calculations, which enforced continuing dependence on lists of short-term ‘signs’ of coming weather, mostly derived from Pliny. One attempt to improve the range of knowledge available took the form of beautifully illuminated versions of Aratus’ long poem, in volumes known as Aratea. The dissemination of this body of information is traced through analyses of surviving manuscripts, which demonstrate the resources being devoted to the subject across mainland Europe. Separate consideration is given to Anglo-Saxon England, where Viking conquests and wars had caused serious disruption, and where the teaching of Abbo of Fleury, and his pupil Byrhtferth, was crucial. The chapter argues that possession of superior astronomical and meteorological knowledge was highly vaued by rulers in both secular and spiritual spheres.