Forests and snow: Northern Europe's environment
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Europe's environment

Black Forest
Black Forest

When people first arrived in northern Europe and Scandinavia from Central Asia, they found an environment that must have already been familiar to them: a lot of forests, cold weather, and clouds. In the winter it snows, and in the fall and spring it rains. Even in the summer it sometimes rains, and it rarely gets dangerously hot.

Because there is so much water in northern Europe, trees grow there better than they do around the Mediterranean, and there are great forests.

In the ancient and medieval periods, one great forest stretched from the Atlantic coast of France all the way across Germany and Poland into Russia, with only little clearings in it here and there for people. The Black Forest in Germany is one of the little pieces of that forest left today (People called the Black Forest Black because it was so crowded with trees that it was dark).

German deer

The Black Forest had plenty of wild animals in it - rabbits, deer, and wild boar. And there weren't very many people living in northern Europe, so there was plenty of room to raise cattle and pigs. So people who lived in ancient Germany ate more meat than people in the Roman Empire. They sold cattle to the Greeks and Romans, and they made their pigs into excellent bacon and sausage and sold that to the Romans too.

wild boar
Wild boar

The soil in the north is generally more clayey than further south, where the soil tends to be more sandy. The heavier, stickier northern soil is much harder to plow, and until people invented better plows in the Middle Ages, northern European farmers could only farm the lighter soils. That's one reason that not very many people lived in northern Europe in antiquity.

Learn by doing: go for a hike in a forest
More about Northern European food

Bibliography and further reading about the environment of northern Europe:

Europe geography Germany pictures ancient celts

Europe, by Jo Ellen Moore (1999). For kids, a basic geography of modern Europe, including information about animals.

Germany in Pictures, by Jeffrey Zuehlke (2003). A basic geography of Germany for kids, with pictures. It's about modern times, not history, but the geography's more or less the same.

The Ancient Celts, by Patricia Calvert (2005). Covers all aspects of ancient Celtic society (in Germany and elsewhere), using archaeological evidence to show the lives of farmers, soldiers, and craftspeople.

More about northern Europe
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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