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Impact on landscapes under the pressure to produce resources for war

Project led by the Institute of Social Ecology, Austria

Env History P2 journal coverObjectives:

We want to elucidate how Early Modern Warfare had a lasting effect on cultural landscapes in central Europe. We will show what kinds of sources allow us to qualify and quantify this impact.

In a recent master thesis, we could show that considerable pressure was put on especially grazing landscapes of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, in particular in the Hungarian Plains for the production of gunpowder in the 18th and 19th century. We can show that about 25% of the available nitrogen of the agricultural system was removed by gunpowder production. During this master thesis, material was identified which allows to pinpoint saltpeter (KNO3) extraction over a large part of what is nowadays Austria and Hungary. We propose to develop this into a catalogue and analyze the data for their long-term impact on the nutrient status and balances of the agro-ecosystems.

We have a unique combination of sources, the main source are so-called “Patente”, decrees allowing the extraction of saltpeter. For some Hungarian soils, we would like to explore the possibility that saltpeter extraction actually led to the formation of anthrosols, influencing the future landscape development over hundreds, if not thousands of years.

We will use the example of 18th century gunpowder and its long-term legacies to point to a long-term issue of larger significance, that is, the impact of warfare on cultural landscapes and ecosystems over the long run. This could be developed into a larger project.


  • Güldner, D., Krausmann, F., Winiwarter, V., 2014. From farm to gun and no way back: Habsburg gunpowder production in the eighteenth century and its impact on agriculture and soil fertility. Reg Environ Change 1–12. doi:10.1007/s10113-014-0737-2.