The review of geochronological and historical data documents that the largest southern European deltas formed almost synchronously during two short intervals of enhanced anthropic pressure on landscapes, respectively during the Roman Empire and the Little Ice Age. These growth phases, that occurred under contrasting climatic regimes, were both followed by generalized delta retreat, driven by two markedly different reasons: after the Romans, the fall of the population and new afforestation let soil erosion in river catchments return to natural background levels; since the industrial revolution, instead, flow regulation through river dams overkill a still increasing sediment production in catchment basins. In this second case, furthermore, the effect of a reduced sediment flux to the coasts is amplified by the sinking of modern deltas, due to land subsidence and sea level rise, that hampers delta outbuilding and increases the vulnerability of coastal zone to marine erosion and flooding.
This work has been funded by the Flagship Project RITMARE - The Italian Research for the Sea - coordinated by the Italian National Research Council and funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research within the National Research Program 2011–2013. This is ISMAR-Bologna contribution n. 1791.