Fluvial environments have always played a crucial role in human history. The necessity of fertile land and fresh water for agriculture has led populations to settle in floodplains more frequently than in other environments. Floodplains are complex human–water systems in which the mutual interaction between anthropogenic activities and environment affected the landscape development. In this paper, we analyzed the evolution of the Central Po Plain (Italy) during the Medieval period through a multi-proxy record of geomorphological, archaeological and historical data. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire (5th century AD) coincided with a progressive waterlogging of large floodplain areas. The results obtained by this research shed new light on the consequences that Post-Roman land and water management activities had on landscape evolution. In particular, the exploitation of fluvial sediments through flood management practices had the effect of reclaiming the swamps, but also altered the natural geomorphological development of the area. Even so, the Medieval human activities were more in equilibrium with the natural system than with the later Renaissance large-scale land reclamation works that profoundly modified the landscape turning the wetland environment into the arable land visible today. The analysis of fluvial palaeoenvironments and their relation with past human activities can provide valuable indications for planning more sustainable urbanized alluvial landscapes in future.
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