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536 AD — the worst year in history

2020 has already been immortalised. It is a year that nobody will forget. However, when speaking of the worst year recorded in human history there are many to choose from:

The year 1349 saw the Black Death kill half the population of Europe.

In 1520 smallpox ravaged the Americas and killed between 60 and 90 per cent of the continents’ original inhabitants.

In 1918 the Spanish Flu led to the deaths of over 50 million people.

The rise of Hitler in 1933 is often claimed to be the turning point in modern history.

However, historians are unanimous in their choice. The title of the worst year in history is easily held by the year 536 AD.

Medieval historian, Michael McCormick has stated that “it was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.” (Science Magazine, Ann Gibbons, 2018).

The year began with an inexplicable, dense fog that stretched across the world which plunged Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia into darkness 24 hours a day, for nearly 2 years.

Consequently, global temperatures plummeted which resulted in the coldest decade in over 2,000 years.

Famine was rampant and crops failed all across Europe, Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, 536 AD seemed to only be a prelude to further misery. This period of extreme cold and starvation caused economic disaster in Europe and in 541 A.D. an outbreak of bubonic plague further led to the death of nearly 100 million people and almost half of the Byzantine Empire.

This part of the sixth century has a widely been referred to as the Dark Ages, but the true source of this darkness had previously been unknown to scholars. Recently, researchers led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski, have discovered that a volcanic eruption in Iceland in early 536 led to incredibly large quantities of ash being spread across much of the globe, creating the fog that cast the world into darkness. This eruption was so immense that it altered the global climate and adversely affected weather patterns and crop cultivation for years to come (Antiquity).

Labeling each new year as ‘the worst year in history’ has become something of a fad these days. We should look back to the year 536 A.D. and cherish how fortunate we are not to have lived in a time when the world was truly in darkness.

Source: Saamir Ansari – Lessons from History