The worst year in history

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

I suppose we should all be thankful not to be living in the worst year in historys, AD 538:

Analysis of atmospheric pollutants trapped in ice extracted from a glacier in the Swiss-Italian Alps suggests that this was the start of a cataclysmic run of global misfortune. “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” Professor Michael McCormick of Harvard University said in the journal Science.

The analysis suggests that early in 536 a volcanic eruption in Iceland spread ash across the northern hemisphere. Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia fell into darkness. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote the historian Procopius.

Crops failed from Scandinavia to Mesopotamia. “It would have made places very cold very quickly and would have been most felt in Britain and northwestern Europe,” said Professor Christopher Loveluck of the University of Nottingham. This was only the start.

Two more climate-cooling eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. In 541 an outbreak of bubonic plague, known as the Plague of Justinian, emerged in the port of Pelusium in Egypt and went on to kill as much as half of the population of the Byzantine — or Eastern Roman — Empire, according to Dr Kyle Harper of the University of Oklahoma. The Western Roman Empire had fallen less than a century earlier. “In Britain the cities, the administrative support, they come apart,” he said. “It was the first Brexit and it was not entirely peaceful.”

This blend of volcanoes, pestilence and climate change helps to explain a century of economic stagnation. The malaise appears to end in about 640. The ice then shows a spike of airborne lead, signalling large-scale silver smelting and rising hopes of prosperity.


  1. Bill says:

    Nice backhanded swipe at Brexit. Obviously, some writer at the Times needed to make their quota.

  2. Dan Kurt says:

    And on the other hand we have