It’s understandable to feel 2020 is the worst year ever, with a global pandemic, an economic upheaval due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts imposed by government, and our partisan insane, hysterical spin information war blared across American media every day. I’ve felt that way myself at times this year, but then I came across the above video. This video mentions research by Harvard medieval historian, Michael McCormick. I found this 2018 article on McCormick’s research:
“Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “536.” Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.
A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.”
Granted, we’re in August and have a ways to go in 2020, but still 536 AD sure seems like it was way worse than 2020. It’s interesting that such catastrophic events in 536 AD were largely forgotten in history and the major events weren’t pieced together for centuries.
If you’re interested in the Fall of Rome, here’s a link to a series of podcasts by Patrick Wyman (hat tip to JK, who provided a link to a blog post, which had a link to this podcast series): https://soundcloud.com/fallofromepodcast
Clicking around a lot is how I landed on this Worst Year In History YouTube video too.