Ask any medieval historian and they will be quick to tell you that the year 536 was the worst to be alive in. You may have thought it would have been the Black Death of 1349 wiping out half of Europe or 1918 when the Spanish Flu killed nearly 100 million people but 536 was the start of one of the worst periods of human history. Which is why many historians dub it the worst year to be alive.
The terrible year of 536 was first published and written about by historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick who is part of the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past. After his research became public, most, if not everyone, agreed with his arguments that it was a truly terrible time to be alive. First, up a mysterious fog sent Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia into near-complete darkness. This was no ordinary fog, it blocked sunlight during day and night, lasting over 18 months.
This meant that during 536 the temperatures stayed at 1.5 to 2.5 celsius all year. As you can imagine this did not do wonders for growing food and many people started to starve. It was the start of the coldest decade since 2300 years, the snow caused crops to fail and a massive world famine followed. Irish chronicles and Chinese history all talk about a failure to produce enough bread during the years of 536 to 539.
Then if that was not enough the bubonic plague descended upon the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt during the year of 541. This quickly grew into the Plague of Justinian which spread we now know was responsible for wiping out two-thirds of the eastern Roman Empire’s population – which many believe sped up the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Of course, we have long known that the Dark Ages were very dark, but it has always been a puzzle of why and how that could be. After analyzing glaciers it has been confirmed that in 536 there was a massive volcanic eruption, and this was followed by more eruptions in 540 and 547. The extreme eruptions and follow up of plague led Europe into enormous economic failure. It is thought it took as long as until 640 for Europe to recover, which is when analysis shows civilizations started to mine silver again.