When things were rotten: Worst year ever was … A.D. 536?

When things were rotten: Worst year ever was … A.D. 536?
Ice core drilling in the Alps. YouTube video, TVNZ/GNS Science

[Ed. – Byzantines certainly weren’t fans.  New ice-core study suggests what happened to make it a really bad year, and the start of a crummy century.]

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “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. … 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. …

Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a … cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland [which] spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed…

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