What was the worst year in history

That was the worst year in history

2020 was a great challenge for many. In addition to the corona crisis, political scandal and environmental disasters also caused concern lines. Did the global crisis make for the worst year ever? Researchers say: No.

Sorrow cannot be measured. Although disasters, wars and crises are difficult to categorize according to the suffering caused, historians have a certain number in mind when they talk about the “worst year of all time”.

«Beginning of one of the worst ages to be alive»

To do this, you have to turn back a few pages in the earth chronicle, to the year 536. As the medieval specialist Michael McCormick from the American University of Harvard points out, this year even overshadows the plague epidemics in the late Middle Ages - with 25 million people, a third of that European population had died.

The shadow cast by the year 536 is literal. Because reports from contemporary witnesses such as Porkopios, Michael the Syrian or Flaviuis Casssiodor deal with a great darkness. «The sun, without radiance, shone like the moon all year round and gave the impression that it was almost completely darkened. But since the sign was seen, neither war nor epidemic nor any other evil that brings people to death, »writes Porkopios, for example.

Pandemics, famines, wars

The year 536 was therefore the beginning of the darkest and coldest decade in the past 2,300 years. Large parts of the northern hemisphere including China were affected. "It was the beginning of one of the worst ages to be alive, if not the worst year," McCormick told Science.

With darkness came famines, wars and pandemics that hit the world in the years that followed. The catastrophes also heralded the end of an entire empire. From the year 541 the bubonic plague spread from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt. This wiped out almost half of the population of the Eastern Roman Empire and accelerated its collapse.

Answer in the Swiss Alps

In the specialist literature, the beginning of the disaster is referred to as the "weather anomaly of 535/536". For a long time it was unclear what caused the persistent eclipse. However, as early as the 1990s, climate historians were able to use tree rings to reconstruct that temperatures in the summer of 536 and in the years thereafter had fallen by an average of around 2.5 degrees Celsius.

The various scenarios that triggered the disaster included asteroid impacts in Australia or volcanic eruptions. A team led by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski was finally able to solve the puzzle in 2018. The researchers found traces of eruption on the glacier of Colle Gnifetti in the Swiss Alps.

In a 72-meter-long ice core, they encountered tiny particles of volcanic glass. The context suggests that it was spat out by an Icelandic volcano. So it must have been volcanic ash that darkened the sun and triggered a decade of catastrophes.