A Look Back at the Worst Year in Human History
Without a doubt, most people alive today will probably look back on 2020 as the worst year of their lives – and for good reason. But to put matters in perspective, 2020 doesn’t even come close to being the worst year in human history. That award goes to 536 AD, and you’re about to see why. Trust us, it was a bad year…
Volcanic Ash Covers the Planet
In early 536 AD, people throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia all noticed that a mysterious fog had rolled in that covered the sky night and day. Well, that “fog” turned out to be a plume of ash from a volcanic eruption of biblical proportions earlier in the year, and it lasted for a full 18 months. Experts are still undecided on exactly when and where the eruption occurred – some believe it was in Iceland while others think it might’ve been in Indonesia (Krakatoa), or El Salvador. Either way, imagine not being able to see the light of day for a year and a half – that alone would be enough to drive anyone insane!
The Late Antique Little Ice Age
Next on the list of bad things that happened in 536 AD was the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which began when volcanic particles started blocking out the sun, leading to a major drop in global temperature. This led to a whole bunch of additional bad things, including a famine that spread from Europe through Asia. This ice age might have the word “little” in its title, but its effects were far from that – in fact, they were felt over the course of the following century!
The Justinian Plague
Approximately five years after the beginning of the Late Antique Little Ice Age, the bubonic plague hit Europe like a sack of bricks. This particular plague was named after Justinian I, who was the emperor of Byzantium at the time. The ice age-induced famine proved to be the perfect breeding ground for a fledgling plague, as starvation led to compromised immune systems.
In case you were in the mood to totally lose your appetite, here’s what catching the plague entailed: Painful, swollen lumps called buboes that would turn black and fill up with fluid, as well as a whole host of other terrible symptoms like delusions and gangrene. The disease was so deadly that a totally healthy person could contract it and be dead within just two days. In fact, so many people died that city officials simply stopped counting the number of deaths after a certain point, and by the end of it all, it’s estimated that between 30 and 50 million people had died from the plague. Perhaps needless to say, the Justinian Empire eventually collapsed, probably because a large number of his subjects were dead.
Unfortunately for humanity, the effects of 536 AD didn’t stop that year – in fact, they lingered for a century or so, giving way to political unrest, economic slumps, and continued bouts of the plague for the next two centuries. In summary, yes, 2020 was perhaps the worst year in recent human history, but as you can see, 536 AD takes the cake.
Honorable Mentions for Worst Year in Human History
In 1918, World War I was going on, and the Spanish Flu killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide and infected 500 million.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World and brought with him disease and slavery which led to the death of 90 percent of the Native population.
In 1348 the Black Death ravaged humanity, this time killing 60 percent of those it infected and one-third of the population of Europe.