News (Ancient) Why 536 was the worst year to be alive

By Callaina, in 'Latin Culture', Nov 21, 2018.

  1. Callaina Feles Curiosissima

    • Civis Illustris
    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.

    More at:
  2. tim05000 Member

    Then the Byzantines and Persians further weakened each other through wars, leaving the Middle East open to an easy conquest by the Arabs exactly a century later.
  3. This wasn't the first time Greece (which did'nt exist at that time in the modern sense, I know, but nonetheless) was in such a precarious state. There was indeed a time during Mycenaean Greece when a famine and crop failure (largely in Alemannia, Gaul, and the surrounding areas) drove many refugees further south, which contributed to the destruction of the said Mycenaean people. The environmental, economic, and militarial tumult of the 530s-540s wouldn't have solidified the Byzantines any more than the previous issue did the Ancients (much less the antics of the Arabs in the next century, Yarmouk). What's more, "Justinian's Plague" originally originated in Alexandria, from whence grain was often imported (to Italy anyway). But, then again - we could keep this going for an hour - we might consider the effect of such an incomprehensible amount of refugees pouring into a single state and city (namely, Constantinople). Horrible events to endure, undoubtably, but pain often forms "character", and character is synonymous with depth of person, complexity, a rejection of "the monopoly of commonplace" and mediocrity. The Second Council of Constantinople, as well as the likes of Saint Maximos and various other writers, would have been up-and-coming, and just in time I think. The monastics and patriarchs of the time, I think at least, helped give the Byzantines a sense of identity. Without that - identity - a man becomes his own jailer. It's an interesting article, I read it least semester.
    Gregorius Textor likes this.
  4. scrabulista Consul

    • Consul
    "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" comes to mind. Although legendary, Arthur is reputed to have died around A.D. 537-542. The total solar eclipse didn't happen.

    The closest things to it were 2 annular eclipses:

    March 29, A.D. 507:

    September 1, A.D. 536:

    The eclipse came through Tennessee in August 2017 - it had to get very near totality to get darkness. Even a small sliver of the sun puts out a lot of light.
  5. I'm not sure of your meaning here, but with reference to the article, and the university preforming the study, and to note that Procopius himself did say that the sun shone "without brightness" for the entire year, I would say that the eclipse did take place. The entire planet was not enveloped, surely, but I do think it did happen. That is, we know so because they tell us so. As to Arthur, there was a literal King Arthwyr who ruled in Wales during that century, the son of Pedr ap Cyngar. If there's a connection there at all it could be as a namesake but not much else.
  6. scrabulista Consul

    • Consul
    I was referring to the Mark Twain story "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court." The Connecticut Yankee, a visitor from the future, "caused" the sun to go dark for minutes, not months.

    The problems here are:
    1. The path of a solar eclipse is narrow. You could be a few miles outside the path of totality and not even realize there was an eclipse.

    2. I don't know for certain, but an annular eclipse may not be enough to fool even the crickets. Even a small sliver of the sun produces a lot of light.

    A more thorough reading of the story produces an exact month and year: June 528. There was no such eclipse.
    Issacus Divus likes this.
  7. I love that story.
  8. Gregorius Textor Member

    Ohio, midwestern U.S.A.
    Since the article doesn't mention any eclipse, I'm not sure how the topic of eclipse comes up here at all -- is Scrabulista referring to an eclipse in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?

    Since a solar eclipse lasts only a couple of hours or so, it would not account for the "For the sun [giving] forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." Darkening of the air from a volcanic eruption, which is mentioned in the article, would be a far better explanation of that.
  9. scrabulista Consul

    • Consul
    Are you not familiar with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?

    Yes, it is fiction. The eclipse mentioned in the story didn't actually happen. However the darkness of 536 occurred (according to legend) during King Arthur's reign. Anyone from the future who knew about the darkness would have seemed a more powerful magician than Merlin.
    Gregorius Textor likes this.
  10. And thusly, all were amazed by his "magic".
  11. Gregorius Textor Member

    Ohio, midwestern U.S.A.
    I can't say I'm familiar with it, because I've forgotten most of the details, and that was one of them. But I do recall the general idea of the Yankee coming to King Arthur's court equipped with modern knowledge and being taken as a magician.

    So, okay, I see the connection now.

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