Every nation can point to certain years in its history when a lot went wrong, but for the Northern Hemisphere as a whole, it would be tough to top what happened in 536 A.D. It was a very dark time in human history -- literally -- as Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia were covered in a blanket of darkness for a year and a half. Starvation, freezing cold summer temperatures, and widespread deaths were common. The cause of the catastrophe was only recently uncovered. It turns out that a giant volcano in Iceland blew its top, spewing black ash across continental Europe and beyond. The explosion was followed by two other eruptions, in 540 and 547 A.D. Also in the early 540s, an outbreak of bubonic plague started in Egypt and spread across the Eastern Roman Empire. It took decades for societies to recover.
The worst of times:
- Byzantine historian Procopius lived through the annus horribilis of 536 A.D, writing that "the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year."
- Europe's darkest decades lasted until 640 A.D. when evidence of increased silver mining indicates a revitalized economy.
- The Black Death, which spread across Eurasia in the late 1340s, and the 1918 global influenza pandemic were also particularly catastrophic events for humanity.