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C - 8 : A Little Ice Age in 536 AD?

Remember summer 2010 when air traffic over Europe was suspended due to the outbreak of Eyjafjiaalajökull, the volcano in Iceland? I spent that weekend in Castellina in Chianti and had to change all my travel arrangements to attend a board meeting in Frankfurt on Tuesday morning. Lucky I got last minute train tickets. But how chaotic this was. Airlines were worried that invisible soot particels would shut-down jet engines.

Eyjafjiaalajökull spitting tiny soot particals in summer 2010

In my blog C - 19 I described the peaceful migration of slavic people from the Carpathian mountains to today’s Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. I wondered whether they moved into a deserted landscape after the Plague of Justinian killed 1/3 of the Roman population (541/542 AD).

There is a more sinister explanation as we learned from the analysis of ice cores from Greenland and tree rings from around the world. There are reports from the Byzantine Empire which describe 536 AD as a miserable year when a permanent haze covered the sky and a blueish sun was shining for 2 to 3 hours only per day. Most of the crops failed and a serious famine followed. It was also the year when General Belisarius, a favorite of Emperor Justinian’s (J. built the Hagia Sophia and canonised Roman Law) , reconquered Rome with less than 10’000 soldiers - just 1 1/2 legions! Caesar needed 8! What was going on?

The hazed sun photograped in the Philippines after the erruption of Pinatubo in 1991

The climate in 536 AD was not just affecting the Byzantine Empire. It was global. Tree rings in North America, Central America, Mongolia, Ireland and Scandinavia show that there were two additional cold years: 541 AD and 543 AD. It was indeed a cold decade from 536 to 550 AD. Right in the middle, the Justinian Plague struck. After years of crop failure and famine, maybe the population was already so weak that it sucumbed to the plague?

Global temperatures in the 6th century AD

We know today, that in 536 and 541 AD multiple, large volcanos erupted in Central America and Indonesia spewing huge amounts of Sulfurdioxid into the atmosphere. SO2 is far more potent gas than the soot that interrupted our travelling in summer 2010. In the upper athmosphere it reacts with water and forms tine droplets of sulphuric acid - a substance which is brilliant and reflects sun light to outer space (we know this from our sister planted Venus). Less incoming sinlight = colder temxlerature.

How Sulphuric Acid is created

This hypothesis would add an additional dimension to the migration of Croat people I did not mention in C - 19. They may not only have been pulled into the empty spaces of the Roman Empire. The cold weather with failing crops may also have undermined their way of subsistance living in their small forest clearings and pushed them out of their habitat.


We do not have any archeological records to confirm any of my hypothesis but it is worth contemplating. Just think about how life in Europe, North America and Asia would be affected it we got suddenly 10 summers without sun and zero harvest. The thought of the end of society is not far fetched.

Roman painting on the collapse of civilisation

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