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Days of Darkness (AD 535-AD 546)
By William Sutherland  

Each day, the morning sunrise is taken for granted. Based on the laws of science, it is expected that the sun will rise each day from east to west. Yet, the question must be asked, “what would happen if the sun didn’t rise?” This was the case from AD 535 through AD 546, with the darkest days in AD 536.

“A mighty roar of thunder” came out of the local mountain; there was a furious shaking of the earth, total darkness, thunder and lightning.”1 A Chinese court journal also made mention of “a huge thunderous sound coming from the south west” in February 535.2 And as a Hopi elder had said, thousands of miles away, “When the changes begin, there will be a big noise heard all over the Earth,”3 a low rumble reverberated across the planet.

“Then came forth a furious gale together with torrential rain and a deadly storm darkened the entire world,” read the Pustaka Raja Purwa or The Book of Ancient Kings, a buried Indonesian chronicle.4

“The sun began to go dark, rain poured red, as if tinted by blood. Clouds of dust enveloped the earth… Yellow dust rained down like snow. It could be scooped up in handfuls,”5 wrote The Nan Shi Ancient Chronicle of Southern China, referring to the country’s weather in November and December 535.

Darkness followed making the day indistinguishable from the night. “There was a sign from the Sun, the likes of which had never been seen or reported before. The Sun became dark, and its darkness lasted for about 18 months. Each day, it shone for about four hours and still this light was only a feeble shadow. Everyone declared that the Sun would never recover its full light again. The fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like sour grapes,”6 John of Ephesus, a Syrian bishop and contemporary writer, wrote in describing the unending darkness. “The sun became dim… for nearly the whole year… so that the fruits were killed at an unseasonable time,” John Lydus added, which was further confirmed by Procopius, a prominent Roman historian who served as Emperor Justinian’s chief archivist and secretary, when he wrote of 536, “…during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the Moon, during this whole year… and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.”7 “The sun… seems to have lost its wonted light, and appears of a bluish color. We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon, to feel the mighty vigor of the sun’s heat wasted into feebleness,”8 Flavius Cassiodorus, another Roman historian wrote. Reports even indicated that midday consisted of “almost night-like darkness.”9

A cold then gripped the world as temperatures declined. “We have had a winter without storms…”10 “a spring without mildness [and] a summer without heat… The months which should have been maturing the crops have been chilled by north winds,”11 wrote Cassiodorus. “When can we hope for mild weather, now that the months that once ripened the crops have become deadly sick under the northern blasts? …Out of all the elements, we find these two against us: perpetual frost and unnatural drought,”12 he added,13 while in China, it was written, “the stars were lost from view for three months. The sun dimmed, the rain failed, and snow fell in the summertime. Famine spread, and the emperor abandoned his capital…”14 Other Chinese records referred to a “‘dust veil’ obscuring the sky” while Mediterranean historians wrote about a “‘dry fog’ blocking out much of the sun’s heat for more than year.”15 The sun was so ineffective that snow even fell during August in southern China and in every month of the year in northern Europe.

“Then came drought [or floods], famine, plague, death…”16 “Food is the basis of the Empire. Yellow gold and ten thousand strings of cash cannot cure hunger. What avails a thousand boxes of pearls to him who is starving of cold,” the Japanese Great King lamented in 540, while Cassiodorus added, “Rain is denied and the reaper fears new frosts.”17 And “as hard winters and drought continued into the second and third years [in Mongolia and parts of China, the Avars] unable to find food, unable to barter food from others…” began a 3,000-mile trek to new lands to save themselves and their families from annihilation and starvation.18

During this sustained period of unseasonably cold temperatures from 535-546 when the sun was ineffective and blotted out, plant life experienced stunted growth – tree rings from this period show little or no growth – and many crops failed. According to climatological research presented in 2001 by Markus Lindholm of the University of Helsinki, Finland, Abrupt changes in northern Fennoscandian summer temperatures extracted from the 7500-year ring-width chronology of Scots pine, the “most dramatic shift in growing conditions, from favorable to unfavorable, between two years, took place between A.D. 535-536” in Europe and Africa.19 His findings were corroborated by Mike Baillie of the University of Belfast, who based on his tree ring chronologies, some from specimens preserved in bogs, that dated back thousands of years stated, "It was a catastrophic environmental downturn that shows up in trees all over the world.20 Temperatures dropped enough to hinder the growth of trees as widely dispersed as northern Europe, Siberia, western North America, and southern South America.”21 Ominously, the cold brought rats, mice and fleas that normally lived outdoors, into peoples’ homes in search of food and warmth because of the decimation that was occurring to the animal population in the suddenly hostile, chilly dark environment. Deadly bacterium, Yersinia pestis was then transmitted to people and their pets.

In the ensuing unending darkness, chaos reigned as “whole cities were wiped out – civilizations crumbled.”22 Wars raged across Europe and the Middle East, prosperous societies were stripped of sustenance and wealth, economies collapsed and huge swaths of populations succumbed to disease and plague. “With some people it began in the head, made the eyes bloody and the face swollen, descended to the throat and then removed them from Mankind. With others, there was a flowing of the bowels. Some came out in buboes [pus-filled swellings] which gave rise to great fevers, and they would die two or three days later with their minds in the same state as those who had suffered nothing and with their bodies still robust. Others lost their senses before dying. Malignant pustules erupted and did away with them. Sometimes people were afflicted once or twice and then recovered, only to fall victim a third time and then succumb,”23 Evagrius, a 6th century Church historian wrote. In their final stages, people “generally entered a semi-conscious, lethargic state, and would not… eat or drink. Following this stage, the victims would be seized by madness… Many people died painfully when their buboes gangrened. A number of victims broke out with black blisters covering their bodies, and these individuals died swiftly.”24

Within seven years, due to the ivory trade, in which ships brought rats and sailors infected by the plague, Europe and the Middle East were being ravaged. In Constantinople alone, “they had to dispose of over 10,000 bodies a day, week after week, throwing them into the sea off special boats, sticking them in the towers of the city wall, filling up cisterns, digging up orchards. Soldiers were forced to dig mass graves… chaos and pandemonium [reigned]. Constantinople stank for months after months [from the decaying bodies that were stuffed in towers and stacked or dumped in streets]… [and] when the number of dead reached a quarter of a million, Constantinople officials simply stopped counting.25

An account by Procopius went as follows: “At first, relatives and domestics attended to the burial of the dead, but as the violence of the plague increased this duty was neglected, and corpses lay forlorn narrow in the streets, but even in the houses of notable men whose servants were sick or dead. Aware of this, Justinian placed considerable sums at the disposal of Theodore, one of his private secretaries, to take measures for the disposal of the dead. Huge pits [that could hold up to 70,000 corpses] were dug at Sycae, on the other side of the Golden Horn, in which the bodies were laid in rows and tramped down tightly; but the men who were engaged on this work, unable to keep up with the number of the dying, mounted the towers of the wall of the suburb, tore off their roofs, and threw the bodies in. Virtually all the towers were filled with corpses, and as a result ‘an evil stench pervaded the city and distressed the inhabitants still more, and especially whenever the wind blew fresh from that quarter.’”26

Out of fear, many people refused to venture out of their homes -- “…houses became tombs, as whole families died from the plague without anyone from the outside world even knowing. Streets were deserted…”27 Furthermore because of this fear and/or the affects of suffering from high fever, scores of people hallucinated, seeing apparitions and visions. And with the vast pestilence and destruction all around them, many could not help but wonder if the apocalypse as described in Revelation 6:8 “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death”28 was upon them.

It was so bad that some thirty years later, Pope Gregory The Great wrote of Rome, “Ruins on ruins… Where is the senate? Where [are] the people? All the pomp of secular dignities has been destroyed… And we, the few that we are who remain, every day we are menaced by scourges and innumerable trials.”29 In its height, the plague "depopulated towns, turned the country into a desert and made the habitations of men to become the haunts of wild beasts”30 while in Africa, major ports ceased to exist and agricultural practices all but vanished.

“[And] as [others] left the stricken city [wearing identification tags so that their bodies would be buried if found] they took the plague to towns, villages and farms throughout the empire. [To compound matters, with trade and commerce virtually nonexistent, food became scarce leading to the starvation of others].31 Untold millions perished,"32 with an estimated death toll of 100 million, the worst pandemic in human history.

“Scandinavian elites” in feeble desperation, “sacrificed large amounts of gold… to appease the angry gods and get the sunlight back.”33 In Mesoamerica and the Andes, cities “of perhaps one million people” emptied out “practically overnight” through starvation and disease. Peoples turned on their gods and goddesses, violently smashing their images and burning temples and towards the end, they viciously fought each other having become “savage and warlike.”34

When the sun finally came out, overcoming the affects of a massive volcanic eruption, even though it hadn’t really been gone, minimizing the adverse affects and saving living creatures from complete extinction, the world was forever transformed. Countries and civilizations had ceased to exist while others emerged as the days of darkness “weakened the Eastern Roman Empire; created horrendous living conditions in the western part of Great Britain; contributed through drought… to the fall of the Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico; and through flooding to the collapse of a major center of civilization in Yemen;”35 while major upheavals occurred in China and France. More than half the world’s population when taking Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, into account, along with countless numbers of plants and animals, had perished illustrating the fragile relationship that exists between people and nature.
 

Sources:

1 Krakatau. E.R.A. Inc., 2000. 2 March, 2006. http://www.huttoncommentaries.com/ECNews/SuperVolc/Krakatau/Krakatau1.htm

2 Catastrophe! Part I. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe1_script.html

3 Precursors Of The Pole Shift And Earth Changes of 2000-2001. E.R.A. Inc., 2000. 27 April, 2006. http://www.huttoncommentaries.com/PSResearch/PrecursorOfPS&EC2000.htm

4 Krakatau. E.R.A. Inc., 2000. 2 March, 2006. http://www.huttoncommentaries.com/ECNews/SuperVolc/Krakatau/Krakatau1.htm

5 Catastrophe! Part I. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe1_script.html

6 Henry N. Pollack. Uncertain Science… Uncertain World. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 197.

7 The Dark Ages Caused By Volcanism? September 23, 2001. 27 April, 2006. http://www.hi.is/~joner/eaps/ds_darka.htm and everything2: The disaster of 535. September 14, 2001. 27 April 2006. http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1158691

8 PBS Program – “Secrets Of The Dead.” May 15, 2005. 2 March 2006. http://www.hbci.com/~wenonah/history/535ad.htm

9 Climate changes of 535-536. Wikipedia. 2006. 27 April, 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/climate-changes-of-535-536-1

10 everything2: The disaster of 535. September 14, 2001. 27 April 2006. http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1158691

11 SEMP Biot #214: Did a Krakatoa Eruption in 535 A.D. Help Precipitate the Decline of Antiquity and the Spread of Islam? 27 April, 2006. http://www.semp.us/biots/biot_214.html

12 everything2: The disaster of 535. September 14, 2001. 27 April 2006. http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1158691

13 Catastrophe! Part I. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe1_script.html

14 Mike Baillie. Did Asteroids And Comets Turn The Tides Of Civilization? Discovering Archeology July/August 1999. 28 April, 2006. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/714636/posts

15 6th-century crop failures: comet collision? Cronaca. February 4, 2004. 28 April, 2006. http://www.cronaca.com/archives/002037.html

16 Catastrophe! Part I. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe1_script.html

17 Catastrophe! Part I. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe1_script.html

18 Catastrophe! New Internationalist. December 1999. 27 April, 2006. http://www.newint.org/issue319/cat.htm

19 Markus Lindholm. Abrupt changes in northern Fennoscandian summer temperatures extracted from the 7500-year ring-width chronology of Scots pine. August 27-31, 2001. 28 April, 2006. http://atlas-conferences.com/c/a/g/c/74.htm

20 Catastrophic event preceded Dark Ages – scientist. Reuters. September 8, 2000. 28 April, 2006. http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a39b91ca42b27.htm

21 Laura Knight-Jadczyk. Jupiter, Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and the Return of the Mongols. March 9, 2004. 28 April, 2006. http://www.cassiopaea.org/cass/Laura-Knight-Jadczyk/article-lkj-04-03-06-d.htm

22 Catastrophe! Part I. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe1_script.html

23 Catastrophe! New Internationalist. December 1999. 27 April, 2006. http://www.newint.org/issue319/cat.htm

24 Christine A. Smith. Plague in the Ancient World: A Study from Thucydides to Justinian. 1997. 28 April, 2006. http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1996-7/Smith.html

25 Catastrophe! Part II. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe2_script.html

26 J.B. Bury. History of the Later Roman Empire. (New York: Macmillan & Co., Ltd. 1923).

27 Christine A. Smith. Plague in the Ancient World: A Study from Thucydides to Justinian. 1997. 28 April, 2006. http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1996-7/Smith.html

28 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD. Medical History – Plagues & Epidemics. 2002. 28 April, 2006. http://www.haciendapub.com/faria4.html

29 Abominations of Desolation. 28 April, 2006. http://www.whyprophets.com/prophets/a_of_d.htm

30 Roy Porter. The Black Death. 28 April, 2006. http://www.strath.ac.uk/Departments/History/barton/ds11.htm

31 Christine A. Smith. Plague in the Ancient World: A Study from Thucydides to Justinian. 1997. 28 April, 2006. http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1996-7/Smith.html

32 Catastrophe! Part II. 27 April, 2006. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/flash/catastrophe2_script.html

33 Climate changes of 535-536. Wikipedia. 2006. 27 April, 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/climate-changes-of-535-536-1

34 Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman. Climate Change, Volcanoes, and Plagues – the New Tools of History. Globalthink.net. January 23, 2003. 27 April, 2006. http://www.globalthink.net/global/dsppaper.cfm?ArticleID=96

35 Brian Micklethwait. 535 AD. December 25, 2002. 28 April, 2006. http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/002719.html

William Sutherland is a published poet and writer. He is the author of three books, "Poetry, Prayers & Haiku" (1999), "Russian Spring" (2003) and "Aaliyah Remembered: Her Life & The Person behind the Mystique" (2005) and has been published in poetry anthologies around the world. He has been featured in "Who's Who in New Poets" (1996), "The International Who's Who in Poetry" (2004), and is a member of the "International Poetry Hall of Fame."

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