Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 3 April 2020

536 - a bad year

A few months back I started drafting a post based around a feature on the MailOnline site from November 2018.

It in turn is based upon a report on US based research into understanding the events of the year 536 which combines history with scientific research into Alpine glaciers. I recently linked in a post to this work and its revelation of significant fluctuations in lead production in the later twelfth century. This more wide-ranging study has much more of a fairly grim topicality than when I began to prepare it. 

Entitled "Why 536 AD was the worst year to be alive" it can be viewed here:

Despite the intrusive advertisements it has some striking images and ideas, and seeks to draw together evidence from across the continent and indeed the northern hemisphere to present an understanding of what happened and why. There is more about the scientific and historical background in the link at the end of the article:
There is more about the research in an article from "Medieval Histories" last December which posits additional maritime volcanic activity in these years which contributed to the dramatic dimming of the sunlight. It can be viewed at https://www.medieval.eu/undersea-volcanism-may-explain-medieval-years-of-darkness-after-ad-536/

In September last year the same excellent online journal pointed to the volcano Ilopango in El Salvador as the culprit for a 539-40 eruption larger in scale and impact than that in 1815 of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies which produced in consequence what was remembered as the "year without a summer" in 1816. The exceptional weather conditions of that year are discussed in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1815_eruption_of_Mount_Tambora

All this was just after two of the surviving, soaring achievements of Justinian’s reign - the Corpus Iuris Civilis of 529-534 and the building of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople between 532 and 537. 

By contrast 541-3 was to be the year of the ‘Justinian Plague’ with population losses of 35% to 50% in the Eastern Roman Empire and it appears that economic life took a century to recover. 

It does all rather make Brexit, concerns about climate change and now coronavirus look like a doddle...

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