These have been the 10 worst years in history, including 2020

History is full of terrible episodes caused by humanity, nature, or destiny. The list of history’s worst years could be endless, but finding peaceful ones, probably impossible.

“I’m sorry I said I wanted to live a historic moment” has become a very painful meme and something most of us didn’t expect to experience even in our wildest dreams. Two years after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic has changed many of us and given us a different perspective about life and our role with it, but beyond that, has shown us the cruelties behind a global catastrophe that we had only seen in history books.

As we’ll see later on, 2020 was dominated by Covid, though the pandemic wasn’t the only disaster that happened in that infamous year. These many events happening at once, and that for the past two years don’t seem to be stopping, made many believe it must’ve been the worst year in history. However, historians have stepped out to remind us that terrible years have been a constant in the history of humanity. Here are the ultimate worst 10 years, including 2020.


Don’t miss this: The 8 Deadliest And Most Gruesome Epidemics In Human History

536 AD: Abysmal Darkness

Though there were likely terrible years before Christ, this is one of the first fully recounted years that caused a global crisis. This apocalyptic scenario was dominated by abysmal darkness in Europe that would last for almost a decade. Why did Europe go dark? It was all due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. The density of the smoke created an ash cloud that spread throughout the continent. But Europe wasn’t the only territory affected, the darkness was such that prompted a global climate crisis that resulted in years of famines, diseases, and death. To make things worse, the eruption also resulted in the lowering of temperatures almost banishing summer (something that would happen centuries later). To give you a bigger image, China reported snow during summer. 536 just marked the beginning of a decade that would experience more eruptions, horrible famines, failed harvests, and plagues all over the world.


541 AD: The first plague

Pandemics are definitely amongst the worst disasters humanity has experienced. Even before the well-known Black Death, and as a consequence of the crisis that the volcano eruption caused, the first documented plague happened in 541. This happened during the rule of Emperor Justinian, the reason why the plague was later known as the Plague of Justinian. Like the Black Death, this one was a case of bubonic plague that decimated the Sassanian and Byzantine Empires. It first hit Constantinople, one of the main trade cities in the known world, and soon spread through other cities in Europe and Asia. If you thought two years was already too much, try the hundreds of years this bubonic plague lasted and the dozens and dozens of waves it had. According to registers, it finished until the mid 8th century, and though it’s definitely one of the deathliest pandemics in history, it’s impossible to know how many people passed from the Plague of Justinian. Constantinople itself lost an estimated 55-60% of its population.

1347: The Black Death

It seemed that the bubonic plague had ravished and perished from the world, but six centuries later, it would have a comeback that would be more aggressive and more devastating than the Plague of Justinian. Though it started in 1346, by 1347, the number of contagions reached numbers that no one even had imagined. It mainly affected Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and is known as the deathliest pandemic in the history of humanity.


The plague, which was later discovered, was spread through fleas, which was one of the worst health issues of the time. They transmitted a bacteria known as Yersinia pestis, due to the stretch contact people had with animals, and thus flees, it spread like wildfire. Throughout the eight years that the Black Death lasted, it’s estimated that it took the lives of between 75 and 200 million people; by 1353, it had killed about 60% of the European population.

1520: The European plague

Not a sudden plague but actually one brought as a consequence of conquest and colonialism, is the smallpox (among many other diseases) plague that the European brought to the Americas decimating an important number of the native population of the continent. Until the 16th century, the Indigenous population of the American Continent had managed to escape some of the deathliest diseases other continents had endured. In 1520, they would learn the horrors of a pandemic with an immune system completely unprepared to fight back these alien agents. Though probably unintentional, this ended up giving the European colonizers an amazing advantage to finally expand and decimate the native population of the continent. It’s estimated that up to 95% of the local population perished during the years of the smallpox pandemic. And to smallpox, measles, diphtheria, influenza, and even the bubonic plague followed.


1600: Climate crisis

As we’ve seen, the climate crisis isn’t strange to humanity, and though the scale it has reached today is severe and is costing us life as we know it, in 1600, the situation set scenarios we have only seen in fiction. Known as the Little Ice Age, it all started once again with the eruption of a volcano; this time in Peru. Connecting with the previous disaster, recent investigations suggest that the combination of the volcano eruption and the massive decrease in the Native population of America ended up causing one of the most terrible chains of disasters known to humanity. After the eruption, the world experienced extremely cold weather conditions (I mean, frosts in summer) mainly registered Asia, almost all Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The inclemencies of the weather were endured by humanity for decades, causing terrible suffering, famines, epidemics, and even political and social upheaval. Though there aren’t exact numbers, it’s estimated that as a consequence of the wars, the revolts, the famines, the epidemics, and the overall weather conditions, one-third of the global population perished.

1783: A volcanic nightmare... again

Guess what? Almost two centuries later yet another volcanic eruption (also in Iceland) caused havoc on our planet. In 1783, the volcanic fissure in Iceland known as Laki started erupting unstoppably for eight months ending in early 1784. The constant activity poured out about 42 billion tons of hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and basalt lava. You might think that the latter was the worst of the consequences, but it wasn’t, the sulfuric gases expelled from the fissure actually got into the planet0s atmosphere resulting in a terrible climate change crisis that impacted the whole world. In Iceland itself, the eight-month eruption caused not only a terrible famine but the decimation of a quarter of the population plus half the cattle of the country. In other continents like Africa, it affected the monsoon season resulting in failed crops and famine that hit Egypt like it hadn’t done so since ancient times.


1816: A year without summer

Imagine having an entire year with snow?! It might sound great for those who love the Winter, but it was actually a nightmare for the folk that experienced it in 1816 (well... and the previous ice ages). Infamously known as “The Year Without a Summer,” 1816 experienced a global decline in temperatures. If you’ve been putting attention to our time-travel journey through the worst years in history, you might already know what caused it. Yes, the eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia. The eruption was registered as the largest volcanic eruption in the past 1,300 years and basically covered in ash an important amount of the planet. The northern hemisphere (mainly) experienced really extreme frosts and even reported snowfalls during the summer. As you might know already, this caused terrible failed crops, famines, and deaths.

1918: Pandemic and WWI combo

Some might say wars are the worst disasters humanity can experience, and that is because it’s premeditated instead of natural disaster or pandemic. They might be right. However, or probably as a result of it, in 1918, the world experienced both, a terrible and deathly pandemic and one of the worst wars ever seen in the history of humanity. By 1918, WWI was reaching an end though the sentiment of despair and loss was greater than the four years it lasted. Still, there was hope the world was going to take a breath of fresh air from the horrors of a global conflict. Sadly, this wasn’t the case, that year, the incorrectly named Spanish Flu caused by the virus of the H1N1 Influenza, recorded its first case among the military in the US. It was then believed that the virus had been brought to the country by the soldiers who were returning home and before they could even start treating and concealing the virus, it had already spread fastly in the country. Two years after the first case, about 500 million people in the world (one-third of the population of the time) had been infected. The virus was so lethal that patients (mostly young people) would succumb within 24 hours, which left very little time to even try to treat it. The combination of the virus’ lethality and the poor health conditions most people had due to the war made it the deathliest plague of modernity, with a death toll between 25 and 50 million.


1945: End of WWII

This is the only one on our list completely caused by humanity. Though it can be debated which of six years of war was worse, we’re going to go with the last one; 1945. This is because of different reasons, the first one, of course, the acceleration of Germany’s deathly plans when seeing it was all lost. The second one is how the actual war ended, with two atomic bombs that resulted in over 400,000 casualties in Japan, mostly civilians. Still, even when the war had ended, it took the world some time to recover from the horrors not only emotionally, but also socially, economically, and politically. It’s estimated that around 3% of the world’s population passed during this 6-year conflict with an estimated toll of between 70 to 85 million people.

2020: A year that has lasted two

Last but not least, we have 2020, the one most of us have experienced and the one that changed life as we knew it almost completely. Until now, two years after it all began, the death toll of the Covid-19 pandemic rises to 6.05 million. But if you remember well, the year had quite an aggressive start. All in all, during 2020, the world experienced wildfires in Australia and the West Coast of the United States, cases of police brutality in the US, murder hornets, stock market crashes, a terrible explosion in Beirut, and many others. With so many things happening at once, it seems that 2020 has lasted already two years, and although the Covid-19 pandemic is still lurking in the world it’s nothing to what it was at the beginning. Yet, humanity doesn’t seem to be having a break with conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia; enforced disappearances in Latin America, climate change... do I need to say more?


All in all, though we’ve been here for a while, this is just a tiny list of what human history is. We could be here for ages listing mostly all years in history with terrible conflicts and disasters. Though shorter, it would be even harder to trace history’s days (there aren’t probably years) of ultimate peace and tranquility.

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