Time magazine called the past 2020 the worst year in human history. Many of us will probably agree with this assessment - in any case, opinion polls confirm this.
2020 presented us with the coronavirus pandemic, which has become an unprecedented challenge to the health of people around the planet, as well as the global economy, and previously unfamiliar restrictions aimed at combating Covid-19. Natural disasters this year claimed the lives of at least 3.5 thousand people and forced more than 13.5 million to leave their homes. At the same time, in monetary terms, the damage amounted to $ 150 billion. 2020 set the record for the most hurricanes in the Atlantic. For the United States, this is still a problematic presidential election, and for Europe and the UK - Brexit. The consequences of both America and Europe - and perhaps the rest of the world - are yet to be felt in the coming year.
However, the author of Time's editorial column makes the caveat that 2020 is the worst year for the living. Due to our age, most of us simply have nothing to compare with. Therefore, we will make an excursion into history and try to find the years that were worse than 2020.
536: "black fog", hunger, cold and unfortunate consequences for Byzantium
In the summer of 536, the army of the Byzantine commander Flavius Belisarius landed in southern Italy. In mid-November, he takes Naples by storm, and by the end of the year he will take Rome. After decades of barbaric rule, the Eternal City again falls under the imperial rule. Byzantium - the Eastern Roman Empire - is trying to bring under control the lands reclaimed by the "barbarian" states from the former Western Roman Empire. Emperor Justinian seeks to return the glory and greatness of the most powerful empire on the planet, and sends troops to the west to fight the barbarians. However, his plans did not come true.
A volcanic eruption in Iceland becomes a prologue to the beginning of the so-called Little Late Antique Ice Age. The ash ejected by the volcano into the atmosphere spread over most of Europe and reached the Middle East and Asia. But for contemporaries who did not know anything about the eruption, it is just a mysterious black fog that "wrapped" the sky and deprived the Sun of its power.
Byzantine chronicler Mikhail Sirin writes: “The sun was eclipsed by 18 months. For three o'clock in the morning it gave light, but this light did not resemble either day or night. " Numerous historical records show that crop failures occurred from Ireland to China. In the summer of 536, snow fell in China, the harvest died and famine began.
But the disasters were not limited to 536. Two more repeated eruptions followed in 540 and 547, which led to a prolonged cold snap, constant crop failures and widespread famine. Famine forced thousands of people to leave their homes, provoked large-scale migrations and wars. But that was just the beginning. Numerous disasters, famines and wars that weakened people's health, made them more vulnerable to infection and served as a catalyst for a new major epidemic, which went down in history as the plague of Justinian.
This disease, which covered almost the entire territory of the civilized world of that time, was the first recorded pandemic in history. The plague epidemic began in Egypt and raged for several decades, devastated almost all Mediterranean countries and claimed, according to various estimates, from 60 to 100 million lives. Crop failures, famine and loss from plague to half of the population weakened Byzantium, and there was no talk of the revival of the Roman Empire. The entire medieval Europe plunged into stagnation that lasted for almost 100 years.
1348: Black Death and Plague Trophies of War
In 1346, a new epidemic came to Europe, which went down in history as the black death, or black pestilence - the second plague pandemic in history. Its peak on the European continent was in 1348. The corpses of the dead quickly turned black and looked as if "charred", which terrified their contemporaries. Tens of millions of people became victims of the disease, according to various estimates, from one to two thirds of the population of Europe died. The epidemic came from China, where the plague raged in 1320-1330. In some areas, it claimed the lives of up to 90% of the population.
The plague reached European countries only years later. In 1346, the disease spread to Crimea, which became the starting point of the epidemic's penetration into Europe. The Crimean port of Kaffa (Feodosia), owned by the Genoese, was the most important staging post on the way from Asia to Europe. From it, the trade route led to Constantinople, where the next outbreak of the disease occurred in the spring of 1347.
In December of that year, the epidemic began in Genoa itself. This could have happened earlier, but the inhabitants of the city, who had already heard about the danger, with the help of lighted arrows and catapults, did not allow ships with a team of infected sailors to return to the port. Plagued ships sailed in the Mediterranean, spreading the disease in all ports, where at least for a short time they managed to drop anchor.
In Genoa, from 80 to 90 thousand people died, in Venice about 60% of the population died, in Avignon, the residence of the Pope, from 50 to 80% of the inhabitants died. Pope Clement VI was forced to consecrate the river, where the corpses of the dead were dumped directly from carts. Since the spring of 1348, the black death left the coastal cities, where it raged until now, and rushed into the interior of the continent.
The bridges of the cities were filled with corpses that there was no one to bury. Panic-stricken, people fled the cities in fear. But among them, as a rule, there were always those who managed to get infected. The plague broke out in more and more places. The cities were depopulated. Of the large settlements, Paris lost most of all residents - 75%.
The plague crossed the English Channel at the end of the summer. In Europe, the Hundred Years War is in full swing, but the pandemic did not stop it, only reduced the activity of hostilities. British soldiers, returning home with trophies after a successful campaign in France, brought with them another "trophy" - a plague stick. The plague killed 30 to 50% of the population of England.
By the end of 1348, the disease was already in the north of Great Britain and reached Scotland. When the highlanders decided to plunder the English borderlands, the plague spread to them.
As a result, the black death claimed the lives of a quarter of the world's population, which amounted to more than 60 million people, including a third of the population of Europe - from 15 to 25 million.
1816: "a year without summer", famine and cholera
In the works of A.S. Pushkin, the Boldinskaya autumn of 1830 is considered the most productive period of his life. The poet had to lock himself in his estate Bolshoye Boldino because of the cholera epidemic and the announced quarantine. The disease, previously little known in Europe, until the 19th century was prevalent mainly in southern Asia. But since 1817, a wave of continuous cholera pandemics begins, which claimed millions of lives in the 19th century.
Cholera became the deadliest infectious disease of the 19th century. According to one version, the reason that cholera, which previously lived only in warm climates, adapted to the coolness, was a mutation of the causative agent of the disease, identified in Bengal in 1816. Known as the “year without summer,” 1816 is still considered the coldest year since the beginning of documenting weather observations.
A volcanic eruption was again to blame for the dramatic climate change. And the largest in the history of mankind. The massive eruption of ash into the atmosphere from the eruption of the Tambora volcano in April 1815 caused the effect of a volcanic winter in the Northern Hemisphere that was felt for several years. The next, 1816, turned out to be really a year without summer. In the United States, he was nicknamed "Eighteen Hundred Frozen to Death."
Abnormal weather conditions were established throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In Western Europe and North America, the average temperature dropped by 3-5 ° C. In June, snow fell in the states of New York and Maine. Canada was hit by extreme cold weather. In Quebec, the snow cover reached 30 centimeters in June. The cold weather brought many troubles to European countries that had not yet fully recovered from the Napoleonic wars. Low temperatures and heavy rains have led to crop failures in the UK and Ireland.
"Year without summer" left millions of people without crops, forcing them to leave their homes, fleeing hunger. Food prices have risen manifold. Riots swept everywhere. Famine spurred the outflow of the population from Europe to America, but when they arrived after a long journey to a new place, the settlers found the same picture.
The sudden cold snap caused a typhus epidemic in southeastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean between 1816 and 1819 - and the emergence of a new strain of the already mentioned cholera. Together with British soldiers and merchants, it will spread throughout Southeast Asia, reach Russia, and then spread to Europe, not yet recovered from hunger, and reach the United States.
1918: The Great War, the Spanish Flu and Bloodshed in Russia
The Great War, which would later be called the First World War, is now in its fourth year. She served as a detonator for the February and October revolutions of 1917 in Russia and led to the collapse of the Russian Empire. In March 1918, in the city of Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks, in order to get out of the war, signed an extremely humiliating and unprofitable peace treaty. The country is losing an area of 780 thousand square kilometers with a population of 56 million people. This is a third of the population of the former Russian Empire.
Now these territories should come under the control of Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the same time, the country is losing almost a quarter of arable land, a third of the textile industry, a quarter of the length of the railway network, factories that smelted three-fourths of iron and steel, and also mines where 90% of coal was mined.
For Russia, however, withdrawal from the war does not mean the end of the bloodshed. Even with the beginning of the war, in 1914, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the slogan: "Let's turn the imperialist war into a civil war!" - and they succeeded. Since 1917, Soviet power has been established throughout the country, accompanied by the elimination of the armed resistance of the opponents of the Bolsheviks.
The civil war is weighed down by foreign military intervention. The intervention of the Central Powers is replaced by the intervention of the Entente countries. White terror gives way to red. On the night of July 16-17, 1918, the royal family was shot in the basement of the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg.
But by November of the same year, the war would put an end to the existence of the Austro-Hungarian and German empires. It also brings the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which will finally cease to exist in five years.
The hardships of war - unsanitary conditions, poor nutrition, overcrowding of military camps and refugee camps, lack of qualified medical assistance - contribute to the spread of disease. In the last months of the First World War, the most massive influenza pandemic in the entire history of mankind begins - both in the number of people infected and in the number of deaths. "Spanish flu" quickly bypasses this largest armed conflict at that time in terms of the number of victims.
In 1918-1920, 550 million people in the world fell ill - almost a third of the world's population. Estimates of the death toll from the Spanish flu vary, ranging from 25 million to 100 million. In Russia, the Spanish flu epidemic took place against the background of the civil war and simultaneously with epidemics of typhus and other infectious diseases.
1941: occupation, evacuation and self-sacrifice in the rear
By the beginning of 1941, most of the European continent was already occupied by Nazi Germany. Asia is also engulfed in war. Taking advantage of the civil war in China, Japan captures the southeastern part of the country.The battle for the Atlantic is underway, and the Mediterranean theater of operations is open.
At the peak of its power, combining the material and human resources of the captured European countries and allies, in the summer of 1941 Germany attacks the Soviet Union. In December, Japan launched an offensive in the Pacific by striking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States to enter the war.
In the first weeks after the German attack, the USSR loses 28 divisions, another 72 suffered losses in personnel and equipment by more than half. A significant part of ammunition, fuel and military equipment was destroyed. The Germans managed to ensure complete air supremacy. Soviet cities are being bombed massively.
In the first months of the war, the Red Army, suffering huge losses, retreats throughout the European part of the USSR. Irrecoverable losses of the Red Army by the end of 1941 amounted to over three million people. Hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers are captured. The German army invades the country to a depth of 850 to 1200 kilometers. Leningrad is blocked, by September 1941 the Germans are on the outskirts of Moscow.
The war touched everyone: millions of Soviet citizens find themselves in the occupation. But along with the retreat, the evacuation of the population and enterprises to the rear areas of the country begins. In the period from June 1941 to February 1942, 12.4 million people were evacuated. In new places, in Siberia, the Volga region, in the Urals and in Central Asia, the work of enterprises exported from the European part of the country is hastily launched, sometimes it is done right in the open field. Life in the rear demanded the greatest self-sacrifice. Almost all men of military age went to the army, so women, teenagers and old people replaced them in the field and at the machine.
For the USSR, the initial period of the Great Patriotic War was the most difficult. This is the time of the greatest losses - both territory and human lives.