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Old 18 November 2018, 01:09 AM
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No Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he's got an answer: "536." Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, "It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018...W8huZ9m2LXo3hw
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Old 18 November 2018, 01:57 AM
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I blame Justinian. Italy was doing just fine under the Ostrogoths. Then he gets delusions of grandeur, sends his crony Belisarius in to retake the western half of the empire, and next thing you know what was left of Western Europe has gone to shit and taken most of the eastern empire down the tubes with it. Sure, Muhammad lit the match in the east, but Justinian provided the kindling for the fire.
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Old 18 November 2018, 02:11 AM
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Gotta admit my knowledge of the Byzantine period is sketchy to nonexistent.
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Old 18 November 2018, 02:39 AM
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You’re in luck. Yale has made recordings of a course on the early Middle Ages available online:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...A337915A76F660

Lesson nine is the reign of Justinian, but I recommend starting from the beginning.
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Old 18 November 2018, 03:34 AM
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Okay, that might have bee the worst year to be alive.

In Europe. I rather suspect that other continents might have substantially different years that were far worse times to be alive. I imagine that 1521 was a rather rotten year to be alive if you lived in Mexico, for example.
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Old 18 November 2018, 04:09 AM
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Yeah, I feel like this is one of those "academic" stories that gets recycled every couple years because it appeals to a general audience, never mind that it lacks any kind broad support among the actual academic community in question (I’m sure there’s agreement that a volcano erupted, but probably not as much on its impact). If memory serves, the history channel even did a documentary on this a few years back.

In a couple years, we’ll probably be reading about how a group of scientists believes there’s "strong evidence" an alien probe visited our solar system. But really it’s just a rehash of what’s being discussed in techno babble. And a few months after that, we’ll hear about how some hypothetical supervolcano erupted circa 536 and made it the worst year to be alive.

ETA: As evidence of a rehash, here’s a smithsonian magazine article from 2015 describing basically the same thing:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/scien...ons-180955858/

Last edited by ASL; 18 November 2018 at 04:19 AM.
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Old 18 November 2018, 11:51 PM
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Oh, no, ASL, there is still a lot that could be learned. For example, while it was once thought that King Athalaric's excess drinking and partying, due to Gothic homeschooling rather than going to a respectable Roman private school, led to his tragic death by tuberculosis in 534. However, we now know that by dying at age 18, he missed living through an apocalyptic and terrible time. (His mother ended up taking over but her new boyfriend sold her kingdom out for some nice digs in Constantinople. Those were bad times indeed.) It turns out he was not a tragic figure but the first punk king.
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Old 18 November 2018, 11:58 PM
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Is that what "punk" culture is about? Dying young to escape some presumed imminent apocalypse? Who’d have thought that Jesus, of all people, was a punk.

BT

It turns out the documentary I was thinking of was actually a two part documentary now included under PBS' Secrets of the Dead series and first aired almost 20 years ago. Part 1 is called "Catastrophe: The Day the Sun Went Out."

So, yeah, we’ll see this story recycled again in a few years, as "ground breaking, earth shattering, spewing lava into the air" news.
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Old 19 November 2018, 01:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASL View Post
Is that what "punk" culture is about? Dying young to escape some presumed imminent apocalypse?
Well, in fairness, I don't know if that's what it meant to the volcano.
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Old 19 November 2018, 07:26 AM
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From the OP article:
Quote:
Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.
Seeing how the Byzantine Empire lasted till 1453 CE (over 900 years later!) I don't think you can say these events hastened its collapse. Also, from History.com:
Quote:
During the late 10th and early 11th centuries, under the rule of the Macedonian dynasty founded by Michael III's successor, Basil, the Byzantine Empire enjoyed a golden age.

Though it stretched over less territory, Byzantium had more control over trade, more wealth and more international prestige than under Justinian. The strong imperial government patronized Byzantine art, including now-cherished Byzantine mosaics.
OK, this one's a lot better since it doesn't mention a 900-year gap between cause and effect.

Brian
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Old 19 November 2018, 03:46 PM
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What exactly do you think you're refuting from my previous posts? It is true that there was a Byzantine Empire until the 15th century, but a time-lapse of the territory they controlled is telling:



While the empire did not come to an end with Justinian, I hope you can appreciate just how costly a campaign to reclaim such a large territory would have been, and how little it would have brought in return (do you squeeze the turnip dry and plunder what's already been plundered, or do you dump a whole bunch of money into restoring what's been torn down? Either way, good luck recouping the cost of the campaign). And then the impact on the population, and how destructive war is. The only thing worse than being laid waste to once (although laid waist to might be a bit of an exaggeration for what some of the barbarians did in settling down, the point is that those area weren't doing to well already) is being laid waste to twice. And then considering that within a century or two those gains were lost, make it three times for good measure, each time losing a little more of that residual Roman infrastructure and social order, and acting as a money pit for the eastern emperors trying to hold onto their territory (or not).

A war with the Persians in the east followed, which significantly depleted both empires' resources (on top of what the Byzantines had lost retaking the west), and made it that much easier for the Arabs to swoop in and push over what was left of the Sassanian Empire and take all of the Byzantine empire's territory in Africa, while further weakening its ability to maintain the portions of the old empire it had just taken back in Europe.
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Old 20 November 2018, 12:38 AM
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Not to speak for others but I thought BrianB was simply taking issue with that one sentence in the OP article (not your posts, ASL): that it couldn't be considered "hastening" something that didn't happen until 900 years later.
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Old 20 November 2018, 12:56 AM
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Yeah, I think you’re right. Sorry.
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Old 20 November 2018, 01:08 AM
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If it would have happened 1,500 years otherwise, then 900 could be hastened.
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  #15  
Old 20 November 2018, 01:19 AM
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I think the real question for fans of alternate history is, on whose side would the Roman legions have fought during WWI, had the Byzantine Empire survived into the 20th century? And before anyone gets smart, it’s well known that alt-history plays out exactly as real history would have, at least in broad brush strokes, right up until it’s convenient for the author's super-lame thought experiment.
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Old 20 November 2018, 02:21 AM
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Wouldn't that necessitate that the Roman legions fight on the side of the Allies?
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Old 20 November 2018, 03:48 AM
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I’m not sure why you’re italicizing Roman. The Byzantine Empire was the Roman Empire to its citizens.
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Old 20 November 2018, 04:17 AM
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We have no idea how an empire ruled from Constantinople would have sided in WWI.
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Old 20 November 2018, 04:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASL View Post
I’m not sure why you’re italicizing Roman. The Byzantine Empire was the Roman Empire to its citizens.
Because if it was really Roman then it would have been on the same side as Italy.
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Old 20 November 2018, 12:06 PM
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There’s no reason to assume that (unless you want to). Was it on the same side as the Italians when it re-conquered the penninsula in the 7th century? Or, as I would imagine, did they just smite anyone who stood against them, Italian or otherwise?

I take GenYus' position that the most prdictable division (from an alt-history standpoint of conveniently paralleling actual historical developments, up to a point) would simply line out Ottomon Empire and write in Byzantine Empire and have it side with Germany and Austria. Italy would still be its own country, eventually siding with the entente. Unless of course the focus of our alt-history demanded some sort of change to the timeline consistent with a different outcome in WWI. Because of course this is all meant to show how foolish alt-history is. Really your wild supposition is as good as mine.

There’s really no way of knowing if Italy or Germany would have formed into unified kingdoms in the 19th century and there’s no way of knowing how the Balkans would have developed if the Byzantine Empire had stayed around. There’s no reason to assume that the map of a Europe or indeed the world in an alternate timeline in which the Byzantine Empire persisted into the modern era would be in any way recognizable to us.
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