535 AD Cataclysmic Event

Why is the global climatic cataclysm of the sixth century virtually unheard of?


There was a sign from the sun, the like of which had never been seen and reported before. The sun became dark and its darkness lasted for 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.
Historiae Ecclesiasticae

Between the years 535 and 536, a series of major global climatic events that took place that could easily be described as a global cataclysm with catastrophic consequences. The above abstract is from the sixth century historian and church leader, John of Ephesus, in his historical work, Church Histories (‘Historiae Ecclesiasticae’).

John of Ephesus is not the only one that mentions this event. Procopius lived between 500 and 565 AD and he was a late antiquities scholar and one of the main historians of the 6 th century. He also refers to the strange behaviour of the sun and believed that it was a bad sign and the beginning of other events.

… during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness...and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.,
History of the Wars: The Vandalic War.

And we have yet another reference from the sixth century writer, Zacharias of Mytilene, who authored a chronicle that contains a section referring to the ‘Dark Sun’ for the period of 535/536 AD.

The sun began to be darkened by day and the moon by night, while the ocean was tumultuous with spray from the 24th of March in this year till the 24th of June in the following year... And, as the winter was a severe one, so much so that from the large and unwonted quantity of snow the birds perished... there was distress... among men... from the evil things,
Zacharias of Mytilene (Chronicle, 9.19, 10.1)

Krakatoa VolcanoThese three extracts are just a representative sample of numerous accounts from all over the world, written in the same period of time. In all cases, the sun was described as getting dimmer and losing its light. Many also described it as having a bluish colour. The effects were also observed with the moon – it wasn’t as bright anymore. The reduction of the light resulted in the reduction of heat on the planet; no rain and a very long winter resulted in crop failures and for birds and other wildlife to perish, as Zacharias of Mytilene writes. Famine and plagues struck many areas and there were a huge number of deaths.

In China and Japan, the event was also recorded in great detail. Massive droughts and thousands of deaths. The water wasn’t enough for the people and the land. Hundreds of thousands of square miles became infertile. In the Beishi chronicles, the official history of the Northern Dynasties, mentions that in 536, in the province of Xi’an, 80% of the population died and the survivors ate corpses to survive.

The catastrophic event struck Korea, the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Australia.  While written records do not exist for all countries, archaeological and geological data revealed evidence of the climatic changes. Studies done on the trunks of trees, for example, showed that 536 AD had been the coldest in 1,500 years.

The important question in all of this is, why did it happen?  While there are no definite answers, one theory that has been put forward is that there was a large asteroid or comet impact which landed in the sea (if it hit land there would be evidence of a crater). Geologist Dallas Abbott is one proponent of this view and bases his view on evidence that he found studying ice cores from Greenland. However, this wouldn’t explain the dim light of the sun, and no tsunamis have been recorded for this period, which would have occurred if an asteroid landed in the ocean.

Another theory that has been put forward is a gigantic volcanic eruption – the dust thrown up into the atmosphere could have caused the dimming of the light.  One candidate is Krakatoa, located between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. Indeed, the Book of the Ancient Kings or Pustaka Raja Purwa, written in 1869, describes an ancient volcano.

There was a furious shaking of the earth, total darkness, thunder and lighting.
… Then came forth a furious gale together with torrential rain and a deadly storm darkened the entire world.
… When the waters subsided it could be seen that the island of Java had been split into two, this creating the island of Sumatra.

However, this manuscript refers to the year 416 AD and not 535 AD.  Nevertheless, the fact that it was written in the 19 th century could account for inaccuracies in the time reference.

Whether or not the answer will ever be found is unknown. It is unclear whether scientists are even continuing to pursue research on this event. One thing that is quite peculiar about this global cataclysm is that it is a very little known event. Why is it that this climatic event is not taught in schools? Why isn’t there a plethora of research examining it? Perhaps it is because it reminds us of our fragility as human beings and the fact that no matter how powerful and ‘advanced’ mankind becomes, we are still at the mercy of nature. 

By John Black


AD 536: The year that winter never ended

Global Cataclysm in 535 AD

Catastrophe: An investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, David Keys, Century, London

Related Books


Justbod's picture

Fascinating! As you say in the article – why is this not better known! I found reading the comments as fascinating as the article! Thank you , and thank you to all those who have added their thoughts in the comments.


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Tsurugi's picture

"It is true that an extraterrestrial source may cause a global event, including the triggering of volcanic activity."

Certainly that is true, but I am not certain how it applies to what I was talking about...? While I definitely agree that volcanic activity can be triggered by events caused by extraterrestial sources, I don't think that the earth passing through a spaceborne cloud of particulate material would trigger any volcanic activity. I was only suggesting that if such a thing were to happen, it could conceivably result in drastically reduced amounts of sunlight(and lunar light) on earth, for as long as we remained within the confines of the cloud(really, a mini-nebulae).

The reason I find this possibility interesting is it does not involve any change in earth's evironmental factors(aside from the reduced heat, of course). There is no impactor entering the atmosphere and striking the surface of the planet, throwing up tons of dust and triggering a series of volcanic events which throw up more dust, resulting in global cooling, and so on. The dust is all in space.


Still, I think your work on the events in Britain and Bolivia is very interesting, and I'd like to help, if possible. While reading your description of the events, a few things came to mind that may be of some use.

Primarily, what I thought of was that the description sounded very much like something that might be caused by an oblique impactor. Have you looked into that possibility? The "burning of Brittanae" could have been caused by the impactor's very low passage over that land while heated to meteoric entry temperatures. The extremely low angle of flight for an impactor with an oblique entry means it spends a lot more time moving through the atmosphere than do impactors with more direct angles of entry. The nearly-horizontal flight path also means that just prior to actual impact, the impactor will cross a considerable distance at extremely low altitudes, causing massive shockwave destruction and leaving huge firestorms in its wake if it is flying over land.

But the huge distance from Britain to Bolivia--not to mention the curve of the earth itself--appears to rule out the possibility that the impactor that hit in Bolivia also passed so close by overhead in Britiain. If we want to attribute the burning of Britain and the impact in Bolivia to the same event, it would have to be a result of either a splitting, or a skipping, of the impactor....both are considered common for oblique entry objects.


A pic of an oblique impact crater on Mars:


The "butterfly wing" ejecta pattern is characteristic of an oblique impact. Also note the smaller, secondary scoop at the bottom of the main impact crater....this is the continued path of what remained of the impactor mass after impact....meaning some of the object survived the impact and continued on its course(though no doubt vastly reduced in size).


An oblique impact crater on the moon.

It is true that an extraterrestrial source may cause a global event, including the triggering of volcanic activity. In April, 1815, the Tamboro eruption in Indonesia caused the "year without summer". We know that significant volcanic activity can have a devatating effect on the entire planet. 

I focused on Britain, and Bolivia for two reasons. The devastation in Britain was caused by tremendous heat. I am looking for the heat source. The impact field in Bolivia is 6 miles long, and in a direct line with Britain. Gildas wrote that "Brittanae is burning from sea to sea", and "Brittanae is a wasteland".. The best guess from many researchers, is that Gildas wrote this about, but not later than AD540.

So, if AD 535 is the correct date for the extraterrestrial event, and that event caused severe volcanic activity, were there other events that may have also been caused by the first event.

In the following years, there were crop failures, and famine.
There was a pandemic of bubonicc plague in Constantinople, the whole Byzantine Empire, and Africa.
The Avars invaded Europe.
There was famine in Korea, China, ans Japan. At this time, all three countries were at war with each other.
There was famine in Mesoamerica.
There were many other similar situations of famine, war, and collapse of countries. Are they all related to a single event?

A similar catastrophe, which caused the collapse of the Middle East cultures, occured about BC1170. Many civilizations failed at that time. We wonder about many North and South American civilizations that suddenly disappeared. 

The potential loss of life in the next Global event, due to our present populations, will be staggering. When we study ancient civilizations, the question is always present, "What caused this culture to end"?


Tsurugi's picture

Good conversation here.

I would just like to add another possibility, which is that the cause of the apparent dimming of the sun and moon need not have been located on earth. A large cloud of spaceborne particulate debris--perhaps the remnants of the tail of an immense comet or something similar--could conceivably create the same dimming effect if the earth passed through it.

I would add that it is plausible the event was a combination of both comet/asteroid and volcanic activity. One being caused by the other. I would imagine that if a massive missile hurtled into the planet, that that would cause huge disturbance to the tectonic plates and the underlying fluid magma upon which they 'float'. It could have even resulted in a whole series of eruptions rather than just one giant eruption. That would explain more readily why the resulting effects were so widespread across the planet, north to south, east to west. Pure speculation and conjecture but still entirely feasible.

Don Knox-Heffernan


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