How Quickly Would You Die If You Suddenly Found Yourself In A Different Era Of History?

List Rules
Vote up the eras you wouldn't last a day in.

There are countless ways to die in different eras, but what were the deadliest historical eras? It's an important question for any hypothetical time traveler. For example, will smuggling in antibiotics save you from the leading cause of death in 1800? How quickly would you die if you were transported to Florence in the 1300s, or India in the 1770s?

It might not be possible to completely escape the epidemics that nearly destroyed humanity, like the Black Death. After all, the plague completely changed the world. And then there's the lesser-known diseases which were still completely deadly, like the medieval sweating sickness that could kill people in a single day.

When it comes to historical causes of death, there are thousands. But what's going to kill you fastest? (hint: it's probably bubonic plague.) So which era do you think you could survive? Vote for the place where you'll take your chances and gamble against the odds.


  • Florence, 14th Century
    Photo: Giuseppe Zocchi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2,905 VOTES

    Florence, 14th Century

    Where Are You?

    You're in scenic Florence at the birth of the Renaissance. That dome on the horizon is just a mirage - it won't be completed by Brunelleschi for a few more decades. But enjoy rubbing shoulders with intellectual giants like Petrarch and watching the rise of the Medici family. Just watch out for rats.

    How Can You Die?

    The Black Death. More that 60% of Florence's population died in the first European outbreak of plague. Petrarch's muse Laura died, and chronicler Agnolo di Tura wrote about mass graves "so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city." He added, "I [...] buried my five children with my own hands." The plague could easily kill someone in three days.

    And that wasn't the only killer in the 14th century. The Great Famine started in 1315 and lasted for years, killing between 10-25% of Europe's population decades before the plague struck.

    2,905 votes
  • Constantinople, 500s
    Photo: Josse Lieferinxe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    3,034 VOTES

    Constantinople, 500s

    Where Are You?

    Constantinople, the richest city in the world and capital of the eastern Roman Empire - or, as it will soon be known, the Byzantine Empire. The powerful emperor Justinian has brought order and stability to the empire, along with building projects like the beautiful Hagia Sophia church.

    How Can You Die?

    One of the worst plagues in history, known as the Justinian Plague, swept through Constantinople in 542, killing as many as 50 million people, and up to 40% of the population of Constantinople. Unfortunately, surviving the initial onslaught didn't mean much when outbreaks continued for the next 250 years.

    The plague was caused by Yersinia pestis, the same bacterium that caused the Black Death a few centuries later, which means you only have four days, tops, if you get infected.

    3,034 votes
  • London, 1660s
    Photo: Rita Greer / Wikimedia Commons / Free Use
    2,179 VOTES

    London, 1660s

    Where Are You?

    Ah, scenic London in the 1660s! The Civil War is over, the monarchy has been restored, and all is well. A young Isaac Newton is hard at work on his undergraduate degree at Cambridge, and other than that silly little Anglo-Dutch war, England is mostly at peace. But wait, do you smell smoke?

    How Can You Die?

    The Great Plague struck London in 1665, and if your household became infected, you might have four days to live. A massive 15% of London's population died in a single summer outbreak. But if you survive the plague, there's a good chance the 1666 Great Fire of London will get you. 80% of the city burned down in just a matter of days.

    And if plague and fire just seem too Biblical, the highest cause of death in mid-17th-century England was good old consumption and cough.

    2,179 votes
  • Ireland, 1840s
    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    1,846 VOTES

    Ireland, 1840s

    Where Are You?

    You're on the beautiful emerald isle of Ireland, and it's the 1840s. Sure, the British continue to treat your island like a colony rather than a member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. And economically, Ireland isn't doing so well. But maybe things will turn around?

    How Can You Die?

    The Irish Potato Famine struck in 1845. Over the next few years, a million people would die from starvation and disease in one of the worst food shortages in modern history. If you didn't starve to death, there was a good chance you'd catch typhus or some other disease that would kill you. Starvation is a slow death, but typhus can kill in less than two weeks.

    As many as two million people fled Ireland permanently. The famine was so bad that Ireland's population in 1920 was still lower than it had been in 1800. 

    1,846 votes
  • North America, 1600s
    Photo: Samuel de Champlain / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2,166 VOTES

    North America, 1600s

    Where Are You?

    North America in 1600. Trees are blowing in the breeze, the sparkling, clean rivers are full of fish, and oh, look, who's coming on that giant ship? Life is about to change drastically as European settlers arrive in North America, especially near Jamestown and the Massachusetts Bay, where English settlers will quickly wage war against the Native Americans. 

    How Can You Die?

    Here's the bad news: when indigenous Americans were exposed to European germs for the first time, like smallpox, measles, and flu, somewhere between 90-95% of the indigenous population died. Smallpox didn't reach North America until the 1600s, and in New England, 70% of the indigenous population died in 1633-34 from a smallpox outbreak.

    Infected victims suffered from painful blisters that quickly spread the disease when they popped, killing people within 12 days.

    2,166 votes
  • 6
    1,491 VOTES

    France, 1910s

    Where Are You?

    France in the Belle Èpoque - the "beautiful age." New technology like telephones and streetcars have changed life forever, and industrial output has tripled since the 1870s. It's a time for celebrating, so no wonder liquor sales have tripled in the last few decades. And all those mutual defense alliances probably won't cause any problems.

    How Can You Die?

    Welcome to the 20th century. A lot of you are going to die. World War I racked up 41 million casualties worldwide between 1914 and 1918. That included 1.4 million dead in France and over 4 million total casualties - French soldiers who went off to war only had a 25% chance of returning home unharmed.

    But if you managed to survive the war, the Spanish Influenza killed as many as 300,000 in France and infected as many as 500 million worldwide. As many as 50 million died. 

    1,491 votes