Weird History

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

Genevieve Carlton
15.4k votes 3.3k voters 177.5k views 12 items

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.

Constantinople, 500s is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list How Quickly Would You Die If You Suddenly Found Yourself In A Different Era Of History?
Photo: Josse Lieferinxe/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
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.

Would this be the end of you?
Florence, 14th Century is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list How Quickly Would You Die If You Suddenly Found Yourself In A Different Era Of History?
Photo: Giuseppe Zocchi/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
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.

Would this be the end of you?
London, 1660s is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list How Quickly Would You Die If You Suddenly Found Yourself In A Different Era Of History?
Photo: Rita Greer/Wikimedia Commons/Free Use
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.

Would this be the end of you?
North America, 1600s is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list How Quickly Would You Die If You Suddenly Found Yourself In A Different Era Of History?
Photo: Samuel de Champlain/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
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.

Would this be the end of you?