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1837 CE Safed Quake

by Jefferson Williams

Introduction & Summary

Executive Summary

In 1837, there was very destructive earthuqake with an epicenter near Safed responsible for extensive damage and deaths. The earthquake was felt over a wide area from Cairo to Antioch. Aftershocks, some sizeable, were felt for months afterwards. Over 1000 deaths were reported in Safed due to this earthquake (Ben-Horin, 1952). There is strong evidence of earthquake induced landslides in the historical core of Safed for which Katz and Crouvi (2007) modeled a displacement map. Nemer and Meghraoui (2006) report that Ambraseys (1997) estimated that this earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 and slipped for 54 km. on the Roum Fault and its southern extension. Nemer and Meghraoui (2006) consider it possible that the earthquake was caused by slippage on the through going Yammouneh Fault but think it more likely that the slippage was on the Roum Fault. This was based on paleoseismic trenching, examination of geomorphic surface features, and historical earthquake reports as compiled by Ambraseys (1997).

Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 1834/1837 AD date to a 3 cm. thick seismite in the 1997 GFZ/GSI En Gedi core. Migowski et. al. (2004) suggests that the 1834 seismite may have been masked (aka overprinted) by the 1837 seismite. However, Migowski et. al. (2004) assign a seismite a little bit lower in the section to an 1822 earthquake that had an epicenter in Anatolia and was too far away to have broken sediemnts in the Dead Sea. It is possible that Migowski's 1822 seismite was formed in 1834 and Migowski's 1834/1837 seismite was formed in 1837. Another possibility is that the 1822 sesimite was formed due to a local earthquake that went unreported historically or the 1822 disturbed layer was not created by an earthquake. Ken-Tor et. al. (2011) assigned a 1834/1837 date to a seismite observed in Nahal Ze'elim.

Notes by Williams

Tristram (1874) interpreted ~30-40 year old earthquake damage to ruins of Meisha at Dhiban which he attributed to the 1837 Safed Quake; apparently unaware of the more southerly 1834 Fellahin Revolt quake. The 1834 earthquake is the more likely candidate to have caused the damage observed at Dhiban. It is also the more likely earthquake to have created the seismites observed in the Dead Sea from around this time.

Zohar (2016) A city hit by an earthquake: an HGIS approach to reconstructing the damage in Tiberias (Israel) in 1837

Ambraseys (1997) The earthquake of 1 January 1837 in Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel

Vered, M.; Striem, H. L. (December 1977), "A macroseismic study and the implications of structural damage of two recent major earthquakes in the Jordan Rift", Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (Seismological Society of America) 67 (6): 1607-1613

Wells, D. L. and K. J. Coppersmith (1994). "New empirical relationships among magnitude, rupture length, rupture width, rupture area, and surface displacement." Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 84(4)

Textual Evidence

Archeoseismic Evidence

Landslide Evidence

Zefat landslides

Katz, O. and O. Crouvi (2007). "The geotechnical effects of long human habitation (2000< years): Earthquake induced landslide hazard in the city of Zefat, northern Israel." Engineering Geology 95(34): 57-78.

Katz and Crouvri (2007)

In January 1837, an MSN 7.0 earthquake with an epicenter on the Roum fault (Ambraseys, 1997) occurred (Fig. 1b). This earthquake once again caused severe damage to the core city of Zefat (Vered and Striem, 1976) with more than 1000 lives lost (Ben-Horin, 1952). An eyewitness of the destruction reported rents and cracks in the rocks and earth of the hill and related that the uppermost row of houses fell on the next one below, which then fell upon a third (Thomson, 1873). Wachs and Levitte (1981), considered the above a description of landslides morphology and dynamics. The landslide extent of this earthquake was apparently larger than that of 1759 (γ in Fig. 2b). The synagogues of the Sefaradic Ari and Banea were damaged again in the 1837 earthquake, as were the more eastern Ashkenazic Ari and Abuhav ones built in the locations of the Greek pilgrimage and Hagadol synagogues that were not damaged in the 1759 shocks (Yizrael, 2002a). The synagogue of Yosef Karo was also damaged and the Elshiech synagogue was spared. The part of the core city situated on the hill backbone, south of the Citadel (Fig. 2a), was reported to have suffered only minor damage (i.e., no landslides) during this earthquake (D. Wachs, unpublished).

The downhill (western) damage in the 1837 earthquake was probably further down from the current western limit of the core city (Fig. 2b). Yizrael (2002a), stated that customarily, the main spiritual center (Sefaradic Ari synagogue) would not have been built on the outskirts of the city, on the border of the cemetery (α in Fig. 2b); thus it is probable that in the past the city extended further down beyond the current cemetery area. Yizrael (2002b), showed that there are no pre-1837 tombs in the upper cemetery area (bordering the current western city limit). He suggested that the most eastern pre-1837 tombs bordered the western city limit of that time. This builtup part, now at the upper cemetery area, was damaged during the 1759 earthquake, rebuilt and damaged again in the 1837 shock and never rebuilt again.

Wachs, Daniel; Levitte, Dov (June 1978), Damage Caused By Landslides During the Earthquakes of 1837 and 1927 in the Galilee Region, Geological Survey of Israel

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Migowski et. al. (2004)

Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 1834/1837 AD date to a 3 cm. thick seismite in the 1997 GFZ/GSI En Gedi core. Migowski et. al. (2004) suggests that the 1834 seismite may have been masked (aka overprinted) by the 1837 seismite.

Ken-Tor et. al. (2001)

Ken-Tor et. al. (2001) assigned a seismite known as Event G in Nahal Ze 'elim to the 1834 and/or 1837 earthquakes.

Figure 2. The lithology and chronology of a composite section exposed in Ze'elim Plain. The section is described from two outcrops exposed in different gullies 300 m apart. The correlation between the outcrops is based on the sedimentary sequence, laminae counting, and 14C dates. Ages presented in 4c years B.P. Deformed units (mixed layers and liquefied sands) are marked by capital letters. The original figure was modified slightly by Williams.


Zohar et. al. (2016)

Time Date Time Uncertainty Type of Quake Reliability Zone Most Damaged or felt locations Estimated magnitude in previous studies
16:35 1837 Jan 01 n/a Main and Aftershock Very High Central (Israel and southern Lebanon), North (northern Lebanon and Syria) Palestine, Syria
  • M > 7 Ambraseys (1997)
  • MS = 7.4 Wells and Coppersmith (1994)
  • MS = 7.1 Nemer and Meghraoui (2006) after Ambraseys (1997)
  • MS = 7.4 Migowski et al. (2004)
  • MS = 6.7 Ben-Menahem (1991)
  • Average magnitude 7.1
  • Size degree Maj
  • Casualties >10
Discussion Reported damaged localities

Marun Al-Ras
Hunin Castle
Baniyas [Israel]
Deir Mimas
Deir Mar-Elias
Kfar Birâim
Lake Tiberias
Kafr Aqab


Zohar, M., et al. (2016). "Reappraised list of historical earthquakes that affected Israel and its close surroundings." Journal of Seismology: 1-15.

Ambraseys (2009)

AD 1837 Jan 1 Palestine and Syria

At the time of the earthquake Palestine and Syria, parts of the Ottoman empire, were occupied by the Egyptians (during 1831-40) and the region was in turmoil. This, to some extent, accounts for the dearth of information from the hinterland and from Turkish archives in Istanbul, although for the latter our search has been rudimentary.

The main shock occurred on 1 January 1837 or on 24 Ramadan a.H. 1252, 10 minutes before sunset. The earthquake was reported from Beirut and other places at various local times between 4.35 and 4.45 pm. The main shock lasted between 10 and 30 seconds and eye-witness reports imply that the earthquake consisted of two distinct shocks about 5 minutes apart ([1, 5, 6]; Moore 1837). Destruction or heavy damage extended along a relatively narrow zone from the coastal area of Sidon through the inland iklimi (regions) of al-Tuffa, Marjuyum and Bshara to Lake Tiberias, a total length of about 120 km.

Starting from the north of the epicentral region, in Beirut the earthquake caused panic but no serious damage in the city itself. About eight houses, which had been built outside its walls on alluvium by the sea, collapsed, killing two people ([1]; Paxton 1839; Rustum 1942). No damage was reported from Kesrawan, a district north of Beirut, and reports from the district of Shouff, south of the town, are lacking. The monastery of Deir Qamar was badly shaken and those of Deir al-Mukhalles and Jun were damaged, but details are lacking. Sidon was almost totally ruined. Of its 1800 houses, 580 were demolished and 630 ruined, with the loss of seven lives. Qala't Mezzeh (Chateau de Saint Louis of the Crusaders), standing on the promontory which divides the two harbours, collapsed. The French merchants' stores fell and the walls of the town were breached. The town and the land walls were rebuilt by Soleyman Pasha immediately after the earthquake ([1, 3]; Thomson 1837; Rustum 1942; Kerhardene 1859). At al-Ghaziye 14 houses collapsed, killing seven people. Further inland Abra and nearby Deir Mar Elias were seriously damaged (Lindsay 1839; Meryon 1845). Salihiyah, Dar al-Hatta, and Rumin were totally destroyed [1].

On the eastern side of the Bekaa Valley, at Rashaya, the shock was very violent, but it is not known whether it caused any damage (Thomson 1837). In the upper reaches of the Bekaa valley several villages were more than half destroyed and a khan, the name of which is not given, was thrown down, killing 60 people [1]. The shock was violent at Hashbaya, where it is not known whether it caused any damage (Thomson 1837). Al-Kufur collapsed with the loss of 72 lives, and so did Dibbin Nabatiya al-Tahta and Jibshit [1].

The large villages of Irbil and Kherbet Shaqa were completely destroyed and 100 people were killed. Also Khirbah and al-Khiyam fell; 5 people lost their lives in the foimer and 150 in the latter. In the region of Bilad al-Shuqf 600 goats were killed, presumably by rock falls [1].

Qala't al-Shuqf (Chateau de Beaufort of the Crusaders), standing on a cliff where the Litani River turns towards the sea, was shattered, and a part of the interior structure of the citadel collapsed, killing five people [1]. Deir Mimas, where five people lost their lives, was totally destroyed and rebuilt immediately after the earthquake. About one third of the houses in Zeqqieh collapsed and eight people were killed [1]. Deir Qufa was totally ruined, and in Mitulla nothing was left standing and 78 people lost their lives [1].

Much of Banyas was ruined and some parts of the Qal'at al-Shubeibe, which stands on the summit of a hill to the east of the village, collapsed. Also the roof of the nearby Grotto of Pan fell and not far from its vicinity a large rent was made in the ground ([2]; Saulcy 1955). On the coast, Sur suffered considerable damage; 40 houses, presumably old ones, collapsed on the island, killing 16 and injuring 36 people. There is some evidence that as a result of this earthquake the eastern coast of the north harbour slumped ([6]; Thomson 1837; Waghorn 1837; Bertou 1843; Prutz 1876). Further inland the old castle of Hunin (Chastel Neuf of the Crusaders) was shattered and much of its interior, including the mosque, collapsed, no structure remaining habitable (Guerin 1880). No damage details exist for the districts of Hunin and Tibnin, where it is said that 614 people were killed in 49 settlements. Half of some of them and likewise five mills were totally destroyed, together with a third of the inhabitants [6].

In this region, the villages of Asbagha, al-Afrish, Amba, el-Asban, Akbar, Mugar and Sutli are reported to have been ruined, but their locations could not be identified, either because their names have changed or because they are misspelled in the various reports. Marun was also totally destroyed and Qana was damaged (Thomson 1837). One of the two parts into which al-Mays is divided collapsed, killing three people [1]. Also Beit Yahun was totally ruined [1]. At Ya'tar 12 people were killed. Qadas was completely destroyed, with the loss of 53 lives. Also Melkiyeh was destroyed, as was nearby Aytarun, where 33 people were killed ([1]; Calman 1837).

Bint Jubayl was totally ruined, with the loss of eight lives, and Ayn Ibli collapsed with the loss of 12 lives [1]. Another 17 people were killed at Marun al-Ras, which was also ruined, while 30 people were killed and 10 injured at Rumaysh, and 12 lost their lives at al-Salha ([1]; Calman 1837; Thomson 1837).

Dibil was almost totally destroyed and 12 people lost their lives there (Calman 1837). Three quarters of Deishun collapsed and 13 people were killed, and Alma was totally destroyed. In al-Fara 12 people perished [1]. Kafr Bir'irn was badly damaged; the church and a row of columns and other standing remains of an early synagogue were thrown to the ground ([1]; Thomson 1837; 1859, Calman 1837; Waghorn 1837; Guerin 1880). At Ras al-Ahmar 40 people were killed and 12 injured (Calman 1837). Jish was completely destroyed and not a house was left standing. The church fell, killing 130 persons, and the old walls of the town collapsed. In all 235 people were killed, and in places the ground was fissured (Thomson 1837; Waghorn 1837; Robinson 1856). Sabelan was completely ruined, without casualties [1]. Also Tarshiha was likewise damaged without loss of life [6].

Dallata, Qaddita and Ain Zeitun were almost totally destroyed ([1]; Thomson 1837). In contrast, nearby Meirun suffered relatively little damage, and the walls of the tombs of Rabbi Eleazer and Rabbi Shemaun were dislodged but did not collapse (Neman 1971). In Safet, the largest of the places affected, the northern, Jewish, section of the town was almost entirely destroyed while the southern, Moslem, section suffered far less serious damage. The number of deaths reached 2158, of which 1507 were Ottoman subjects, Moslem or Jewish, and 651 were foreigners ([1, 2, 6]; Thomson 1837; Waghorn 1837; Liebentrut 1854; Guerin 1880; Mitford 1884).

Nearby Rama was totally destroyed and 180 people were killed ([1]; Calman 1837). Also in Shezor and in Jabal (the location of which has not been identified) 245 houses were destroyed and 563 damaged, with 141 people killed [1, 6].

Kafr Sumei was totally ruined. However, just west of these villages, Jatt was probably not seriously damaged ([1]; Thomson 1837). Much of Eilabun collapsed, killing 25 people, and Maghar was ruined [1]. To the west at Acre only about 40 houses fell, four people were killed and several injured, and the fortifications, already in ruins, were damaged. In the district of Acre the earthquake killed in all 141 people ([1, 6, 1°]; Waghorn 1837).

There is no evidence that the villages of Tamra, Damun, al-Birwa, Kafr Yasif, Kaweikat, Ghabsiyya, Betset and Jatt were damaged (Thomson 1837). Evlayin suffered relatively little and its minaret was left standing, but in nearby Shefar'am 86 houses were ruined and 139 heavily damaged; also seven people were killed and four injured ([6]; Thomson 1837).

Mijdal, on the western coast of Lake Tiberias, was destroyed and Irbid was totally ruined. The same happened to Kafr `Akib on the northeastern coast of the Lake ([1]; Thomson 1837; Guerin 1880).

About two thirds of the houses in Tiberias, most of them built of stone masonry, together with a large part of the walls, the bazaar, minarets, the mosque and the church of St Peter, collapsed, killing 922 people, of whom 500 were Jews, 300 Moslems and 22 Christians, and injuring 65. These figures may include casualties from 17 settlements in the environs, which were destroyed but are not named in the returns. The castle was ruined, and its towers began to lean. The baths, which had been built in 1833, were not damaged, but the yield of the hot spring and fountains increased temporarily. The town was not restored until after 1846 ([1, 6]; Thomson 1837; 1859; Shkelov 1837; Olim 1843; Montefiori 1844; Furst 1847; Beldam 1851; Robinson 1856; Pfeiffer 1856; Frankl 1858; Kerhardene 1859; Jenner 1873; Layard 1887; Italiander 1979).

Lubiya was totally destroyed and 143 people were killed (Thomson 1837; Beldam 1851). To the south, Kafr Sabt was ruined by the shock, without loss of life (Guerin 1880). Shadjara was also ruined and 50 people died (Calman 1837; Thomson 1837). In contrast, Kafr Kenna suffered negligible damage and no loss of life. Saffuriya and its church of Santa Ana also escaped entirely, with some limited damage to its ruined castle, while, next to it, Reina was obliterated, resulting in the loss of about 200 lives (Calman 1837; Thomson 1837; Robinson 1856). Contrary to early reports, damage in Nazareth was not excessive. Only one house collapsed and about one quarter of the dwellings in the town Suffered various degrees of damage. The hostel of the convent collapsed and an external cornice of the church of the Annunciation fell, killing four people. In all seven people were killed. The reported destruction in the northeastern part of Nazareth in fact refers to the cumulative losses suffered by settlements in the whole of its district, already accounted for in the returns, that amounted to 373 houses destroyed and 425 ruined, with 162 people killed and 13 injured ([1, 6]; Thomson 1837; Waghorn 1837; Vissino 1840; Schubert 1840; Blondel 1843; Beldam 1851; Robinson 1856; Tobler 1868).

South and southwest of Lake Tiberias the settlement of Simakh was also destroyed and five people were killed, and the villages of Hadatha, Ulam, Sirin, Kherbet Baka'a and Danna were damaged without loss of life (Waghorn 1837, Guerin 1880).

Many villages in the region east of the lake were likewise reduced to ruins, but details are lacking. In the district of Bashan, allegedly, fire was seen coming out of the ground (Calman 1837, Thomson 1837, Robinson 1856).

To the west, half of the houses of Ma'lun were ruined and five people were killed (Waghorn 1837). At Haifa only three houses were ruined, without casualties, and at Athlith a few local dwellings and one side of the walls were damaged. The remains of the church built by the Crusaders collapsed and the rubble was transported to Acre for the construction of the fortifications of the town ([6]; Waghorn 1837; Enlart 1925).

Further to the south damage was less serious. In the region of Harithiya 15 villages, which are not named in the sources, were ruined and 18 people were killed. In Arraba and Ajja damage was slight, and in Attil only two houses collapsed, while at Qaqun there was little damage and only a portion of the citadel collapsed, but in Jaba and in its environs 99 houses collapsed and 151 were damaged, and 23 people were killed [6].

Burqa and other nearby villages also suffered some slight damage, without casualties. Tubas was severely damaged, and east of the Jordan at Ajlun and Jerash there was also some damage. During the earthquake free-standing columns in the ancient city of Jerash were seen chattering on their bases but they did not collapse ([6]; Lindsay 1839; Johns 1932).

In Nablus one quarter of the houses and a number of shops were ruined and one quarter damaged, causing the loss of 48 lives. The rest of the town suffered only light damage. In the district of Nablus 150 people lost their lives ([1, 6]; Thomson 1837; Neman 1837; Shkelov 1837).

Damage decreased rapidly to the south. Jit suffered very little, and at Zeita only one house fell, killing two people [6].

Further away from the epicentral region, to the north, the shock was felt all along the coast, and at Tripoli it caused considerable concern, though no damage. At Latakia it was less strong in the town but rather violent in outlying districts. In Antioch ground movements were slow and lasted intermittently for a long time. In Aleppo the shock was generally felt and caused no damage anywhere in the region, while it was slight at Kilis and almost imperceptible at Aintab [1, 2, 6, 10].

However, in the alluvial plain of Adana the earthquake was strong and caused some panic. Many shops in the suq Adanat al-kubra collapsed. Also in the ports of Ayas (or Payas) and Iskenderun there was some alarm among European ship crews on land, who became nauseous. The shock was also reported from Tarsus, where it was slight but widely felt [6].

In the east, in Damascus about 2000 houses were slightly damaged, four minarets and several houses were destroyed, and about ten people were killed or injured. The bazaars of the city were damaged and part of the city gates and the tops of several minarets, which are not named, were thrown down [1, 2].

In the south, at the port of Jaffa the shock threw merchandise from stacks, and in Ramla it was slow. It was said that people could not stand erect. However, there is no evidence that it caused any damage [1, 6]. In Jerusalem the earthquake was not very strong and caused only limited damage. It is alleged that the minarets of the mosque at Kafr al-Tur, east of the city, were shaken down ([1, 2, 6, 10]; Calman 1837; Neman 1837).

In the Moab the shock caused sporadic destruction, particularly to old sites such as at Dihban, where some free-standing columns and arches were overthrown (Tristram 1874). Some slight damage was reported from Hebron, but details are lacking (Neman 1837). In Gaza the shock was rather slight and, except for the customs house, which was badly cracked, there was no other damage [6]. The earthquake was reported felt from as far south as Mt Sinai (St Catherine's?; Thomson 1837).

In the southwest the earthquake was felt in the Nile Delta, at Damietta, causing water to slosh out of a container, and in Misr (Cairo?), but it was not reported from Alexandria (Thomson 1837). In the west the earthquake was rather strong in the ports of Famagusta and Larnaca and was felt in other parts of Cyprus [1].

There is no evidence of a seismic sea wave on the Mediterranean coast. Also no waves have been reported in the Dead Sea. Allegedly, after the earthquake large masses of bitumen were seen floating in the Dead Sea (Robinson 1856).

It is said that waves flooded the coast of Lake Tiberias, but it is not clear whether this happened before, during or after the earthquake (Shkelov 1837; Kerhardene 1859). Aftershocks continued to be felt for almost four months, three of which were particularly important [2].

The loss of life caused by this earthquake and its aftershocks is difficult to estimate. The officially reported figure is 6000-7000 killed, but this is an early estimate and probably does not include losses in the districts of Marjuyum, al-Tuffa and Banyas, where many places within a radius of 50 miles (80 km) of Banyas were seriously affected, about which there is no infoiination [2]. A plague epidemic shortly after the earthquake added to the loss of life and isolated the coastal area from the hinterland, a situation aggravated by the Bedouins who for some time after the earthquake kept on hovering about ruined villages and towns. Safet, Tiberias and villages in the region of Bshara were plundered repeatedly by roving Druses and Mtwalis ([1, 4]; Montefiori 1844).

The combined effects of the earthquake, plague and unrest had considerable social implications. Owing to a rise in the price of labour, before long merchants began to find it difficult to transact their business and the most serious disturbances of commerce took place (Rustum 1923).

Damage in the epicentral region was widespread and varied from place to place over short distances. Much of the damage can be attributed to the high vulnerability of the local type of houses and also to the location of villages, particularly those in the central and northern parts of the affected area.

A general observation about a typical rural house in Syria and Palestine in the early 1800s is that its inherent strength was very low and extremely variable, and its vulnerability to earthquakes high. Local houses were chiefly one storey high, of rubble-masonry construction covered with heavy flat roofs, already in a ruinous state. The degree of damage or destruction caused by an earthquake was usually proportional to the size of the housing conglomerate or village; the larger the conglomerate, the heavier the apparent damage. The high vulnerability of local houses becomes apparent when we consider the relatively small damage sustained by the few properly built public structures in the epicentral region, such as convents, churches, walls and bridges, compared with that sustained by ordinary dwellings.

Another factor that contributed to the erratic distribution of damage in this and other earthquakes before and after 1837 is site effects. Many villages in the region, for defence reasons, were built on hilltops or on steep slopes, overlooking their fields. Many of these sites had already suffered from slides and regional instability of the ground, particularly those built on marls, chalk and weathered limestone. The destruction of Safed, for instance, and of the nearby villages of Ein Zeitim, Reina and Jish in the earthquake of 1837 can be attributed to their unstable foundation conditions rather than to the exceptional severity of the shock (Wachs and Lewitte 1984). Furthermore, the earthquake happened in the evening, during a wet period in winter when most people were indoors having dinner, which also contributed to the relatively large number of casualties. The relatively large magnitude of the event, the elongated shape of the meizoseismal region and its alignment with the Roum fault (Walley 1988) suggest that the earthquake was perhaps associated with surface faulting. However, there is no evidence for this in the sources.

It is said that as a result of the earthquake the coast of Lake Tiberias sank and that the lake water rose and swept away many people ([1]; Macgregor 1904). This observation on its own does not imply that this change of level of the coast was necessarily of tectonic origin. It may well have been a rather exaggerated observation relating to the usual rapid fluctuation of the level of the lake (Lynch 1852).

Reports that near Safed the ground was 'rent' and was so up to a point east of Jish and beyond as far as one could see, and that large fractures in the ground opened up near Mitulla and likewise in the vicinity of Baniyas, may refer to phenomena having a tectonic origin ([1, 2]; Waghorn 1837; Robinson 1856).

However, the reported cases of deep cracks opening up between Tiberias and Safed, emitting dust, seem to be descriptions of landslides, which include a classical case of a crack on a hillside near Tiberias opening up during the earthquake, into which two people fell, with the crack thereafter closing again and entombing them ([3]; Robinson 1856).

Another report, by seamen, that the westerly side of the shoreline at Sur had risen above the rocks and that this was clear proof of the subsidence of the ground caused by the earthquake cannot be substantiated (Bertou 1843).

In the light of this it appears that the 1837 earthquake was a shallow event with a magnitude larger than had been considered up to now. It was perhaps a multiple event, not dissimilar to earlier large earthquakes, consisting of two shocks, the macroseismic effects of which cannot be separated. Maximum damage was experienced along the Roum fault and perhaps some of its small branches, which occupy the region to the southwest (Freund et al. 1970; Nemer and Meghraoui 2006). However, there is no evidence in the sources for coseismic surface faulting for this earthquake, which is suggested only by the elongated shape of its epicentral region along the Roum fault.


[1] PRO FO 78.316 (Beirut: Moore to Palmerstone) 2.1.1837, 9.1.1837, 2.3.1837 (enclosures 2 and 5 to Palmerstone), 17.1.1837 (Aleppo: Werry to Palmerstone); 17.1.1837 (Aleppo: Werry to Bidwell) and 1.2.1837 (Aleppo: Werry to Ponsonby).

[2] PRO FO 78.315 (Damascus: Farrer to Palmerstone) 25.1.1837, 20.3.1837, 24.5.1837 and enclosures that are not dated.

[3] Archives Dipl. Nantes (Turq.) Corr. Cons. (Damas) 15.1.1837 and 22.2.1837; and (Beyrouth) 28.1.1837.

[4] Archives Dept. des Bouches du Rhone (Marseille) 200.33.

[5] Archives Societe de Geographie, Paris, Corr. 1649 (Beyrouth: Joselle to H. Joselle) 15.1.1837; (Beyrouth: Guys to H. Joselle) 17.1.1837.

[6] Archives Abdin Palace, Cairo, Corr. 1252, vol. 254, no. 403 (Ibrahim Pasa to Sami Beg) 10.3.1837 (2.12.1252); also extracts in Rustum (1942).

PATH no. 418, 1837.
PCB vol. 12.305.1837 and vol. 13.150.1838.
PEMS 15.2.1837 and 20.5.1837.
PJS 21.1.1837.
PMR no. 11, 322-341, 1843.
PNH vol. 2, no. 9, 134-135, 1835.

AD 1837 Jan 16 Rum

This was an aftershock of the earthquake of 1 January, which was widely felt at the southern extremity of the epicentral region and caused considerable damage in the districts of Jaffa and Nablus. Details are, however, lacking. This is an important shock in the seismic sequence because, if the damages caused by this event were serious and they were amalgamated in the official damage returns for the earthquake of 1 January 1837, the epicentral area of the main shock should not be extended as far south as Nablus. However, there is no way of confirming this since all of the detailed damage returns are dated February and March 1837.

AD 1837 Jan 22 Rum

The aftershocks of the 1 January earthquake, which occurred on 22 and 25 January, were reported from the northern part of the epicentral region. They caused panic in Damascus, but it is not known whether any damage was sustained (M2)

AD 1837 May 20 Rum

This was a third aftershock of the 1 January earthquake, which was also reported from the northern part of the affected area, where it caused considerable additional damage at Hashbeya, details of which are not known. The shock was strongly felt in the region of Lake Hule, but it was not reported at Damascus, perhaps because of a severe thunderstorm at the time (PRO FO 78.315).


Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

Salamon et al (2011)

1837 01 01 - Sea of Galilee

Sources are


Salamon, A., et al. (2011). "A critical evaluation of tsunami records reported for the Levant Coast from the second millennium bce to the present." Isr. J. Earth Sci. 58: 327-354.

Amiran et al (1994)

1 Jan. 1837 CE c. 15 hours



P; M; R; B; L; V; W; S and map, p. 191; BM: 260; AM; AB:52; 87; 88; 89


Amiran, D. , Arieh, E. and Turcotte, T. (1994). "Earthquakes in Israel and adjacent areas: macroseismic observations since 100 B.C.E." Israel Exploration Journal 44: 260-305.

Ben-Menahem (1991)

Estimated Seismic Parameters from Ben-Menahem (1991)
Time Date Lat.
Location Δf (km.) ML Discussion
1434 Jan. 1 1837 33.0 35.5 near Safed 500 6.7
  • Tiberias :500 victims. City destroyed.
  • Destruction of Safed and Tiberias. 3000 victims.
  • Tidal wave in the Lake of Galilee.
  • Appearance of asphalt blocks in the Dead Sea

Ben-Menahem, A. (1991). "Four Thousand Years of Seismicity along the Dead Sea rift." Journal of Geophysical Research 96((no. B12), 20): 195-120, 216.

Abou Karaki (1987)

* 1 JAN. 1837, 33°N - 35.5° E, I0 = IX - XI
  • destructive earthquake "whose epicenter is near Safad; all the houses on the steep slopes have fallen, appearance of cracks in the ground, 5000 victims, main localities damaged...: Tiberias (700 victims) in Ein Zeitoun, El-Jish, and Reineh (IX-X), Sejera (IX?), Tyre and Sidon (VIII-IX), Nazareth (VI - VII), Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron (moderate), devastating in Beirut at Safed deep cracks in hard rocks appearance of new thermal springs; low in Jericho; Damascus affected, in Haran and Golan "considerable", strong tsunami at Lake Tiberias (KAR),..., a unique and strong shock in Tripoli, the village of Reineh destroyed, its immediate vicinity unscathed (Will)

  • At 2:34 p.m.,..., appearance of blocks of asphalt in the Dead Sea, ML = 6.4 (BM1).

NAJA: the time given in KAR is 03h, on the other hand the list of (Will) gives another strong earthquake in 1838 with 3000 victims, mentioning Jaffa; this event does not appear in the rest of our references, and should be taken with caution.

* 1 JAN. 1837, 33°N - 35°,5E, I0 = IX - XI

  • séisme destructeur "dont l'épicentre est près de Safad ; toutes les maisons sur les fortes pentes sont tombées, apparition de fissures de terrain, 5000 victimes, principales localités endommagées... : Tiberias (700 victimes) à Ein Zeitoun, El-Jish, et Reineh (IX-X), Sejera (IX ?), Tyr et Sidon (VIII-IX), Nazareth (VI - VII), Jérusalem, Bethléem, Hebron (modéré), dévastateur à Beyrouth à Safaddes fissures profondes dans les roches dures apparition de nouvelles sources thermales; faible à Jericho ; Damas affecté, à Haran et Golan "considérable", fort tsunami au lac Tibériade (KAR),..., un choc unique et fort à Tripoli, le village de Reineh détruit, son voisinage immédiat indemne (Will)).

  • A 14 h 34 m,..., apparition de blocs d'asphalte en Mer Morte, ML = 6,4 (BM1)).

NAJA : l'heure donnée dans KAR est 03 h, d'autre part la liste de (Will) donne un autre fort séisme en 1838 avec 3000 victimes, en mentionnant Jaffa ; cet événement ne figure pas dans le reste de nos références, et est à prendre avec précaution.


Abou-Karaki, N. (1987). Synthèse et carte sismotectonique des pays de la bordure Orientale de la Méditerranée: sismicité du système de foilles du Jourdain – Mer Morte, University of Strasbourg, France. Ph.D. Diss.


Incorporate and/or Discard

Antonopolous (1979)

11. 1837 January 1. Syrian and Israeli coasts of Tiberia (m = iv).

Ref: 43, 15, Moniteur Universel, Paris. (24 February, 22 May).

Kagan et. al. (2011)

Thousands of casualties in the Holy Land and some in Lebanon. Most severe in Safed and Tiberias. Seiche in Sea of Galilee. Damage and casualties in Nazareth, Acre, Haifa, Samaria, Nablus, Karak. Large blocks of bitumen floated on Dead Sea

AM3, Ambraseys [2009];
AR, Amiran et al. [1994];
BM, Ben-Menahem [1991];

Paleoclimate - Droughts




Source Information

Calman SE (1837) Description of Part of the Scene of the Late Earthquake in Syria. J. Darling, London

Rustam, Asad Jibrail (1923), Syria under Mehmet Ali, PhD dissertation, University of Chicago. p. 17

Thompson, W. M. (1835), 'Journal of missionary Rev. W. M. Thomson', in Missionary Herald Manchester, February, BM PP 1047a.

Tristram, H. (2014). The Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and the Jordan, Literary Licensing LLC.
Tristram, H. (2014). The Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and the Jordan, Literary Licensing LLC.
Tristram, H. (2014). The Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and the Jordan, Literary Licensing LLC.
Tristram, H. (2014). The Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and the Jordan, Literary Licensing LLC.

Legendre, A. (1912). Orages et tremblements de terre en Palestine. Dictionnaire de la Bible. F. Vigouroux. Vol. 4 - Part 2: 2030-2031.

Vigouroux, F. (1903). Dictionnaire de la Bible, Letouzey et Anne.

Go to page 502/614 in the link below


Ya'ari A (1943) The letter of Salomon ben-Zemah in Letters of Eretz Israel. Gazit, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv

Earthquake Catalogs

ANTONOPOULOS, J. (1980). "Data from investigation on seismic Sea-waves events in the Eastern Mediterranean from 1800 to 1900 A.D." Annals of Geophysics.

Amiran, D. H. K., Arieh, E. and Turcotte,T. (1994). "Earthquakes in Israel and adjacent areas: macroseismic observations since 100 B.C.E." Israel Exploration Journal 44: 260-305.

Arvanitakis, G. L. (1903). "Essai sur le climat de Jerusalem." Bulletin de lnstitut Egyptien ser. 4(t. 4): 178-189.

Blanckenhorn, M., (1905), 'Ober die lezten Erdbeben in Palastina und die Erforschung etwaiger kiinftiger', Z. deutsch. Plast.-Vereins, 27 (2), 206-218.

Kallner-Amiran, D. L. (1952). "A Revised Earthquake-Catalogue of Palestine." Israel Exploration Journal 2(1): 48-65.

Milne, J. B. (1911). Catalogue of destructive earthquakes. Appendix I to Report of the 81st meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Portsmouth, 1911, August 31-September 7. Ann Arbor, Mich. pp. 694-740

Perrey, A. (1848). Memoire sur les tremblements de terre ressentis dans la peninsule Turco-Hellenique et en Syrie. [Bruxelles]: Acadamie Royale de Belgique.

Sieberg, A. (1932a). Erdbebengeographie, Borntraeger.

Sieberg, A. (1932b). Untersuchungen Uber erdbeben und bruchschollenbau im Astlichen Mittelmeergebiet, ergebnisse einer erdbebenkundlichen Orientreise, unternommen im frajahr 1928 mit mitteln der Notgemeinschaft der deutschen wissenschaft, G. Fischer.

Willis, B. (1928). "Earthquakes in the Holy Land." Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 18(2): 73-103.