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551 CE Beirut Earthquake

4 pm 9 July 551 CE

by Jefferson Williams

Introduction & Summary

At about 4 pm on a Sunday on the 9th of July in 551 CE, The Mount Lebanon Thrust Fault broke resulting in a powerful (Mw = ~ 7.5) earthquake and a destructive tsunami. The earthquake is documented in roughly a dozen sources, some of them contemporaneous, and is corroborated with Geologic and Archeoseismic evidence. Geologic evidence suggests that the epicenter was offshore and the sources suggest that the epicenter was close to Beirut. There was likely extensive damage to coastal towns from Tripolis to Tyre. Damage was more limited north of Laodicea and south of Tyre. The earthquake was felt as far away as Alexandria, Egypt and, according to the sources, Palestine, Syria, Southern Jordan (labeled as Arabia), and parts of Mesopotamia. Some sources suggest there was seismic damage in the Galilee which appears to be supported by paleoseismic evidence in Bet Zayda.

This earthquake has been widely cited as the cause of 6th century archeoseismic evidence in far way Petra, el-Lejjun, and Aereopolis but this destruction was more likely caused by the Inscription at Areopolis Quake which struck an area south of the Dead Sea a few decades later. The sources describe a tsunami that started with an ebbing of the sea which suggests that the tsunami was generated by shelf collapse (i.e. an underwater landslide) on the steep Levantine margin. Clear tsunamogenic evidence is lacking but there is probably some evidence in Beirut which two of the sources specifically say was struck by the tsunami. Landslide tsunamis can be very destructive in the near field but do not result in as wide a geography of destruction. This might explain why cores taken from the ancient harbors of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre did not encounter tsunamites in their Late Byzantine/Islamic sections. Tsunamogenic evidence also appears to be lacking in Caesarea and nearby Jisr al-Zikra where a paucity of dateable material can only constrain the ages of a tsunamite deposit there to between the 5th and 8th centuries. Researchers have suggested that the tsunamite identified in the cores in Caesarea and and Jisr al-Zikra dates to one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes of 746/749 CE and if a tsunami did strike that far south in 551 CE, the deposit it left was reworked by a later tsunami. However, if shelf collapse was the cause of the tsunami that struck Beirut, Caesarea would have been unaffected unless shaking from this earthquake caused additional offshore shelf collapse more or less adjacent to Caesarea.

The sources also mention an earthquake induced landslide in Botrys (modern Batroun) and a fire that raged in Beirut for two months until 3 days of rain put it out. Emperor Justinian I is reported to have sent funds to pay for rebuilding efforts in the affected cities but Beirut (known then as Berytus) was rebuilt to a smaller size.

Textual Evidence


Reports of this earthquake show up in Greek and Syriac literature along with one account in Latin. The Greek Tradition provides the more precise and accurate chronology. Three Greek sources (Theophanes, Malalas, and Fragmenta Historica Tusculana) specify the 14th indiction which dates the earthquake to 551 CE. Theophanes specifies a date of 9 July while Fragmenta Historica Tusculana specifies the date as 6 July. The Syriac Source Psuedo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, which presents a mangled chronology regarding the year, stated that the earthquake struck in June (Haziran). The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain states that the earthquake struck at the 10th hour which would specify ~4 pm if canonical hours were used (Symeon was elevated to sainthood).

The Syriac Tradition has a confused chronology but adds a number of details about seismic effects. The Latin text is written like a travelogue and provides what can be thought of as a post earthquake damage survey.

A number of the sources mentioned that a tsunami struck the Phoenician coast. John of Ephesus and Pseudo-Dionysius were the only sources which specifically mentioned Beirut when discussing the tsunami. The initial ebbing of the sea described in a majority of the sources suggests an offshore slump was responsible for the tsunami. Tsunamis generated by offshore slumps can be very destructive in the near field but affect a smaller area than tsunamis generated by movement of the seafloor as they attenuate more rapidly. This suggests a tsunami whose destructive power may have been limited to Beirut and environs. John of Ephesus and Pseudo-Dionysius were the only sources which described the timing of the tsunami and earthquake. They said that the tsunami hit first. If they got their timing right, this might suggest that the earthquake was preceded by an energetic foreshock.

Damage Reports are summarized below:

Location Description Sources Comments
Phoenician Coast Tsunami Theophanes, Malalas, Cedrenus, John of Ephesus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Michael the Syrian, Bar Hebraaeus, Hagiography of Symeon John of Ephesus and Pseudo-Dionysius mentioned a tsunami in Beirut; others are less geographically specific but imply the Phoenician coast was hit.
Berytus (Beirut) Destructive seismic shaking Theophanes, Malalas, Agathias, Frag. Hist. Tusc., John of Ephesus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Bar Hebraaeus, Anonymous Itinerarium Pseudo-Dionysius mentioned that after the earthquake, a fire burned in Beirut for two months and that the city's aqueduct was destroyed. Anonymous Itinerarium inspected Beirut ~10 years after the earthquake (Ambraseys, 2009) and said it was destroyed and the Bishop of Beirut reported that 30,000 died.
Tyre, Sidon, Tripolis, and/or Byblos Destructive seismic shaking Theophanes, Malalas,Frag. Hist. Tusc., Pseudo-Dionysius, Michael the Syrian, Bar Hebraeus, Anonymous Itinerarium Anonymous Itinerarium inspected cities ~10 years after the earthquake: Byblos and Tripolis were destroyed, Sidon was partly ruined
Trieris [prob. Enfeh] Destructive seismic shaking Anonymous Itinerarium Anonymous Itinerarium inspected Trieris ~10 years after the earthquake and said it was destroyed.
Botrys Seismic shaking, landslide Theophanes, Malalas, Cedrenus, Frag. Hist. Tusc., Pseudo-Dionysius
Sarepta, Entaradus Destructive seismic shaking Pseudo-Dionysius
Laodicea Destructive seismic shaking Michael the Syrian, Bar Hebraeus may not be due to the same earthquake
Laodicea to Antioch Limited Damage Hagiography of Symeon "only a few towers and church walls were damaged"
Tyre to Jerusalem Limited Damage Hagiography of Symeon "the area to the south from Tyre to Jerusalem was also preserved"
Palestine, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and/or Phoenicia Seismic shaking Theophanes, Malalas, (Agathias), Cedrenus, Frag. Hist. Tusc.,John of Ephesus, Pseudo-Dionysius
Galilee Seismic shaking John of Ephesus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Michael the Syrian, Bar Hebraaeus
Samaria Seismic shaking John of Ephesus
Alexandria felt Agathias
Many towns and villages destroyed or damaged Agathias, Cedrenus, Frag. Hist. Tusc., John of Ephesus, Pseudo-Dionysius Frag. Hist. Tusc. says 101 villages fell which may be a euphemism for a large number

Greek Tradition

Chronology of Theophanes
Theophanes wrote the Chronicle in Greek during the years 810-815 CE as a continuation of George Syncellus' Chronicle. In Mango and Scott (1997:331-332)'s translation, the entry for A.M. 6043 reads as follows:

[AM 6043, AD 550/551]

Justinian, 24th year
Chosroes, 26th year
Vigilius, 13th year
Menas, 14th year
Peter, 6th year
Apolinarios, 2nd year
Domnus, 6th year

In April [1] of this year, of the 14th indiction, Narses, the cubicularius, was sent to Rome with instructions to make war on the Goths who had regained Rome. For after Belisarius had won the city, the Goths had risen up and recaptured it. [2] On 9 July [3] there was a severe and frightful earthquake throughout Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Phoenicia. The following cities suffered: Tyre, Sidon, Berytos, Tripolis, and Byblos, and a great many people perished therein. In the city of Botrys, a large piece of the mountain called Lithoprosopon, which lies close to the sea, was broken off and thrown into the sea, so forming a harbour big enough for many large ships to moor there,- for previously that city had not had a harbour. The emperor sent money for restoring what had fallen in these cities. The sea retreated one mile towards the deep and many ships were lost. Later, at God's command, it returned to its own bed.


[a] Mai. 484. 22-485. 3, frag. Tusc. iv. 26.

[b] Mai. 485. 8-23; cf. Mich. Syr. ii.244, 246-7; Chi. 724, 100. 4-5.

[1] Mai. frag. Tusc. iv. 26 gives the date as April of the 13th indiction, and Mai.'s indiction dates (esp. those from the Tusculan frags.) should normally be preferred. In that case Narses went to Italy in 550 and not 551 (as Bury, Stein, and PLRE maintain, all ultimately dependent on O. Korbs, Untersuchungen zur ostgotischen Geschichte, vol. i (Jena, 1913), 81, 84-6) and the chronology of Narses' campaign in Italy needs revision. Prok.'s detailed narrative, however, linking Narses' movements with the death of Germanus, provides strong support for 551. Assuming Theoph.'s source here did read indiction 13 (rightly or wrongly), he will have changed the indiction number because he had already reached June of the 13th indiction (the dedication of the Holy Apostles) and so puts a following April into the next year. Cf. AM 6040 for the same technique.

[2] This is confused. Belisarius had originally captured Rome in Dec. 536. The Goths recaptured it in Dec. 546 but lost it again to Belisarius early in 547. Totila had recaptured Rome in Jan. 550.

[3] Frag. Tusc. iv. 27-8 gives the date as 6 July of the 14th indiction. Agathias records an earthquake in Alexandria too for 551.

Theophanes provides a date (9 July) and, in typical fashion, a variety of possible years. A summary of derived years is shown below (ignoring the confusion discussed in footnote [2] above):

Year Reference Notes
550 CE AM 6043 corresponds to 550 CE in July
551 CE 14th indiction
550 CE Justinian, 24th year Justinian's reign began on 1 April 527 CE
24th year of his reign is Aug. 550 - July 551 - Russell (1985)
24th year of Justian's reign is one year too low (ie 550 CE) - Ambraseys (2009)
557 CE Chosroes, 26th year reign began on 13 September 531
549 CE Vigilius, 13th year Papacy began 29 March 537
549/550 CE Menas, 14th year Patriarch of Constaninople starting in 536 CE
? Peter, 6th year Greek Orthodox Patriach of Jerusalem 524-552 CE but died in 544 CE (?)
552/553 CE Apolinarios, 2nd year Greek Patriarch of Alexandria 551-569 CE
551/552 CE Domnus, 6th year Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch 546-561 CE
550/551 CE Narses sent to Rome see footnote [1] from Mango and Scott (1997)'s translation above

This provides a spread of years from 549-557 CE with 550 and 551 CE receiving the most support.

Theophanes also provided a list of affected cities - all on the Pheonecian littoral. Russell (1985) noted that one codex (10th century Paris Codex Gr. 1710) refers to Botryos as Bostra, the then Byzantine capital of Arabia which is clearly in error as a landslide related to an existing landmark (Lithoprosopon) is described at Botryos. Russell (1985) added that Classen (1839: vii, 352) pointed out that the 12th century Vatican Codex 154 referred instead to Botryos. Theophanes also describes a tsunami which though unlocated can be assumed to be on the Phoenician littoral. Guidoboni et al (1994) suggested that the other more distant areas listed (e.g. Palestine, Syria, Mosopotamia, and Arabia) can be expected to have suffered secondary effects.
Chronographia by Johannes Malalas
Johannes Malalas (~491 – 578), a native Antiochene, wrote Chronographia in Greek. Guidoboni et. al. (1994) supplied an excerpt (which can be read in Greek and Latin here (L.XVIII p. 485 ):

In the 14th indiction a severe and tremendous earthquake occurred throughout the land of Palestine, in Arabia and in the land of Mesopotamia, Antioch, Phoenice Maritima and Phoenice Libanensis. In this terror the following cities suffered: 'Tyre, Sidon, Berytus, Tripolis, Byblus, Botrys and parts of other cities. Large numbers of people were trapped in them. In the city of Botrys part of the mountain called Lithoprosopon, which is close to the sea, broke off and fell into the sea. The piece of mountain formed a harbour, in which very large ships were able to anchor. The city had not had a harbour in the past. The emperor sent money to all the provinces and restored parts of these cities. At the time of the earthquake the sea retreated for a mile and many ships were destroyed. Then at God's command the sea was restored to its original bed.

Malalas, in specifying the 14th indiction, provides a year - 551 CE. He also reiterates key information provided by Theophanes - damage to same 6 coastal cities, a landslide in Botrys, a tsunami, and a large felt area that included Syria, Palestine, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Mesopotamia. Like Theophanes, he also mentions money sent by the emperor for rebuilding programs which should be reflected in the archeoseismic evidence.
The Histories by Agathias of Myrina
Agathias of Myrina wrote The Histories in Greek and provides a contemporaneous account of the earthquake as he was a young ~21 year old law student in Alexandria, Egypt when the earthquake struck. Ambraseys (2009) provided an excerpt (which can be read in Latin and Greek here (p. 95-98)):

At the same time [as the Frankish invasions], in summer, there was a great earthquake in Byzantium and in many parts of the Roman Empire, so that numerous cities, both on islands and the mainland were completely razed to the ground and their inhabitants all killed. For the lovely Berytus, ere then the jewel of Phoenicia, was totally stripped of its ornaments, and its famous treasures of architecture, which were spoken of so much, were left only as a pile of rubble, or with only the foundations remaining. A great crowd of honest folk and citizenry were killed, crushed by the weight [of the rubble], as were many young foreigners of good and distinguished family, who had come to the city to study Roman Law .. . The professors of Law in Berytus moved to the neighbouring city of Sidon, and set up their university there, until Berytus was rebuilt. And it was at least as good as it had been, but hot as large as it had been known to be formerly. But this depopulation of the city and the return of its treasures was to happen only later on.

Then in Alexandria the Great too, which is situated on the River Nile, a place unaccustomed to earthquakes, a very slight tremor was perceived, although it was very weak and not widely felt. All the inhabitants, particularly the old, were quite amazed at what had happened, it being an unprecedented occurrence. No one stayed at home, but everyone poured into the streets, seized with unreasonable consternation by this unexpected and unusual event. And as for me (I happened to be there engaged in the preparatory studies for Law), I too was excessively troubled by this slight tremor, for I perceived that the houses were not strong or solid, nor capable of standing up to even brief agitation, but were slight and very weak (they were constructed [to a thickness of] only one stone). Even the educated of the city were alarmed, not, I think, at what had happened, but at the fact that it was not unreasonable to expect that the same thing might happen again.

Historiarum II.15

Agathias provides a historical context (the Frankish invasions) which supports 550 or 551 CE (see Guidoboni et al (1994)), specifies that the quake struck in the summer, and indicates that Beirut was hard hit. He adds that a number of villages were destroyed, many died, and that the islands off the coast were affected. He adds that the quake was felt in the Nile Delta lending support to Theophanes' contention that there was a large felt area (Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Mesopotamia) and suggesting a very large earthquake. Ambraseys (2009) notes that eastern parts of the Nile Delta might have received damage (e.g. Damietta) which suggests another place to look for archeoseismic evidence. In mentioning that after the earthquake, the Law School in Beirut was temporarily transferred to Sidon, Ambraseys (2009) makes the observation that Sidon would thus have to have suffered less damage than Beirut. This suggests that the epicenter was close to Beirut.
Synopsis Historion by Cedrenus
George Cedrenus wrote Synopsis Historion (aka A Concise History of the World) in the 1050's in Greek. The text can be read here (p. 659) in Greek and translated to Latin. An English translation of an excerpt and the original Latin text follows: (translated by Google and Williams)

Year 24


On the 9th day of July, a terrible earthquake struck all over - in Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Phoenicia such that many towns and villages were destroyed or damaged and many people died. In the City of Botryos which means "cluster of grapes" a large part of Lithoprosopus, the name of the mountain next to the city, slid down into the sea and created a harbor capable of receiving many large ships that could not dock there before. The water also withdrew for a mile out to sea and then by command flowed back.


Anno 24 missus est Narses cubicularius Romam ad debellandum Gotthos. name post receptan Romam a Belisario Gotthi denuo rebellarant urbemque occuparant. nona Iulii dio terribilis motus terrae fuit per universam Palaestinam Arabiam Mesopotamiam Syriam et Phoeniciam, qui multis urbibus damna intulit permultosque mortales perdidit. in urbe uae Botryos (hoc est uvae) dicitur, magna pars mentis qui mari adiacet, nomine Lithoprosopos, avulsa in mare decidit magnumque effecit portum, multis magnis navibus recipiendis ideneum, cum ante urbs ea portu caruisset. mare quoque in altum recessit ad mille passus rursumque dei iussu refluxit. Augusto mense nuntius Roma de victoria Narsetis allatus est, nempe Romanos rege Totila oociso Roman recepisse.
This passage is so similar to Theophanes, it suggests that either Theophanes was Cedrenus' source or they shared the same source(s). No new information was added.
Fragmenta Historica Tusculana
Ambraseys provided an excerpt for this text which appears to have been originally composed in Greek:
And in that year of the reign of our most august ruler, in the month of July, on the 6th day, in the 14th indiction, a great and terrible earthquake happened in all the Eastern region, that is in Arabia, the whole of Palestine, and in the land of Mesopotamia and of Antiochia. And many cities of the Phoenician littoral collapsed, viz. Tyre, Sidon, Berytus, Tripolis, Biblus (sic.) and Botrys, and other cities; and of the surrounding villages 101 fell, and multitudes of men were crushed in these cities. And in the city of Botrys a part of the adjacent mountain called the Face of Stone split away, and fell into the sea, creating a harbour, so that [the greatest ships] could be moored within it. (FHT 4/1821-1824).
The mention of the 14th indiction places this in 551 CE albeit with a different date than Theophanes - 6 July instead of 9 July. This source also adds that 101 villages were damaged or destroyed and reiterates information provided by the other Greek language sources. Ambraseys (2009) thinks it was derived from an earlier version of Malalas.

Syriac Tradition

Although the Syriac tradition provides a more confused chronology, it adds some seismic descriptions.
Ecclesiastical History by John of Ephesus
John of Ephesus wrote Ecclesiastical History in the 6th century CE in Syriac in 3 parts. The first part has been lost and the last part covers the years 571-588 CE so presumably the translated excerpt supplied below by Guidoboni et al (1994) would come from the second part:
In the year 870 [of the Greeks; i.e. 558-559 AD.], there was a severe earthquake, and Beirut collapsed, as did many coastal cities and villages in Galilee, Arabia, Palestine and Samaria. Along the whole Phoenician coast, too, the sea withdrew and retreated nearly two miles. As for the terrible disaster and the great and remarkable portent which happened in the city of Beirut in Phoenicia, when the earthquake took place and the cities collapsed, we have decided to make it a warning sign for the knowing of posterity. For when the earthquake came from heaven, the sea withdrew and retreated from Beirut and the other coastal cities of Phoenicia for a distance of nearly two miles; the dreadful depths of the sea became visible and various and amazing sights were revealed: sunken ships full of different cargoes and other ones which suddenly, when the sea withdrew from the land, were moored in the harbours, settled on the ground and they were broken to pieces when the sea left them and withdrew on God's command [.. ]

Then, by a secret command, a tremendous surge of the sea rushed up to return to its original depth, overwhelmed and consumed all these wretched people in the depths of its swirling waters. They had rushed to find wealth in the depths of the sea and, like Pharaoh, they went down to the depths and were drowned like stones, as it is written; and God rolled the waters of the sea over them, as the flood burst forth and flowed back to its former abundance. Those who were still on the edge of the shore were hurrying to go down; when they saw the deep sea rushing back to its former position, those who were closest to the land fled out. But after they had escaped, as if from hunters, a violent earthquake took place, which overturned houses in the cities, especially at Beirut; they fell and crushed those who had escaped from the sea and so nobody survived. As the sea was rising up against them from behind, the earthquake brought down the city in front of them.
This passage supplies a much later year - 559 CE (for July). Ambraseys (2009) noted that some of the Syriac writers "gave years ranging from 553-559 CE which can be shown to be wrong (Stein, 1950 - vol. ii. 757, 828) [with] some of the authors duplicating the event or amalgamating it with other earthquakes in the region (Brown 1969, 126-139)." Guidoboni et al (1994) speculated that John of Ephesus was probably using the original version of Malalas. Besides mangling the year, this account does not provide any substantive information that we don't have in our current version of Malalas but it does include a longer description of the effects of the tsunami and an observation that the earthquake followed the tsunami. This could have been ordered that way for literary effect - i.e. to tie in the Biblical account of the parting of the Sea and the drowning of Pharoah's army followed by a "dissapproving" earthquake.
Annals attributed to Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre
This Syriac text also known as the Chronicle of Zuqnin is now thought to have been composed by a monk from the Zuqnin monastery rather than Dionysius of Tell-Mahre - hence the cognomen Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre. Parts 3 and 4 cover events from 488 - 775 CE. There is apparently a debate over its date of composition with some scholars suggesting it was composed in the 9th century CE rather than the late 8th century CE as the text would indicate - it ends in 775 CE. Harrak (1999) opines on the opening page of his translation that it was composed in 775 CE by a West Syrian Monk - probably Joshua (the Stylite) of the monastery of Zuqnin. The work is preserved in a single handwritten manuscript (Cod. Vat. 162), now in the Vatican (shelf mark Vatican Syriac 162). In an English translation of Parts 3 and 4 by Harrak (1999:125-131) we can read:
The year 864 [552-553]:

Extensive and severe earthquakes took place in which many |cities and villages| in the land of Syria collapsed1

In the month of Haziran (June) of this year, a severe and powerful earthquake occurred, in addition to the other ones. Numerous cities collapsed, as did the cities of Phoenicia — that is Arabia and Palestine, Beirut, Tripolis, Tyre, Sidon, Sarepta, Byblos, Antarados, and the rest of their towns, villages and districts fell and were ruined. Because of sins, many people were buried in their houses in the wrath, as were the cattle and other things.


The year 868 [556-557]:2

A powerful earthquake took place in which the city of Botrys3 collapsed.4 And the great mountain that was called the "Stone Face"5 broke off and fell in the sea. So when Botrys of Phoenicia, which is on the seashore, collapsed in the powerful earthquake, the great mountain close to it, called the "Stone Face," suddenly shook and was rent from the violence of the quake. A big portion detached from it and fell in the sea, and the earthquake sent it out further to sea. It came down and obstructed much of the front of the city, with the sea moving inside it. It had one passage on one side that became a great and admirable harbour; /p.133/ neither centenaria of gold nor the diligence of kings could build one like it. It became such a great and spacious harbour that accommodated inside it great ships, that everyone was marvelling and admiring God's providence, for even in his wrath graces are mixed. As for Justinian the Emperor, he sent ample gold to all the cities that had collapsed in the earthquake. And little by little they were rebuilt and their walls were repaired, while the evil will of those who survived neither changed nor weakened substantially.


The year 870 [558-559]:6

A powerful earthquake took place, and Beirut as well as many other coastal cities and villages in Galilee, Arabia, Palestine and Samaria collapsed. Also the sea retreated and drew back for about two miles, all along Phoenicia.

We wanted to put into writing, for the instruction of future generations, an account of the terrible disaster and the great and wondrous sign that occurred in Beirut, a city in Phoenicia, when the earthquake took place and cities collapsed. /p.134/ For when the terrible earthquake suddenly happened, the sea from the city of Beirut and the other cities along the seashore of Phoenicia, fell back, withdrew, retreated and fled away as far as two miles in distance, at God's command. Thus the awesome depths of the sea became visible, and many great and amazing objects were seen. Ships loaded with various cargoes sunk. Others, moored in the harbours, due to the sudden withdrawal of the sea from the land, went down and settled on the bottom, after they had collided and broken up, when the sea left them and pulled back at the command of its Lord.

Since this terrible disaster was meant to shock people, in order that it might lead them to grief and repentance, they should have despised not only material things but especially their own lives, in view of this horrible spectacle of wrath, that they witnessed. But they behaved like Pharaoh; their hearts were hardened like Pharaoh's, not by God, as it is written,7 but here by Satan. The inhabitants of coastal cities and villages, with determined insolence and hardness of heart, rushed into the great sea in order to pillage impressive, hidden treasures that were at the bottom of the sea, because of the beguiling avarice that was destroying their lives. As thousands of people, with fatal passion, rushed to the bottom of the sea and began to carry off treasures, hurrying to bring them up, others, when they saw those carrying the wealth of their perdition, rushed with great eagerness so as not to be deprived of the hidden treasures that had suddenly come to light because of the earthquake.

While some were rushing down to the bottom, /p.135/ and while others were busy above, and still others were doing their best in between, and while all of them without distinction were walking along proudly, then, at an invisible sign, the immensity of the terrible sea suddenly ran to return to its former depths, engulfing and burying in the abyss of its immense depths all those wretched ones, who pursued wealth from the great deep. Like Pharaoh, they went down to the bottom and sank like stones, as it is written.8 The Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, when the stream resumed its way and returned to its former depth. When those who were still on the outer shore began a hasty descent, those close to the dry land retreated, upon seeing the immense height of the sea rushing back to its former bed. While they were trying to escape, as it were from hunters, a severe earthquake occurred, which shook the buildings of the cities, especially those of Beirut. They collapsed and crushed those who fled from the sea while not one of them survived. For when the sea rose up against them from behind, the earthquake shook the city before them. Because of their evil avarice, they were caught in the middle of two horrors, for the priestly word is also fulfilled upon them: Though they were saved from the sea, justice did not allow them to live.9

Thus those who went down after wealth were reduced to complete destruction. They destroyed the breath of their lives and their corpses were found floating on the surface of the water like litter. Then when the city collapsed, fire at God's command kindled its ruins and burned /p.136/ and blazed inside the ruins for up to two months, until even the stones burned*t and turned into lime. Afterwards, God sent down rain from the sky for three days and three nights and extinguished the fire that blazed in the city of Beirut. And those who had escaped from drowning in the sea and from the downfall of the city, were cast away in the city, while injured, troubled and tormented by thirst because its aqueduct was destroyed. When the merciful Emperor Justinian heard about (this), he sent gold and some of his well-known people, and they uncovered and exhumed countless human corpses; they also rebuilt part of the city.

Footnotes (re-numbered)

1 Michael IV 320 [II 262]: Earthquake dated to the 28th year of Justinian (554-555). It seems that this earthquake and the one of the year 564-565 (see below) are doublets. It is quite possible that these doublets are part of the same earthquake described in the years 556-557 and 558-559 (see below).

2 Michael IV 310-311 [II 246-247]. Malalas 485 [291]: (550-551). Theophanes 227-228: 14th indiction, 9 July A.M. 6043 (551). This earthquake is a doublet of the one described in a previous account (see the year 558-559 below, and Stein, Bas-Empire II, 757 and n. 5, 828). The earthquake of 558-559 seems to be the same as the ones of the year 552-553 (see this date above) and 564-565 (see below).

3 | |: Sic. A | | was added later to conform it with | | found elsewhere. Bar Hebraeus mentioned | | and other cities in Phoenicia that fell in the earthquake, thus confusing Botrys with Troas, the city in Northwest Anatolia; Chr., 81 [76]. Botrys is modern Batrun, between Tripolis and Jubayl in northern Lebanon.

4 A very inaccurate translation of this account is found in the monograph by J. P. Brown, The Lebanon and Phoenicia, I, Beirut, 1969, 132-35; see Brock's review of this monograph in JSS 16 (1971) pp. 111-13.

5 | |: Syriac translation of | | in Malalas and Theophanes;

6 Land, Anecdota II, 326:15-328:18. Michael IV 311 [II 247]: 31st year of Justinian (557-558). This earthquake and the one dated to 556-557 (see above) are doublets; see Stein, Bas-Empire II, 757 and n. 6, 828. This earthquake seems to be also the same as the ones described in the year 552-553 (see above) and the year 564-565 (see below).

7 Cf Exodus 10:20 etc.

8 Exodus 15:5.

9 Acts 28:4.
Pseudo Dionysius of Tell-Mahre manages to outdo John of Ephesus in mangling the chronology of the year by repeating the same earthquake three times with three different dates (553, 557, and 559 CE - for July); all of which are apparently incorrect. However, he adds a lot of additional information about the effects of the earthquake which are summarized below: Online Versions and Further Reading

The text in it's original Syriac can be read here. The sole surviving manuscript (Cod. Vat. 162) at the Vatican can be read online here. This manuscript is the autograph, and in fact the first draft of the manuscript. No further recension, or copy, is known. A well organized website dealing with works attributed to Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre can be found here. The wikipedia page for the Zunqin Chronicle contains many links and references.

Chronicle by Michael the Syrian
Michael the Syrian (1126 AD - 1199 AD wrote The Chronicle in Syriac covering "Creation" until his times. Unfortunately only one Syriac manuscript has survived. A French translation by Chabot (1899-1910: Volume 2, Book IX, Chapter XXIX pp. 243-244) can be read here.

Michael the Syrian's Chronicle was also translated into Armenian twice in the first half of the 13th century. Over 60 Armenian manuscripts have survived. These manuscripts are, however, abridged and edited. The fact is we don't have an original copy of Michael the Syrian's Chronicle. We have multiple differing versions. The excerpt below was translated into English from Classical Armenian editions found in Jerusalem by Robert Bedrosian in the years 1870 and 1871. In section 101 we can read a short passage which mentions the earthquake:
In the 23rd year of Justinian the river at Tarsus rose and flooded the city. In the same period the city of Laodicea with 7,000 on its inhabitants was destroyed in an earthquake. The city of Pompeiopolis (or, Pentapolis ) in Mysia sank and its inhabitants, still living, were sucked into the pit. Their cries were heard for days, but no one could help them. In Phoenicia the cities of Tripoli, Byblos (Pilsos), and Trovas [Tyre ?] sank and all the cities of Galilee. The sea retreated by two mils, and boats became stranded on land.
This account appears to be identical to the French translation by Chabot from a Syriac manuscript. It dates the earthquake to 549 CE (in July). It may add a report of seismic damage to Laodicea. The earthquake in Laodicea and the report of the "sinking" of cities on the Phoenecian Coast, etc. is separated by two sentences where the intervening sentences describe unrelated events in Anatolia. Trovas may refer to Tyre or Batrun (see Bar Hebraeus discussion below).
Chronicon by Bar Hebraeus (aka Gregory Abu 'l-Faraj)
Gregory Bar Hebraeus (aka Gregory II Abu 'l-Faraj bar Ahron) wrote Chronicon in Syriac in the 13th century. In an English translation by Budge(1932:76) we can read:
And in the 23rd year of Justinianus, Tarsus in Cilicia was inundated by the river which flowed by it, and Ladikia was overwhelmed, and 7000 people died therein. And the sea-coast of Phoenicia was submerged, Tripoli, Beirut, Byblus, and Troas [Tyre] (sic.), and the cities of Galilee.

This account is very similar to and perhaps sourced from Michael the Syrian. Like Michael the Syrian, it mentions damage to Laodicea (noting 7000 deaths) and dates the earthquake to 549 CE. According to Ambraseys (2009), Troas refers to Tyre. According to Harrak (1999:128 Footnote 4), Troas refers to Botrys - modern Batrun. Troas is a city in northwest Anatolia that obviously would have been unaffected by this earthquake.
The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain
Simeon Stylites the Younger was an ascetic monk and reputed mystic (eventually elevated to sainthood) who ran a monastery, spent a lot of time living on top of a pillar, and reportedly saw visions of the future. He lived in the 6th century CE. Hagiographical (i.e. biographies of a "saint") books were written about his life including one in Syriac for which Guidoboni et al (1994) supplies a quote from a translation by Van der Ven (1962). In this excerpt, Saint Symeon's vision of the Mount Lebanon Thrust Quake is discussed:
The next day, at about the tenth hour, the whole land was shaken by a terrible earthquake, of a kind unknown to past generations, and the towns and villages of the coast collapsed in ruins, in accordance with the vision of Symeon, and the mountains were uprooted and violently split open, and chasms opened up in the earth in various places. The sea receded for many hours, and ships broke up as they violently struck the land. However, the region to the north, from Laodicea to Antioch, remained standing, and only a few towers and church walls were damaged, but as St. Symeon had said, no buildings collapsed, and the area to the south from Tyre to Jerusalem was also preserved, just as Symeon had seen in his vision.
Ancient literature concerning prophecies frequently contain valuable information about natural disasters because
  1. rewrites after the fact "improve" the accuracy of the prophecy
  2. there is likely a tendency towards selective preservation of prophecies that came true
In this account, we have a geography of destruction that is compatible with other accounts. Damage was limited south of Tyre and north of Laodicea. It also says that the earthquake struck in the 10th hour.

Latin Texts

The Anonymous Itinerarium (erroneously) attributed to Antoninus of Piacenza
This text, written in Latin by an anonymous author, describes a journey taken in the 6th century CE. Guidoboni et al (1994) date the composition of this text to ~560-570 CE. In an English translation by Stewart (1885:1-3) we can read:
Thence we came into the parts of Syria, to the island of Antaradus1 and thence we came to Tripolis2 in Syria, where St. Leontius rests, which city, together with some others, was destroyed by an earthquake in the time of the Emperor Justinian3. Thence we came to Byblus4, which city also was destroyed with its inhabitants ; and likewise to the city of Trieris5, which also was similarly destroyed. Next we came to the most magnificent city of Berytus6, in which there was recently a school of literature, and which also was destroyed. We were told by the bishop of the city, who knew the sufferers personally, that, without counting strangers, thirty thousand persons7, in round numbers, here miserably perished. The city itself lies at the foot of Lebanon. ... From Berytus we came to Sidon, [now Saida] which itself was partly ruined, and which is near to the slope of Lebanon. The people in it are very wicked.


[1] The island of Ruad, off the coast of Syria ; Antoninus has either confused Aradus, the island, with Antaradus, the town on the mainland, or the latter now Tartus, had so increased in importance, at the time of his visit, as to give its name to the earlier settlement on the island. Antoninus probably disembarked at Antaradus, and continued his journey by land.

[2] Tarabulus, on the Syrian coast.

[3] There were two great earthquakes on the Syrian coast : that of May 20, 526, which destroyed Antioch, and that of July 9, 551, which destroyed Berytus (Beirut). Tripolis appears to have been overthrown by the latter.

[4] Jebeil, on the Syrian coast ; the Gebal of Ezek. xxvii. 9. The land of the Giblites was assigned to the Israelites (Josh. xiii. 5).

[5] Trieris is misplaced here ; it should have followed Tripolis. According to Strabo, xvi. 2, § 15, Trieris lay between Tripolis and Theoprosopon (Ras Shakka); and it is apparently the same as the Tridis of the 'Itin. Hierosol.', twelve Roman miles from Tripolis ; it is now probably Enfeh.

[6] Beirut. At the time of its destruction by the earthquake of 551 A.D., Berytus was celebrated for its splendour and for its university, in which 'the rising spirits of the age' studied the civil law. After the catastrophe the school was removed for a time to Sidon.

[7] In the Antioch earthquake 250,000 persons are said to have perished.

This is the closest thing we have to a post earthquake survey. A summary of observations is listed below:

Location Reported Damage
Tripolis destroyed
Byblos destroyed
Treiris destroyed
Berytus (Beirut) destroyed
Sidon partially ruined

Ambraseys (2009) supplied the following discussion about this source:
The only original Latin source for this event is an itinerary attributed to Antoninus of Placentia (Piacenza), dating from the sixth century AD. The writer must have visited the area after AD 565, since he refers to an earthquake 'in the time of Justinian' He must have, therefore, visited not long after this, for he was told of it by the Bishop of Berytus, who was probably an eye-witness, and he also records that Sidon is described as ruined in part. In addition to noting that Tripoli and Byblus collapsed, and that at least 30,000 people died in Beirut, he mentions that a place called Trianis collapsed in the earthquake. The location of this town is not certain, but it seems to have been somewhere between Botrys and Tripoli; al-Heri in the bay of Shekka has been suggested, as has Enfe, on the coast 20 km southwest of Tripoli, or Shamarra (Stein 1950, ii, 757 n. 5).

Intensity Estimates from the Textual Evidence

Historical Study by Darawcheh et. al. (2000)
Darawcheh et. al. (2000) examined historical sources for this earthquake to come up with some seismic parameters. Unaware of the Mount Lebanon Thrust Fault (discovered later by Elias et al (2007)) they surmised that left-lateral slip on the Roum fault caused the earthquake. Although this turned out to be incorrect, the rest of their study holds up. The abstract is reproduced below:
Analysis of the Byzantine primary and secondary sources for identifying the historical earthquakes in Syria and Lebanon reveals that a large earthquake (Ms = 7.2) occurred in July 9, 551 AD along the Lebanese littoral and was felt over a very large area in the eastern Mediterranean region. It was a shallow-focus earthquake, associated with a regional tsunami along the Lebanese coast, a local landslide near Al-Batron town, and a large fire in Beirut. It caused heavy destruction with great loss of lives to several Lebanese cities, mainly Beirut, with a maximum intensity between IX–X (EMS-92). The proposed epicentre of the event is offshore of Beirut at about 34.00◦N, 35.50◦E, indicating that the earthquake appears to be the result of movement along the strike-slip left-lateral Roum fault in southern Lebanon.
They produced the following Intensity estimates:

Location Intensity (EMS-92)
Beirut IX-X
Botryos IX-X
Byblos IX-X
Tyre IX-X
Tripolis IX-X
Trieris IX-X
Sarepta VII-VII ?
Aradus (modern Arwad) Felt
Antaradus (modern Tartus) Felt
Antioch Felt
Alexandria Felt

They further noted that when the sources described shaking in Arabia, they may have been referring to what is now the western part of the modern state of Jordan. Citing Pantazis (1996), they stated that no archeoseismic evidence had been uncovered in Cyprus correlating to the 551 Beirut Quake suggesting that shaking was less intense there.
Earthquake Catalog of Sbeinati et. al. (2005)
Sbeinati et al (2005) produced the following Intensity estimates for this earthquake:

Location Intensity
Beirut IX-X
Sur IX-X
Byblos IX-X
Tripolis IX-X
Aradus (modern Arwad) III-V
Al-Batron IX-X
Shaqa IX-X
Sarfand VII-VIII?
Earthquake Catalog of Plassard and Kojoj (1981)
Plassard and Kojoj (1981) produced the following Intensity estimates for this earthquake:

Location Intensity
Beirut XI
Tripoli X
Sidon VIII or IX
Tyre VIII or IX

Archeoseismic Evidence

Location Status Intensity Notes
Beirut significant evidence
Baalbek evidence exists - needs investigation
Jerash needs investigation
Mount Nebo needs investigation
Pella needs investigation
Ramat Rahel needs investigation
Gush Halav possible - debated chronology
Caesarea Maritima needs investigation
Areopolis unlikely
el-Lejjun possible but unlikely
Petra - Introduction n/a n/a
Petra Church and vicinity of the Temple of the Winged Lions no evidence
Damietta needs investigation

Archeoseismic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below


South Section BEY 004 Figure 5

South Section

JW: Flame features are drawn in the bottom layer of the section.

Saghieh-Beydoun (2004)

South Section BEY 004 Figure 4

Seismites and Liquefactions

JW: Flame features are visible at the very bottom of the section (e.g. from the white part of the pole downward).

Saghieh-Beydoun (2004)

Chronology and Seismic Effects

In Sector BEY 004, Saghieh-Beydoun (2004) discovered some soft sediment liquefaction features known as flame features at the base of what appears to be be a destruction layer or debris flow deposit. This deposit may be dated to the mid 6th century CE - the date of the images above are not entirely clear in the article and we don't currently have access to the report. The flame features shown in the images above are diagnostic of pore fluid overpressures which are commonly caused by liquefaction during earthquakes. Their presence at the bottom of the debris layer may suggest a tsunami debris flow deposit that was then agitated by seismic shaking that then created the liquefaction features. This observation is speculative and further investigation is warranted. These flame features could support the observation in John of Ephesus and the Annals attributed to Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre that the tsunami preceded the earthquake suggesting, as noted by Mordechai (2020) that the main earthquake struck after a powerful foreshock. The speculative sequence of sedimentation would be deposition of a debris flow followed by earthquake induced liquefaction which created the flame features right below the base of the deposit.

Mordechai (2020) surveyed archeoseismic evidence in Beirut:
A late antique layer of destruction, followed by fire in some cases, was found in several excavation sites in the city and was attributed to the 551 earthquake based on several pieces of evidence. [54] One archaeologist described how a diagnostic sounding revealed the earthquake’s ‘horrors in an archaeological inferno over the whole [single] excavated area’ through a layer of destruction between 0.75m and 1.00m thick. [55] This layer, however, was uneven and much thinner in other areas. Other teams asserted that the buildings in their site did not collapse immediately – as evident from the absence of smashed collections of pottery and household goods. [56]


[54] The excavations revealed objects that were buried in the debris such as a wrapped coinroll (see below), a hanging bronze polykandelon and human and animal remains near a collapsed wall, and another group of coins. For the objects, see respectively Mikati & Perring,‘Metropolis to ribat’ (cit. n. 4), pp. 47–49, Perring, ‘Excavations in the Souks’ (cit. n. 41), pp.21–23
, and M. Steiner, ‘The Hellenistic to Byzantine souk: results of the excavations at BEY 011’, ARAM 13–14 (2001–2002), pp. 113–127. Other teams were uncertain whether the destruction layer was to be dated to the sixth or seventh century. See P. Arnaud, E. Llopis & M. Bonifay,‘Bey 027 Rapport préliminaire’, BAAL 1 (1996), pp. 98–134, at p. 109.

[55] Saghieh, ‘Bey 001 & 004’ (cit. n. 46), p. 40.. M. Saghieh-Beydoun, ‘Evidence for earthquakes in the current excavations of Beirut city centre’, [in:] C. Doumet-Serhal (ed.), Decade: A Decade of Archaeology and History in the Lebanon, Beirut 2004, pp. 280–285, at p. 284 later reported finding soil liquefaction, an earthquake-related phenomenon, but did not attribute it to a dated seismic event.

[56] For layer of destruction, see for example Figure 6 in L. Badre, ‘The Greek Orthodox cathedral of Saint George in Beirut, Lebanon: The archaeological excavations and crypt museum’, JEMAHS 4 (2016), pp. 72–97, at p. 78.. For buildings not collapsing, see D. Perring et al., ‘Bey 006, 1994–1995: The souks area interim report of the AUB Project’, BAAL 1 (1996), pp. 176– 206, at pp. 196–198. K. Butcher & R. Thorpe, ‘A note on excavations in central Beirut 1994– 1996’, JRA 10 (1997), pp. 291–306, at p. 299, assert that ‘evidence for earthquake damage on the Souks site is virtually absent...’, and M. Heinz & K. Bartl, ‘Bey 024 “Place Debbas” preliminary report’, BAAL 2 (1997), pp. 236–257, at p. 256, similarly assert that ‘traces of violent destruction (earthquake) were not visible’.
Hall (2004) noted that:
Some archeological evidence has been interpreted to suggest rebuilding on a scale not quite the match of the previous construction (compare Agathias above). Lauffray has found columns of mismatched colors in a building he considers either a church or a basilica. He thinks these columns may represent replacement work after the earthquake. It is notable that Zacharias in his description of the church of Eustathius insists very strongly that the original columns were of purest white and were carefully matched. [115] When summing up the archeological evidence for Berytus, Lauffray thought that some restorations were made to the civic basilica in the sixth century AD. Lauffray also suggested that after the earthquake some of the baths and certain parts of the porticos of the streets were restored. Lauffray notes the difficulty of securely identifying the churches and some other buildings.

[115] Lauffray (1944–6) 62, referring to a colonnade indicated by five column bases.



Transliterated Name Language Name
Baalbek Arabic بعلبك
Baalbek Syriac-Aramaic ܒܥܠܒܟ
Belbek Hebrew בעלבק
Heliopolis Greek Ἡλιούπολις
Heliopoleos Latin Heliopoleos

Baalbek is located east of the Litani River (classical Leontes) in the Beqaa Valley (وادي البقاع‎) ~85 km from Beirut. The Beqaa Valley, known as Coele-Syria in classical times, is bordered on the west by the Lebanon mountain range and to the east by the Anti-Lebanon range. Two springs, Ras al-'Ain and 'Ain Lejouj, a short distance away, provided caravans with water in antiquity. Baalbek is strategically placed at the highest point on a well-established trade route from Tripoli that led into the Beqaa before proceeding to Damascus or to Palmyra in Syria (Meyers et al, 1997).


Paturel, S. (2019) reports evidence.

Seismic Effects

Intensity Estimates

Effect Description Intensity
Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224 big pdf) .

Notes and Further Reading

Paturel, S. (2019). Baalbek-Heliopolis, the Bekaa, and Berytus from 100 BCE to 400 CE : a landscape transformed.

German Archeological Institute

Archaeological Research in Baalbek

Archaeology and History in Lebanon

Jidejian, Nina. Baalbek: Heliopolis "City of the Sun." Beirut, 1975.

Kalayan, H. (1975). "Baalbek, un ensemble recemment decouvert." Liban: Les grands sites, Tyr, Byblos, Baalbek= Dossiers d'Archeologie [Paris: Archeologia SA] 12: 29-30.

Ragette, Friedrich. Baalbek. London, 1980.



Transliterated Name Language Name
Jerash English
Gérasa Greek Γέρασα
Ǧaraš Arabic جرش‎

Jerash has a long history of habitation, flourished during Greco-Roman times, appears to have been mostly abandoned in the second half of the 8th century and was sporadically reoccupied and abandoned until Ottoman times when continuous habitation began anew. It is one of the world's best preserved Greco-Roman cities and has been studied by archeologists for over a century.


Russell (1985) reports that
Crowfoot (1938: 233) suggested that at Jerash the mid-6th century construction of the Propylae Church occurred after the 551 earthquake had caused the collapse and abandonment of the bridge whose approach had been blocked by this church.
Notes and Further Reading

Zayadine, F. (ed.) (1986) Jerash Archaeological Project, 1981-1983. 1. Department of Antiquities: Amman. page 19

The Islamic Jerash Project

DAAHL Site Record for Jerash

Crowfoot, J. W. (1938). Gerasa: City of the Decapolis: the Christian Churches, American Schools of Oriental Research.

Kraeling, C. (1938) Gerasa, city of the Decapolis; an account embodying the record of a joint excavation conducted by Yale university and the British school of archaeology in Jerusalem (1928-1930), and Yale university and the American schools of oriental research (1930-1931, 1933-1934)

Mount Nebo


Transliterated Name Source Name
Mount Nebo English
Jabal Nibu Arabic جَبَل نِيْبُو‎
Har Nevo Hebrew הַר נְבוֹ‎
Pisgah Hebrew Bible פִּסְגָּה
Fasga Arabic ‎فاسعا
Jabal Siyāgha Arabic جابال سيياعها
Rās as-Siyāgha Arabic راس اسءسيياعها‎
Rujm Siyāgha Arabic ‎روجم سيياعها
Jabal Nabo local bedouin جابال نابو
Jabal Musa local bedouin جابال موسا

Mount Nebo is famous as the location where in the 34th chapter of Deuteronomy Moses climbed its peak to view the promised land before passing away. Only ~ 7km. from Madaba, it provides a commanding view of the Dead Sea, Judah, and Samaria. The ridge of Mt. Nebo has been inhabited since remote antiquity, as the dolmens, menhirs, flints, tombs, and fortresses from different epochs testify (Michelle Piccirillo in Meyers et al, 1997). Several churches and a monastery were built there in the Byzantine era.


Piccirillo (1982) divided up the stratigraphy of the memorial to Moses as follows:
Phase Date Notes
I 2nd-3rd cent. CE On the highest spot of the mountain, towards the 2nd to 3rd century AD, a three-apsidal monument, the cella trichora (possibly a mausoleum) was built, which was used for funeral purposes, if not originally, at least at a later time, perhaps after its violent destruction.
II Christian monks re-adapted the cella trichora into a church with adjoining synthronon in the central apse, while re-using the two lateral apses as sacristies.
It was in this church that the monks showed the `Memorial of Moses' to Egeria.
IIA On the northern slope of the mountain was added later on a diaconicon-baptistry. In August 531 there took place the restoration and beautification of the diaconicon, the mosaic floor of which was laid by Soelos, Kaiomos and Elias.
III From the middle of the 6th century to the first years of the 7th, the sanctuary underwent complete reconstruction.

Seismic Effects

Intensity Estimates

Effect Description Intensity
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224 big pdf) .

Notes and Further Reading

Alliata, Eugenio. "La ceramica dello scavo." Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF)ILiber Annuus 34 (1984): 316-317.

Alliata, Eugenio. "La ceramica dello scavo della cappella del Prete Giovanni a Khirbet el-Mukhayyat." SBFi'Liber Annuus 38 (1988): 317-360.

Alliata, Eugenio. "Nuovo settore del monastero al Mont e Nebo-Siyagha." In Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land, New Discoveries:Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, edited by Giovanni Claudio

Bottini et al., pp. 427-466. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF),Collectio Maior, 36, Jerusalem, 1990.

Bagatti, Bellarmino. "Nuova ceramica del Monte Nebo (Siyagha)."SBFI Liber Annuus 35 (1985): 249-278.

Corbo, Virgilio. "Nuovi scavi archeologici nella cappella del battistero della basilica del Nebo (Siyagha)." SBFI Liber Annuus 17 (1967):241-258.

Corbo, Virgilio. "Scavi archeologici sotto i mosaici della basilica del Mont e Nebo (Siyagha)." SBFI Liber Annuus 20 (1970): 273-298.

Knauf, E. Axel. "Bemerkungen zur friihen Geschichte der arabischen Ortographie." Orientalia 53 (1984): 456-458.

Luynes, Du e de. Voyage d'exploration a la Mer Morte, a Petra et sur la rive gauche dujourdain, vol. I. Paris, 1874, p. 148

Milani, C. Itinerarium Antonini Placentini. Milan, 1977-

Milik, J. T. "Nouvelles inscriptions semitiques et grecques du pays de Moab. " SBFI Liber Annuus 9 (1959): 330-358.

Piccirillo, Michele. "Campagna archeologica a Khirbet el Mukhayyet (Citti dei Nebo), agosto-settembre 1973." SBF/Liber Annuus 23 (1973): 322-358.

Piccirillo, Michele. "Campagna archeologica nella basilica di Mose Profeta sul Mont e Nebo-Siyagha. " SBF/Liber Annuus 26 (1976): 281-318.

Piccirillo, Michele. "Forty Years of Archaeological Work at Mount Nebo-Siyagha in Late Roman-Byzantine Jordan." In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 1, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 291-300. Amman, 1982.

Piccirillo, Michele. "Una chiesa nell'wadi 'Ayoun Mousa ai piedi del Monte Nebo. " SBF/Liber Annuus 34 (1984): 307-318.

Piccirillo, Michele. "The Jerusalem-Esbus Road and Its Sanctuaries in Transjordan." In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 3, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp . 165-172. Amman, 1987.

Piccirillo, Michele. "La cappella del Prete Giovanni di Khirbet el-Mukhayyat (Villaggio di Nebo). " SBF/Liber Annuus 38 (1988): 297-315.

Piccirillo, Michele, and Eugenio Alliata. "La chiesa del monastero di Kaianos alle 'Ayoun Mous a sul Mont e Nebo. " In Quaeritur inventus colitur: Miscellanea in onore di padre Umberto Maria Fasola, vol. 40, p p . 561-586. Studi di Antichita Cristiana, 40. Th e Vatican, 1989. Piccirillo, Michele. Chiese e mosaici di Madaba. SBF, Collectio Maior,

Piccirillo, Michele, and Eugenio Alliata. "L'eremitaggio di Procapis e l'ambiente funerario di Robebos al Mont e Nebo-Siyagha. " In Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land, New Discoveries: Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, edited by Giovanni Claudio Bottini et al., pp . 391-426. SBF, Collectio Maior, 36. Jerusalem, 1990.

Piccirillo, Michele. Mount Nebo. SBF Guides, 2. 2d ed. Jerusalem, 1990.

Piccirillo, Michele. "Le due inscrizioni della cappella della Theotokos nel Wadi 'Ayn al-Kanisah-Monte Nebo. " Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)Liber Annuus 44 (1994): 521-538.

Puech, fimile. "L'inscription christo-palestinienne d"Ayoun Mous a (Mount Nebo). " SBF/Liber Annuus 34 (1984): 319-328.

Robinson, Edward, and Eli Smidi. Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea. Boston, 1941, vol. 2, p. 307.

Sailer, Sylvester J. The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo. 2 vols. SBF, Collectio Maior, 1, Jerusalem, 1941.

Sailer, Sylvester J., and Bellarmino Bagatti. The Town of Nebo (Khirbet el-Mekhayyat) with a Brief Survey of Other Ancient Christian Monuments in Transjordan. SBF, Collectio Maior, 7. Jerusalem, 1949.

Sailer, Sylvester J. "Iron Age Tomb s at Nebo , Jordan. " SBF/Liber Annuus 16 (1966): 165-298.

Sailer, Sylvester J. "Hellenistic to Arabic Remains at Nebo , Jordan. "SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 5-64.

Schneider, Hilary. The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo, vol. 3, The Pottery. SBF, Collectio Maior, 1. Jerusalem, 1950.

Stockman, Eugene. "Stone Age Culture in the Neb o Region, Jordan. " SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 122-128.

Yonick, Stephen. "The Samaritan Inscription from Siyagha: A Reconstruction and Restudy. " SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 162-221

Russell (1985) reports
This earthquake also appears to have been responsible for the destruction and subsequent abandonment of the Town of Nebo ( Saller and Bagatti 1949: 217, n. 2).



Transliterated Name Language Name
Pella Greek Πέλλα
Fahl Hebrew פחל
Fāhl or Fihl Arabic فاهل or فيهل
Khīrbīt Fāhl Arabic كهيربيت فاهل
Tabaqat Fāhl Arabic تاباقات فاهل
Pihil(um) Ancient Semitic
Aliases - Wikipedia notes (with citations) that Pella could also be known as Berenike (aka Bernice) during the Hellenistic Period and Philippeia during the Roman period.


Pella is located in the foothills east of the Jordan Valley ~30 km. south of the Sea of Galilee. It has been accepted as ancient Pella of the Decapolis (Smith in Stern et al, 1993).


Ambraseys (2009) states:
Russell also argues that Pella and Ramat Rahel were damaged in this event. Pella is 100 km southeast of Tyre, but Ramat Rahel is just south of Jerusalem, thus it is impossible that this earthquake damaged the latter. Ambraseys et al. (1994, 24-25) wrongly place the epicentral region of this event in the Jordan Rift Valley. This was due to the bias of information from the debatable archaeological evidence in Russell (1985).

Ramat Rahel


Transliterated Name Source Name
Ramat Rachel Hebrew רָמַת רָחֵל‎
Khirbet es-Sallah Arabic كهيربيت يسءساللاه
Bethofor Byzantine Name
Pathofor Variant of Byzantine Name
Betheabra Variant of Byzantine Name
Kathisma Incorrect Byzantine Name
MMST Theorized Ancient Name

The mound of Ramat Rahel is located on a prominent hill midway between the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Yohanan Aharoni in Stern et al, 1993). Numerous excavations carried out on the mound have uncovered remains from the 8th century BCE until the present punctuated by possible destructions - at the end of the 4th century BCE, at the end of the first Jewish War against Rome in ca. 70 CE, and after a mid 8th century CE earthquake. The town appears to have grown during the Byzantine period followed by an Early Arab period built upon the ruins of Byzantine strata. The Byzantine town was originally thought to have been named Kathisma after a New Testament story that it was the site where Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem but the discovery of what appears to be the authentic Kathisma Church nearby has dis-affirmed that. Excavations by Aharoni in the 1950's appear to have suffered from organizational problems, may have been hindered by geopolitical tensions of the time, and produced some faulty conclusions (e.g. that the Kathisma Church was located there and that the Roman 10th Legion was stationed there) but the stratigraphic framework appears to be approximately correct and useful. More recent excavations by Oded Lipschitz and Manfed Oeming appear to have resolved a number of earlier problems.


The Ramat Rahel Archeological Project offer the following description of the strata of the site
As at other hilly archaeological sites, differentiating between strata at Ramat Rahel has been quite difficult. The majority of remains were found at a depth of less than 1.5 m, most building materials were reused, and the lime furnaces of later periods caused the destruction and disappearance of many of the earlier remains. The generally accepted view, however, is that there are five main strata at the site
A broad stratigraphic classification for the entire site from Lipschitz et al (2011) is shown below:
Period Start Date
End Date
Construction Phase
Vb Iron Age II end 8th or beginning 7th BCE 2nd half of 7th BCE Building Phase 1
Royal Administrative Center under Imperial hegemony
Va Iron Age II-
2nd half of 7th BCE end of 4th BCE Building Phase 2
Royal Administrative Center under Imperial hegemony
Persian end 6th BCE or begin 5th BCE end of 4th BCE Building Phase 3
Expanding construction
Destruction and robbery of the walls
IVb Hellenistic 2nd BCE 2nd BCE Building Phase 4
Imperial Administrative Center ?
IVa end 2nd or begin 1st BCE 1st CE
The Great Revolt
Building Phase 5
Destruction ?
III Roman middle 2nd CE ? Uninterrupted continuation
to construction Phase 8
Building Phase 6
IIa Early Byzantine 5th CE Uninterrupted continuation
to construction Phase 8
Building Phase 7
IIb Late Byzantine-
6th CE middle 9th CE Building Phase 8
Village; construction of the church
I Abbasid 9th CE 11th CE Building Phase 9
Farm with agricultural installations
12th CE 19th CE Agricultural Zone with installations
1947/1948,1954 CE 1967 CE Military fortifications and communication trenches

Ambraseys (2009) states:
Russell also argues that Pella and Ramat Rahel were damaged in this event. Pella is 100 km southeast of Tyre, but Ramat Rahel is just south of Jerusalem, thus it is impossible that this earthquake damaged the latter. Ambraseys et al. (1994, 24-25) wrongly place the epicentral region of this event in the Jordan Rift Valley. This was due to the bias of information from the debatable archaeological evidence in Russell (1985).
Notes and Further Reading

Lipschits, O., et al. (2020). Ramat Raḥel IV The Renewed Excavations by the Tel Aviv–Heidelberg Expedition (2005–2010): Stratigraphy and Architecture, Penn State University Press.

Ramat Rahel Archeological Project

Ramat Rahel Archeological Project - Archeology of the site

Comprehensive Bibliography from Ramat Rahel Archeological Project website

Oded Lipschits, Manfred Oeming, Yuval Gadot, Benjamin Arubas and Gilad Cinamon 2006 Ramat Rahel – 2005 Hadashot Arkheologiyot Volume 118 Year 2006

The 2006 and 2007 seasons at Ramat Rahel - The Tel Aviv - Heidelberg Joint Project - for 11th century quakes - mention is made of collapse in Area D1
A massive stone collapse had covered the floors of the different architectural units. The many broken pottery vessels date the collapse of the building to the Abbasid period or to the beginning of the Fatimid period (10th–11th century CE)
O. Lipschits, M. Oeming, Y. Gadot and B. Arubas 2009 The 2006 and 2007 Excavation Seasons in Ramat Rahel. Israel Exploration Journal 59: 1-20

Page for Oded Lipschitz at Tel Aviv University

O. Lipschits, M. Oeming, Y. Gadot, B. Arubas and G. Cinamon 2006 Ramat Rahal 2005. Israel Exploration Journal 56: 227–235.

Katja Soennecken, 2006, Ramat Rachel in the Byzantine Period (Masters Thesis)

Aharoni, Yohanan. "Excavations at Ramat Rahel, 1954 : Preliminary Report. " Israel Exploration Journal 6 (1956) : 102-111 , 137-157 .

Aharoni, Yohanan. Excavations at Ramat Rahel. 2 vols. Rome , 1962 - 1964 .

Aharoni, Y., et al. (1964). Excavations at Ramat Rahel, seasons 1961 and 1962. Roma, Centro die studi semitici.

Oded, L., et al. (2011). "PALACE AND VILLAGE, PARADISE AND OBLIVION: Unraveling the Riddles of Ramat Rahel." Near Eastern Archaeology 74(1): 1-49.

A short guide to the excavations at Ramal Rahel (1955) On page 5, this guide states that the place was completely destroyed at the beginning of the Arab period and has remained uninhabited ever since. Although this is based on Aharoni's early conclusions some of which have been shown to be incorrect, this reference remains here due to the possibility that the site received damage from the Jordan Valley Quakes of ~659 CE.

Geva, Shulamit. "The Painted Sherd of Ramat Rahel." Israel Exploration Journal 31 (1981): 186-189.

Reich, Ronny. "Palaces and Residencies in the Iron Age." In The Architecture of Ancient Israel: From the Prehistoric to the Persian Periods, edited by Aharon Kempinski and Ronny Reich, pp. 202-222. Jerusalem, 1992.

Shiloh, Yigal. The Proto-Aeolic Capital and Israelite Ashlar Masonry. Qedem, vol. 11. Jerusalem, 1979.

Stern, Ephraim. Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period, 338-332 B.C. Warminster, 1982.

Stern, Ephraim. "The Phoenician Architectural Elements in Palestine during the Late Iron Age and Persian Period." In The Architecture of Ancient Israel: From the Prehistoric to the Persian Periods, edited by Aharon Kempinski and Ronny Reich, pp. 302-309. Jerusalem, 1992.

Yadin, Yigael. "The 'House of Ba'al of Ahab and Jezebel in Samaria, and That of Athalia in Judah. " In Archaeology in the Levant: Essays for Kathleen Kenyan, edited by P. R. S. Moorey and Peter J. Parr, p p . 127-135. Warminster, 1978.

Gush Halav

Meyers, Strange, Meyers, and Hanson (1979: 37) reported on excavations at Gush Halav (referred to as Giscala by Josephus). Stratum VII contains the relevant archeoseismic evidence and was subdivided in Phase a and Phase b. A summary from their paper is presented below:

Stratum VI Late Roman (A.D. 250-362)
Phase a A.D. 250-306
Phase b A.D. 306-62/5

Stratum VII Byzantine (A.D. 362/5-551)
Phase a A.D. 362/5-447
Phase b A.D. 447-551

Meyers, Strange, Meyers, and Hanson (1979) dated the construction of a synogogue at Gush Halav (in Stratum VI) to around 250 A.D. and report the village was abandoned beforehand; possibly after the Bar Kochba Revolt. The date for building the synagogue is primarily based on ceramics but is supplemented by 6 coins. The biggest potential problem with their chronology is it is debated. Magness (2001a) performed a detailed examination of the stratigraphy presented in the final report of (Meyers, Meyers, and Strange (1990)) and concluded, based on numismatic and ceramic evidence, that a synagogue was not built on the site until no earlier than the second half of the fifth century. While she agreed that earthquake destruction evidence was present in the excavation, she dated the destruction evidence to some time after abandonment of the site in the 7th or 8th centuries AD. Strange (2001) and Meyers (2001) went on to rebut Magness (2001a) to which Magness (2001b) responded again. One point of agreement however is that earthquake destruction evidence does appear to be present however, the date of this evidence is debated. Archeoseismic evidence at Gush Halav for the 551 CE Beirut Quake, based on epicentral distance and the magnirude of the earthquake is very possible but unfortunately the chronology from this excavation is not clear. Ambraseys (2009) states:
Gush Halav, 30 km southeast of Tyre, shows archaeological evidence of destruction in the mid sixth century but this, like other archaeological datings, cannot be trusted.
Russell (1985) reports
The 551 earthquake has been used to date the 6th century destruction of the synagogue at Gush Halav (Meyers, Strange, and Meyers 1979: 37; Meyers 1982: 121-22), although this correlation is suspect in light of the coin hoard sealed beneath the collapse rubble (see above). The "washed-in layer of yellowish soil" in which the hoard was found (Meyers, Strange, and Meyers 1979: 54) could represent post destruction deposition as a result of water percolation through the loose collapse rubble, rather than human deposition prior to the 551 earthquake.
Archeoseismic evidence at Gush Halav is labeled as possible but the chronology is debated.

Caesarea Maritima

Ambraseys (2009) states:
Caesarea Maritima, 80 km south of Tyre and on the coast, suffered severe damage in AD 614 and 640 according to stratigraphic and historical evidence (Russell 1985, 23). Russell argues that the destruction is too severe to be the result of a Persian invasion, as [Toombs (1978)] has said, so it must be due to the AD 551 and 632/3 earthquakes. It is certainly geographically possible, he adds, that Caesarea suffered in this event, being only about 100 km south of Tyre and the same distance (as Tyre) from the Dead Sea fault.
Tsunamogenic evidence in Caesarea is discussed in the Tsunamogenic Evidence section under Caesarea. UNDER CONSTRUCTION


Zayadine (1971) published a translation of a dedicatory inscription at Areopolis which was found out of context and re-used in a structure (Rucker and Niemi, 2010). The inscription referred to an earthquake which struck Areopolis before 597 CE (likely within a decade or so). This indicates that any archeoseismic evidence from Areopolis which is dated with no more precision than 6th century CE was likely due to the Inscription at Areopolis Quake and not to the distant 551 CE Beirut Quake. Further details can be found in the Archeoseismic Evidence section of the Inscription at Areopolis Quake. Archeoseismic evidence for the 551 CE Beirut Quake at Areopolis is labeled as unlikely.


Fallen Roof Arches at Lejjun Figure 8

Two fallen roof arches caused by earthquake in the barracks, from the north.

Parker (1982)


The Lejjun Legionary Fortress which was probably Betthorus, the base of Legio IV Martia as specified in the Notita Dignitatum however no proof of this has been found on the site (Parker and Betlyon, 2006).


Ceramic evidence suggests that the fort was first built around 300 CE and occupied until the early 6th century CE with later limited occupation in the Ummayad and Late Islamic periods (Parker and Betlyon, 2006). Three "identifiable earthquakes" (Southern Cyril Quake - 363 CE, Fire in the Sky Quake - 502 CE, and the 551 CE Beirut Quake) were interpreted as providing breaks in the stratigraphic sequence which is listed below.

Stratum Period Approximate Dates (CE)
VI Late Roman IV 284-324
VB Early Byzantine I 324-363
VA Early Byzantine II 363-400
IV Early Byzantine III-IV 400-502
III Late Byzantine I-II 502-551
Post Stratum III Gap intermittent use of site for camping and as a cemetery 551-1900
II Ottoman 1900-1918
I Modern 1918-

The stratigraphic framework was based on numismatic and ceramic evidence. Parker and Betlyon (2006) describe the last phase of significant occupation as follows:
The later phase (ca. 530-51) of Stratum III began with the demobilization of the legion ca. 530, as suggested by a passage in Procopius (Anecdota 24.12-14). It is notable that the latest closely dateable Byzantine coins from el-Lejjun are issues of Justinian I, dated 534-65, exactly what one would expect if Procopius' assertion were true. Some structures like the principia, were completely abandoned. Others, like the church, were extensively robbed. Large amounts of trash were dumped in barrack alleyways and even in major thoroughfares, such as the via praetoria. In Area N the rooms rebuilt rebuilt after 502 afterward witnessed little actual occupation. It is especially telling that a human corpse was interred in one room (N.2) that opened directly onto the via principalis a clear sign of the absence of military discipline.

Some inhabitants, perhaps discharged soldiers and their families or civilians from the surrounding countryside, continued to live within the fortress, however. The discovery of a human infant within the northwest angle tower in the debris of the earthquake of July 9, 551, implies that families were now living in the fortifications. The earthquake of 551 was a major catastrophe.


At el-Lejjun, the seismic shock severely affected most parts of the fortress, including the principia, the barracks, the northwest angle tower, the church, and the rooms along the via principalis. Those structures attached to the deep foundations of the curtain wall, such as the horreum and the bath, seem to have better weathered the shock of 551, but even these structures partially collapsed. The fortress was apparently then almost completely abandoned.
The numismatic find described above provides a terminus post quem for seismic destruction and final abandonment of the fortress at el-Lejjun. With an epicenter close to Beirut, it is unlikely that the 551 CE Beirut Quake would have caused this damage. Further, as noted by Ambraseys (2009), none of the many sources for the well documented Beirut Quake mention damage in Jerusalem which was ~120 km. closer to the epicenter. One of the sources (The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain - see Textual Evidence) states that damage for this earthquake was limited south of Tyre. This makes the Inscription at Areopolis Quake a more seismically plausible candidate for seismic destruction discovered at el-Lejjun; particularly when one considers that Areopolis is only ~12 km. form el-Lejjun.

Notes and Further Reading

Parker, S. T. (1982). "Preliminary Report on the 1980 Season of the Central "Limes Arabicus" Project." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research(247): 1-26.



Transliterated Name Language Name
Petra English
Al-Batrā Arabic ٱلْبَتْرَاء‎
Petra Ancient Greek Πέτρα‎
Rekeme Thamudic ?
Raqmu Arabic
Raqēmō Arabic

Petra is the location of an ancient city in Southern Jordan which is traditionally accessed through a slot canyon known as the Siq. The site was initially inhabited at least as early as the Neolithic and has been settled sporadically ever since - for example in the Biblical Edomite, Hellenistic, Nabatean, Byzantine, and Crusader periods. After the Islamic conquest in the 7th century CE, Petra lost its strategic and commercial value and began to decline until it was "re-discovered" by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 (Meyers et al, 1997). It is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been and continues to be extensively studied by archeologists.

Petra Church and vicinity of the Temple of the Winged Lions

The Petra Church The Petra Church where the Petra Papyri were discovered.



The Petra Church was discovered by Ken Russell and he was supposed to excavate it before his untimely demise in 1992 ( Erickson-Gini, T. and C. Tuttle, 2017). It was at this church where the Petra Papyri were discovered.


Although Russell (1985) attributed mid 6th century destruction of Petra to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, subsequent work refutes this almost entirely. Rucker and Niemi (2010) wrote the following:
Russell (1985:45) wrote "Petra, the capital of Palestina tertia, was never rebuilt after the 551 C.E. earthquake, and by the end of the sixth century C.E., its ruins had become a quarry for liming and smelting operations." However, recent excavations at the Petra Church archaeological site refute these conclusions (Fiema (2001a:6-137), Fiema (2001b:138-150)). Scrolls found in the Petra Church provide an unprecedented record of Late Byzantine Petra (Fiema (2002:1-4)). The church was destroyed in a fire at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century C.E. The fire carbonized papyrus scrolls that were being stored in the church. These scrolls known as the Petra Papyri, are a collection of documents predominantly relating to taxes and property ownership, dating from 537 C.E. to at least 11 April 593 C.E., and may postdate this range by several years. Therefore, the last recorded date of the Petra papyri scrolls may extend to 597 C.E. "Neither the effects of the earthquake of 551 C.E. nor the mid-sixth century C.E. plague can be discerned from the texts" of the scrolls (Fiema (2002:4)). After the fire and into the seventh century C.E., the church ceased to function as an ecclesiastical structure, building materials were salvaged for reuse, and the shell of the structure was converted to a domestic complex. Fiema (2001a:6-137) and Fiema (2001b:138-150) noted evidence for two earthquakes in the later phases of the Petra Church — one in the seventh century C.E. and one in the medieval to Ottoman period — at which time no columns remained standing. As recounted already, excavations in the 1990s at the Petra Church and textual evidence from the newly translated Petra Papyri have convincingly demonstrated that the city of Petra was not apparently appreciably affected by the 551 C.E. earthquake. Unfortunately, some excavators still designate a 551 C.E. earthquake in the sfiatigraphic sequence at Petra.
Erickson-Gini, T. and C. Tuttle (2017) re-examined excavations undertaken by Russell and Hammond near the Temple of the Winged Lions and also found that evidence supporting seismic destruction due to the 551 CE Beirut earthquake was lacking.

With regard to the fate of the latest phase of occupation in Area I (the Upper or Later House), Russell and Hammond's supposition of destruction in both Areas I and II as result of the 551 CE earthquake is not supported by subsequent archaeological in Petra nor is it supported by the material evidence found in their excavations. As noted above, Russell's initial phasing did not include this event, but he does refer to it in a 1990 report to ACOR on the Household Excavations. Hammond and Johnson (2000) later published the supposed 551 earthquake in their phasing of the Temple of the Winged Lions. In spite of this, the finds from the Later House do not include vessels or coins of the 6th c. CE and findings from the Petra Church excavations do not support the occurrence of an earthquake event in that period.73 A 551 earthquake event is also elusive with regard to the temple in Area II. Hammond and Johnson provide a list of coins discovered there, the latest of which dates to Constantius II (337-361 CE), (2000).


73 Russell discovered the Petra Church in the vicinity of Area I and was to have conducted its excavation before his untimely death in 1992.
With an epicenter close to Beirut, it is unlikely that the 551 CE Beirut Quake would have caused significant damage in Petra. Further, as noted by Ambraseys (2009), none of the many sources for this well documented earthquake mention damage in Jerusalem which was ~120 km. closer to the epicenter. One of the sources (The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain - see Textual Evidence) states that damage for this earthquake was limited south of Tyre. This makes the Inscription at Areopolis Quake a more seismically plausible candidate for any 6th century CE seismic destruction discovered in Petra.

Jones (2021) provided a summary of archeoseismic evidence in Petra which is reproduced below

Arcehoseismic Evidence in Petra Table 1

List of sites in and near Petra (other than al-Zantur) with destructions attributable to earthquakes in 363 AD and the 6th century

Jones (2021)


Based on the contemporaneous account of Myrinaei Historiarum by Agathias which described seismic shaking in the Nile Delta due to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, Ambraseys (2009) suggested that there might be archeoseismic evidence for the 551 CE Beirut Quake at Damietta. Although Damietta was far from the epicenter, the possibility of seismic amplification due to a site effect in certain parts of Damietta is likely. A simple google search for "subsidence in Damietta" reveals numerous reports of modern subsidence which speaks to weak underlying sediments. This is classified as needs investigation.

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Tsunamogenic Evidence is summarized below

Location Status
Beirut some evidence
Tyre no evidence
Sidon no evidence
Byblos no evidence
Caesarea tenuous evidence - further investigation warranted

Tsunamogenic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below


Marriner et al (2008) reported on 20 cores taken in Beirut's buried ancient harbor; none of which contained apparent tsunamites. However, the tsunami may have left evidence in other parts of the city. Some of their discussion regarding tsunamogenic evidence is discussed below:
Excavations undertaken in Beirut's harbour by Curvers et al. have revealed the presence of tree branches and considerable amounts of unabraded Roman pottery and rubble in 6-7th century AD layers (Curvers, personal communication). Surveys in the Ottoman harbour have unearthed harbour muds and silts which lie unconformably above sea-scoured bedrock (Curvers and Stuart, 2004). These have been attributed to tsunami action and indirectly infer considerable damage to the city's seaport infrastructure. This archaeological evidence, coupled with the stratigraphic data, support major changes in the port's configuration at this time. At no point during the Islamic and medieval periods do we record such a well-protected harbour. In light of this, there appears to be a clear link between the retraction of the Byzantine Empire to its Anatolian core and the catastrophic destruction of many parts of Beirut, including its harbour area, during the 551 AD earthquake and tsunami.


Although sedimentary traces of the tsunami impacts are not observed in the cores, recent excavations suggest that the ancient sources did not exaggerate in their description of the archaeological destruction caused by the event (Curvers and Stuart, 2004). New research has yielded closely dated stratigraphic sequences at a number of dig sites that unequivocally corroborate the widespread earthquake damage (Elayi and Sayegh, 2000; Curvers and Stuart, in press). In the aftermath, Beirut underwent altering patterns of trade, production and consumption. The archaeology also shows that many parts of the city were left in partial ruin or even abandoned, with limited evidence for reconstruction. Mikati and Perring (2006) present a model of 'continuity' but degradation of urban infrastructure at post-earthquake Beirut. Dating of raised shorelines north of Beirut confirms uplift of 50-80 cm (Morhange et al., 2006).


Marriner et al (2005) undertook a litho and biostratigraphical study of four core sequences from the landward edge of the current harbor. AMS radiocarbon dating was performed on dateable material found in the cores. The cores appeared to capture harbor sediments and showed a clear break in sedimentaion at the end of the Byzantine era noting the following :
4.6. Unit A - Exposed beach environment (post-Byzantine)

The transition to unit A is dated to between the 6th to 10th centuries AD. The unit comprises a grey, shelly sand unit with textures of between: 3% to 31% for the gravels, 58% to 83% for the sands and 9% to 18% for the silts and clays.

Cerithium vulgatum and Pirenella conica dominatethe macrofauna suite, with numerous secondary species from diverse biocenoses (Ringicula auriculata, Nassarius pygmaeus, Gibberula miliaria ), consequence of an environmental opening. The increase in coastal ostracod taxa such as Urocythereis sp. and Aurila woodwardii, is to the detriment of the formerly abundant lagoonal taxa of unit B. This translates a re-exposure of the environment to the influence of the marine swell and currents. For the foraminifera, the dominant taxa are Ammonia convexa, Peneroplis planatus and Cellanthus craticulatum. The tests of many of these individuals have been broken by waveaction, confirming a rise in energy dynamics, due to the collapse of harbour maintenance. This is linked to the demise of Tyre as a Mediterranean commercial centre.
Core profiles were presented and tsunamites were not found in the parts of the cores dated to the 6th - 10th centuries CE but a loss of harbor maintenance (e.g. continuous dredging operations) was evident. Thus there is no tsunamogenic evidence however further investigation may be warranted.


Marinner et al (2006) and Carayon et al (2011) reported on 15 cores taken around the northern harbor and four around the cirque ronde. There is no mention of tsunamogenic evidence in the cores. Thus there is no tsunamogenic evidence however further investigation may be warranted.


Carayon et al (2011) discussed 6 cores taken in Byblos - 2 in northern harbor and 4 in the bat of El-Skhiny. The study focused on geomorphic evolution of the harbor. Core profiles were not presented. There is no mention of tsunamogenic evidence. Thus there is no tsunamogenic evidence however further investigation may be warranted.


Caesarea Tsunamites
Fig. 4. Dip and strike CHIRP profiles (see Fig. 3), from which sample segments “a” and “b” have been enlarged for comparison with previously identified sediment core and underwater excavation stratigraphic compilations within the surveyed area (Reinhardt et al., 2006; Reinhardt and Raban, 2008; Goodman-Tchernov et al., 2009). Three horizons, representing four tsunami events, are recognizable from the available core evidence within the surveyed area (for core locations, see Fig. 1C). Goodman-Tchernov and Austin (2015)

Goodman-Tchernov et al (2009) identified tsunamites in cores taken immediately offshore of the harbor of Caesarea which Goodman-Tchenov and Austin (2015) dated to the 5th - 8th century CE and associated with tsunamis generated by the Beirut Quake of 551 CE and one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes. Although earlier works assigned this 5th - 8th century tsunamite deposit solely to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, later revisions assigned this offshore deposit mostly to one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes with the suggestion that the Sabbatical Year Quake tsunami deposit contained some reworked tsunamites from the 551 CE Beirut Quake. The revision may be based on the analysis of apparent landward tsunami deposits which were dated to around the time of the Sabbatical Year Quake(s) ( Dey et al (2014)). The chronology of the cores was determined using an assemblage of ceramic finds, radiocarbon, and optically stimulated luminescense (OSL) dating. As is often the case with cores, there was a limited amount of dating material; which lead to the wide spread of dates - 5th - 8th century CE. Multiple indicators were used to distinguish tsunami deposits from storm deposits. Particle size distributions were shown to be particularly helpful and reliable. Tsunami horizons were characterized by a wider range of grain sizes and poorer sorting.

Goodman-Tchenov and Austin (2015) mapped the tsunami horizons from a high frequency seismic reflection survey (2.5-5.5 kHz. Chirp source) which produced markers ~4-5 meters below the sea floor before sea bottom multiples obscured the image. Shot spacing was ~ 5 meters. The fold of the survey is not reported. It may have been single fold. Velocity control below the seafloor is also unreported. The time-depth coversion in Figure 4 above may have been based on correlating seismic markers to core horizons. Reflector 'A' was correlated to the 5th-8th century tsunami deposit. Reflector 'B' was correlated to a 1st-2nd century CE tsunami deposit which they associate with the 115 CE Trajan Quake although we think it more likely correlates to localized shelf collapse due to the the Incense Road Quake of ~110-114 CE or an unknown event. Structure maps (see below) constructed from time horizons of Reflectors A and B show the apparent presence of backflow channels from both tsunami events with 3-6 channels associated with the 5th - 8th century CE horizon and 1-2 channels associated with the 1st-2nd century CE horizon. The presence of more identifiable backflow channels on Reflector A (5th - 8th century CE) than Reflector B (1st - 2nd century CE) was interpreted to be a result of harbor degradation by Byzantine-Islamic time resulting in less flow impediments from man-made structures. This appears to be supported by archeological evidence which showed more ships anchoring at sea during this time.

Caesarea Tsunamites Reflector A Fig. 6 B - Structure map of reflector “A” (see also Fig. 3). To the right of the structure map, z-index using observed channels in each map as a guide, we hypothesize tsunami-based outflow directions from the Caesarea harbor as it existed morphologically [in the] 6th–8th century CE (551/749 CE). For details, see the text. ... The 6–8th century A.D. (551 CE, 749 CE) “A” horizon includes multiple drainage-like features that are distributed more evenly along the coastline, which we suggest is a lack of a cohesive single harbor entrance and fewer monumental coastal structures. JW: Depths presented to left may refer to sea bottom depth below MSL. Goodman-Tchernov and Austin (2015)

Dey and Goodman-Tchernov (2010:278) reported on potential 6th century CE tsunami deposits in the inner and outer harbors.
The inner harbour was blanketed with a thick deposit of heterogeneous rubble, including bones and other organic remains, pottery, and architectural materials.[63] Meanwhile, in the outer harbour, a powerful scouring effect mixed materials datable from the 1st c. B.C. to the 6th c. A.D. into a single, undifferentiated mass, further undermined the breakwaters, and cut a trench into the channel between the outer moles.[64] The signs from both the inner and outer harbour are dramatic enough to have led previous commentators already to propose the tsunami of 551 as a possible cause.[65]


[63] Raban 1996, 662; Yule and Barham 1999, 277-78; Reinhardt and Raban 2008, 177-78.
[64] Reinhardt and Raban 2008, 178-79.
[65] See, e.g., Raban 1996, 662; Yule and Barham 1999, 277-78; Reinhardt and Raban 2008, 177-78.
Goodman-Tchenov and Austin (2015) added a description of another potential tsunami deposit in the shallow intermediate harbor.
In excavations of the shallow intermediate harbor (TN area, Fig. 1C; Reinhardt and Raban (2008:155-182) ), there is an extensive deposit of mixed (Early Islamic- Byzantine–4th to 8th century CE) refuse, ranging from high-value intricate items of varying erosion state and exposure—suggesting broad mixing of typical harbor refuse (e.g., broken amphora/pots) and newly introduced, undamaged domestic wares and personal items (e.g., intricate hair combs, fine sections of Islamic coins, statuette, a satchel of copper coins). Unlike other harbor deposits, these materials are of broad origin (domestic, commercial, religious), value range and preservation state, suggesting the kind of non-deliberate and rapid burial a tsunami event would produce. In addition, because the ages of the ceramics found in this excavation range from early Islamic to late Byzantine (6th through 8th centuries CE), no distinctive stratigraphy offshore today separates what may have been two distinct tsunami events.
Although efforts to distinguish two tsunami events in the 5th-8th century tsunamagenic deposit by coring in deeper water where an intervening layer, for example, might be present are reported in publications such as Dey et al (2014), this has not yet, to our knowledge, been accomplished. As one of the sources (The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain - see Textual Evidence) states that damage for this earthquake was limited south of Tyre, it is possible that Caesarea was not struck by a significant tsunami (which remained preserved in the subsurface) due to the 551 CE Beirut Quake. Cores taken in Tyre, which was closer to the epicenter and was reported to have been damaged by the sources, showed no evidence of tsunamites striking the harbor. Further if 6th century CE tsunamite deposits are present in Caesarea, they may come from a different event. There were a number of different earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean in the 6th century CE (see Ambraseys (2009) or Guidoboni et al (1994). Tsunamogenic Evidence for the 551 CE Beirut Quake in Caesarea is currently tenuous.

Paleoseismic Evidence

Location Status
Tabarja Benches definitive - Mw = ~7.4-7.6
al-Harif Syria unlikely
Qiryat-Shemona Rockfalls possible but unlikely
Bet Zayda probable
En Feshka unlikely
En Gedi unlikely
Nahal Ze 'elim unlikely
Taybeh Trench Jordan unlikely
Qatar Trench Jordan no evidence

Tabarja Benches

Fig. 2 Elias et al (2007)
Figure 2. B: Uplifted, karst-pitted vermetid benches near Tabarja. from Elias et al (2007)
Elias et al (2007) examined uplifted benches on the Lebanese coast between Sarafand and Tripolis; some in the vicinity of Tabarja (~20 km. NE of Beirut). They estimated ~80 cm. of uplift took place on the lowest bench (B1) in the 6th century CE. They additionally collected deep towed sonar data offshore of the uplifted benches which showed fresh west facing fault scarps that cut the smooth seafloor. They associated these fault scarps with seismic activity from the newly discovered offshore Mount Lebanon Thrust Fault system. They surmised that ~100–150-km. of the Mount Lebanon thrust fault broke and generated an earthquake in 551 CE with a moment magnitude (Mw) of ~7.5.
Fig. DR7 Elias et al (2007) Supplemental
Figure DR7: Death age probability distribution of 17, 14C calibrated Vermetid death ages on
"B1" bench between Beirut and Palmier Island (sum probability, normalized to unit height).
from Elias et al (2007) Supplemental
Previous researchers had speculated that elevated fossil benches present on the Lebanese coast (largely between Beirut and Tripolis) had reached their position due to past earthquake activity. Morhange et al (2006) radiocarbon dated fossil Vermetids on the tops of these benches in order to estimate when the bench top was last in the sub tidal zone (which approximates mean sea level). By examining the radiocarbon dates and engaging in some seismic sleuthing, Elias et al (2007) determined that the well documented 551 Beirut Quake caused 80 +/- 30 cm. uplift of the lowest bench (B1) during this seismic event.
Earthquake Parameters
Fig. 3 Elias et al (2007)
Figure 3. Seafloor seismic rupture. Sidescan sonar image of "fresh" seismic rupture along base of continental slope west of Damour (box "b" in Fig. 2A). Note sinuous, segmented trace, west-facing main scarp, and smaller parallel scarps on top of east (hanging) wall and away from main scarp base on footwall. Dark shades mark high backscatter. Insonification from top (west). from Elias et al (2007)

Fig. 2a rotated Elias et al (2007)
Figure 2a. Bathymetric map of proximal Lebanese offshore.
Offshore: Bold red lines are "fresh" seafloor seismic breaks. Green line is survey path.
Box b indicates location of sonar image in Figure 3 above.
Onshore: Orange lines are locations of elevated benches. Red dots are sample locations for radiocarbon dating.
Image is rotated compared to original publication - from Elias et al (2007)

Elias et al (2007) discovered an offshore ~160 km. long thrust system in the process of collecting and analyzing their geophysical data. They termed this new thrust fault system the the Mount Lebanon Thrust. The deep towed sonar data showed fresh west facing seismogenic fault scarps on the smooth ocean floor which allowed them to map and characterize this thrust system. In commenting on the fault scarps, they stated that
given their geomorphic resemblance to sub-aerial, seismic dip-slip ruptures, and their position near the foot of cumulative bathymetric escarpments, the seismic origin of such submarine breaks is not in doubt, although assessing whether they result from one or several earthquakes will require further investigation.
They later added that "direct dating of the sea-floor scarps will provide the ultimate proof". They noted that their survey "showed no evidence of submarine landslides except for small-scale slump scars and rockslides on or at the base of steep slopes south of Damour and near Batroun" concluding that it was "possible to rule out the occurrence of a large local submarine landslide as potential sources of historical tsunamis [e.g. in 551 CE] along the Lebanese coast." The geographic coincidence of the stretch of coast exhibiting uplifted benches with the observed areal extent of submarine fault scarps appears to confirm that the Mount Lebanon Thrust fault was the source of large ancient earthquakes and tsunamis along the coast.

They estimated moment magnitude (Mw) of ~7.4-7.6 for the 551 Beirut Quake and offered the following discussion:
To raise the Tabarja trottoirs [benches] 80 ± 30 cm above the LMSL [Local Mean Sea Level], simple dislocation modeling in an elastic half-space (Okada, 1985) requires 1.5-3 m of seismic slip on these ramps, assuming they dip -45° eastward in the upper 20 km of the crust (Data Repository item DR8). Such slip amounts are consistent with the estimated magnitude of the A.D. 551 earthquake, and sufficient to account for the tsunami observed. Historical evidence combined with the extent of vermetid death in the sixth century A.D. implies a rupture length of at least -100 km, and possibly up to 150 km if the Rankine-Aabdeh lateral ramp was involved (Figs. 1 and 4), as suggested by two ages on Palmier Island (Table DR6). For such rupture lengths on thrust faults, empirical scaling laws predict an Mw of ~7.4-7.6 (Wells and Coppersmith, 1994), consistent with macroseismic estimates. Because strike-slip motion on the Yammouneh fault has been shown to produce only small local uplift (less than ~1 m in ~10,000 yr; Daeron et al., 2005), the inference that events on this fault might raise shorelines north of Beirut (Morhange et al., 2006) can be safely ruled out. The coastal 14C vermetid ages confirm that the great A.D. 1202 earthquake, for instance, produced no uplift along the Lebanese shoreline. That benches offshore Tripoli are older than the seventh century A.D. in fact excludes the possibility that any of the earthquakes of the eleventh to fourteenth century A.D. sequence, including the A.D. 1063 event, ruptured the offshore Mount Lebanon thrust system. Hence, the destruction of Tripoli and Arqa by the latter earthquake may have been caused by slip on the Aakkar and/or Tripoli thrusts (Fig. 4).

Displaced Aqueduct at al Harif, Syria

Sbeinati et. al. (2010) report a seismic event X which they dated to 335 AD +/- 175 years at a displaced aqueduct at al-Harif, Syria (close to Masyaf, Syria). The 551 Beirut Quake is slighly outside modeled ages. It is unlikely that this event caused seismic slip at this location.

Al Harif Aqueduct Seismic Events
Figure 13. Correlation of results among paleoseismic trenching, archaeoseismic excavations, and tufa analysis. In paleoseismic trenching, the youngest age for event X is not constrained, but it is, however, limited by event Y. In archaeoseismic excavations, the period of first damage overlaps with that of the second damage due to poor age control. In tufa analysis, the onset and restart of Br-3 and Br-4 mark the damage episodes to the aqueduct; the growth of Br-5 and Br-6 shows interruptions (I) indicating the occurrence of major events. Except for the 29 June 1170 event, previous events have been unknown in the historical seismicity catalogue. The synthesis of large earthquake events results from the timing correlation among the faulting events, building repair, and tufa interruptions (also summarized in Fig. 12 and text). Although visible in trenches (faulting event X), archaeoseismic excavations (first damage), and first interruption of tufa growth (in Br-5 and Br-6 cores), the A.D. 160–510 age of event X has a large bracket. In contrast, event Y is relatively well bracketed between A.D. 625 and 690, with the overlapped dating from trench results, the second damage of the aqueduct, and the interruption and restart of Br-3 and onset of Br-4. The occurrence of the A.D. 1170 earthquake correlates well with event Z from the trenches, the age of third damage to the aqueduct, and the age of interruption of Br-4, Br-5, and Br-6. Sbeinati et. al. (2010)

Al Harif Aqueduct Radiocarbon
Figure 12. (A) Calibrated dating of samples (with calibration curve INTCAL04 from Reimer et al. [2004] with 2σ age range and 95.4% probability) and sequential distribution from Oxcal pro-gram (see also Table 1; Bronk Ramsey, 2001). The Bayesian distribution computes the time range of large earth-quakes (events W, X, Y, and Z) at the Al Harif aqueduct according to faulting events, construction and repair of walls, and starts and interruptions of the tufa deposits (see text for explanation). Number in brackets (in %) indicates how much the sample is in sequence; the number in % indicates an agreement index of overlap with prior distribution. Sbeinati et. al. (2010)

Qiryat-Shemona Rockfalls

Kanari, M. (2008) examined rockfalls in Qiryat-Shemona which were attributed to earthquakes. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating was performed on soil samples beneath the fallen rocks. Kanari et al (2019) proposed that rockfalls QS-3 and QS-11 were most likely triggered by the northern Cyril Quake of 363 CE. Their discussion is quoted below:
QS-3 (1.6±0.1 ka) and QS-11 (1.7±0.2 ka) fit the historical earthquakes of 363 and 502 CE, and only lack 40 years in error margin to fit the one of 551 CE. Since the 502 CE earthquake was reported on shoreline localities only in the DST area, we find the 363 CE earthquake to be a better rockfall-triggering candidate. We suggest that the two ages are clustered around one of these earthquakes, hence suggesting they represent one rockfall event in the 363 CE earthquake. However, we cannot completely rule out the possibility that these were two separate rockfall events, both triggered by large earthquakes in 363 and 502/551 CE.
Qiryat-Shemona Rockfall dates from old GSI Report
Figure 10 - Summary of OSL ages (black circles with error bars) plotted in chronological order and selected historical earthquakes suggested as rockfall triggers (shown as vertical gray lines, chronologically labeled at the top axis); see text for details. Kanari et al (2019)
The criteria used by Kanari (2008) to identify historical earthquakes as triggering the observed rockfalls included:

(a) Estimated minimum MMI of IX
(b) Calculated Moment-Magnitude greater than or equal to 6.5
(c) distance to the site not exceeding 100 km.

Kanari (2008) surmised that these conditions satisfied Keefer (1984)'s upper limit for disrupted slides or falls triggered by earthquakes. Paleoseismic evidence for the 551 Beirut Quake generating any of the rockfalls observed and dated by Kanari et al (2019) is possible but unlikely. It is also possible that the earthquake generated rockfalls that were displaced by subsequent quakes or which were not observed by Kanari et al (2019).

Bet Zayda

Wechsler at al. (2014) may have seen evidence for this earthquake in Event CH3-E2 paleoseismic trenches just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret).

Bet Zeyda Earthquakes
Figure 9. Probability density functions for all paleoseismic events, based on the OxCal modeling. Historically known earthquakes are marked by gray lines. The age extent of each channel is marked by rectangles. There is an age uncertainty as to the age of the oldest units in channel 4 (units 490-499) marked by a dashed rectangle. Channel 1 refers to the channel complex studied by Marco et al. (2005).

Dead Sea

En Feshka
Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a questionable 1 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 186.5 cm. which they assigned to the 551 Beirut Thrust Quake. In our opinion, the Inscription at Areopolis Quake is a better match. It better matches the date range and appears to have had a much closer epicenter. Further, this is a textually well documented earthquake and no damage is mentioned in nearby Jerusalem - a city which many of the authors of the accounts would have paid attention to.

En Gedi (DSEn)
Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 551 CE date to a 0.3 cm. thick Type III mixed layer seismite at a depth of 220.33 cm. (2.2033 m) in the 1997 GSI/GFZ core in En Gedi.

Nahal Ze 'elim
At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned a 551 CE date to a 17 cm. thick brecciated seismite at a depth ofn 315 cm. Due to distance from the epicenter, we consider this date assignment for such a thick and brecciated seismite extremely unlikely. The Inscription at Areopolis Quake is a better candidate.



Taybeh Trench, Jordan
Event E3 in the Taybeh Trench (LeFevre et al. (2018)) matches well with a 551 CE date however the spread of ages for this event is quite large and a number of other earthquakes with closer epicenters are better candidates for causing the deformation seen in Event E3 (e.g the Inscription at Areopolis Quake).
Taybeh Trench Earthquakes
Figure S5: Computed age model from OxCal v4.26 for the seismic events recorded in the trench

Qatar, Jordan
Klinger et. al. (2015) didn't date any events which match with this earthquake.

Qatar Trench
Figure 6. Age model computed for the trench stratigraphy using OxCal v4.2 (Bronk-Ramsey et al. 2010) and IntCal13 calibration curve (Reimer et al. 2013). Light grey indicates raw calibration and dark grey indicates modelled ages including stratigraphic information. Phases indicate subsets of samples where no stratigraphic order is imposed. Klinger et al (2015)


Other Sources

Hymn 51 by Romanos Melodos
Guidoboni et. al. (1994) noted that
An echo of these events can be perhaps found in Hymn 51 by Romanos Melodos, in which reference is made to a series of places which had been struck by earthquakes, with accompanying biblical quotations: see Grosdidier de Matons (1981, pp.271-91); Gatier (1984, p.88), on the other hand, thinks Romanos Melodos is referring to the earthquake of 502.
Romanos the Melodist wrote his hymns in Greek the 6th century CE.
Volume IV of the Chronicle by Georgius Monachus (aka George Hamartolos)
Georgios Monachos wrote the Chronicle in Greek in the last half of the 9th century CE. Darawcheh et. al. (2000) note that this text contains a description of the 551 Beirut Quake but that it adds no new information. Sbeinati et al (2005) provided a summary Georgius Monachus report:
A large and widespread earthquake. Most of the Earth shocked. The sea went back for two miles. This event caused destruction in Arabia, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Antioch and many others and near cities, killing large numbers of people.
A Latin translation can be read here

Conflation Errors in Ancient Documents

Russell (1985) noted that a number of earthquakes struck in 551 CE or thereabout leading to a host of catalog errors in those catalogs that did not examine source documents.

Both the dating and geographic extent of this earthquake became confused in later earthquake accounts and catalogs. The confusion appears to have occurred because there were several earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean during the later reign of Justinian.

In the autumn of 551, another earthquake caused extensive damage in Greece around the Corinthian Gulf and in Boetia and Achaea; a consequent tidal wave destroyed two cities at the upper end of the Maliac Gulf. The historian Procopius (ca. 500-ca. 562) documented this latter earthquake but totally excluded that of July 9th (1928: 322-23), as did Evagrius Scholasticus (1964: 170-71).

On August 15, 554, yet another earthquake occurred in the regions of Byzantium and Bithynia. Aftershocks were felt for 40 days, and the event left such an impression on the affected populations that it was remembered annually in a festival held. appropriately, in an open field. This event is documented in Theophanes' Chronographia (1839: 354-55) and in the Anastasii Bibliothecarii Historia Ecclesiastica, an abridged Latin version of Theophanes' Chronographia made by the papal librarian Anastasius in the second half of the 9th century (1841: 105).

Finally, an earthquake in 561 severely damaged Anazarbus, the capitol of Cilicia II, as well as Antioch and Seleucia in the province of Syria I (Cedrenus 1838:678-79; Procopius 1954:224-27; Theophanes 1839: 364).

Cedrenus, writing in the early 12th century, also provided an account of the earthquake of August 15, 554. However, while most of his account reiterated the earlier narrative of Theophanes. he further stated that Antioch was also damaged at this time. along with cities in Arabia, Palestine. and Mesopotamia (1838: 674). Apparently. Cedrenus. or later editors of his work, 'conflated accounts of the July 9. 551 earthquake with those of 554 and 561.

A similar conflation of mid-6th century earthquakes appears in the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian (1901). written in Syriac in the mid- to late 12th century. Michael also recorded the earthquake of July 9, 551, noting damage to the cities of the Phoenician coast as well as villages in the Galilee (1901: 244). However, his subsequent account of the August 554 earthquake is apparently split in two, and one narrative appears at the end of his account of events in 551, while the other was placed within his account of events for 558 (190 I: 245-46). Further, his description of the collapse of Mount Lithoprosopus at Botryos and the damage incurred at Beirut during the 551 earthquake was conflated with the 554 earthquake narrative erroneously placed among the events of 558 (1901: 246-47).

Catalog Errors

Russell (1985) noted some of the catalog errors associated with the 551 CE Beirut Quake.

When Clinton compiled the tables for his Fasti Romani (1845), he apparently correlated the account of the July 9, 551 earthquake given by Agathius with the corrupt account of the 554 earthquake presented by Cedrenus. Both these accounts, along with Theophanes' narrative for 554, were then collectively used to document a 554 earthquake that ostensibly caused damage from Constantinople through Palestine (Clinton 1845: 802). However, Clinton did not record any earthquakes for the year 551 (1845: 792-96).

This temporal and geographic confusion has subsequently appeared in modern earthquake catalogs. Avranitakis noted (1903: 179) a 554 earthquake in Thrace, Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine while Willis (1928: 79) apparently added the account of Procopius for the 551 earthquake in Greece to document a 554 earthquake in "Greece, Syria, Mesopotamia, etc." Amiran (1950- 51: 226) subsequently included a 554 earthquake in his catalog by reference to Clinton, Arvanitakis, and Willis, stating that "Cedrenus mentions Palestine, Agathius Beirut."

Other Earthquakes in 551 CE

Guidoboni et al (1994) and Ambraseys (2009) list other separate earthquakes in 551 CE based on the writings of Procopius and Agathias.

Paleoclimate - Droughts


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Beirut Archaeology

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Ancient Texts

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