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1st half of 4th century CE

by Jefferson Williams

Introduction & Summary

Thomas et al (2007) uncovered earthquake damage to Late Roman/Early Byzantine structures in Aila which they dated between ca. 320 CE and 363 CE. There are no known textual accounts of an earthquake during this time although there is a mysterious and quite possibly false report of a tsunami in the Dead Sea in 315 CE (see Notes for details).

Textual Evidence

Ambraseys (1962) and Antonopolous (1979) report a tsunami in the Dead Sea in 315 AD based on reports in difficult to find sources. Ambraseys (1962) suspects the tsunami was actually in Lake Van in Armenian Turkey in 344 or 345 AD and he is probably correct (see Notes for details). Both authors assign a Tsunami Intensity of III.

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Archeoseismic evidence is summarized below

Location Status Intensity
Aqaba/Eilat - Introduction n/a n/a
Aqaba - Aila definitive ≥ 8

Archaeoseismic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below



Transliterated Name Source Name
Aqaba Arabic العقبة
al-ʿAqaba Arabic variant
al-ʿAgaba Arabic variant
ʿaqabat Aylah 12th century Arabic عقبة آيلة
Ayla Arabic آيلا
Aela Latin
Aila Latin
Ailana Latin
Haila Latin
Aila Byzantine Greek Άιλα
Berenice Ancient Greek Βερενίκη
Elath Ancient Semitic
Ailath Ancient Semitic
Ezion-Geber Hebrew עֶצְיֹן גֶּבֶר
Transliterated Name Source Name
Eilat Hebrew אֵילַת
Ilat Arabic إِيلَات
Umm al-Rashrāsh Arabic أم الرشراش

Aqaba, located at the northern terminus of the Gulf of Aqaba has a long history of habitation punctuated by episodes of abandonment and decline. It's strategic location as the nearest port town to the copper mines of the Araba Valley made it a regional hub for copper production (smelting) and trade as evidenced at the Chalcolithic sites of Tall Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan and Tall Al-Magass Klimscha (2011). The Hebrew Bible (e.g. 1 Kings 9:26-28 and 2 Chronicles 8:17-18) mentions nearby Elath and Ezion Geber as ports of departure for Solomon's merchant fleet to Ophir ( S. Thomas Parker and Donald S. Whitcomb in Meyers et al, 1997). According to the same Hebrew Bible, Eilat was later conquered by the Edomites in the late eighth century BCE (2 Kings 16:6). Nelson Glueck excavated the site of Tell el-Kheleifeh thinking it was Solomon's port city but subsequent work on the site suggests that this is not the case. Before the Roman annexation in 106 CE, Aqaba was a Nabatean port. In Roman and Byzantine times, the port was known as Aila. The town surrendered to the Muslims during the Muslim conquest of the Levant, and eventually a new Muslim town (Ayla) was built just outside the city walls of Byzantine Aila (aka Ailana) (Whitcomb, 1994).

The modern Israeli city of Eilat, named for ancient Elath, lies across the border from the Jordanian city of Aqaba.



Aila (aka Ailana) was the name of the Roman Byzantine town in Aqaba .


Thomas et al (2007) excavated and examined area J-east between 1994 and 2003. The J-East area is a multiphase site incorporating Early Islamic to Byzantine domestic occupation and a late third to fourth-century monumental mudbrick structure that has been interpreted as a church (Parker 1998a; 1999a; Mussell 2001; Rose 1998; Weintraub 1999) ( Thomas et al, 2007). This site, in the Roman-Byzantine town of Aila, is located ~500 m north of the modern shoreline of Aqaba and ~500 m NW of the Islamic town of Ayla . Thomas et al (2007) identified 6 or 7 earthquakes from the 2nd century CE onward in J-east and divided up the timing as follows:

Thomas et al (2007) produced a schematic of a composite columnar stratigraphic section for the deposits of the J-east site in Figure 3 . They identified earthquake destruction (Earthquake VI) in a collapse layer which they dated to the 4th century but before the southern Cyril Quake of 363 CE. In describing the Phase 2 layer below the collapse layer they provided a terminus post quem of ca. 320 CE
During the early fourth century, the monumental building was expanded and concluded with the final addition of Rooms 11 and 12 constructed after ca. A.D. 320. The upper sequences of floors contained Early Byzantine pottery of the mid to late fourth century.
The terminus ante quem is 363 CE when the southern Cyril Quake is presumed to have created the damage observed in Earthquake V.
This seismic event must have occurred at some point in the mid to late fourth century A.D. but before the final extensive collapse of the complex in Earthquake V [363 CE].
Seismic Effects

Thomas et al (2007) described seismic effects from Earthquake VI in J-East as follows:
The monumental mudbrick structure experienced fault rupture and collapse of some walls, producing a tumble horizon. The southern wall of Room 13 was ruptured by Fault D and the northern wall of Room 21 by Fault C. This tectonic shift caused substantial localized damage. Earthquake VI produced a total of 10 cm of left-lateral strike-slip measured across Fault C on Wall J.1:26, north of Room 21. This damage from the fault was repaired after Earthquake VI. The strike-slip of Fault D in EQ VI could not be measured because Fault D reactivated in subsequent Earthquakes V and IV. The total strike-slip measured along Wall J.1:53 is 30 cm. Since there was no repair to the wall, this suggests that the majority of the slip was caused by EQ VI. Similarly, the dip-slip could not be directly measured, but later releveling of the southwest corner of the monumental building indicates subsidence did occur. Elsewhere on the site, damage appears not to have been quite as severe, but seismically induced wall failures were repaired in the subsequent occupation phase.
Intensity Estimates

Effect Description Intensity
Fault Scarps dip-slip VII +
Displaced Walls VII +
Collapsed Walls VIII +
Seismic Uplift/Subsidence VI +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224 big pdf) . On-site fault rupture suggests a minimum moment magnitude MW of 6.5 (Mcalpin, 2009:312). 10-30 cm. of strike-slip movement suggests a Moment Magnitude Mw between 6.0 and 6.6 (see Calculator below).


Strike-Slip Fault Displacement - Wells and Coppersmith (1994)

Variable Input Units Notes
cm. Strike-Slip displacement
cm. Strike-Slip displacement
Variable Output - not considering a Site Effect Units Notes
unitless Moment Magnitude for Avg. Displacement
unitless Moment Magnitude for Max. Displacement

Notes and Further Reading

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence is summarized below:

Location Status Intensity Notes
al-Harif Syria unlikely wide spread in ages - 4.3 m of slip (Mw = 7.3 - 7.6)
Qiryat-Shemona Rockfalls unlikely 9
Bet Zayda unlikely
ICDP Core 5017-1 possible but unlikely 7 11 cm. thick turbidite
En Feshka unlikely 8 1 cm. thick microbreccia (Type 4)
En Gedi no evidence
Nahal Ze 'elim (ZA-1) unlikely
Taybeh Trench possible Event E3 - 551 CE +/- 264
Qatar Trench possible wide spread in ages - 9 BC - 492 AD

Each site will now be discussed separately.

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).

Al Harif Aqueduct Seismic Events Fig. 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
Fig. 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 earthquakes (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.
OSL dates Qiryat-Shemona
Fig. 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.

Bet Zayda

In paleoseismic trenches just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret), Events CH4-E1, CH4-E2, and CH4-E3 are all possible, but unlikely, candidates.

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).

Wechsler at al. (2014)

Dead Sea

ICDP Core 5017-1
Lu et al (2020) associated a turbidite deposit in the core to one of the Cyril Quakes. CalBP is reported as 1636 +/47. This works out to a date of 314 CE with a 1σ bound of 267-361 CE. Ages come from Kitagawa et al (2017). The deposit is described as a 11 cm. thick turbidite (MMD). Lu et al (2020) estimated local seismic intensity of VII which they converted to Peak Horizontal Ground Acceleration (PGA) of 0.18 g. Dr. Yin Lu relates that "this estimate was based on previous studies of turbidites around the world (thickness vs. MMI)" ( Moernaut et al (2014). The turbidite was identified in the depocenter composite core 5017-1 (Holes A-H).

See the following from Lu et al (2020b) regarding estimating intensity from turbidites:
Previous studies have revealed that the intensity threshold for triggering historic turbidites are variable in different regions and range from MMI V½ to VII½ (Howarth et al., 2014; Moernaut, 2020; Van Daele et al., 2015; Wilhelm et al., 2016). The intensity threshold constrained from the Dead Sea data (≥VI½) is situated in the middle of this range.

Previous studies in Chilean lakes have indicated that the (cumulative) thickness of historic turbidites across multiple cores correlates with seismic intensity, and can thus be used to infer paleo-intensities in this setting (Moernaut et al., 2014). However, in the case of the Dead Sea core 5017-1, there is a random relationship (a correlation factor of 0.04) between the thickness of prehistoric turbidites and seismic intensity (Figure 5a).
En Feshka
A 1 cm. thick microbreccia at 228 cm. is a possible candidate although one of the Cyril Quakes is a better candidate.

En Gedi
Migowski et. al. (2004) did not see any evidence for a 4th century CE seismite in En Gedi. See Paleoseismic Evidence Section for the Cyril Quakes for a more extensive discussion.

Nahal Ze 'elim (ZA1 and ZA2)
Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) assigned a seismite known as Event D in Nahal Ze 'elim (ZA-1) to the 363 AD Cyril Quake Seismite as did Williams (2004). It is possible but very unlikely that this seismite was caused by the Alia Quake.

At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) saw no evidence of an earthquake in the 4th century CE.



Taybeh Trench, Jordan
LeFevre et al. (2018) might have seen evidence in the Taybeh Trench (Event E3).

Taybeh Trench Earthquakes
Figure S5

Computed age model from OxCal v4.26 for the seismic events recorded in the trench.

LeFevre et al. (2018)

Qatar, Jordan
Klinger et. al. (2015) identified a seismic event (E6) in a trench near Qatar, Jordan in the Arava which they modeled between 9 BCE and 492 CE. The large spread in age caused them to consider two possible earthquakes as the cause; the Incense Road Quake between 110 CE and 114 CE and the southern Cyril Quake of 363 CE. They preferred the Cyril Quake of 363 CE based on weighing other evidence not related to their paleoseismic study and noted that further investigation was required.

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)


Mallet (1858, p. 5) lists an earthquake at "Areopolis on the Dead Sea" citing sources von Hoff, vol. ii p 174 and Ritter vol.2 p. 339

von Hoff, K. V. (1841). lists an earthquake in 315 AD with the description "Earthquake in Areopolis in Dead Sea (translated from Erdbeben in Areopolis am Totem Meere)". He cites Ritter (1847, p. 339) as his reference

Unfortunately, like Ambraseys(2009), I cannot find the reference by Ritter although it may be here

Ritter, K.W. (1847) "Erdbebenschreithung" vol. 2 p. 339 Breslan

Ambraseys (1962) provides the following

Footnote : ' Mallet (p. 5) gives an earthquake in the Dead Sea on the authority of Ritter, which we were unable to check. The same event is described by Moses Khoren (iii, 8), but only Acogh 'ig adds that this was followed by an inundation of the sea. From Acogh'ig's narration it appears that this event occurred in the lake Van rather than in the Dead Sea. Also, this event is usually dated in 344 or 345 A.D. The translators of Armenian texts have not perceived the chronological difficulties that occur in the MSS of Moses and Acogh'ig and have committed an anachronism of exactly 30 years; cf. 116.
The historical reference appears to come from E. Dulaurier's translation of the Armenian text "Acogh 'ig's universal history" Publications de Ecole des Langues Orientates N.iivantes, vol. 18, p. 101-102, Paris 1898.

Another copy of this book in English can be found here where the entry for the tsunami report may be on page 137.
Now when Sanatruk was king, he took possession of the city of P‘aytakaran and planned to rule the whole of Armenia.25 When the great prince Bakur realized this, who was bdeašx of Ałjnik‘, he conceived the same for himself and gave assistance to Ormizd, king of the Persians. The other nobles of Armenia assembled around the great Vrt‘anēs and dispatched two of the honourable princes to the emperor Constantius, son of Constantine,26 [asking] that he should send a force in assistance and make as king of Armenia Xosrov, son of Trdat. [66] On hearing this, he dispatched Antiochus with a huge force.27 And he came and made Xosrov king. And he sent Manačihr with his southern forces and a Cilician army [678] against Bakur the bdeašx. And Antiochus combined the other Armenian forces with his entire Greek army and moved against Sanatruk. Now he filled the city of P‘aytakaran with Persian troops and took flight to the king of Persia; he escaped with the nobles of Albania. And the Armenian forces ransacked their country and returned from there.

Now Manačihr travelled southwards; he overthrew the bdeašx Bakur and his forces and pursued those Persians who were assisting him. And he took many captives from the regions of Nisibis, including eight deacons of the great bishop Jacob; Jacob went after them and asked for these captives to be freed. And when Manačihr refused, Jacob resolved to go to the king. Antagonized by this, Manačihr ordered the eight deacons to be thrown into the lake. When the great Jacob heard this, he returned to his place angered, as Moses from the presence of Pharaoh. On reaching a certain mountain, from which the district derived, he cursed Manačihr and the district. And the judgement of God was not delayed, but Manačihr was slain soon after in the manner of Herod and the country became infertile, a sky of copper came over it and [67] the lake rebelled and extended over the boundaries of fields. When king Xosrov heard this, incensed, he ordered the captives to be freed. But after the passing of Jacob from the country, Manačihr’s son and heir, with sincere penitence, powerful tears and lamentation, through his intercession, gained healing for himself and the district.
This passage suggests that Ambraseys (1962) is correct that this supposed tsunami is likely both mis-dated and mis-located.

Stephanos Asoghik (aka Stepan Acogh 'ig) wrote Universal History in the 11th century AD and used Moses Khoren as one of his sources. Moses Khoren wrote The History of Armenia in the 5th century AD. French translations of The History of Armenia v.1 and The History of Armenia v.2 are both available online. A commentary on Moses Khoren's sources can be found here

Antonopoolos' (1979) entry reads as follows :
6. 315. Dead Sea (iii). 24 (p. 100). This indicates a tsunami intensity of 3. The reference (24, p.100) is the same one listed above by Ambraseys (1962) - STEPAN ACOGH'IG of DARON. - In E. Dulaurier's translation of the Armenian text « Acogh'is universal history ». Publications de l'Ecole des langues Orientales Vivantes, vol. 18, p. 101-102, Paris 1898.

Paleoclimate - Droughts



Ambraseys, N. N. (1962). "Data for the investigation of the seismic sea-waves in the Eastern Mediterranean." Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 52(4): 895-913.

ANTONOPOULOS, J. "Catalogue of Tsunamis in the Eastern Mediterranean from Antiquity to Present Times." Annals of Geophysics 32(1): 113-130.

Hoff, K. V. (1841). Chronik der Erdbeben und Vulkan-Ausbrüche, mit vorausgehender Abhandlung über die Natur dieser Erscheinungen. Gesch. Ueberlieferung nachgew. natürl. Veränder. Erdoberfläche, Parts 4 and 5, Gotha.

Mallet, R., et al. (1858). The earthquake catalogue of the British Association: with the discussion, curves and maps, etc, Printed by Taylor and Francis.

Ritter, K.W. (1847) "Erdbebenschreithung" vol. 2 p. 339 Breslan

Ancient Texts Thomson, R. W. (2006). History of the Armenians by Moses Khoren, Caravan Books.(iii, 8)

in Armenian

in Russian

in Italian

in French

Stepan ,Acogh 'ig of Daron, in E. Dulaurier's translation of the Armenian text "Acogh 'ig's universal history" Publications de Ecole des Langues Orientates N.iivantes, vol. 18, p. 101-102, Paris 1898.