Go to top

Beirut Conversion Quake

347/348/349 CE

by Jefferson Williams









Introduction & Summary

Two late Byzantine writers (Theophanes and Cedrenus) report an earthquake causing extensive damage in Beirut and, by implication, the Lebanese littoral between 347 and 349 CE. According to both sources, most of the city collapsed. The dates supplied by the two sources likely constrain the date of this earthquake to between 25 Mar. 347 and 8 Sept. 349 CE. Grumel (1958) dated this earthquake to 348 CE. In some older catalogs, a possible tsunami is reported in association with this earthquake. A tsunami was not mentioned by either source. Although a tsunami was not mentioned, it is possible that this earthquake did generate a tsunami as the damage reports come from the coastal city of Beirut. Further details can be found in the Tsunamogenic Evidence section.

Textual Evidence

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
Chronicle of Theophanes Greek
Biography

Theophanes (c. 758/60-817/8) wrote the Chronicle in Greek during the years 810-815 CE as a continuation of George Syncellus' Chronicle. Theophanes' Chronicle covers the period from 284 CE, where the Chronicle of George Synkellos ends, until 813 CE (Neville, 2018:61). Neville (2018:61) notes that Theophanes explains that George had asked him to complete the task of compiling the history and had given Theophanes the materials he had gathered. Neville (2018:61) describes Theophanes' Chronicle as follows:

It is one of few Byzantine texts that is a true chronicle, in that it enumerates every year, and lists events for each year. The entry for each year begins with a listing of the year of the world, the year since the Incarnation, the regnal year of the Roman Emperor, the Persian Emperor, and the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. After the conquest of the Persian Empire, it uses years of the rulers of the Arabs in place of the Persian Emperors. Despite the impression of chronological accuracy, many of these dates are mistaken. Scholars also debate whether these dates were integral to Theophanes’ original Chronicle or were added by a later copyist.
Mango and Scott (1997:xci) characterize Theophanes' Chronicle as a "file" of sources and list at least 17 sources which informed his Chronicle (Mango and Scott, 1997:lxxiv-lxxxii). Hoyland (2011:10) noted that Theophanes made extensive use of an "eastern source" for events in Muslim-ruled lands during the the time period of the 630s-740s and continued to narrate events occurring in Muslim-ruled lands, until ca. 780 either making use of another chronicle for these three decades or, more likely, [] had at his disposal a continuation of the ‘eastern source’. Theophanes' ‘eastern source’ has been the source of much scholarly investigation and debate.

Orthodox (Byzantium) 810-814 CE Vicinity of Constantinople Theophanes (c. 758/60-817/8) wrote an earthquake where most of the city of Berytos in Phoenicia collapsed while supplying a wide range of inconsistent time markers which suggest the earthquake struck between 25 Mar. 347 and 8 Sept. 349 CE.
Synopsis Historion by Cedrenus Greek
Biography

Neville (2018:162-163) provides a succinct description of George Cedrenus (~11th century CE) and Synopsis istorion (aka A Concise History of the World)

In the late eleventh or early twelfth century, extant histories were combined and edited to compile a massive unified history from Creation to 1057, entitled the Synopsis istorion. The opening of the text names its author as George Kedrenos. A poem describing the history, found in a later manuscript of the text, says that George was a proedrus. This history was written after that of John Skylitzes in the late eleventh century, and before our oldest manuscript, which is stylistically dated to the first half of the twelfth.

For the years 811– 1057, the Kedrenos text copied the history by John Skylitzes precisely. For the period prior to 811 it extracts the histories of Pseudo-Symeon, Symeon the Logothete, and George the Monk. For the sixth and seventh centuries he used the Chronicle of Pseudo-Symeon, which was relying on Theophanes.

Although Kedrenos does not provide any independent information about the past, and often clings to the wording of texts he is compiling, his editorial choices can vary the meanings and implications of the stories he preserves. Scott and Maisano argue that his choices regarding the inclusion and framing of his material display his ideas about history.

Orthodox (Byzantium) 1050s CE Anatolia Cedrenus wrote about an earthquake which struck Beirut where most of the city collapsed. He dated the earthquake to the 12th year of the reign of Constantius II which equates to between 9 September 348 CE and 9 September 349 CE.
Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
Chronicle of Theophanes

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Theophanes (c. 758/60-817/8) wrote the Chronicle in Greek during the years 810-815 CE as a continuation of George Syncellus' Chronicle. Theophanes' Chronicle covers the period from 284 CE, where the Chronicle of George Synkellos ends, until 813 CE (Neville, 2018:61). Neville (2018:61) notes that Theophanes explains that George had asked him to complete the task of compiling the history and had given Theophanes the materials he had gathered. Neville (2018:61) describes Theophanes' Chronicle as follows:

It is one of few Byzantine texts that is a true chronicle, in that it enumerates every year, and lists events for each year. The entry for each year begins with a listing of the year of the world, the year since the Incarnation, the regnal year of the Roman Emperor, the Persian Emperor, and the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. After the conquest of the Persian Empire, it uses years of the rulers of the Arabs in place of the Persian Emperors. Despite the impression of chronological accuracy, many of these dates are mistaken. Scholars also debate whether these dates were integral to Theophanes’ original Chronicle or were added by a later copyist.
Mango and Scott (1997:xci) characterize Theophanes' Chronicle as a "file" of sources and list at least 17 sources which informed his Chronicle (Mango and Scott, 1997:lxxiv-lxxxii). Hoyland (2011:10) noted that Theophanes made extensive use of an "eastern source" for events in Muslim-ruled lands during the the time period of the 630s-740s and continued to narrate events occurring in Muslim-ruled lands, until ca. 780 either making use of another chronicle for these three decades or, more likely, [] had at his disposal a continuation of the ‘eastern source’. Theophanes' ‘eastern source’ has been the source of much scholarly investigation and debate.

Excerpts
English from Mango Scott (1997)

[AM 5840, AD 347/8]

Constantius, 12th year
Sabores, 46th year
Liberius, 3rd year
Eusebios, 3rd year
Cyril, 8th year
Athanasios, 19th year
Phlakitos, 5th year

ln this year most of the city of Berytos in Phoenicia collapsed during a severe earthquake. As a result, many pagans entered the Church professing to be Christians just like us. Thereupon some of them introduced an innovation and went forth after robbing, as it were, the Church of her usages. They appointed a place of prayer and received the throng into it, imitating all the customs of the Church and becoming very close to us (just as the heresy of the Samaritans [is close] to the Jews), while still living in the pagan fashion.||a
Footnotes

a [Hypoth. Arian] 23.

Chronology

A wide spread of dates arise from Theophanes entry where A.M.a5840 and the 12th year of Constantius reign are likely the most reliable. This places the date of the earthquake between 25 Mar. 347 and 8 Sept. 349 CE. Grumel (1958) dated this earthquake to 348 CE.
Year Reference Corrections Notes
25 Mar. 347 to 24 Mar. 348 CE A.M.a 5840 none
  • Calculated with CHRONOS
  • 1 September 347 CE to 31 August 348 CE is also possible
  • Mango, C. and R. Scott (1997) date A.M.a 5840 from 1 September 347 CE to 31 August 348 CE.
  • no correction required - not within the time span (A.M.a 6102-6206 or 6218-6265) when Theophanes' A.M.a are frequently a year too low.
9 Sept. 348 to 8 Sept. 349 CE Constantius, 12th year
1 Jan. 354 to 30 Dec. 355 CE Sabores, 46th year
  • Calculated with CHRONOS
  • Sabores (aka Shapur II) was crowned King in utero. Thus by some accounts, his reign started at his birth in 309 CE. He reached maturity at age 16.
17 May 354 to 20 June 355 CE Liberius, 3rd year
  • Calculated with CHRONOS
  • Liberius became the Pope of Rome on 17 May, 22 May or 21 June 352 CE
Eusebios, Bishop of Constantinople, 3rd year
end of 357 to end of 358 CE Cyril, 8th year
  • Calculated with CHRONOS
  • Cyril became the Bishop of Jerusalem around the end of 350 CE.
8 June 346 to 7 June 347 CE Athanasios, 19th year
  • Calculated with CHRONOS
  • Athanasios became the Pope of Alexandria around 8 June 328. His intermittent episcopacy spanned 45 years (c. 8 June 328 – 2 May 373), of which over 17 encompassed five exiles, when he was replaced on the order of four different Roman emperors.
1 Jan. 337 to 30 Dec. 339 CE Phlakitos, 5th year
Seismic Effects Locations Sources
Source Discussion

Conterno (2014:106-107) considers the following regarding reports of natural phenomenon in Theophanes:

However, in examining this type of information two aspects must be kept in mind: on the one hand the fact that they represented the main content of the chronological lists linked to the city archives, on the other hand the fact that events of this type could very likely be the subject of independent recording by several sources and, especially in the case of the most impressive phenomena, their memory could also be passed down orally for a long time. The importance of the registers of the archives of Antioch and Edessa in relation to the Syriac and Greek chronicles was highlighted by Muriel Debié. As emerges from one of his studies, in fact, the registers of documents kept in the city and patriarchal archives - the so-called "archive books" - probably also contained annotations, in calendar or annalistic form, of the most relevant local events, references to which they could be contained in the documents and administrative acts themselves: construction of buildings, destruction due to wars or fires and floods, natural disasters and exceptional events of various kinds (plagues, famines, eclipses and other astronomical phenomena ...)

From these registers, short chronological lists were extracted and circulated independently and from which authors of both Greek and Syriac chronicles could draw, as can be seen from the testimony of Giovanni Malalas. To these must also be added the episcopal lists, lists of rulers and lists of synods and councils, and it is precisely to these thematic lists, which circulated independently and in different versions, that the material centered on Edessa, Antioch and Amida which is found in the later chronicles. According to Debié, any dating discrepancies found in the various chronicles can be attributed, on the one hand, to the fact that the chroniclers had different lists available and often crossed the data from the lists with those taken from other chronicles; on the other hand, the probable difficulties encountered by chroniclers in matching the different dating systems or in obtaining absolute datings from chrono related logies, or even to their precise intention to modify the chronological data for ideological reasons. Debié therefore hypothesizes a large production and circulation of these lists, which in fact constituted a concrete form of scheduling relevant events at the local level, primarily for practical purposes. Being instruments of use rather than compositions of a historiographical nature, they were not intended to cover very large periods, but were rather relatively short clips. An aspect that emerges clearly from his study, moreover, is that in these lists the relative chronology was just as and perhaps more important than the absolute one, since the fixing of memorable facts and their concatenation was essentially aimed at establish reference points for the chronological location of other events.

Online Versions and Further Reading Notes
Notes from Proudfoot (1974)

Proudfoot (1974:374) noted that while Theophanes used the Alexandrian Anno Mundi system, it is unknown whether he started his years on 25 March as would be done for the Alexandrian version or 1 September as was done in the Byzantine method of Anno Mundi. Although the Alexandrian Anno Mundi system was being replaced by the Byzantine system when Theophanes wrote (and would be obsolete by the 9th century CE), Theophanes used the Alexandrian Anno Mundi system because his chronicle was a continuation of George Syncellus Chronicle which had used the the Alexandrian system.

Proudfoot (1974:405-409) summarized Brook's pioneering work on Theophanes' eastern source (only the first part is shown below)

Exposition of this source might profitably be preceeded by discussion of the pioneer studies of Brooks towards identification of the common source underlying much of the seventh and early eighth century narratives of Theophanes and Michael the Syrian, the development and the corroboration of this work in the light of more recently published primary sources and of other chronicle traditions, and its contribution to the emerging perspective of a stingle Byzantino-Syriac tradition for the historiography of the seventh century. A Monophysite Syriac chronicle extending to 746 written soon after that date by the otherwise unknown John son of Samuel and citing an unknown chronicle composed 724-31 (wherein much of the more detailed material was atrributable to a source written either within or on the frontier of the Caliphate before 717) (2) was transmitted to Theophanes through the intermediary of a Melchite monk of Palestine writing in Greek c. 780 whose work was brought to Constantinople in 813 after the dissolution of the Syrian monasteries and the dispersal of their personnel, and to Michael the Syrian through Denis of Tellmahre -writing c. 843-6, while the chronicle dated to 724-31 was one of the sources of the monk of Karthamin whose work was written c.785 and continued as the Chronicon ad 846 pertinens (3). The last notice Theo-phanes drew from the Melchite continuator of the common source was apparently (780) the persecution of Christians by al-Mandi (775-85) the first caliph of the Abbasid jihad ...

Synopsis Historion by Cedrenus (aka George Kedrenus)

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Neville (2018:162-163) provides a succinct description of George Cedrenus (~11th century CE) and Synopsis istorion (aka A Concise History of the World)

In the late eleventh or early twelfth century, extant histories were combined and edited to compile a massive unified history from Creation to 1057, entitled the Synopsis istorion. The opening of the text names its author as George Kedrenos. A poem describing the history, found in a later manuscript of the text, says that George was a proedrus. This history was written after that of John Skylitzes in the late eleventh century, and before our oldest manuscript, which is stylistically dated to the first half of the twelfth.

For the years 811– 1057, the Kedrenos text copied the history by John Skylitzes precisely. For the period prior to 811 it extracts the histories of Pseudo-Symeon, Symeon the Logothete, and George the Monk. For the sixth and seventh centuries he used the Chronicle of Pseudo-Symeon, which was relying on Theophanes.

Although Kedrenos does not provide any independent information about the past, and often clings to the wording of texts he is compiling, his editorial choices can vary the meanings and implications of the stories he preserves. Scott and Maisano argue that his choices regarding the inclusion and framing of his material display his ideas about history.

Excerpts
English translated from Niebuhr (1838)

In the 12th year [of Constantius II's reign] there was a great earthquake in Berytus in Phoenicia, and most of the city collapsed.

Latin from Niebuhr (1838)

Duodecimo anno terrae motus maiorem Beryti (urbs est Phoeniciae) partem evertit,

Greek from Niebuhr (1838)

Τῷ (iB ἔτει σεισμὸς μέγας ἐγένετο ἐν Βηρυτῷ τῆς Φοινίκης, ὡς τὸ πλεῖον τῆς πόλεως πεσεῖν.

Greek and Latin from Niebuhr (1838) - embedded



Chronology

Like Theophanes, Cedrenus dates the earthquake to the 12th year of the reign of Constantius II which dates the earthquake to between 9 September 348 CE and 9 September 349 CE. Grumel (1958) dated this earthquake to 348 CE.
Year Reference Corrections Notes
9 Sept. 348 to 8 Sept. 349 CE Constantius, 12th year none
  • Calculated with CHRONOS
  • reign started 9 September 337 CE
Seismic Effects Locations Online Versions and Further Reading

Archeoseismic Evidence

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Arwad Island possible to unlikely Several catalogs ( e.g. Ambraseys, 1962, Antonopoulos, 1979, Antonopoulos, 1980a, and Sbeinati et. al., 2005) consider the possibility that a tsunami was associated with The Beirut Conversion Quake of 347/348/349 CE. While this is valid speculation, none of the historical sources mention a tsunami. The way a tsunami entered these catalogs is likely via Sieberg (1932b) who mentioned damage on the Island of Arwad due to this earthquake.
348. Zers Arendes Beben an der syrischen kaste, wobei vor allein Berytus und Aradus (Ruad) litten

Translation : Earthquake on the Syrian Coast where Beirut and Arwad Island suffered.
The Island of Arwad is approximately 100 km. from Beirut. In the apparently larger 551 CE Beirut Quake, Sieberg (1932b) mentions widespread destruction in Beirut and that the earthquake was only felt in the Island of Arwad. He does not say it suffered. Based on this, if Sieberg (1932b) mentions suffering on the Island of Arwad due to the Beirut Conversion Quake, the suffering would likely be due to a tsunami rather than seismic shaking. Unfortunately, Sieberg (1932b) did not list his sources. As neither of the sources (Theophanes and Cedrenus) mention damage on the Island of Arwad, this tsunami report, though possible, is likely a false one. Salamon et. al. (2011) concurred that this tsunami report was probably false.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Arwad Island



Paleoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Tabarja Benches possible Mw = ~7.5 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 identified four uplifts from 3 or more [sizeable Mw = ~7.5] earthquakes in the past ca. 6-7 ka. They attributed the latest uplift (B1) to the 551 CE Beirut Quake while the earlier events (B2, B3, and B4) were no more precisely dated than between ~5000 BCE and 551 CE. Bench uplift on the earlier events (B2, B3, and B4) would likely have been due to uplift on the Mount Lebanon Thrust system - as was surmised for Event B1 and the 551 CE Beirut Quake.
al-Harif Syria possible ≥ 7
MW =  7.3 to 7.6
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 al-Harif aqueduct is 154 km. from Beirut.
Kazzab Trench possible ≥ 7 Daeron et al (2007) dated Event S3 to between 30 BCE and 469 CE and suggested the most likely causitive earthquake was the 347/348/349 CE Beirut Conversion Earthquake.
Bet Zayda possible to probable ≥ 7 In paleoseismic trenches just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret), Wechsler at al. (2014) identified 3 events which could fit this earthquake. When considering the context of all seismic events recorded at Bet Zayda, Event CH4-E2 (Modeled Age 269-329 CE) seems the most likely candidate. Wechsler et al (2014) noted that evidence for event CH4-E2 is weaker than that of some events.
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a n/a
Dead Sea - En Feshka possible to unlikely 7.9 - 8.8       Although Kagan et al (2011) assigned a 1 cm. intraclast breccia (Type 4 Seismite) at 228.0 cm. depth to a 349 CE date, this is on the edge of the modeled ages for this seismite (± 1σ - 430 CE ± 58, ± 2σ - 422 CE ± 126). Further, due to the distance involved (En Feshka is 240 km. from Beirut), this seems like an unlikely match. The 228 cm. seismite and another seismite at 220 cm. depth seem more likely to have been generated during one of the Cyril Quakes and the Monaxius and Plinta Quake.
Dead Sea - En Gedi unlikely - no evidence Migowski et. al. (2004) did not assign any seismites to any dates around 347-349 CE.
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim unlikely - no evidence Kagan et al (2011) did not assign any seismites at site ZA-2 to any dates around 347-349 CE.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Tabarja Benches

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 identified four uplifts from 3 or more [sizeable Mw = ~7.5] earthquakes in the past ca. 6-7 ka. They attributed the latest uplift (B1) to the 551 CE Beirut Quake while the earlier events (B2, B3, and B4) were no more precisely dated than between ~5000 BCE and 551 CE. Bench uplift on the earlier events (B2, B3, and B4) would likely have been due to uplift on the Mount Lebanon Thrust system - as was surmised for Event B1 and the 551 CE Beirut Quake.



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 al-Harif aqueduct is 154 km. from Beirut.



Kazzab Trench

Daeron et al (2007) dated Event S3 to between 30 BCE and 469 CE and suggested the most likely causitive earthquake was the 347/348/349 CE Beirut Conversion Earthquake.



Bet Zayda (aka Beteiha)

In paleoseismic trenches just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret), Wechsler at al. (2014) identified 3 events which could fit this earthquake. When considering the context of all seismic events recorded at Bet Zayda, Event CH4-E2 (Modeled Age 269-329 CE) seems the most likely candidate. Wechsler et al (2014) noted that evidence for event CH4-E2 is weaker than that of some events.



Dead Sea - Seismite Types



Dead Sea - En Feshka

Although Kagan et al (2011) assigned a 1 cm. intraclast breccia (Type 4 Seismite) at 228.0 cm. depth to a 349 CE date, this is on the edge of the modeled ages for this seismite (± 1σ - 430 CE ± 58, ± 2σ - 422 CE ± 126). Further, due to the distance involved (En Feshka is 240 km. from Beirut), this seems like an unlikely match. The 228 cm. seismite and another seismite at 220 cm. depth seem more likely to have been generated during one of the Cyril Quakes and the Monaxius and Plinta Quake. Modeled ages from Table 3 are presented below.



Dead Sea - En Gedi

Migowski et. al. (2004) did not assign any seismites to any dates around 347-349 CE.



Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim

Kagan et al (2011) did not assign any seismites at site ZA-2 to any dates around 347-349 CE.



Notes

Paleoclimate - Droughts

Footnotes

References