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March 756 CE

by Jefferson Williams

Introduction & Summary

The By No Means Mild earthquake gets its name because in some translations of Theophanes he describes it as an earthquake that was "by no means mild". Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, who appears to be a contemporaneous source, describes the same earthquake but provides more details than Theophanes - stating that three villages on the north Mesopotamian Khabur River collapsed and many other places in Jazira were destroyed. Theophanes merely specifies that the earthquake struck Syria and Palestine.

The earthquake likely struck in March 756 CE. Although calendaric inconsistencies indicate it could have struck in the years 757, 758, or, less likely, 759 CE, Halley's comet appeared in 760 CE and was described by Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre and Theophanes 4 years after their earthquake accounts - thus fixing the date of this earthquake to 756 CE. There is a slight disagreement between Pseudo-Dionysius and Theophanes on the exact day. Pseudo-Dionysius says it struck on the 3rd of March while Theophanes says it struck on the 7th. Pseudo-Dionysius also says that it struck in the middle of the night and on a Tuesday - the latter of which is inconsistent with his 3 March 756 CE date. Arabic sources speak of an earthquake which struck around 756 CE in Mopsuestia which could be related to the event described by Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre and Theophanes. There is also a Muslim tradition that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was destroyed by this earthquake.

Textual Evidence

Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre
Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, Theophanes, and the Comet of 760 CE
Earthquake in Mopsuestia in 756/757/758 CE according to Muslim sources
al-Maqdisi 1
al-Maqdisi 2
Jamal ad Din Ahmad
Annals Part IV by 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. If Harrak is correct, this is a contemporaneous source. 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 Part 4 by Harrak (1999:197) we can read:

755-756 The year one thousand and sixty-seven: In the month of Adar (March), on the third day — a Tuesday — a powerful, terrible and dreadful earthquake took place in the middle of the night in the land of the Jazira. Three villages on the Khabur collapsed, and many people perished inside them, like grapes in a wine press. Many other places were also destroyed by this earthquake, brought on by the great number of our sins:

The earth shall totter exceedingly,
the earth shall shake violently,
and it shall sway like a hut.

This is what our sins are able to do: to shake the ground beneath us!


The earthquake is dated to the middle of the night on a Tuesday on the 3rd of Adar. Unlike the Hebrew calendar, Adar corresponds exactly with the month of March. The year specified is 1067 of the Seleucid era (A.G. Calendar) which, using Macedonian reckoning dates it to 756 CE and using Babylonian reckoning, dates it to 757 CE. Macedonian reckoning with a New Year starting on 1 October would be the standard for Syriac sources of the time (Sebastian Brock, personal communication - 2021). Years are summarized below. Years make use of the 3rd of Adar (March) date.
Year Reference Corrections Notes
756 CE A.G. 1067 none Macedonian Reckoning dates A.G. 1067 to 1 October 755 - 30 September 756 CE
757 CE A.G. 1067 none Babylonian Reckoning dates A.G. 1067 to 2 April 756 - 1 April 757 CE
Seismic Effects
  • Three villages on the Khabur collapsed, and many people perished inside them, like grapes in a wine press.
  • Many other places were also destroyed by this earthquake

Harrak (1999:31) suggests that the author of Annals Part IV relied on a mix of oral and personal information for the years from 743-775 CE supplying the following discussion:
In light of the various pieces of information we have been able to uncover, the Chronicler seems to have composed the history of the period between 743 and 775. The fact that in 775 A.D. he wrote from memory about events dated as early as 743 A.D. means that his contribution covered the history of at least 32 years, using oral and personal information. This span of time is well within the range of human memory.
In addition to the scant written sources and oral traditions used in the early portion of Part IV, the Chronicler had recourse to "old people" and other eyewitnesses, including himself, as sources of information for most of Part IV. This explains why his information is so plentiful and often very detailed
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 claimed by some to be the autograph - 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.


Pseudo-Dionysius states that the earthquake struck on a Tuesday in the middle of the night on the 3rd of Adar in what appears to be 756 CE. However, when one makes Julian day calculations to arrive at the day of the week, this appears to be inconsistent as 3 Adar (March) 756 CE falls on a Wednesday and 3 Adar (March) 757 CE falls on a Thursday. Theophanes dates of 7 March also don't fall on a Tuesday in 756 or 757 CE.
Date Day of the Week
3 March 756 CE Wednesday
3 March 757 CE Thursday
7 March 756 CE Sunday
7 March 757 CE Monday
Apparently, by the 4th Century CE, the days of the week were shared across all groups in the Roman empire despite their using different calendars. This habit apparently continued long after the Western Roman Empire fell at the end of the 5th century CE. The fourmilab converter was used to construct the table.

Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, Theophanes, and the Comet of 760 CE

Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre drew a picture of a comet in 760 CE which suggests that Harrak (1999) is correct that Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre is a contemporaneous source. This also assists in deciphering the chronology of the By No Means Mild Quake. In Pseudo-Dionysius' entry for A.G. 1071, we can read in Harrak (1999:198)'s translation:

759-760 The year one thousand and seventy-one: In the month of Adar (March), a shining sign was seen in the sky1 before dawn on the northeast side which is called Ram in the Zodiac, to the north of the three most shining stars. Its shape resembled a broom. On the twenty-second day of the month, it was still in the Ram at its head, in the first degree (of the Zodiac circle), the second after the wandering stars Kronos and Ares,2 somehow slightly to the south. The sign remained for fifteen nights, to the eve of the Pentecost feast. At one of its ends, which was narrow and more shining*3 a star was seen and was turning toward the North. The other side, which was large and darker, was turning toward the South. The sign was moving little by little toward the Northeast. This was its form:

Drawing of Comet in 760 CE by Pseudo Dionysius of Tell-Mahre Drawing of Comet in 760 CE by Pseudo Dionysius of Tell-Mahre - redrawn by Harrak Left - original drawing of a comet in 760 CE by Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre (Vat.sir.162 137r-136v)

Right - redrawn comet by Harrak (1999:198)

On the eve of the third day after Pentecost*, the sign was seen again in the evening in the Northwest, and it remained for twenty five evenings. It moved little by little to the South and then it disappeared. Then it reappeared in the southwest, where it remained in this way for many days.

During this time, many schisms took place in the church because of leadership. The eastern monasteries made John Patriarch, while neither the cities of the Jazira nor all the monasteries approved him. The people of the West and Mosul approved George. Because of this the entire Church became troubled.4


1 A brief mention in Theophanes 431: A.M. 6252 (760-761).

2 Following Ptolemy, the ancients believed that there were seven "wandering stars", Syriac | | (i.e. planets): The Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars (=Ares), Jupiter and Saturn (= Kronos), all revolving around the earth.

3 | | : See Manna, Dalil, 54, for its meaning.

4 See above pp. 193ff and 216ff.
Hayakawa et al (2017:11-12) suggests that this was a description of Halley's comet.
This should be the record of Halley’s Comet, which has an orbital period of about 75 years. According to Yeomans and Kiang (1981), Halley’s Comet was at perihelion on day 20.671 (UT) of May 760 CE. The comet was also observed by Chinese astronomers. There is a record in JiùTángshū (旧唐书), one of the official histories of the Táng Dynasty, stating that the comet was first observed on May 16, 760 CE within Aries and continued to be visible for about 50 days (JiùTángshū (旧唐书), Astronomy II: p. 1324). The observed period and the association with Aries are consistent between the Chinese and the Syriac records.
The discrepancy in months was discussed by Hayakawa et al (2017:11)
Firstly, we discuss its date and time. According to the text, the event was in the month ādār (March), so it should be March of 760 CE. The event was first seen on the 22nd of the month, remained 15 nights until the dawn of the Pentecost feast, appeared again on the third day after Pentecost, and remained another 25 days. From the text, it is also clear that the event was seen during the night. The time and the duration of the event as well as its shape, which we discuss below, are consistent with the interpretation that it was a large comet. The date of the event, on the other hand, is rather confusing. It is written that this event was seen on March 22 and lasted 15 nights up to the eve of Pentecost, but the date of the Pentecost of that year is May 25 (Grumel, 1958), so it cannot be 15 nights after March 22. A probable explanation for this inconsistency is a miswriting of May
as March
in the manuscript as there only one letter difference between them in the Syriac letter system. After a short break, this event reappeared on the eve of the third day after Pentecost and lasted another 25 nights. Thus, we conclude that this event started around 22 May 760 CE and lasted until early July of 760 CE.
If we accept that Pseudo-Dionysius dates this to May, the Macedonian reckoning gives the correct year consistent with what Sebastian Brock (personal communication - 2021) relates - that Macedonian reckoning with a New Year starting on 1 October would be the standard for Syriac sources of the time.
Year Reference Corrections Notes
760 CE A.G. 1071 none Macedonian Reckoning dates A.G. 1071 to 1 October 759 - 30 September 760 CE
761 CE A.G. 1071 none Babylonian Reckoning dates A.G. 1071 to 2 April 760 - 1 April 761 CE
Pseudo-Dionysius dates the By No Means Mild Quake to 3 Adar A.G. 1067 which is 4 years earlier than A.G. 1071 (760 CE). This dates the earthquake to the 3rd of Adar in 756 CE - according to Pseudo-Dionysius. Theophanes also mentions the comet in his A.M.a 6252 entry which is also 4 years after his earthquake account in A.M.a 6248. In Mango and Scott (1997:596-597)'s translation (Turtledove's translation is available here), we can read Theophanes' description of the comet
[A.M. 6252, AD 759/60] ...
II In the same year a very bright comet appeared for ten days in the east and another twenty-one days in the west. II
Theophanes' regnal years and his A.M.a dates are all consistently 4 years apart from the comet of 760 CE. Thus, it would appear that Halley's comet of 760 CE also fixes Theophanes earthquake date to 756 CE. By extension, this also indicates that Theophanes' date for the Talking Mule Quake (one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes) in A.M.a 6241 places that earthquake in 749 CE.

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 (1997:594-595)'s translation (Turtledove's translation is available here), we can read Theophanes' entry for A.M.a 6248:

[A.M. 6248, AD 755/6] II In this year, on 9 March, there occurred a considerable earthquake in Palestine and Syria.IIa Theodore [I], patriarch of Antioch, was exiled because of the malice of the Arabs, having been accused of frequently communicating Arab affairs by letter to the emperor Constantine. And so, Salim1 himself banished him to the land of Moab which was his native country. The same Salim decreed that no new churches should be built, that crosses should not be displayed and that Christians should not discourse with Arabs on matters of religion. II He invaded the Roman country2 with a force of 80,000 and, when he had come to Cappadocia, he heard that Constantine was taking up arms against him. Taking fright, he returned empty-handed without causing any damage, except that he took a few Armenians who had joined him. IIb


a Ps.-Dion. Chron. 63 records an earthquake in Mesopotamia on 3 Mar. AG 1067.
b Cf. Agapios, 278, with different details.

1 Salih b. 'All. He was governor of Egypt down to AH 140 (757/8). In AH 141 (758/9) he was appointed over Qinnasrin (Chalkis), Emesa, and Damascus: Tabari, Williams, i. 28, 31, 36, 44. His measures against the Christians, including the patriarch of Antioch, would thus appear to date from 758/9.

2 Salih led two expeditions to rebuild Melitene, the first in AH 138 (755/6), the second the following year (which is probably the one meant here). On the latter occasion he entered Byzantine territory by the pass of Adata: Tabari, Williams, i. 29, 32. Cf. Brooks, 'Abbasids', 733.

9 March is specified. The table below lists varying years that can be derived from Theophanes' entry. Calendaric calculations make use of the 9 March date.
Year (CE) Reference Notes
756 A.M.a 6248 Mango and Scott (1997:594) specify this as 755/756 CE
757 A.M.a 6248 Guidoboni et al (1994:370) specifies this as 756/757 CE
758 A.M.a 6248 A.M.a 6248 went from 15 March 756 CE - 24 March 757 CE however, according to Proudfoot, 1974:373-374, Grumel, 1934:407, and others, Theophanes' A.M.a's are a year too low from A.M.a 6102-6206 and A.M.a 6218-6255. So, a year is added.
757 Constantine, 16th year reign started 18 June 741 CE
756 Abdelas, 2nd year reign started on 10 June 754 CE
759 Paul, 2nd year consecrated on 29 May 757 CE
756/757 Constantine, 3rd year installed 754 CE
759 Salim's measures against Christians, Theodore [I] exiled Mango and Scott suggest this would have happened in A.H. 141 (14 May 758 CE - 3 May 759 CE)
757 Salim invaded the Roman country Mango and Scott suggest this happened in A.H. 139 (5 June 756 CE - 24 May 757 CE)
Seismic Effects

none listed.


Hoyland (2011:7-10) suggests that Theophanes also made use of the Lost Chronicle of Theophilus of Edessa.

Earthquake in Mopsuestia in 756/757/758 CE according to Muslim sources

Le Strange 1905:130-131 wrote about an earthquake that struck Al-Massisah (aka Mopsuestia - close to Antioch) in A.H. 139 (5 June 756 to 24 May 757 CE) without citing a source:

Al-Massisah lies on the Nahr Jayhan (the river Pyramus). It was conquered by 'Abd-Allah, son of the Omayyad Caliph 'Abd-al- Malik, in the 1st (7th) century, who rebuilt its fortifications and established a strong garrison here. A mosque was erected on the summit of the hill, and the church in the fortress was turned into a granary. A suburb or second town was built shortly afterwards on the other bank of the Jayhan, called Kafarbayya, where the Caliph Omar II founded a second mosque and dug a great cistern. A third quarter, lying to the east of the Jayhan, was built by the last Omayyad Caliph Marwan II, and named Al-Khusus ; he surrounded it by a wall with a ditch, and wooden doors closed its gateways. Under the Abbasids the Caliph Mansur turned an ancient temple into a Friday Mosque, making it thrice as large as the older mosque of Omar II. Harun-ar-Rashid rebuilt Kafar-bayya, and its mosque was further enlarged by Mamun. The two quarters of Kafarbayya, and Massisah proper were connected by a stone bridge across the Jayhan ; the town bore the title of Al-Ma'muriyah, 'the Populous,' or 'Well-built,' said to have been bestowed upon it by the Caliph Mansur, who restored Massisah after it had been partially destroyed by earthquake in [A.H.] 139 (756). At a later date Massisah, like its neighbours, passed into the possession of the kings of Little Armenia.
Blochet 1895:46 n. 3 wrote something similar but dated the earthquake to A.H. 140 (25 May 757 to 13 May 758 CE). (translated by Google and Williams)

Masisah. Malmistra according to Latin writers; in Armenian Msis.

According to The Description of Aleppo (ms. ar. 1683, fol. 67 r.):
this name includes two towns; between the two flows the Djihân river, the western city is Masisah, the eastern city Kafr-bîà, it was called the little Baghdad (Baghdâd as-Soghrâ)
Ibn abi-la'koûb said:
It was built by al-Mansoûr during his caliphate. It was a simple post before him. Al-Mamoûn builds Kafr-bîà; the Djihân river flows between the two places; on this stream there is an old bridge, large and built in stone.
According to the same author, the citadel of Masisah was built during the reign of Abd al-Malik ibn-Marwân; there was a church that 'Omar ibn' Abd al-'Azîz destroyed. This person had the mosque djâmi built for the locals in the vicinity of Kafr-bîâ. Hishâm ibn 'Abd al-Malik built the suburb of the city that suffered from the earthquake of the year A.H. 140. We still cite al-Mansoûr and al-Mahdî as the builders of this city ; ar-Rashîd built a ditch there. It was taken from the Muslims in 354 of the Hegira by the takafoûr.


Masisah. La Malmistra des écrivains latins ; en arménien Msis.

Suivant la Description d'Alep (ms. ar. 1683, fol. 67 r.):
ce nom comprend deux villes ; entre les deux coule le fleuve Djîhan, la ville occidentale est Masîsah, la ville orientale Kafr-bîà, on l'appelait la petite Bagdad (Baghdâd as-Soghrâ).
Ibn abi-la'koûb dît :
Elle fut construite par al-Mansoûr durant son khalifat. C'était avant lui un simple poste. Al-Mamoûn bâtit Kafr-bîà ; le fleuve Djihân coule entre les deux places ; sur ce cours d'eau il y a un pont ancien, grand et bâti en pierres.
Suivant le même auteur, la citadelle de Masîsah fut bâtie sous le règne d' 'Abd al-Malik ibn-Marwân ; il y avait une église qu' 'Omar ibn 'Abd al-'Azîz détruisit. Ce personnage fit construire une mosquée djâmi' pour les gens du pays dans les environs de Kafr-bîâ. Hishâm ibn 'Abd al-Malik construisit le faubourg de la ville qui souffrit du tremblement de terre de l'an 140. On cite encore al-Mansoûr et al-Mahdî comme constructeurs de cette ville ; ar-Rashîd y construisit un fossé. Elle fut prise aux Musulmans en 354 de l'hégire par le takafoûr

Description of Syria including Palestine by al-Maqdisi

وصف سوريا بما في ذلك فلسطين (?) by ٱلْمَقْدِسِي

Aliases Aliases
al-Muqaddasi ٱلْمَقْدِسِي
Shams al-Dīn Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Abī Bakr al-Maqdisī شَمْس ٱلدِّيْن أَبُو عَبْد ٱلله مُحَمَّد ابْن أَحْمَد ابْن أَبِي بَكْر ٱلْمَقْدِسِي
al-Maqdisi wrote Description of Syria including Palestine in Arabic in c. 985 CE (Le Strange, 1886). On page 41 of an English translation by Le Strange (1886), we can read about earthquake damage inflicted on Al-Aqsa mosque from more than one earthquake:
But in the days of the Abbasides occurred the earthquakes which threw down most of the main building; all, in fact, except that portion round the Mihrab. Now when the Khalifa of that day obtained news of this, he enquired and learned that the sum at that time in the treasury would in no wise suffice to restore the mosque. So he wrote to the Governors of the Provinces and to other Commanders, that each should undertake the building of a colonnade.

Earthquakes are undated however earthquakes (plural) are mentioned. The causitive earthquakes which damaged Al-Aqsa mosque were likely one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes and the By No Means Mild Quake

Seismic Effects
  • threw down most of the main building of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem
  • only the part of the Mosque around the Mihrab was spared - this may be a legendary report as this has theological significance

The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Regions by al-Maqdisi

أفضل الأقسام في معرفة المناطق (?) by ٱلْمَقْدِسِي

Aliases Aliases
al-Muqaddasi ٱلْمَقْدِسِي
Shams al-Dīn Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Abī Bakr al-Maqdisī شَمْس ٱلدِّيْن أَبُو عَبْد ٱلله مُحَمَّد ابْن أَحْمَد ابْن أَبِي بَكْر ٱلْمَقْدِسِي
I have not been able to access this book so I don't know if the earthquakes are described within it.

Online Versions and Further Reading

An English translation of this book by Collins was published in 2001. Various translations of al-Maqdisi are listed here.

The Exciter of Desire (for Visitation of the Holy City and Syria) by Jamal ad Din Ahmad

موتهير الءعهيرام (Muthîr al-Ghirâm) by جامال اد دين اهماد (?)

Le Strange (1910:10) relates that this text was composed by Jamal ad Din Ahmad, a native Jerusalemite, in 1351 CE. The work is described as a topographical description of the Holy City. Le Strange (1910:92) translates and quotes the text as follows:

On the authority of 'Abd ar Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Mansur ibn Thabit, from his father, who had it from his father and grandfather. In the days of 'Abd al Malik, all the gates of the mosque were covered with plates of gold and of silver. But in the reign of the Khalif Al Mansur, both the eastern and the western portions of the mosque had fallen down. Then it was reported to the Khalif, saying,
O commander of the faithful, verily the earthquake in the year 130 (a.d. 746) did throw down the eastern part of the mosque and the western part also; now, therefore, do thou give orders to rebuild the same and raise it again.
Khalif replied that as there were no moneys in his treasury, (to supply the lack of coin) they should strip off the plates of gold and of silver that overlaid the gates. So they stripped these off and coined therefrom Dinars and Dirhams, which moneys were expended on the rebuilding of the mosque until it was completed. Then occurred a second earthquake, and the building that Al Mansur had commanded to be built fell to the ground. In the days of the Khalif Al Mahdi, who succeeded him, the mosque was still lying in ruins, which, being reported to him, he commanded them to rebuild the same. And the Khalif said that the mosque had been (of old) too narrow, and of too great length - and (for this reason) it had not been much used by the people — so now (in rebuilding it) they should curtail the length and increase the breadth. Now the restoration of the mosque was completed on the new plan during the days of his Khalifate.

Le Strange (1910:92) adds that From this account we learn that in A.H. 130 the Aksa was thrown down by earthquake and rebuilt by the Khalif Al Mansir.. A.H. 130 dates to 11 September 747 - 30 August 748 CE. Damage in Jerusalem (Al-Aqsa mosque) suggests that this describes one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes. The second earthquake referred to in the account above may refer to the By No Means Mild Quake

Seismic Effects
  • both the eastern and the western portions of the [Al-Aqsa] mosque had fallen down
Online Versions and Further Reading

Le Strange (1910:10) relates that an excellent MSS of this work, which has never yet been printed, are preserved in the Bibliotlieqne Nationale at Paris, and from these the translations given have been made. For a full description of the MSS., and an account of Jamal ad Din's life, I may refer to my paper on Suyuti (who has copied Jamal ad Din), in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xix , new series, p. 250.

Archaeoseismic Evidence

see Archaeoseismic Evidence for the Sabbatical Year Quakes.

Landslide Evidence

see Landslide Evidence for the Sabbatical Year Quakes.

Tsunamogenic Evidence

see Tsunamogenic Evidence for the Sabbatical Year Quakes.

Paleoseismic Evidence

see Paleoseismic Evidence for the Sabbatical Year Quakes.


Megas Chronographos

Guidoboni et al (1994:370) indicates that this earthquake is referred to in Megas Chronographos 12, but Megas Chronographos 12 refers to the Sabbatical Year Quakes - see Megas Chronographos in the Sabbatical Year Quakes.


Guidoboni et al (1994:371) adds the following notes about Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre's account

It has not been possible to identify the site of Habura. The only indication provided by the editor of the text of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tellmahre is a reference to the Thesaurus Syriacus (Payne Smith 1879, I, col.1172), which laconically reports: name of a city.
Habura (aka Khabur ) is a tributary of the Euphrates River and is located in northern Mesopotamia (Jazira). Guidoboni et al (1994:370-371) wrote before Harrak (1999)'s translation of Pseudo-Dionysius was available so I will assume that Habura has now been identified as Khabur.