In ~142 BC, the Seleucid Empire experienced a power struggle between competing monarchs.
Two generals, Sarpedon and Diodotus Tryphon , led their troops into battle.
Tryphon’s army won. As Tryphon’s army marched up the Lebanese coast after the battle, an earthquake induced tsunami is reported to have struck and drowned
parts of the army; leaving a scene of Dead Fish and Soldiers in its wake.
Although this reported seismic event was too far from the Dead Sea to have generated seismites, seismites from around this time (mid second century BCE) have been
observed in En Feshka, En Gedi, and Nahal Ze 'elim and in paleoseismic trenches in the Araba. The seismites thicken towards the south and are quite thick in Nahal Ze 'elim.
This suggests an earthquake couplet may be at play where a southern quake triggered a northern quake or vice-versa.
Strabo (~ 64 BC – ~ 24 AD), in his book
possibly using Posidonius (~135 BC – ~ 51 BC)
as his source (Kidd,1988 p. 40) , reports sea wave flooding between
Tyre and Acre
(aka Ptolemais). Although he does not specifically cite an earthquake as the cause of the sea wave,
he speculates that ground movement may have caused the sea wave comparing
this event to another possible earthquake and tsunami reported in ~20 BC near Mount Casius (aka Cassium) in Egypt. If there was an earthquake, there is some uncertainty about its date.
According to Ambraseys (2009),
it could have occurred between 138 BC and 125 BC.
The description in Geographicum (Book XVI Chapter 2 Paragraph 26) follows:
A marvellous occurrence of a very rare kind is reported as having taken place on this shore between Tyre and Ptolemaïs: at the time when the Ptolemaeans, after joining battle
the Sarpedon the general, were left in this place, after a brilliant rout had taken place, a wave from the sea, like a flood-tide, submerged the fugitives; and some were carried
off into the sea and destroyed, whereas others were left dead in the hollow places; and then, succeeding this wave, the ebb uncovered the shore again and disclosed the bodies of
men lying promiscuously among dead fish. Like occurrences take place in the neighborhood of the Mt. Casius situated near Aegypt, where the land undergoes a single quick convulsion,
and makes a sudden change to a higher or lower level, the result being that, whereas the elevated part repels the sea and the sunken part receives it, yet, the land makes a
reverse change and the site resumes its old position again, a complete interchange of levels sometimes having taken place and sometimes not. Perhaps such disturbances are subject to
periodic principles unknown to us, as is also should be the case of the overflows of the Nile, which prove to be variant but follow some unknown order.
Ambraseys (2009) notes that an earthquake
was not specifically mentioned adding that “assuming that such a large event in fact occurred, it should have caused havoc in the coastal
area of southern Lebanon and Palestine, for which there is not a hint in the sources.” In quoting Strabo,
Ambraseys (2009) did not include Strabo’s ground movement and
tsunami-like speculations starting with “Like occurrences take place …” something he did include in his entry for the 20 BC Mount Casius event.
Ben-Menahem (1991) assigned a Local Magnitude of 7.0 and a Maximum Local Intensity of X to this supposed earthquake also stating that there was partial subsidence of
Sur Island  and that earthquake shaking was strong in Cyprus.
Ben-Menahem (1991) cites Strabo as his source, Strabo does not mention strong earthquake shaking in
Cyprus and merely speculates about the possibility of uplift or subsidence in the vicinity of Sur Island. These observations are interpretations by Ben-Menahem (1991).
Gomez et. al. (2003)
may also have seen evidence for this earthquake in paleoseismic trenches in Syria (Event B – below 170 BC – 20 AD colluvium).
Wechsler at al. (2014) may have seen evidence for this earthquake as event CH4-E6 (modeled age 392 BCE – 91 CE) in paleoseismic trenches at Bet Zayda just
north of the Sea of Galilee .
Although mid second century BC dates were assigned to seismites in En Feshka, En Gedi, and Nahal Ze e'lim by
Kagan et. al. (2011),
Migowski et. al. (2004), and
Kagan et. al. (2011) respectively, it is unlikely that this northerly earthquake would have created Dead Sea seismites due to the distance involved.
At the most southerly Nahal Ze ‘elim site, Kagan et al (2011) records thick seismites (15 cm. and 8 cm. at the ZA-1 and ZA-2 sites respectively)
which correlate well with this event; within the 1σ range. At the more northerly sites of En Gedi and En Feshka, seismite thicknesses for mid second
century earthquake(s) are not reported to exceed 1.5 cm.
Williams (2004) and Agnon et. al (2006)
both revised an original date assignment of Event A at
Nahal Ze’elim by Ken-Tor et al. (2001a)
from ~64 BCE to approximately mid second century BCE since the mid second century date better matched the
radiocarbon profile and estimates of sedimentation rate.
In the coarser grained lithology present at Nahal Darga, Enzel et. al. (2000)
report a 20 cm. thick seismite in Deformed Unit 8 in Stratigraphic Unit 10 which is dated to 250 BC +/- 200 (2000-2400 BP)
(see Table 2).
Kagan et al (2011)
in Table 3 report
two seismites from En Feshka at depths of 393 and 402 cm. depth which might fit this earthquake.
Kagan et al (2011)
in Table 3 report
an 8 cm. thick intraclast breccia at a depth of 516 cm. which could fit this earthquake.
In paleoseismic trenches near Taybeh, Jordan, LeFevre et al. (2018)
dated an earthquake Event (E6) on the Arava Fault to have occurred between 160 BC and 117 BC.
Klinger et. al. (2015) hypothesized that Event E7 in a paleoseismic trench in the southern Arava
near Qatar, Jordan may have been caused by an earthquake in ~150 BC or an earlier event (Date Range 338 BC – 213 BC). The
Fortress at Arad Quake
may be a better fit for this event than the Southern Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake of ~150 BC.
Since the earthquake record appears to contain several earthquake couplets (e.g. 750 BC Amos Quakes, 363 AD, 1202/1212 AD) which struck to the north and south of
the Dead Sea (Kagan et al, 2011), it is possible there may have been an earthquake couplet with northern and southern epicenters sometime around the middle of the
second century BC. This would mean that the paleoseismic data in the Arava and the Dead Sea were likely generated by the southern part of the couplet which may have
ruptured the Arava fault. Although there are no known extant textual records for a mid second century BC earthquake on the Arava fault, this should not come as a surprise.
Textual sources for earthquakes in the southern Levant are rare before 31 BC – particularly for the sparsely inhabited region south of the Dead Sea.
Considering Malalas' confused chronology on the Malalas Confusion Quake
possible that the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake and the Malalas Confusion Quake refer to the same event.
Karcz (2004) speculated on this possibility
suggesting Malalas may have misreported the ruling Seleucid King when the alleged
Malalas Confusion Quake struck Antioch.
Karcz (2004) further suggested that
the Seventeenth of Adar Quake may
refer to the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake. Based on the historical sources, Ambraseys (2009) constrained the years of the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake to
between 138 BC and 125 BC while assigning a date of 139 BCE and questioning whether it is a spurious earthquake report.
Karcz (2004) used historical sources to constrain the date of the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake to between
145/144 BCE and in 138/137 BCE and notes that if the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake and the Seventeenth of Adar Quake are the same event, this event
would likely have occurred in 143/142 BCE.
I know also that Poseidonius the Stoic speaks of a great quantity of fishes in these words: When Tryphon of Apameia, who had seized the kingdom of Syria,
was attacked near the city of Ptolemais by Sarpedon,
Demetrius's general, the latter was defeated and
forced to retreat into the interior with his troops. Tryphon's army were marching along the coast after their victory in the battle, when suddenly a wave from the
ocean lifted itself to an extraordinary height and dashed upon the shore, engulfing all the men and drowning them beneath the waters. And when the wave receded
it left behind a huge pile of fishes among the dead bodies. The followers of Sarpedon, hearing of this disaster, came up and gloated over the bodies of their enemies,
while they also carried away an abundance of fish and offered sacrifice to Poseidon, god of the rout, near the suburbs of the city.