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Eusebius Mystery Quake

126 - 130 CE

by Jefferson Williams









Introduction & Summary

In the early 4th century CE, Eusebius wrote a terse passage reporting that Nicopolis and Caesarea were destroyed by an earthquake around 130 CE. One problem with this account is a lack of corroborating archeoseismic evidence. For example, no-one has yet discovered definitive archaeoseismic evidence for a destructive earthquake in Nicopolis or Caesarea on or around 130 CE. That said, given Caesarea's prominence, if it was struck by a destructive earthquake in the 2nd century CE, most of that evidence would likely have been obliterated by cleanup and repairs.

Two schools of thought have developed to explain this. Ambraseys (2009) suggests that Eusebius got his location wrong and Russell (1985) suggests he got his date wrong. In the copy of Eusebius' Chronicon we have access to, he did not cite his source. It is possible that his source misdated the earthquake or that Eusebius made a mistake in translating the date of the earthquake from his source to the Olympiad Calendar. For example, Eusebius source may have dated the earthquake using regnal years of the Roman Emperors. If the earthquake was incorrectly dated using the wrong Roman Emperor, we can arrive at a date that is compatible with Russell (1985)'s 110-114 CE date for the Incense Road Earthquake. This is discussed in a bit more detail in the Textual Evidence section under Eusebius. Even if Eusebius got his date right, it is still only an approximation. Elias of Nisibis dated the earthquake approximately 3 years earlier and, as noted by Ambraseys (2009), dates provided by Eusebius during this time period are sometimes off by a couple of years.

It should also be noted that Russell's (1985) 100-114 CE date for the Incense Road Earthquake may have overstated the chronological archaeological evidence. It is possible that the Incense Road Earthquake struck around 130 CE making the Eusebius Mystery Quake not such a mystery after all.

Textual Evidence

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
Chronicon by Eusebius Greek translated to Latin by Jerome
Biography

Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260/265 - 339 CE) also known as Eusebius Pamphilus is regarded as one of the most learned Christians of late antiquity (4th-6th centuries CE). He wrote numerous works of great value to historians including a History of the Church (aka Ecclesiastical History) which earned him a reputation as the "Father" of Church History. Despite this reputation, his works are not necessarily historically accurate and some scholars have accused him of dishonesty. Nevertheless, his writings are of great value due to both the volume of output and Eusebius' habit of quoting earlier works - many of which have been lost. Eusebius was born in Syria or Palestine, probably in Palestine close to Caesarea where he lived from a young age. Sometime before ~300 CE, he completed the first editions of two influential works - a History of the Church and Chronicon - a universal calendar of events from "Creation" until Eusebius' own time. In ~313 CE, Eusebius became Bishop of Caesarea. He also became an adviser to Emperor Constantine (r. 306-337 CE) and wrote a biography of the Emperor titled "In Praise of Constantine". A dedicated bibliophile, Eusebius managed or had access to the large library in Caesarea yet despite achieving fluency in Syriac and Greek, he apparently never mastered Latin. Eusebius wrote Chronicon in two parts. Although the original Greek text has been lost, later Chroniclers preserved significant parts of the manuscript. Jerome translated all of the second part (Book 2) into Latin.

Christian Early 4th century CE Caesarea Short passage stating that Nicopolis and Caesarea were ruined in an earthquake. Dates earthquake to 1 July 129 CE to 30 June 130 CE.
Chronography by Elias of Nisibis Syriac and Arabic
Biography

Elias of Nisibis was a cleric of the Church of the East, who served as bishop of Beth Nuhadra (1002–1008) and archbishop of Nisibis (1008–1046) (wikipedia). He wrote a number of texts but is best known for Chronography which he composed in the early 11th century CE. Enclclopedia Iranica describes Chronography as follows:

His renowned Chronography on history is preserved in a single manuscript with only a few major lacunae. It is divided into two parts, in Syriac with Arabic translation following each paragraph for most of the first part. The first part, modeled on the Chronicle of Eusebius, treats universal and ecclesiastical history up to 1018 C.E. in the form of tables, usually with accurate references given to the sources. The second part is a manual of the different calendars used in the Orient.

Church of the East Early 11th c. Nusaybin, Turkey Short passage stating that In that year there was an earthquake: Nicopolis and Caesarea were overthrown. Cites his source as the Chronological Canon of Andronicus. Guidoboni et al (1994) opined that Elias' ultimate source was Eusebius' account. Dates earthquake to 1 Oct. 126 to 30 Sept. 127 CE.
Other Sources
Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
Chronicon by Eusebius

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260/265 - 339 CE) also known as Eusebius Pamphilus is regarded as one of the most learned Christians of late antiquity (4th-6th centuries CE). He wrote numerous works of great value to historians including a History of the Church (aka Ecclesiastical History) which earned him a reputation as the "Father" of Church History. Despite this reputation, his works are not necessarily historically accurate and some scholars have accused him of dishonesty. Nevertheless, his writings are of great value due to both the volume of output and Eusebius' habit of quoting earlier works - many of which have been lost. Eusebius was born in Syria or Palestine, probably in Palestine close to Caesarea where he lived from a young age. Sometime before ~300 CE, he completed the first editions of two influential works - a History of the Church and Chronicon - a universal calendar of events from "Creation" until Eusebius' own time. In ~313 CE, Eusebius became Bishop of Caesarea. He also became an adviser to Emperor Constantine (r. 306-337 CE) and wrote a biography of the Emperor titled "In Praise of Constantine". A dedicated bibliophile, Eusebius managed or had access to the large library in Caesarea yet despite achieving fluency in Syriac and Greek, he apparently never mastered Latin. Eusebius wrote Chronicon in two parts. Although the original Greek text has been lost, later Chroniclers preserved significant parts of the manuscript. Jerome translated all of the second part (Book 2) into Latin.

Excerpts
English translation of Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius Chronicon Book Two

Nicopolis and Caesarea were ruined in an earthquake

Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius Chronicon Book Two

Nicopolis et Caesarea terraemotu conciderunt.

English translation of Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius Chronicon Book Two - embedded



Chronology
Year Reference Corrections Notes
1 July 129 CE to 30 June 130 CE first year of the 227th Olympiad none Calculated with CHRONOS
Seismic Effects Locations Discussion

One problems with this account is a lack of corroborating archeoseismic evidence. For example, no-one has yet discovered definitive archaeoseismic evidence for a destructive earthquake in Nicopolis or Caesarea in 130 CE.

Ambraseys (2009) suggests that Eusebius was not referring to Nicopolis and Caesarea in Palestine but to two similarly named cities - Nicopolis and NeoCaesarea - in the Anatolian province of Pontus. Ambraseys (2009) also suggests that Eusebius' date is approximately correct. As Nicopolis and Caesarea were popular city names at that time, Ambraseys (2009) was able to name two other pairs of like named cities in other parts of the Roman Empire but he preferred the northeastern Anatolian pair because they were larger, better known, and close to the active North Anatolian Fault.

Russell (1985) suggests that rather than being geographically incorrect, Eusebius may have been chronologically wrong. Eusebius, a native of Caesarea and perhaps the most famous "historian" of his time, could very well have been aware of earthquakes that struck the area in the distant past. Using an unknown source(s) and writing 200 + years after the event, he may have merely got his date wrong. Chronology is, after all, often the first victim of textual and oral transmission. Although Russell (1985) does not propose a reason why Eusebius’ sources may have gotten the date wrong, one possibility is that his source(s) may have reported an earthquake that occurred during Hadrian's rule when in fact the earthquake occurred during the rule of Trajan - Hadrian's predecessor. If one changes Eusebius' date for the earthquake from Hadrian's 13th – 14th year (130/131 AD) to Trajan's 13th – 14th year (111/112 AD), one arrives at a date which is within the 4 year time span (110 – 114 AD) Russell (1985) proposed for the date of the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Earthquake.

Online Versions and Further Reading
References

Delphi Collected Works of Eusebius (Illustrated), Delphi Classics.

Russell, K. W. (1985). "The Earthquake Chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the Mid-8th Century A.D." Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 260: 37-59.

Russell, K. W. (1981). The earthquake chronology of ancient Palestine and Arabia from the 2nd to the 8th century A.D. Anthropology. Salt Lake City, UT, University of Utah. MS.

Chronographia by Elias of Nisibis

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Elias of Nisibis was a cleric of the Church of the East, who served as bishop of Beth Nuhadra (1002–1008) and archbishop of Nisibis (1008–1046) (wikipedia). He wrote a number of texts but is best known for Chronography which he composed in the early 11th century CE. Enclclopedia Iranica describes Chronography as follows:

His renowned Chronography on history is preserved in a single manuscript with only a few major lacunae. It is divided into two parts, in Syriac with Arabic translation following each paragraph for most of the first part. The first part, modeled on the Chronicle of Eusebius, treats universal and ecclesiastical history up to 1018 C.E. in the form of tables, usually with accurate references given to the sources. The second part is a manual of the different calendars used in the Orient.

Excerpts
English from Delaporte (1910)

An 438 - In that year there was an earthquake: Nicopolis and Caesarea were overthrown. From the Chronological Canon of Andronicus.

French from Delaporte (1910) - embedded



Chronology
Date Reference Corrections Notes
1 Oct. 126 to 30 Sept. 127 CE A.G. 438 none Calculated using CHRONOS.
Seismic Effects Locations Sources
Sources according to Guidoboni et al (1994)

Guidoboni et al (1994) opined that Elias' source was Eusebius account.

Online Versions and Further Reading
References

Chronography in Syriac

Bibliography from Encyclopedia Iranica

The Syriac and Arabic text of the Chronography is found in Opus chronologicum, ed. and tr. E. W. Brooks, Scriptores Syriacae, 3rd ser., VII-VIII, Paris, 1909-10 (Figure 1).

A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur, Bonn, 1922, pp. 287 f.

Idem and A. Rücker, “Die aramäische und syrische Literatur,” HO I/3, Leiden, 1964, p. 196.

R. Duval, La littérature syriaque, Paris, 1899, pp. 211 f., 304, 394 f.

G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur II, Rome, 1947, pp. 177-89.

Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 400 ff.

Other Sources

This report was repeated in a derivative fashion without adding new information by other later sources such as

Ambraseys (2009) supplied a list of even more authors who more or less repeated Eusebius' original account

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Heshbon possible ≥ 8 Stratum 14 Earthquake (Mitchel, 1980) - 1st century BCE - 2nd century CE - Mitchel (1980) identified a destruction layer in Stratum 14 which he attributed to an earthquake. Unfortunately, the destruction layer is not precisely dated. Using some assumptions, Mitchel (1980) dated the earthquake destruction to the 130 CE Eusebius Mystery Quake, apparently unaware at the time that this earthquake account may be either misdated as suggested by Russell (1985) or mislocated as suggested by Ambraseys (2009). Although Russell (1985) attributed the destruction layer in Stratum 14 to the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Quake, a number of earthquakes are possible candidates including the 31 BCE Josephus Quake.

Mitchel (1980:100)'s 130 CE date for the causitive earthquake rests on the assumption that the "fills" were deposited soon after bedrock collapse. If one discards this assumption, numismatic evidence and ceramic evidence suggests that the "fill" was deposited over a longer period of time - perhaps even 200+ years - and the causitive earthquake was earlier. Unfortunately, it appears that the terminus ante quem for the bedrock collapse event is not well constrained. The terminus post quem appears to depend on the date for lower levels of Stratum 14 which seems to have been difficult to date precisely and underlying Stratum 15 which Mitchel (1980:21) characterized as chronologically difficult.
Caesarea possible 6-7 Late 1st/ Early 2nd century CE Earthquake - Using ceramics, Reinhardt and Raban (1999) dated a high energy subsea deposit inside the harbor at Caesarea to the late 1st / early 2nd century CE. This, along with other supporting evidence, indicated that the outer harbor breakwater must have subsided around this time. They attributed the subsidence to seismic activity. However, Dey et al(2014) noted that the subsidence and tilting could also be due to undercutting by current scour from large-scale storms (or tsunamis) and not exclusively seismic activity. Dey et al(2014) concluded that
Our data from the inner harbor cannot definitively ascribe the destruction of the harbor at the end of the first century A.D. to a seismic event, although some of the data support this conclusion. However, regardless of the exact mechanism, our sedimentological evidence from the inner harbor and the remains of the late first century A.D. shipwreck indicate that the submergence of the outer breakwater occurred early in the life of the harbor and was more rapid and extensive than previously thought.
Goodman-Tchernov and Austin (2015) examined and dated cores taken seaward of the harbor and identified 2 tsunamite deposits (see Tsunamogenic Evidence for the Incense Road Quake) including one which dates to to the 1st-2nd century CE. Although, it is tempting to correlate the 1st-2nd century CE tsunamite deposits of Goodman-Tchernov and Austin (2015) to the L4 destruction phase identified in the harbor ( Reinhardt and Raban, 1999), the chronologies presented by Goodman-Tchernov and Austin (2015) suffer from some imprecision due to the usual paucity of dating material that one encounters with cores.
Masada possible ≥ 8 2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake - Netzer (1991:655) reports that a great earthquake [] destroyed most of the walls on Masada sometime during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE.

In an earlier publication, Yadin (1965:30) noted that the Caldarium was filled as a result of earthquakes by massive debris of stones. Yadin concluded that the finds on the floors of the bath-house represent the last stage in the stay of the Roman garrison at Masada. The stationing of a Roman Garrison after the conquest of Masada in 73 or 74 CE was reported by Josephus in his Book The Jewish War where he says in Book VII Chapter 10 Paragraph 1
WHEN Masada was thus taken, the general left a garrison in the fortress to keep it, and he himself went away to Caesarea; for there were now no enemies left in the country, but it was all overthrown by so long a war.
Yadin (1965:36)'s evidence for proof of the stationing of the Roman garrison follows:
We have clear proof that the bath-house was in use in the period of the Roman garrison - in particular, a number of "vouchers" written in Latin and coins which were found mainly in the ash waste of the furnace (locus 126, see p. 42). Of particular importance is a coin from the time of Trajan, found in the caldarium, which was struck at Tiberias towards the end of the first century C.E.*
The latest coin discovered from this occupation phase was found in one of the northern rooms of Building VII and dates to 110/111 CE (Yadin, 1965:119)**. Yadin (1965:119) interpreted this to mean that, this meant that the Roman garrison stayed at Masada at least till the year 111 and most probably several years later. Russell (1985) used this 110/111 coin as a terminus post quem for the Incense Road Earthquake while using a dedicatory inscription at Petra for a terminus ante quem of 114 CE. Masada may be subject to seismic amplification due to a topographic or ridge effect as well as a slope effect for those structures built adjacent to the site's steep cliffs.
Khirbet Tannur possible ≥ 8 End of Period I Earthquake - 1st half of 2nd century CE - Glueck (1965:92) found Altar-Base I from Period I severely damaged probably by an earthquake which may have precipitated the rebuild that began Period II. McKenzie et al (2013:47) dated Period II construction, which would have occurred soon after the End of Period I earthquake, to the first half of the 2nd century CE. McKenzie et al (2002:50) noted that a bowl found underneath paving stones that were put in place soon before Period II construction dates to the late first century CE along with two other bowls which date to the first half of the second century CE. This pottery and comparison to other sites led them to date Period II construction to the first half of the second century CE.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Heshbon



Caesarea



Masada



Khirbet Tannur



Tsunamogenic Evidence

see Incense Road Quake.

Paleoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Bet Zayda possible ≥ 7 Wechsler at al. (2014) report modeled ages of 137 - 206 CE for event CH4-E5. Although outside their modeled ages, Eusebius Mystery Quake was listed as the historical report for Event CH4-E5. The Migowski Quake II of ~175 CE or an unknown earthquake from around this time seems a better fit for the modeled ages.
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a n/a
Dead Sea - En Feshka no evidence Kagan et. al. (2011) did not see any evidence for a seismite created around this time.
Dead Sea - En Gedi possible 6.3-8.8 Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned two seismites at depths of 264 and 265 cm. (2.64 and 2.65 m) at En Gedi to earthquakes in 112 and 115 CE. The 112 CE date refers to the early second century CE Incense Road Earthquake and the 115 CE date refers to the Trajan Quake which was too far away to have created a Dead Sea seismite. During field work in January 2014 in the nearby En Gedi Trench, Jefferson Williams saw evidence for a sizable earthquake from a ~5 cm. thick seismite from around 112 ± 8 CE which was probably created by the Incense Road Quake. Williams also observed two detachment planes in the Incense Road Quake seismite (use magnifying glass to see at high resolution) which might explain why Migowski, while doing microscope work on the En Gedi Core, identified two separate seismites from the same deformation event.
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim possible 8.1-8.9 At site ZA-2, Kagan et al (2011) assigned a 5 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 445 cm. (Modeled Ages 1σ - 125 CE ± 39 and 2σ - 133 CE ± 78) to a date of 115 CE. The 115 CE date refers to the Trajan Quake which was too far away to have created a Dead Sea seismite. The seismite observed by Kagan et al (2011) likely formed during the Incense Road Earthquake.
Araba - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Araba - Taybeh Trench possible ≥ 7 LeFevre et al. (2018) identified a seismic event (E4) in the Taybeh trench with a modeled age of 111 CE ± 31 which was associated with the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Earthquake.
Araba - Qatar Trench possible ≥ 7 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 early 2nd century CE Incense Road Quake 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.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Bet Zayda (aka Beteiha)

Wechsler at al. (2014) report modeled ages of 137 - 206 CE for event CH4-E5. Although outside their modeled ages, Eusebius Mystery Quake was listed as the historical report for Event CH4-E5. The Migowski Quake II of ~175 CE or an unknown earthquake from around this time seems a better fit for the modeled ages.



Dead Sea - Seismite Types



Dead Sea - En Feshka

Kagan et. al. (2011) did not see any evidence for a seismite created around this time.



Dead Sea - En Gedi

Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned two seismites at depths of 264 and 265 cm. (2.64 and 2.65 m) at En Gedi to earthquakes in 112 and 115 CE. The 112 CE date refers to the early second century CE Incense Road Earthquake and the 115 CE date refers to the Trajan Quake which was too far away to have created a Dead Sea seismite. During field work in January 2014 in the nearby En Gedi Trench, Jefferson Williams saw evidence for a sizable earthquake from a ~5 cm. thick seismite from around 112 ± 8 CE which was probably created by the Incense Road Quake. Williams also observed two detachment planes in the Incense Road Quake seismite (use magnifying glass to see at high resolution) which might explain why Migowski, while doing microscope work on the En Gedi Core, identified two separate seismites from the same deformation event.



Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim

At site ZA-2, Kagan et al (2011) assigned a 5 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 445 cm. (Modeled Ages 1σ - 125 CE ± 39 and 2σ - 133 CE ± 78) to a date of 115 CE. The 115 CE date refers to the Trajan Quake which was too far away to have created a Dead Sea seismite. The seismite observed by Kagan et al (2011) likely formed during the Incense Road Earthquake.



Araba - Introduction



Araba - Taybeh Trench

LeFevre et al. (2018) identified a seismic event (E4) in the Taybeh trench with a modeled age of 111 CE ± 31 which was associated with the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Earthquake.



Araba - Qatar Trench

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 early 2nd century CE Incense Road Quake 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.



Notes

Paleoclimate - Droughts

References