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Inscription at Areopolis Quake

Before 597 CE

by Jefferson Williams









Introduction & Summary

A fragmentary inscription from a building restoration mentions an earthquake that struck Areopolis shortly before 597 CE (e.g. 575 - 596 CE). Although there are no known textual accounts for this earthquake, there is supporting paleoseismic and archeoseismic evidence. Attribution of seismic damage in Petra and other parts of South Jordan (e.g.el-Lejjun) from around this time was very likely caused by the Inscription at Areopolis Quake rather than the 551 CE Beirut Quake whose epicenter was sufficiently far away (~380 km.) to have produced a local intensity no greater than ~VI. At an intensity of VI, one could expect damage to a few weak structures and some items to fall off of shelves but not widespread seismic damage.

Textual Evidence

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Areopolis definitive Zayadine (1971) published a description of a fragmentary inscription found out of context. The dedicatory inscription referred to a building restoration that took place in 597 CE that took place after the earthquake.
Jerash - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Jerash - City Walls possible ≥ 8
6th century CE Earthquake

Kehrberg-Ostrasz and Manley (2019:21) found a tumble layer along Jerash's City Walls which Kehrberg-Ostrasz in Savage et al (2003:458) attributed to probable seismic destruction and dated to the 6th century CE.

The upper layers consisted of mixed soil with residual contemporary and Late Islamic pottery and glass sherds, as well as charred bones and other debris, clearly indicating a gradual accumulation of rubbish. This rubbish tip rested on neat rows of courses of the wall, which had fallen face down onto the western rocky slope already littered with residual rubbish. The pottery and glass under this tumbled wall section showed that the collapse must have occurred during the Late Byzantine period, probably the result of an earthquake that was responsible for the destruction of other city buildings in the sixth century.

Jerash - Decumanus from North Tetrapylon to the North Theater possible ≥ 8 Ball et al (1986) dated a collapse layer in the North Theater and Portico to the mid to late 6th century CE based on a small amount of recovered pottery. They were uncertain whether the collapse was due to an earthquake or stone-robbing.
Jerash - Hippodrome possible ≥ 8
"Earlier" Earthquake - 6-7th century CE

Ostrasz and Kehrberg-Ostrasz (2020) discuss evidence of an "earlier" earthquake to the mid 8th century earthquake; the latter of which produced a significant amount of clear archaeoseismic evidence in the eastern half of the carceres. They indicate that damage observed could have been due to an "earlier" earthquake or stone dismantling (human agency). Ostrasz and Kehrberg-Ostrasz (2020:4) report the following:

The final destruction of the building was caused by earthquakes. The masonry of most of the building collapsed during the earthquake of 659/60; only the carceres and the south-east part of the cavea survived that disaster.
Ostrasz and Kehrberg-Ostrasz (2020:36) discussed this possible archaeoseismic evidence further
The presence of the stones belonging to the upper parts of the building used in the passageway of the gate in the period of the intrusive occupancy (supra: THE MAIN GATE) and the presence of the architrave pieces in chamber E2 used there in the same period concurs to strengthen the possibility that before an earthquake finally destroyed the north part of the building there might have occurred an earlier earthquake which partly destroyed the masonry at its upper level. Still, the human factor (dismantling) cannot be ruled out.
Ostrasz and Kehrberg-Ostrasz (2020:60) discussed possible archaeoseismic evidence from an "earlier" earthquake again reporting that before an earthquake ultimately destroyed the gate, the upper parts of the hippodrome were either dismantled or partly destroyed by an earlier earthquake. The assigned date of 659/660 appears to based on earthquake catalog matching. Since Ostrasz and Kehrberg-Ostrasz (2020:4) assign the latest date for activity that preceded the "earlier" earthquake to the 6th century and Ostrasz and Kehrberg-Ostrasz (2020:33) provided a terminus post quem for the following event as the first half of the 8th century, it would seem that archaeological evidence constrains the date of the "earlier" earthquake to the 6th to 7th centuries CE. note. A site effect may be present due to varying thickness of fill under the hippodrome.

Heshbon possible
Stratum 9 Earthquake - ~6th century CE - debated

Archeoseismic evidence for the Stratum 9 earthquake is debated - Following the stratigraphy listed by Mitchel (1980:9), Storfjell (1993:113) noted archaeoseismic evidence which he dated to 500-525 CE.

There is scattered evidence for a destruction, probably caused by an earthquake. This evidence comes from Area C, and Probes G.11 and G.16. If there was evidence of destruction in Area A, it would have been removed in the subsequent reconstruction and enlargement of the church. The ceramic evidence suggests that the destruction occurred in the Late Byzantine period. Placement in the overall stratigraphic sequence would suggest a destruction date in the first quarter of the sixth century for Stratum 9.
Storfjell (1993:110) discussed dating of Stratum 9 as follows:
The evidence is not precise enough to specify with certainty the exact dates for Stratum 9, although the ceramic horizon is predominantly Early Byzantine (ca. AD 408-527). It is this period that first reveals the Christian presence at Tell Hesban.
The Christian presence was apparently the construction of a Christian church on the remains of the Roman Temple possibly damaged by an earthquake in the 4th century CE. This church was apparently rebuilt in Stratum 8 which has a terminus ante quem of 614 CE according to Storfjell (1993:113). Sauer (1993:259), in the same publication, disputes the early 6th century earthquake evidence at Tall Hisban stating that thus far, there is no earthquake evidence at Hesban in this period.

el-Lejjun probable ≥ 9
3rd Earthquake - ~530 - ~750 CE

The later phase (ca. 530-51) of Stratum III began with the demobilization of the legion ca. 530, as suggested by a passage in Procopius (Anecdota 24.12-14). It is notable that the latest closely dateable Byzantine coins from el-Lejjun are issues of Justinian I, dated 534-65, exactly what one would expect if Procopius' assertion were true. Some structures like the principia, were completely abandoned. Others, like the church, were extensively robbed. Large amounts of trash were dumped in barrack alleyways and even in major thoroughfares, such as the via praetoria. In Area N the rooms rebuilt rebuilt after 502 afterward witnessed little actual occupation. It is especially telling that a human corpse was interred in one room (N.2) that opened directly onto the via principalis a clear sign of the absence of military discipline.

Some inhabitants, perhaps discharged soldiers and their families or civilians from the surrounding countryside, continued to live within the fortress, however. The discovery of a human infant within the northwest angle tower in the debris of the earthquake of July 9, 551, implies that families were now living in the fortifications. The earthquake of 551 was a major catastrophe.

The numismatic finds and demobilization evidence described above provide a terminus post quem of ~530 CE for seismic destruction and final abandonment of the fortress at el-Lejjun. A terminus ante quem is not so well defined because after the 3rd earthquake, there is a Post Stratum Gap that lasted until 1900 CE. Parker (2006:121) notes that there is some evidence of camping and limited reoccupation of the domestic complex near the north gate in the Umayyad period (661-750 CE). Sherds and coins of Ayyubid/Mamluk (1174-1516) and Ottoman periods [also] attest [to] occasional later use of the fortress. Because Groot et al (2006:183) report discovery of a nearly complete Umayyad Lamp in Square 4 of Area B (Barracks) in the Post Stratum Gap, the Umayyad period (661 - 750 CE) is the terminus ante quem for this earthquake and the date for this earthquake is constrained to ~530 - 750 CE. deVries et al (2006:196) also found Umayyad sherds in the Post Stratum Gap in Rooms C.3, C.4, C.6, and C.7 of the northwest Angle Tower along with an Umayyad coin dated to 700-750 CE in locus C.4.018.

Although Parker (2006) attributed the 3rd earthquake to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, this is highly unlikely as the epicenter was far away - near Beirut. One of the sources for the 551 CE Beirut Quake (The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain) states that damage was limited south of Tyre and there are no reports of earthquake destruction in Jerusalem which is 121 km. closer to the epicenter than el-Lejjun. The most likely candidate for this earthquake is the Inscription at Areopolis Quake which struck Aeropolis - a mere ~12 km. from el-Lejjun - in the late 6th century - before 597 CE.

Castellum of Da 'janiya possible ≥ 8 2nd Earthquake - Godwin (2006:281) identified 3 destruction layers in room T.1 (aedes). This is illustrated in the Harris Matrix and described in the Table below. Collapse layer T.1:006 was tentatively misdated to 551 CE which might suggest the late 6th century Inscription at Areopolis Quake. The two later destruction layers were interpreted as earthquake induced but were undated.
Castellum of Khirbet el-Fityan no evidence
Late Byzantine Earthquakes - no evidence

Potential earthquake destruction layers were identified at the Castellum of Khirbet el-Fityan but there was insufficient dating evidence to make positive identifications. There was a complete absence of Late Byzantine (i.e. sixth century) pottery from [excavations at] the site ( Richard and Parker, 1987). Thus, there was no dateable evidence for the late 6th century Inscription at Areopolis Quake. Above Early Byzantine occupation layers were some tumbled stones but these were not dated and whether they were created by seismic events or intrusive activities such as stone robbing was not ascertained. Richard and Parker (1987) suggest that the Castellum of Khirbet el-Fitnan was abandoned by the end of the fifth century, at least a half century before the legionary fortress [at el-Lejjun]. They also mention the possibility that Late Byzantine stratification was destroyed by the Late Ottoman occupation.

Fortlet of Rujm Beni Yasser possible Bloom and Parker (1987) found tumbled layers on the site but the tumble was undated and a seismic origin was neither confirmed or disaffirmed.
Castellum of Qasr Bshir possible ≥ 8 Possible Earthquake between ca. 500 and 636 CE - The site was abandoned by the Romans by 500 CE. After abandonment, limited occupation occurred which may have been no more than a squatter occupation. The site was re-occupied in the Umayyad period (starting in 636 CE ?). Clark (1987) identified a tumble layer in the Post Stratum III gap {ca. 500 to 636 CE) which could have been caused by an earthquake or gradual decay
Petra - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Petra - Petra Theater possible Jones (2021:3 Table 1) states that the Phase VII destruction of the Main Theatre is difficult to date, as the structure had gone out of use long before. Destruction tentatively dated to 6th-8th centuries CE but may have occurred later. See also Hammond (1964).
Petra - Temple of the Winged Lions possible limited evidence - Dating presented in Hammond (1975) was based on analogy to Petra Theater. Philip Hammond excavated both the Petra Theater and Temple of the Winged Lions. Erickson-Gini and Tuttle (2017) note a few publications suggested an earthquake in 551 CE (JW: unlikely due to distance) but that 6th century finds from the site are elusive. Jones (2021) suggests this could indicate abandonment before a 6th century seismic destruction.
Petra - Near Temple of the Winged Lions possible limited evidence - Erickson-Gini and Tuttle (2017) note a few publications suggested an earthquake in 551 CE (JW: unlikely due to distance) but that 6th century finds from the site are lacking . Jones (2021) suggests this could indicate abandonment before a 6th century seismic destruction.
Petra - Qasr Bint possible Jones (2021) suggests Qasr Bint could have been damaged by 6th century seismic destruction while original excavators do not appear to discuss seismic destruction in the 6th century CE
Petra - Jabal Khubthah possible ≥ 8 The End of Phase 3 Earthquake was dated to the 5th or 6th centuries CE. Fiema in Tholbecq et al (2019) encountered difficulties in dating this presumed seismic destruction and suggested that the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 CE or a later earthquake was responsible.
Petra - The Great Temple possible ≥ 6 Although Joukowsky (2009) attributed seismic destruction in the Phase XI Earthquake to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, the epicenter of this earthquake was too far from Petra (almost 400 km.) to have caused such damage. The Inscription at Areopolis Quake of the late 6th century CE is a more likely candidate.
Petra - Pool Complex possible ≥ 8 Although Bedal et al (2007) attributed seismic destruction in the Phase VII Earthquake to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, the epicenter of this earthquake was too far from Petra (almost 400 km.) to have caused such damage. The Inscription at Areopolis Quake of the late 6th century CE is a more likely candidate.
Petra - ez Zantur possible ≥ 8 debated - Excavators dated a seismic destruction to the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 CE. Jones (2021) argues that this date is likely too early and that the late 6th century CE Inscription at Areopolis Quake is a plausible candidate
Petra - Urn Tomb possible
5th-6th Century CE Earthquake - Debated Chronology

Jones (2021) argues that al-Zantur I Spatromisch II ceramics, rather than dating from 363 CE - 419 CE, should date to at least a century later. If true, this would negate archaeoseismic evidence for an earthquake reported in 419 CE (i.e. the Monaxius and Plinta Quake) at ez-Zantur and other sites in Petra such as in a structure outside the Urn Tomb, and in Structure I of the NEPP Project. Jones (2021) suggests instead that the causitive earthquake was more likely the late 6th century CE Inscription At Areopolis Quake. Jones (2021) provides a discussion below:

Within Petra, the 418/419 earthquake has been suggested as the cause for the destruction of three structures:
  • al-Zantur I, specifically the end of Bauphase Spatromisch II
  • one of the structures outside of the Urn Tomb, House II
  • North-Eastern Petra Project (NEPP) Structure I
At the Urn Tomb, a 363 earthquake destruction has been suggested for a cave below the tomb (Zayadine 1974: 138) as well as House II, which was partially rebuilt afterwards and by the 6th century was being `used as a quarry' (Zeitler 1993: 256-57). Taking this quarrying as evidence for a 5th century abandonment of House II, Kolb (2000: 230; 2007: 154-55) suggests a second destruction in the 418/419 earthquake, primarily based on analogy to al-Zantur I. As only a preliminary report has appeared for House II, it is not possible to evaluate the archaeological evidence for this attribution, but a 5th century abandonment of House II may instead be related to the modification of the Urn Tomb for use as a church in 446 (Bikai 2002: 271).

Petra - NEPP site possible
5th-6th Century CE Earthquake - Debated Chronology

Fiema and Schmid (2014:429-430) suggest that Structure 1 in the NEPP area was destroyed by the 363 earthquake, but later restored although in much altered form and appearance with final destruction and abandonment taking place afterwards, perhaps sometime in the early 5th century. They suggest final destruction and abandonment may have been due to the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 CE. Jones (2021) argues that al-Zantur I Spatromisch II ceramics, rather than dating from 363 CE - 419 CE, should date to at least a century later. If true, this would negate archaeoseismic evidence for an earthquake reported in 419 CE (i.e. the Monaxius and Plinta Quake) at ez-Zantur and other sites in Petra such as in a structure outside the Urn Tomb, and in Structure I of the NEPP Project. Jones (2021) suggests instead that the causitive earthquake was more likely the late 6th century CE Inscription At Areopolis Quake. Jones (2021) provides a discussion below:

Within Petra, the 418/419 earthquake has been suggested as the cause for the destruction of three structures:
  • al-Zantur I, specifically the end of Bauphase Spatromisch II
  • one of the structures outside of the Urn Tomb, House II
  • North-Eastern Petra Project (NEPP) Structure I
NEPP Structure I has not been excavated, and the claim that it was destroyed in the 418/419 earthquake is based on surface finds and reference to al-Zantur I (Fiema and Schmid 2014: 431). Without excavation, the actual date and nature of the building's destruction remain uncertain. The claim for damage at Petra related to the 418/419 earthquake rests primarily, therefore, on the evidence from al-Zantur I.

Petra - Petra Church possible Fiema et al (2001) characterized structural destruction of the church in Phase X as likely caused by an earthquake with a date that is not easy to determine. A very general terminus post quem of the early 7th century CE was provided. Destruction due to a second earthquake was identified in Phase XIIA which was dated from late Umayyad to early Ottoman. Taken together this suggests that the first earthquake struck in the 7th or 8th century CE and the second struck between the 8th and 16th or 17th century CE.
Petra - Blue Chapel and the Ridge Church possible Jones (2021:Table 1) notes that early 7th century Phase V.1 abandonment reported by Perry in Bikai et al (2020:58,64) could have been caused by a late 6th century earthquake.
Petra - Jabal Harun possible ≥ 8
Phase 3 Destruction Event - mid to late 6th century CE

Mikkola et al (2008) discussed this event at various parts of their report as follows:

  • This phase represents a catastrophic event that caused the first major destruction of the site. Judging by the totality of the damage, a major seismic event seems to be the most likely explanation for the destruction.
  • Destruction in Phase 3 was a momentous event.
  • Its dating would equal the date for the end of Phase 2 and, simultaneously, the beginning of Phase 4.
  • Phase 2 glass finds, especially from the deposit of burned material west of the chapel (locus V.15), span 5th to mid-6th centuries, providing an excellent terminus post quem for Phase 3.
  • Datable Phase 2 ceramics indicate end of Phase 2 in mid- to later 6th century.
  • Phase 3 destruction took place around mid- to-later 6th century.
  • No historically known human-induced destruction can be proposed here" and "a seismic event appears a more plausible explanation.

Khirbet Faynan possible Jones (2021:Table 1) suggested that there may be archeoseismic evidence at Khirbet Faynan for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake in Area 16, Terrace 2 in as yet unnumbered local stratum based on unpublished work. A preliminary report can be found at Levy et al (2012:430-435).
Haluza possible ≥ 8 Korjenkov and Mazor (2005) identified numerous seismic effects from two earthquakes at the Haluza. They surmised that the first earthquake struck in the Byzantine period between the end of the 3rd and the mid-6th centuries A.D..
En Haseva possible ≥ 8
6th century CE Earthquake

Erickson-Gini and Moore Bekes (2019) discussed the 6th century earthquake as follows:

The 2003 Excavation

Room 45

Evidence of damage caused by the earthquake that occurred in the sixth century CE was found in the collapse of the western wall of Room 45 (W790); it fell into an open space west of the room (L600). Here, two complete oil lamps were revealed that had apparently sat in a niche in the wall. One belongs to a type that is commonly found in contexts from the first half of the fifth century CE (Fig. 8:1). The other is a Byzantine sandal lamp, commonly found in deposits from the second half of the fifth century CE (Fig. 8:2).

Rehovot ba Negev possible ≥ 8 Korzhenkov and Mazor (2014) identified what they believed to be three earthquakes between ~500 and ~800 CE causing the majority of observed seismic effects. What they refer to as the Late Roman earthquake dates to between ~500 and ~600 CE and could represent more than one seismic event. It is presumed to have struck after construction of the northern Church in ~460 - 470 CE and led to repair of various structures including construction of revetment walls. Korzhenkov and Mazor (2014) estimated an Intensity of 8-9 and appear to locate the epicenter to the ESE. There is a probable site effect present as much but not all of Rehovot Ba Negev was built on weak ground (confirmed by A. Korzhenkov, personal communication, 2021).
Mampsis possible ≥ 8 The date for the second earthquake is tenuous - possibly between the 5th and 7th centuries CE. There is a chronological debate between Negev (1974:412, 1988), Magness (2003), and possibly Erickson-Gini (2004). Korzhenkov and Mazor (2003) estimated an intensity of IX or more with an epicenter to the SW some distance away from the hypocenter.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Areopolis



Jerash - Introduction



Jerash - City Walls



Jerash - Decumanus from North Tetrapylon to the North Theater



Jerash - Hippodrome



Heshbon



el-Lejjun



Castellum of Da 'janiya



Castellum of Khirbet el-Fityan



Fortlet of Rujm Beni Yasser



Castellum of Qasr Bshir



Petra - Introduction



Petra - Petra Theater



Petra - Temple of the Winged Lions



Petra - Area I near the Temple of the Winged Lions



Petra - Qasr al-Bint



Petra - Jabal Khubthah



Petra - The Great Temple



Petra - Pool Complex



Petra - ez-Zantur



Petra - Urn Tomb



Petra - NEPP Site



Petra - The Petra Church



Petra - The Ridge Church and the Blue Chapel



Petra - Jabal Harun



Khirbet Faynan



Haluza



En Hazeva



Rehovot ba Negev



Mampsis



Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a n/a
Dead Sea - En Feshka possible 5.5 -7 Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick seismite (no Type supplied) at a depth of 186.5 cm. (Modeled Age ± 1σ - 591 AD ± 48, ± 2σ - 579 AD ± 103) which might have been caused by this earthquake. This seismite was labeled as questionable.
Dead Sea - En Gedi possible 8 - 9 Although Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 551 CE date to 0.3 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 220 cm (2.2033 m), it is possible that this seismite was created during the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim probable 8.5 - 9.5 At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned a 17 cm. thick intraclast breccia and liquefied sand seismite at a depth of 315 cm. to the 551 CE Beirut Quake. However the Inscription at Areopolis Quake was significantly closer and fits within the modeled ages (± 1σ - 537 AD ± 70, ± 2σ - 540 AD ± 88). It is more likely that the seismite at 315 cm. depth was created by the Inscription at Areopolis Quake. The age range for this seismite also matches with the hypothesized ~500 CE Negev Quake and, less likely due to distance, the Fire in the Sky Quake of 502 CE.
Araba - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Araba - Taybeh Trench possible to probable ≥ 7 LeFevre et al. (2018) might have seen evidence for this earthquake in the the Taybeh Trench (Event E3 - Modeled Age 551 AD ± 264).
Araba - Qatar Trench no evidence n/a Event E6 of Klinger et. al. (2015) has a Modeled Age of 251 CE ± 251 and thus is outside the time window for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Dead Sea - Seismite Types



Dead Sea - En Feshka

Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick seismite (no Type supplied) at a depth of 186.5 cm. (Modeled Age ± 1σ - 591 AD ± 48, ± 2σ - 579 AD ± 103) which might have been caused by this earthquake. This seismite was labeled as questionable.



Dead Sea - En Gedi

Although Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 551 CE date to 0.3 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 220 cm (2.2033 m), it is possible that this seismite was created during the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.



Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim

At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned a 17 cm. thick intraclast breccia and liquefied sand seismite at a depth of 315 cm. to the 551 CE Beirut Quake. However the Inscription at Areopolis Quake was significantly closer and fits within the modeled ages (± 1σ - 537 AD ± 70, ± 2σ - 540 AD ± 88). It is more likely that the seismite at 315 cm. depth was created by the Inscription at Areopolis Quake. The age range for this seismite also matches with the hypothesized ~500 CE Negev Quake and, less likely due to distance, the Fire in the Sky Quake of 502 CE.



Araba - Introduction



Araba - Taybeh Trench

LeFevre et al. (2018) might have seen evidence for this earthquake in the the Taybeh Trench (Event E3 - Modeled Age 551 AD ± 264).



Araba - Qatar Trench

Event E6 of Klinger et. al. (2015) has a Modeled Age of 251 CE ± 251 and thus is outside the time window for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.



Notes

Paleoclimate - Droughts

References