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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 of this earthquake, there is strong supporting paleoseismic evidence.

Textual Evidence

Archeoseismic Evidence

Archeoseismic evidence is summarized below

Location Status Intensity
Areopolis definitive
el-Lejjun probable
Petra - Introduction
Petra - Petra Church probable
Petra - North Ridge needs investigation
Petra - Jabal Harun possible ≥ 8
Petra - ez-Zantur and other sites possible but debated ≥ 8
Petra - Other Sites
Khirbet Faynan needs investigation
Haluza possible
En Haseva possible
Rehovot ba Negev possible

Archeoseismic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below


Inscription at Areopolis Fig. 2

Inscription at Areopolis

Zayadine (1971)

Zayadine (1971) published a description of the fragmentary inscription. He suggested that the fragment indicates that a previously unreported earthquake struck Areopolis shortly before 597 CE. A translated excerpt from the article (originally in French) is presented below :
Translation : During the incumbency of most holy Bishop John [this building] has been restored in the year 492, after the earthquake.


Line 1: Bishop John of Areopolis is mentioned, to my knowledge, for the first time. But we can name three of his predecessors; they are: Anastasius, who participated in the Council of Ephesus in 449; Polychronius and Elijah who attended the synods of Jerusalem in 518 and 536.

Line 2: "has been restored": the building which is the subject of this dedication was unfortunately not mentioned. One could suppose that it belongs to the small recently discovered church (pl. III), but nothing proves it.

Line 3: "the year 492": this is the era of the Province of Arabia, well attested for region and which begins on March 22, 105 AD. This date therefore corresponds to 597 - 598 AD.

Line 4: "after the earthquake": This last line adds to the interest of this dedication, because it is the first time that an inscription mentions an earthquake in this region.

The characters on this line have been damaged, but it is safe to read; the "tone" has been shortened and the sign you see at the end of the line is a damaged cross, as we have specified above.

It is understood that the date is that of the restoration and not that of the earthquake; nevertheless, it is safe to assume that the works were not carried out long after the disaster. Among the known earthquakes, the closest to the date mentioned is 588 AD; but it seems to have mainly affected the city of Antioch. Another earthquake, which occurred in 599 AD, devastated Mesopotamia. It therefore appears that the catastrophe which affected the city of Areopolis is only attested by this inscription. Moreover, this capital of Moab seems to have been devastated by several earthquakes. Hill believes that the depiction of Poseidon on the city's coins, minted with the effigy of Caracalla, is related to these catastrophes. The decay of the Roman temple is certainly the result of a violent earthquake, as the first travelers pointed out.


Fallen Roof Arches at Lejjun Figure 8

Two fallen roof arches caused by earthquake in the barracks, from the north.

Parker (1982)

The Lejjun Legionary Fortress which was probably Betthorus, the base of Legio IV Martia as specified in the Notita Dignitatum however no proof of this has been found on the site (Parker and Betlyon, 2006). Ceramic evidence suggests that the fort was first built around 300 CE and occupied until the early 6th century CE with later limited occupation in the Ummayad and Late Islamic periods (Parker and Betlyon, 2006). Three "identifiable earthquakes" (Southern Cyril Quake - 363 CE, Fire in the Sky Quake - 502 CE, and the 551 CE Beirut Quake) were interpreted as providing breaks in the stratigraphic sequence which is listed below.

Stratum Period Approximate Dates (CE)
VI Late Roman IV 284-324
VB Early Byzantine I 324-363
VA Early Byzantine II 363-400
IV Early Byzantine III-IV 400-502
III Late Byzantine I-II 502-551
Post Stratum III Gap intermittent use of site for camping and as a cemetery 551-1900
II Ottoman 1900-1918
I Modern 1918-

The stratigraphic framework was based on numismatic and ceramic evidence. Parker and Betlyon (2006) describe the last phase of significant occupation as follows:
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.


At el-Lejjun, the seismic shock severely affected most parts of the fortress, including the principia, the barracks, the northwest angle tower, the church, and the rooms along the via principalis. Those structures attached to the deep foundations of the curtain wall, such as the horreum and the bath, seem to have better weathered the shock of 551, but even these structures partially collapsed. The fortress was apparently then almost completely abandoned.
The numismatic find described above provides a terminus post quem for seismic destruction and final abandonment of the fortress at el-Lejjun. With an epicenter close to Beirut, it is unlikely that the 551 CE Beirut Quake would have caused this damage. Further, as noted by Ambraseys (2009), none of the many sources for the well documented Beirut Quake mention damage in Jerusalem which was ~120 km. closer to the epicenter. One of the sources (The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain - see Textual Evidence) states that damage for this earthquake was limited south of Tyre. This makes the Inscription at Areopolis Quake a more seismically plausible candidate for seismic destruction discovered at el-Lejjun; particularly when one considers that Areoplis is only ~12 km. form el-Lejjun. Archeoseismic evidence at el-Lejjun is labeled as probable.

Notes and Further Reading

Parker (1982)



Transliterated Name Language Name
Petra English
Al-Batrā Arabic ٱلْبَتْرَاء‎
Petra Ancient Greek Πέτρα‎
Rekeme Thamudic ?
Raqmu Arabic
Raqēmō Arabic
Transliterated Name Language Name
Jabal Harun Arabic جابال هارون‎

Petra is the location of an ancient city in Southern Jordan which is traditionally accessed through a slot canyon known as the Siq. The site was initially inhabited at least as early as the Neolithic and has been settled sporadically ever since - for example in the Biblical Edomite, Hellenistic, Nabatean, Byzantine, and Crusader periods. After the Islamic conquest in the 7th century CE, Petra lost its strategic and commercial value and began to decline until it was "re-discovered" by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 (Meyers et al, 1997). It is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been and continues to be extensively studied by archeologists.

Petra Church
The Petra Church The Petra Church where the Petra Papyri were discovered.



The Petra Church is a Byzantine Church in Petra where the Petra papyri were discovered. These papers appear to have been burned in a fire that followed the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.


Although Russell (1985) attributed mid 6th century destruction of Petra to the 551 CE Beirut Quake, subsequent work refutes this almost entirely. Rucker and Niemi (2010) wrote the following:
Russell (1985:45) wrote "Petra, the capital of Palestina tertia, was never rebuilt after the 551 C.E. earthquake, and by the end of the sixth century C.E., its ruins had hecome a quarry for liming and smelting operations." However, recent excavations at the Petra Church archaeological site refute these conclusions (Fiema, 2001a:6-137 and Fiema, 2001b:138-150). Scrolls found in the Petra Church provide an unprecedented record of Late Byzantine Petra (Fiema (2002:1-4)). The church was destroyed in a fire at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century C.E. The fire carbonized papyrus scrolls that were being stored in the church. These scrolls known as the Petra Papyri, are a collection of documents predominantly relating to taxes and property ownership, dating from 537 C.E. to at least 11 April 593 C.E., and may postdate this range by several years. Therefore, the last recorded date of the Petra papyri scrolls may extend to 597 C.E. "Neither the effects of the earthquake of 551 C.E. nor the mid-sixth century C.E. plague can be discerned from the texts" of the scrolls (Fiema (2002:4)). After the fire and into the seventh century C.E., the church ceased to function as an ecclesiastical structure, building materials were salvaged for reuse, and the shell of the structure was converted to a domestic complex. Fiema (2001a:6-137) and Fiema (2001b:138-150) noted evidence for two earthquakes in the later phases of the Petra Church — one in the seventh century C.E. and one in the medieval to Ottoman period — at which time no columns remained standing. As recounted already, excavations in the 1990s at the Petra Church and textual evidence from the newly translated Petra Papyri have convincingly demonstrated that the city of Petra was not apparently appreciably affected by the 551 C.E. earthquake. Unfortunately, some excavators still designate a 551 C.E. earthquake in the stratigraphic sequence at Petra.
With an epicenter close to Beirut, it is unlikely that the 551 CE Beirut Quake would have caused significant damage in Petra. Further, as noted by Ambraseys (2009), none of the many sources for this well documented earthquake mention damage in Jerusalem which was ~120 km. closer to the epicenter. One of the sources (The Life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain - see Textual Evidence) states that damage for this earthquake was limited south of Tyre. This makes the Inscription at Areoplis Quake a more seismically plausible candidate for any 6th century CE seismic destruction discovered in Petra. That said, more archeoseismic evidence for a 6th century CE earthquake may be present at the Temple of the Winged Lions where Russell and the University of Utah excavated (Rucker and Niemi, 2010).

Seismic Effects

Notes and Further Reading

Petra North Ridge

The North Ridge contains the remains of two Byzantine era churches - The Blue Chapel and the Ridge Church. The ACOR website reports the following:
ACOR carried out excavations and restoration works over twelve seasons between 1994 and 2002. Patricia M. Bikai, then assistant director of ACOR, was the overall project director, and Virginia Egan was project assistant director. The architects for the project were Pierre M. Bikai (1994–1997) and Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos (1998–2002). The North Ridge Project has continued after this period under the direction of Megan Perry and S. Thomas Parker, focusing on areas east and north of the churches.


Jones (2021) reports that Perry (2020:58,64) indicates that early 7th century Phase V.1 abandonment may have been caused by a late 6th century earthquake.

Notes and Further Reading

Bikai, P., et al. (2020). Petra: The North Ridge, American Center of Oriental Research.

Petra - the North Ridge - ACOR website

Jabal Harun

Jabal Harun (Mount Harun) is located ~5 km. southwest of the main site (cardo) of Petra and has traditionally been recognized by Muslims, Christians, and Jews as the place where Moses' brother Aaron was buried (Frosen et al, 2002). As such, it may have remained as an ecclesiastical and pilgrimage site after Petra's decline in the 7th century CE. About 150 m from the peak of Jabal Harun lies the remains of what is thought to have been Byzantine monastery/pilgrimage center dedicated to Aaron. Archeological investigations indicate that the center was occupied from the late 5th through the 7th/8th centuries CE (Frosen et al, 2002).


Mikkola et al (2008) discussed the stratigraphy and potential seismic events in Chapter 6 of Petra - the mountain of Aaron : the Finnish archaeological project in Jordan.
Following seven field seasons of excavation (1998-2005), the obtained stratigraphic information and the associated finds allows for the recognition of fourteen consecutive phases of occupation, destruction, rebuilding and disuse in the area of the church and the chapel 1 Of these, Phase 1 represents the pre-ecclesiastical occupation of the high plateau, Phases 2-8, the period of continuous monastic occupation interspersed with episodes of destruction, and Phases 9-14, the later occupation for which the ecclesiastical function of the church can no longer be supported, as well as the eventual abandonment of the church and the chapel of Jabal Harun. Specifically, Phases 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12 represent phases of destruction. The most likely explanation for most of these destructions is seismic events, and in some cases the evidence for an earthquake seems clear. However, in other cases, especially for Phase 6, alternative explanations will be considered as well. Notably, the multiple episodes of destruction and restoration seem well attested by the evidence of changes in the glass repertoire in the church and the chapel throughout the existence of these structures.
Mikkola et al (2008) assign the 1st destruction in Phase 3 to a mid to late 6th century CE earthquake. Stratigraphy from Mikkola et al (2008) is shown below:

Seismic Effects

Mikkola et al (2008) found evidence for mid to late 6th century seismic destruction that was likely due to the Inscription at Aereoplis Quake.

Orientation of presumed seismic damage

Mikkola et al (2008) found a directional pattern to inferred archeoseismic damage
In general, the E-W running walls are better preserved than those running N-S. This fact is probably explained by the seismic characteristics prevalent in the Wadi Araba rift valley, which mainly result in earthquakes exhibiting E-W movement. These are likely to cause more damage to walls running in a N-S direction than to those running E-W.
Phase 3 Destruction Event - mid to late 6th century CE

Mikkola et al (2008) produced the following observations:
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 102. It appears that the seismic shock caused the collapse of the upper parts of walls, and the burning oil lamps, falling on the floor, caused the conflagration. The destruction was severe. In many parts of the church, the arches, clerestory walls, columns and upper parts of the walls collapsed. That the roof support system was severely damaged is indicated, among other ways, by the fact that it was completely rearranged in the following phase. The falling stones shattered the marble floor and the furnishings of the church and the chapel, and while the floor was haphazardly repaired in the following phase, much of the furnishings were apparently damaged beyond repair. This is evidenced by the numerous fragments of marble colonnettes, chancel screens, etc., found in reused positions in the structures of Phase 4.

The intensity of the event is also indicated by the evidence of repairs to the upper portions of the walls of the church and the chapel. The repaired walls of Phase 4 feature numerous fragments of marble slabs from the floor of Phase 2, now used as chinking stones. Various kinds of debris ended up in the fills of the walls, especially in Wall I which was constructed in Phase 4. In fact, a large portion of the finds of broken marble furnishing, pottery, glass, nails and roof tiles, found in the late layers of stone tumble, derive from the interior of the repaired walls and therefore predate Phase 3.


The chapel was also heavily affected. This is indicated by the extent of the repairs made in Phase 4, particularly by the complete rearrangement of the roof supports. The system of pilasters now visible in the chapel is not original, as is evidenced by the presence of wall plaster behind the pilasters, the use of marble slab fragments as chinking stones (in loci Y17 and Y20), and the different construction techniques used. The Phase 4 columns of the chapel, moreover, seem to derive from the collapsed columns of Phase 2 structures, as some of the drums used in them are broken. The original western wall of the chapel also seems to have collapsed to the extent that it was deemed easier to build a new wall (Wall OO). Finally, parts of Wall H also appear to have been badly damaged, as its upper courses were rebuilt in the following phase, using large quantities of recycled material.


the walls of the structures [in the Church] did not entirely collapse in Phase 3.


The height of the columns [of the Church] can be estimated to have been at minimum 3.85 m, since both columns were found collapsed among the stone tumble of Phase 3 (Fig. 34 ).


The apse of the church appears to have survived the events of Phase 3 comparatively well.


It is impossible to assess the extent of the damage inflicted on the original marble furnishing of the bema [of the Church] in Phase 3. It must have been considerable, judging from the quantities of broken marble included as fill in both new walls (e.g., Wall I) and the old, reconstructed walls (e.g., Wall H). However, some elements must have survived either intact or in pieces, which could have been reused after necessary modifications.


The destruction of the fine marble pavement [of the Church] was amongst the more permanent damage caused by the event of Phase 3. The rebuilding in Phase 4 took great effort, using all resources available, and evidently the community of Jabal Harun could not afford to fully replace the broken marble floor with a new pavement. Instead, the broken pavers were painstakingly pieced together, like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The area of the nave (e.g., in locus E24) presents good examples of this (Fig. 44 ).


extensive damage suffered by the original western wall of the chapel.


Area West of the Chapel

Large quantities of debris, including charcoal, burnt tiles, glass and ceramic sherds broken and fire-damaged, pieces of marble and other stones, were found in the midden located outside the monastery enclosure, excavated in Trench R. Due to the uniformity of these deposits and the clear indication that they originated from a fire-related destruction, it is probable that these represent Phase 3 debris cleared out from the area of the church and the chapel at the beginning of Phase 4.
Intensity Estimates

Intensity estimates for the 1st destruction in Phase 3 at Jabal Harun are listed below.
Effect Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls Upper Walls and Clestory Walls in Church
Original Western Wall in Chapel
Folded Walls Badly damaged Wall H in Chapel VII +
Arch Collapse Church VI +
Fallen Columns Church and Chapel
VI +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224 big pdf) .

Notes and Further Reading

Fiema, Z. T. and J. Frösén (2008). Petra - the mountain of Aaron : the Finnish archaeological project in Jordan. Helsinki, Societas Scientiarum Fennica.

Eklund, S. (2008). Stone Weathering in the Monastic Building Complex on Mountain of St Aaron in Petra, Jordan.

Frosen et al. (2000). "The 1999 Finnish Jabal Harun Project: A Preliminary Report " Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 44.

Fiema, Z. T. (2002). "The Byzantine monastic / pilgrimage center of St. Aaron near Petra, Jordan." Arkeologipäivät.

Finnish Jabal Harun Project

Bikai, P. M. 1996 Petra, Ridge Church. P. 531 in Archaeology in Jordan section. Patricia M. Bikai and Virginia Egan, eds. American Journal of Archaeology 100, no. 3, pp. 507-536.

Bikai, P. and M. Perry (2001). "Petra North Ridge Tombs 1 and 2: Preliminary Report." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 324: 59 - 78.

Bikai, P. M. 2002a Petra. North Ridge Project. Pp. 450-51 in Archaeology in Jordan section. St. H. Savage, K. Zamora and D. R. Keller, eds. American Journal of Archaeology 106: 435-458.

Bikai, P. M. 2002b North Ridge Project. ACOR Newsletter vol 14.1. Summer, pp. 1-3.

Bikai, P. M. (2002). The churches of Byzantine Petra, in Petra. Near Eastern Archeology, 116, 555-571

Bikai, P. M. 2004 Petra: North Ridge Project. Pp. 59-63 in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan VIII. F. al-Kraysheh ed. Amman. Bikai, Patricia M., and Megan Perry

Parr, Peter 1959 Rock Engravings from Petra. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 91, pp. 106-108.

Petra North Ridge Project

Petra - ez-Zantur and other sites
Map of Petra Figure 2

Map of Petra with the locations of major excavations marked

Jones (2021)

Basemap: Esri, Maxar, Earthstar Geographics, USDA FSA, USGS, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, and the GIS User Community


Archeoseismic Evidence for the Monaxius and Plinta Quake has been claimed at several sites in Petra - ez-Zantur, in a structure outside the Urn Tomb, and in Structure I of the NEPP Project. Jones (2021) provides a discussion below which disputes this and suggests it should more likely be attributed to the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.
Within Petra, the 418/419 earthquake has been suggested as the cause for the destruction of three structures: 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).

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.

Kolb (1996: 51, 89; 2000: 238, 244; 2007: 157) attributes the destruction of the final occupation phase of al-Zantur I, Spatromisch II, to the 418/419 earthquake. As with many of the sites discussed above, this attribution is based primarily on numismatic finds, which decline sharply after the 4th century. Like most other regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, however, a lack of 5th century coinage is typical for sites in southern Jordan. For example, in their discussion of coins collected (and purchased) in Faynan, Kind et al. (2005: 188) note a decline in coin frequencies after about 420 AD. While this does not rule out an earthquake, many sites that seem to lack 5th century coinage were, on close inspection, occupied during the 5th century.

The discussion of the coin finds at al-Zantur I also gives cause for pause. The author states,
An end of the settlement of ez Zantur after the earthquake of 419 AD could be harmonized well with the coin series, if not for the discovery of a small bronze coin of Marcianus, which was minted in the years 450-457 AD, discovered in the ash layer of Room 28, in the immediate vicinity of the remains of a kitchen inventory destroyed in an earthquake. (Peter 1996: 92, translation I. Jones)
Peter goes on to point out that, as the only mid-5th century coin at the site, it may be intrusive, which would allow for an earthquake destruction of Spatromisch II in 418/419. It is worth noting, however, the presence of 25 unidentifiable small bronze coins, 15 of which could be dated to the 4th-5th century (Peter 1996: 98-100, nos 89-113). At least some of these are likely to be issues of the 5th century.

The discussion of the ceramic assemblage follows a similar pattern. The latest imports present at Spatromisch II are African Red Slip Ware (ARS) Forms 91C and 93B, both dated by Hayes (1972: 144, 148) to the 6th century (Schneider 1996: 40). Schneider (1996: 41) argues that Hayes's (1972) dating for the southern Levant is not entirely secure, and the presence of these forms in Spatromisch II is evidence for an early 5th century appearance. At production sites in Tunisia, however, neither form appears before the mid-5th century (Mackensen and Schneider 2002: 127-30). Likewise, Form 93 does not appear in Carthage until the 5th century, and first appears at Karanis, in the Fayyum, in the '420s CE or later' (Pollard 1998: 150). It is very unlikely that these forms appeared at al-Zantur earlier than they did in North Africa.

The `local' ceramic assemblage from Spatromisch II also contains several forms that postdate 419. Of note are several `Aqaba amphorae (Fellman Brogli 1996: 255, abb. 766-67), which date no earlier than the early 5th century (Parker 2013: 741); Magness's (1993: 206) Arched-Rim Basin Form 2, dating to the 6th-7th century (Fellman Brogli 1996: 260, abb. 790); and local interpretations of late 5th-6th century ARS, e.g. Forms 84 and 99 (Fellman Brogli 1996: 263, abb. 809-10). Gerber (2001: 361-62) also notes the similarity of the Spatromisch II ceramics to those apparently from 6th century phases at the Petra Church, although these contexts are not secure enough to make this comparison definitive.

Overall, the argument that Spatromisch II was destroyed in the 418/419 earthquake is rather circular. A lack of 5th century coinage is presented as evidence of this destruction, and this in turn is used to dismiss a mid-5th century coin as intrusive. If this is accepted, an earlier date must also be accepted for the otherwise mid-5th-6th century ceramics. When considering the evidence together, however, the more parsimonious explanation is that al-Zantur I was occupied, perhaps on a small scale or even intermittently, into the 6th century, which would bring al-Zantur I into line with other sites in Petra and the broader region with 363 and (late) 6th century destruction layers (see Table 1).

If an earthquake did cause the destruction of Spatromisch II, the best candidate would seem to be the Areopolis earthquake of c. 597 AD. This event is known primarily from an inscription that describes repairs performed in the year 492, of the calender of the province of Arabia (597/8 AD), following an earthquake, found by Zayadine (1971) at al-Rabba (ancient Areopolis), on the Karak Plateau (see also Ambraseys 2009: 216-17). Rucker and Niemi (2010: 101-03) have argued, primarily on the basis of the continued use of the Petra Church into the last decade of the 6th century, as evidenced by the Petra Papyri, that this earthquake is a better fit for the 6th century destructions in Petra previously attributed to the earthquake of 551. Accepting c. 597 as the date of the destruction of Spatromisch II is not critical to this paper's argument, but it follows from accepting the excavators' identification of an earthquake destruction and considering the events postdating 418/419 that could plausibly have affected southern Jordan. The possible events listed in the most recent Ambraseys (2009: 179, 199-203, 216-17) catalogue are the 502 Acre earthquake, which seems to have caused little damage inland; the 551 Beirut earthquake, an attribution Ambraseys explicitly rejects due to the lack of major destruction in Jerusalem; and the c. 597 Areopolis earthquake, which is the most likely possibility if the first two are ruled out. Of course, it is not possible to rule out destruction during a later earthquake, an otherwise unknown earthquake, or due to another cause entirely. Likewise, the destruction of the building does not necessarily coincide with the end of the occupation; it is entirely possible for an earthquake to destroy a previously abandoned building. Regardless of the exact date of the destruction, the evidence discussed above indicates that occupation continued into the 6th century.

The ceramics from al-Zantur are an important chronological anchor in the Petra region, and it has generally been accepted that those from Spatromisch II date to the narrow period between 363 and 419. Expanding the dating of this phase to the late 4th-6th century, therefore, has implications for the dating of other sites in Petra, notably the Petra Church.
A much more extensive discussion of dating evidence and interpretation can be found in Jones (2021). Some of his conclusions follow:
A critical review of the dating evidence from al-Zantur I Spatromisch II indicates that this destruction has been misdated by at least a century. Spatromisch II was occupied at least into the 6th century, and if an earthquake was responsible for its destruction, the Areopolis earthquake of c. 597 is a more likely candidate. This returns the emergence of the Negev wheel-made lamp to the 6th century, in line with essentially every other site where it occurs. This revision also has implications for the dating of the Petra Church, which relied heavily on comparison to the material from al-Zantur, and other sites in Petra. Taken on its own, the evidence indicates that the Petra Church was built in the early 6th century, rather than the mid-5th.
A summary of archeoseismic evidence in Petra from Jones (2021) is reproduced below.

Arcehoseismic Evidence in Petra Table 1

List of sites in and near Petra (other than al-Zantur) with destructions attributable to earthquakes in 363 AD and the 6th century

Jones (2021)

Notes and Further Reading

Jones, I. W. N. (2021). "The southern Levantine earthquake of 418/419 AD and the archaeology of Byzantine Petra." Levant: 1-15.

Kolb, B. 1996. Die Spatromischen Bauten. In, Bignasca, A., Desse-Berset, N., Fellman Brogli, R., Glutz, R., Karg, S., Keller, D., Kolb, B., Kramar, C., Peter, M., Schmid, S. G., Schneider, C., Stucky, R. A., Studer, J. and Zanoni, I. (eds), Petra — Ez Zantur Ergebnisse der Schweizerisch- Liechtensteinischen Ausgrabungen 1988-1992: 51—89. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern.

Kolb, B. 2000. Die spatantiken Wohnbauten von ez Zantur in Petra and der Wohnhausbau in Palastina vom 4.-6. Jh. n. Chr. In, Schmid, S. G. and Kolb, B. (eds), Petra — Ez Zantur Ergebnisse der Schweizerisch-Liechtensteinischen Ausgrabungen: 195-311. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern.

Kolb, B. 2007. Nabataean private architecture. In, Politis, K. D. (ed.), The World of the Nabataeans: Volume 2 of the International

Bernhard Kolb, G., Growher (1998). "Swiss-Liechtenstein Excavations on Az-Zantur in Petra, 1998 " Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 43.

Other sites in Petra
Jones (2021) provided a summary of archeoseismic evidence in Petra which is reproduced below

Arcehoseismic Evidence in Petra Table 1

List of sites in and near Petra (other than al-Zantur) with destructions attributable to earthquakes in 363 AD and the 6th century.

Jones (2021)

Khirbet Faynan

Jones (2021) suggested that there may be archeoseismic evidence at Khirbet Faynan 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). This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as needs investigation.

Haluza (Elusa)

Negev (1976:92) report that at an eastern part of the site at Haluza (Area D), a house from Late Roman-Byzantine Haluza was discovered where "it thus seems that either the destruction of the house occurred a very short time after its abandonment, or the house had to be abandoned because of its destruction by an earthquake." Korjenkov and Mazor (2005) indicate that, although first human habitation started in the 3rd century BCE, the main building activity in the town started in the second century CE. They report that Negev (1989) reported that the Cathedral at Haluza was restored, likely after an earthquake, but inscriptions indicate that the restoration occurred in the late 5th or more likely early 6th century CE. Thus, archeoseismic evidence at Haluza for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake is classified as possible.

En Hazeva

Walls at En Haseva Walls at En Haseva (unsure of dating context).

Photo by Jefferson Williams

Erickson-Gini and Moore Bekes (2019) report that
a Roman fort and camp that appear to have been part of the Diocletianic military build-up in the region that took place with the transfer of the Tenth Legion from Jerusalem to Ayla (Aqaba) at the end of the third or the early fourth century CE (Erickson-Gini 2010:68–74).


Three phases of construction and occupation were identified in the camp (Erickson-Gini 2010:97–99). The camp appears to have been built around the time that the Diocletianic fort was constructed on the tell, in the late third or early fourth century CE. It was devastated in the earthquake of 363 CE, which damaged the bathhouse and the fort as well. The camp was subsequently reconstructed and remained in use until the sometime in the sixth century CE. A second earthquake, in the sixth century CE, appears to have destroyed the second phase of the structure and the bathhouse, and subsequently they were both abandoned. During the Early Islamic period, in the eighth–ninth centuries CE, the bathhouse was reoccupied and converted into domestic quarters, and water channels that led to nearby fields were constructed over the ruins of the camp. ...

The 2003 Excavation - Room 45 (see Fig. 4)

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).
These reports suggest possible evidence that the Inscription at Areopolis Quake damaged structures at En Haseva.

Rehovot ba Negev

Arch Collpase at Rehobot ba Negev Fig. 11

Collapse of the arch in room L 207, which has been filled with earth before its complete collapse.

Khorzhenkov and Mazor (2014)

Tsafrir (1988: 26) excavated the Northern Church (aka the Pilgrim Church) of Rehovot ba Negev and came to the following conclusions regarding its initial construction :
A clear terminus ante quem for the building of the church is given by a burial inscription (Ins. 2) dated to the month Apellaios 383, which falls, according to the era of the Provincia Arabia, in November- December 488 C.E. The church probably was erected in the second half of the fifth century. (See below the subsequent general discussion of the triapsidal basilicas beginning on p. 47.). Although it is clear that several parts of the complex were built later than the main hall, such as the northern chapel (see 111. 1 15), there is no doubt that the entire complex was constructed within the same few year.
Later on he noted that
A date of approximately 460-470 for the building activity therefore seems reasonable, although the calculation remains hypothetical.
After initial construction, additional architectural elements were added; foremost among them a a revetment or support wall which is described and discussed below by Tsafrir (1988: 27).
The most important architectural addition was the talus, or sloping revetment, that was built around the walls of the church from the outside to prevent their collapse. Such revetments were common in the Negev. They supported the walls of churches as well as of private houses. They are found, for example, around the walls of St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai. At Rehovot such walls may have been erected following an earthquake, but more probably it was necessary to reinforce them just because of poor quality masonry. To explain these retaining walls as having created a military defense post (as has been done in the case of the northern church at Shivta) is awkward.
Khorzhenkov and Mazor (2014: 84) identified what they believed were three (or more) earthquakes which had expressions in the walls of the northern church. The first two earthquakes struck after construction of the church around 465 CE and before the site was abandoned by its Christian inhabitants around 640 CE (when the Byzantine Empire permanently lost power in the area and could no longer support these peripheral outposts). A later earthquake struck during the Early Arab period - after ~640 CE.
The existence of revetment walls, supporting the southern wall of the Church from the south, indicates that the southern wall’s tilt occurred during the first of the Late Roman earthquakes. It seems that the southern wall began to tilt northward inside the building during the Early Arab earthquakes; additional evidence for this is the shift northwards of the upper part of the revetment wall. Stones of the perpendicular eastern wall are cracked in the small room marked on the plan. Nevertheless, this wall is better preserved (it is much higher) than the main southern wall of the North Church. This indicates that the seismic shocks during both earthquakes acted perpendicular to the main Church wall: it had freedom of oscillation and was significantly destroyed. The small eastern wall, oriented parallel to the effect of the seismic movements, withstood the seismic oscillations better, although many of its stones were significantly damaged. The whole northern wall of the Church (field station 12 in fig. 3) has a significant tilt to the south (figs. 8 a. b).
Khorzhenkov and Mazor (2014:84) discussed the two late Byzantine quakes (between 465 CE and 640 CE) further
The destruction event (an earthquake), which deformed the original wall, occurred before the decline of the Byzantine Empire. There was then another seismic event which led to the destruction of the revetment wall itself. The last event was probably an end of ›civilized‹ life here.
This suggests that the Late Byzantine earthquakes that could have struck Rehovot ba Negev could include the following

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Location Status Intensity Notes
En Feshka possible 5.5 -7 1 cm. thick seismite labeled as questionable
En Gedi possible 8 - 9
Nahal Ze 'elim probable 8.5 - 9.5 17 cm. thick intraclast breccia (Type 4) and liquefied sand at ZA-2
Taybeh Trench possible to probable Event E3

Dead Sea and Environs

En Feshka
Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 186.5 cm. which might have been caused by this earthquake. This seismite was labeled as questionable.

Image Description Source
Age Model Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model - big Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model Kagan et al (2010)
Age Model - big Kagan et al (2010)
En Gedi (DSEn)
Although Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 551 CE date to 0.3 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 220 cm (2.2033 m), it is possible that this seismite was created during the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.

En Gedi Core (DSEn)
Image Description Source
Floating Varve Chronology and Radiocarbon dates Migowski et al (2004)
Floating Varve Chronology and Radiocarbon dates -large Migowski et al (2004)
Migowski's Date shift Migowski (2001)
Recounted Age-depth plot Neugebauer at al (2015)
Recounted Age-depth plot - large Neugebauer at al (2015)
Correlated Age-depth plots of DSEn and ICDP 5017-1 Neugebauer at al (2015)
Comparison of paleoclimate proxies from DSEn to other sites Neugebauer at al (2015)
Core correlation - DSEn to ICDP 5017-1 Neugebauer at al (2015)
Core correlation - DSEn to ICDP 5017-1 -big Neugebauer at al (2015)
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 well within the modeled ages. I suggest that the seismite at 315 cm. depth was created by the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.

Image Description Source
Age Model Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model - big Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model with annotated dates Kagan (2011)
Age Model with annotated dates - big Kagan (2011)
Annotated Photo of ZA-3
ZA-3 = N wall of gully
ZA-2 = S wall of same gully
Kagan et al (2015)


On-site fault rupture suggests a minimum moment magnitude MW of 6.5 (Mcalpin, 2009:312).
Taybeh Trench
LeFevre et al. (2018) might have seen evidence for this earthquake in the the Taybeh Trench (Event E3).

Taybeh Trench Earthquakes
Figure S5: Computed age model from OxCal v4.26 for the seismic events recorded in the trench

Image Description Source
Age Model Lefevre et al (2018)
Age Model - big Lefevre et al (2018)
Trench Log Lefevre et al (2018)
Annotated Trench photomosaic Lefevre et al (2018)
Stratigraphic Column Lefevre et al (2018)
Stratigraphic Column - big Lefevre et al (2018)


Paleoclimate - Droughts


Ambraseys, N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Zayadine, F. (1971). "Deux inscriptions grecques de Rabbat Moab (Areopolis) " Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 16: 71-76.