Malalas Confusion Quake

130 BCE or 148 BCE

by Jefferson Williams

Introduction     Textual Evidence     Archeoseismic Evidence     Tsunamogenic Evidence     Paleoseismic Evidence     Notes     Paleoclimate - Droughts     Footnotes     References


A messy, confusing, and internally contradictory passage by Johannes Malalas leads one to conclude that an Earthquake(s) struck Antioch in

(a) 148 BCE
(b) 130 BCE
(c) 148 BCE and 130 BCE
(d) 148 BCE, 130 BCE, and/or sometime during the first century BCE
(e) 142 BCE
(f) None of the above

Malalas provides a specific day and time for this alleged event - February 21 at the tenth hour (10 am according to Ambraseys (2009)). Considering the confused nature of Malalas' chronology is, it possible that the Malalas Confusion Quake is the same quake as the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake. Karcz (2004) suggested the possibility that the 17th of Adar Quake is also the same quake as the Dead Fish and Soldiers Earthquake of ~142 BC – the date of which he notes is elastic when one examines sources. See the Notes Section of the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake for further discussion. There are currently no known archeoseismic or paleoseismic evidence to shed light on this conundrum. Until further notice, the most likely date for this alleged earthquake is 148 BCE.

Textual Evidence

Chronographia by Johannes Malalas

Johannes Malalas (~491 – 578), a native Antiochene, wrote Chronographia in Greek. He may have described an earthquake which struck Antioch in 130 BCE and/or 148 BCE (and possibly the 1st century BCE) relying at least partially on a currently lost early 6th century AD chronicle written by Domninus. In Malalas' book, the expression variously translated as the "wrath of God" or the "anger of God" usually refers to an earthquake according to Ambraseys (2009). The relevant passage (Book 8 Number 25 – page 109) [1] is quoted below. Full names of the ruling Kings along with their reigns are placed in parentheses for clarity. [2]
After Demetrianus (Demetrius II Nicator - 145-138 BC), Antiochus (Antiochus VII Sidetes - 138-129 BC) the offspring of Grypus (?) became king for 9 years; he was the son of Laodice (V?), the daughter of Ariarathes (?), king of the Cappadocians. In the eighth year of his reign, Antioch the great was destroyed by the anger of god, in the time of the Macedonians. This happened 152 years after the foundations of the walls were laid by Seleucus Nicator, on the 21st day of the month of Peritius, which is the same as February, at the tenth hour of the day. And the whole city was restored, as Domninus the chronicler has recorded. It suffered [this disaster] 122 years after the walls and the whole city were completed; and afterwards it became yet more splendid.
This passage is chronologically problematic. The 8th year of Antiochus' (Antiochus VII Sidetes - 138-129 BC) reign leads to a date of 130 BCE [3] while "152 years after the foundations of the walls of Antioch were laid by Seleucus Nicator" leads to a date of 148 BCE [4]. "122 years after the walls and the whole city was completed" leads to an unknown date because it conflicts with the "known traditions" in which construction of Antioch was completed Downey (1938 p. 109-110). Guidoboni et. al. (1994) note that this passage could refer to two separate earthquakes (148 BCE and 130 BCE) while Downey (1938 p. 109-110) suggests it could be conflating up to 3 earthquakes (148 BCE, 130 BCE, and sometime in the first century BCE). Downey (1938) further noted that in 130 BCE, Antiochus VII Sidetes marched his army east to fight (and lose to) the Parthians - timing that seems odd if his capital city (Antioch) was ravaged by an earthquake. This casts doubt on either the 130 BCE date, the extent of damage, or that this passage even describes an actual earthquake. Downey (1938) further noted that when Malalas states that Antioch suffered a disaster and had to be rebuilt, he could have been referring to the disaster that befell the city of Antioch when the last Seleucid King Antiochus VII fell to the Parthian King Phraates II rather than to a disaster caused by an earthquake.

Archeoseismic Evidence

Archeoseismic evidence for a mid second century BCE earthquake is discussed in the Archeoseismic Evidence section of the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake.

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic evidence for a mid second century BCE earthquake is discussed in depth in the Paleoseismic Evidence section of the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake.

Dead Sea

It is unlikely that an earthquake which destroyed Antioch would have created seismites in the Dead Sea as maximum PGA is estimated at 0.02 g well below the threshold for seismite formation. Although seismites have been dated in the Dead Sea to the middle of the second century BCE, these appear to be due to a southern earthquake couplet that may coincide, more or less with the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake.


Paleoclimate - Droughts


[1] An alternative translation can be found here. An original Greek version is available here

[2] A great many members of these royal families had the same name (e.g. Laodice, Antiochus, Seleucus, Ariarathes) and Malalas did not provide suffixes (e.g. Laodice V, Antiochus VII) to help identify them. Further, the understanding of familial relations between these royal family members appears to be at least a bit murky. So for the purposes of dating this event, focus is placed on identifying the succession of Seleucid Kings in Antioch during this time period which appears to be better defined. Questions marks within a parentheses (?) were placed after some names in Malalas' quote where the identification of the personage contains a degree of uncertainty. Several of personages linked to in Malalas' passage are based on speculation by Downey (1938)

[3] Demetrianus (Demetrius II Nicator) had two reigns. The first lasted from 145 BCE until 138 BCE. In 138 BCE, he was captured by the Parthian King Mithridates I and remained in captivity until 130 BCE when the new Parthian King Phraates II released him. Demetrius II Nicator then ruled a second time from 130 BCE -125 BCE. Between Demetrius' reigns, his brother Antiochus VII Sidetes ruled from 138 - 130 BCE. Note : The years presented here may differ by up to a year compared to other historical accounts. They are simplified in the interest of clarity.

[4] The founding of Antioch is commonly assigned to the spring of 300 BCE based on Eusebius and Malalas. Thus 300 minus 152 leads to 148 BCE. See Downey (1938 p. 108 footnote 2) for details and references on the founding of Antioch.