Monday, March 17, 2008


Earthquakes have been the bane of Antioch from its earliest days.. They are the reason so little survives and probably also the reason why the city went into a decline from which it never recovered. The last major earthquake was 1822 in which the town was once again flattened. It might very well be overdue for another one, so the recent prodigious growth of the town into a city may be tempting fate. It's a struggle that fate has ended up winning many times over the last 2,000 years.

The catalogue of earthquakes is a long one. Lassus lists the major ones as being 148 BC, 37AD, 215 AD, 341 AD, 365 AD, 369 AD, 458 AD, 525 AD (sic), 528 AD, 531 AD, 551 AD, 577 AD and 588 AD. Then there were the lesser ones (115 AD presumably being in that category). However, its interesting to quote Evagrius as he detailed just a few of them and their effects:

CHAPTER XII. (second book)


DURING the second year of the reign of Leo, an extraordinary shock and concussion of the earth took place at Antioch, preceded by certain excesses of the populace, which reached the extreme of frenzy, and surpassed the ferocity of beasts, forming, as it were, a prelude to such a calamity. This grievous visitation occurred in the five hundred and sixth year of the free prerogatives of the city, about the fourth hour of the night, on the fourteenth day of the month Gorpiaeus, which the Romans call September, on the eve of the Lord's day, in the eleventh cycle of the indiction; and was the sixth on record after a lapse of three hundred and forty-seven years, since the earthquake under Trajan; for that occurred when the city was in the hundred and fifty-ninth year of its independence; but this, which happened in the time of Leo, in the five hundred and sixth, according to the most diligent authorities. This earthquake threw down nearly all the houses of the New City, which was very populous, and contained not a single vacant or altogether unoccupied spot, but had been highly embellished by the rival liberality of the emperors. Of the structures composing the palace, the first and second were thrown down: the rest, however, remained standing, together with the adjoining baths, which, having been previously useless, were now rendered serviceable to the necessities of the city, arising from the damage of the others. It also levelled the porticoes in front of the palace and the adjacent Tetrapylum, as well as the towers of the Hippodrome, which flanked the entrances, and some of the porticoes adjoining them. In the Old City, the porticoes and dwellings entirely escaped the overthrow; but it shattered a small portion of the baths of Trajan, Severus, and Hadrian, and also laid in ruins some parts of the quarter of houses named Ostracine, together with the porticoes, and levelled what was called the Nymphaeum. All these circumstances have been minutely detailed by John the rhetorician. He says, that a thousand talents of gold were remitted to the city from the tributes by the emperor; and, besides, to individual citizens, the imposts of the houses destroyed : and that he also took measures for the restoration both of them and of the public buildings.

CHAPTER V. (book four)


ABOUT the same period of Justin's reign there happened at Antioch numerous and dreadful fires, as if harbingers of the terrible shocks which afterwards took place, and serving as a prelude for the coming calamities. For, a short time after, in the tenth month of the seventh year of Justin's reign, being Artemisius or May, on the twenty-ninth day of the month, precisely at noon, on the sixth day of the week, the city was visited with the shock of an earthquake, which very nearly destroyed the whole of it. This was followed by a fire, to share, as it were, in the calamity: for what escaped the earthquake, the fire in its spread reduced to ashes. The damage that the city sustained, how many persons according to probable estimate became the victims of the fire and earthquake, what strange occurrences surpassing the power of words took place, have been feelingly related by John the Rhetorician, who concludes his history with the relation.

Euphrasius also perished in the ruins, to add another misfortune to the city, by leaving no one to provide for its exigencies.

CHAPTER XVII. (book five)


IN the third year of the administration of the empire by Tiberius, a violent earthquake befell Theopolis and its suburb of Daphne, precisely at noon; on which occasion the whole of that suburb was laid in utter ruin by the shocks, while the public and private buildings in Theopolis, though rent to the ground, were still not entirely levelled. Several other events occurred both in Theopolis, and also in the imperial city, deserving especial notice, which threw both places into confusion, and broke out into excessive disturbances: events which took their rise from zeal for God, and terminated in a manner worthy of divine agency. These I now proceed to notice.

CHAPTER VIII. (book five)


AT an interval of four months from the return of Gregory, in the six hundred and thirty-seventh year of the era of Theopolis, sixty-one years after the former earthquake, a crash and concussion shook the entire city, about the third hour of the night, on the last day of the month Hyperberetaeus, at the time when I was celebrating my marriage with a young maiden, and the whole city was making rejoicings and holding a festival at the public cost, in honour of the nuptial ceremony. This convulsion levelled by far the greater part of the buildings, their very foundations being cast up by it, and all the portions of the most holy church were thrown to the ground, with the exception of the hemisphere, which, after its injury by the earthquake in the time of Justin, had been secured by Ephraemius with timbers from Daphne. By the subsequent shocks, it received an inclination in a northerly direction; so that the timbers were thrown by it into a leaning position, and fell, when the hemisphere had returned, by the force of the shock, exactly into its original situation, as if it had been adjusted by a rule. Nearly the entire quarter named Ostracine was ruined, and Psephium, of which I have made previous mention, as well as all the parts called Brysia, and the buildings of the venerable sanctuary of the Mother of God, with the sole exception of the central colonnade, which was singularly preserved. All the towers of the plain were also damaged, though the other buildings in that quarter escaped, with the exception of the battlements, of which some stones were thrown backwards, though they did not fall. Other churches also suffered injury, and one of the public baths, namely, that which had separate divisions according to the seasons. An incalculable number of persons were involved in the destruction, and, according to an estimate which some persons drew from the supply of bread, about sixty thousand perished. The bishop experienced a most unexpected preservation in the midst of the fall of the entire habitation where he then was, and the destruction of every individual except those who were near his person. These took up the bishop in their arms, and lowered him by a cord, after a second shock had rent an opening, and thus they removed him beyond the reach of danger. Another preservation was also granted to the city, our compassionate God having mitigated the keenness of His threatened vengeance, and corrected our sin with the branch of pity and mercy: for no conflagration followed, though so many fires were spread about the place, in hearths, public and private lamps, kitchens, furnaces, baths, and innumerable other forms. Very many persons of distinction, and among them Asterius himself, became the victims of the calamity. The emperor endeavoured to alleviate this visitation by grants of money.

No comments: