Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Earthquake of AD 115

Th oft-cited evidence for the Imperial Palace bordering the Hippodrome is the tale of Trajan's escape form the tumbling palace during the earthquake of AD 115. The whole passage makes an interesting read for its broader damage. The Curse of Antioch is its earthquakes.. something the modern planners (if there are any) in Antakya should not fail to recall.

Cassius Dio (via LacusCurtius), Epitome of Book LXVIII, 24 ff., describes:

24 While the emperor was tarrying in Antioch a terrible earthquake occurred; many cities suffered injury, but Antioch was the most unfortunate of all. Since Trajan was passing the winter there and many soldiers and many civilians had flocked thither from all sides in connexion with law-suits, embassies, business or sightseeing, there was no nation of people that went unscathed; and thus in Antioch the whole world under Roman sway suffered disaster. There had been many thunderstorms and portentous winds, but no one would ever have expected so many evils to result from them. First there came, on a sudden, a great bellowing roar, and this was followed by a tremendous quaking. The whole earth was upheaved, and buildings leaped into the air; some were carried aloft only to collapse and be broken in pieces, while others were tossed this way and that as if by the surge of the sea, and overturned, and the wreckage spread out over a great extent even of the open country. The crash of grinding and breaking timbers together with tiles and stones was most frightful; and an inconceivable amount of dust arose, so that it was impossible for one to see anything or to speak or hear a word. As for the people, many even who were outside the houses were hurt, being snatched up and tossed violently about and then dashed to the earth as if falling from a cliff; some were maimed and others were killed. Even trees in some cases leaped into the air, roots and all. The number of those who were trapped in the houses and perished was past finding out; for multitudes were killed by the very force of the falling débris, and great numbers were suffocated in the ruins. Those who lay with a part of their body buried under the stones or timbers suffered terribly, being able neither to live any longer nor to find an immediate death.

25 Nevertheless, many even of these were saved, as was to be expected in such a countless multitude; yet not all such escaped unscathed. Many lost legs or arms, some had their heads broken, and still others vomited blood; Pedo the consul was one of these, and he died at once. In a word, there was no kind of violent experience that those people did not undergo at that time. And as Heaven continued the earthquake for several days and nights, the people were in dire straits and helpless, some of them crushed and perishing under the weight of the buildings pressing upon them, and others dying of hunger, whenever it so chanced that they were left alive either in a clear space, the timbers being so inclined as to leave such a space, or in a vaulted colonnade. When at last the evil had subsided, someone who ventured to mount the ruins caught sight of a woman still alive. She was not alone, but had also an infant; and she had survived by feeding both himself and her child with her milk. They dug her out and resuscitated her together with her babe, and after that they searched the other heaps, but were not able to find in them anyone still living save a child sucking at the breast of its mother, who was dead. As they drew forth the corpses they could no longer feel any pleasure even at their own escape.

So great were the calamities that had overwhelmed Antioch at this time. Trajan made his way out through a window of the room in which he was staying. Some being, of greater than human stature, had come to him and led him forth, so that he escaped with only a few slight injuries; and as the shocks extended over several days, he lived out of doors in the hippodrome. Even Mt. Casius itself was so shaken that its peaks seemed to lean over and break off and to be falling upon the very city. Other hills also settled, and much water not previously in existence came to light, while many streams disappeared.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On the Street Lighting

I was perusing the book "Gallus: or, Roman scenes of the time of Augustus. With notes and excursuses illustrative of the manners and customs of the Romans" by Wilhelm Adolf Becker, published by J. W. Parker, 1849. It does not concern us much except that in speaking of lighting (or absence thereof) in ancient Rome he notes:

"There does not seem to have been any street-lighting at Rome, till very late, as no mention is made of it before the fourth century. As far as Rome is concerned, I find no proof of it at all. For the passage quoted from Ammanius Marcellus. xiv. refers not to Rome, but to Antiochia;
"adhibitis paucis clam ferro succinctis vesperi per tabernas palabatur et compita, quaeritando Greco sermone,cujus erat impendio gnarus, quid de Caesare quisque sentiret. Et haec confidenter agebat in urbe, ubi pernoctantium luminum claritudo dierum solet imitari fulgorem".

The lighting of the streets in Antiochia in the fourth century, had already been placed beyond a doubt by the passages of Libanius".

Becker is referring to Libanius' comments in the Antiochikos:
"267. Here he is not "lord of men," neither does he draw men to himself against their will, or lull them to rest by force, but we alone of all people have shaken off his tyranny over our eyelids, and to the torch of the sun there succeeded other torches which surpass the festival of the lamps in Egypt, and among us night differs from day only in the kind of the light. Night is the same as day for the handicrafts, and some work vigorously while others laugh gently and give themselves up to song. The night is shared indeed by Hephaestus and Aphrodite, for some work at the forge and others dance; but in other cities Endymion is more honored".

The main takeaway from this is that Antioch was quite superior in this aspect of its civic amenities than was the capital of the Roman Empire.