The 115 AD Antioch Earthquake

On December 13, 115 AD, an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 (MMS: Moment Magnitude Scale) occurred in the Orontes Valley of present-day southeastern Turkey. Antioch (modern Antakya), its suburb Daphne and cities as far away as Apamea and Caesarea Maritima (coast of Palestine) suffered tremendous damage and great loss of life. Aftershocks were felt for many days. (www.ngdc.noaa.gov)

 

The Roman historian Cassius Dio (Roman History, Book LXVIII) describes this event:

 

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.

 

Excerpt courtesy of Bill Thayer at: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/68*.html