Eusebius' Martyr Quake

2 April (303 - 306 CE ?)

by Jefferson Williams

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


Eusebius and others report an earthquake causing destruction in Sidon and Tyre and strong shaking in Caesarea. The exact date of the earthquake is unknown as the sources contradict each other regarding the year which could be any time between 300 and 306 CE with 303 - 306 CE the most likely time frame. As such, this earthquake is referenced with various dates in the literature such as 303, 304, and 306 CE. They all refer to the same event. This is a textbook example why earthquakes should be assigned a name rather than a year when the textual accounts do not agree on a specific date . Although the year is unknown, Eusebius in his book Martyrs of Palestine provided a month and a day - April 2. Ambraseys (2009) chose to assign a specific date (April 2, 303 CE) by choosing the month and day from Martyrs of Palestine (a contemperaneous author) and the year from an interpretation of History Against the Pagans by Orosius (a non contemporaneous author). We would posit that the year is currently unknown with any certainty. Some earthquake cataloguers have claimed that this earthquake generated a tsunami and while this may be true, no tsunamogenic evidence has been uncovered thus far and the text is not specific as to whether a tsunami or strong waves were involved. Either is possible.

Archeoseismic Evidence for this earthquake is tenuous. Paleoseismic evidence is somewhat better. Wechsler at al. (2014) assigned Event CH4-E3 (modeled ages 250 - 310 AD ) at Bet Zeyda (just N of the Sea of Galilee) to the Eusebius Martyr Quake. Sbeinati et. al. (2010) report a seismic event X which they dated to 335 AD +/- 175 at a displaced aqueduct at al-Harif, Syria (close to Masyaf, Syria). This could have been caused by the Eusebius Martyr Quake but the modeled ages are very broad. Event X is associated with strike slip movement on the Missyaf fault segment (aka the Ghab Fault) which at its southern terminus is ~142 km. from Sidon - a bit far. However, if the Yammouneh fault segment was also activated, the Yammouneh fault gets as close as ~35 km. to Sidon and Tyre at its southern end. If this was the case, this would be a very large earthquake.

Whether Event X in al Harif, Syria is related to the Eusebius Martyr Quake or not, a fault break on the southern end of the Yammouneh fault segment would explain paleoseismic evidence in Bet Zeyda, destruction in Sidon and Tyre and would suggest there was damage to structures in the Galilee.

Textual Evidence

Introduction and Summary

Textual evidence suggests that the epicenter of this earthquake was near the Lebanese littoral as fallen buildings and deaths are reported in Tyre and Sidon. Strong shaking is also reported in Caesarea suggesting a powerful earthquake. The date of the earthquake is not so well defined as a spread of ages from ~300-306 CE can be deduced from the texts with 303 - 306 CE as perhaps the most likely time frame. Eusebius, a contemporaneous author, gives a precise date of 2 April.

Martyrs of Palestine by Eusebius

Eusebius wrote Martyrs of Palestine recalling the Diocletianic Persecutions of Christians in Palestine. In the 5th paragraph of the Section titled THE CONFESSION OF EPIPHANIUS, an earthquake is described as affecting Caesarea. A tsunami could also be alluded to (see Tsunamogenic Evidence for a discussion)


THAT bitter viper, and wicked and cruel tyrant, which in our time held the dominion of the Romans, went forth, even from his very commencement, to fight as it were against God, and was filled with persecution and rage against us in a far greater degree than any of those who had preceded him--I mean Maminus : and no little consternation fell upon all the inhabitants of the cities, and many were scattered abroad into every country, and dispersed themselves, in order that they might escape the danger which surrounded them.


But that wonderful thing which happened after this act I know will not be believed by those who did not witness the wonder with their own eyes, as I myself did: for men are not wont to give the same credence to the hearing of the ear as to the seeing of eye. It is not, however, right for us also, like those who are in error and deficient in faith, to conceal that prodigy which took place at the death of this martyr of God; and we also call as witnesses to you of these things, which we have written, the whole of the inhabitants of the city of Caesarea, for there was not even one of the inhabitants of this city absent from this terrific sight. For after this man of God had been cast into the depths of the terrible sea, with stones tied to his feet, forthwith a great storm and frequent commotions and mighty waves troubled the vast sea, and a severe earthquake made even the city itself tremble, and every one's hands were raised towards heaven in fear and trembling, for they supposed that the whole place, together with its inhabitants, was about to be destroyed on that day. And at the same time, the sea, even as if it were unable to endure it, vomited back the holy body of the martyr of God, and carried it with the waves and laid it before the gate of the city. And there was at that time vast affliction and commotion, for it seemed like a messenger sent from God to threaten all men with great anger . And this which took place was proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the city, and they all ran at once and pushed against each other in order that they might obtain a sight, both boys and men and old men together, and all grades of women, so that even the modest virgins, who kept to their own apartments, went out to see this sight. And the whole city together, even the very children as well, gave glory to the God of the Christians alone, confessing with a loud voice the name of Christ, who had given strength to the martyr in his lifetime to endure such afflictions, and at his death had shewed prodigies to all who beheld.

Such was the termination of the history of Epiphanius, on the second of the month Nisan, and his memory is observed on this day.
The title of this passage (in the 3rd year of the persecution) would date this to ~306 CE as the Diocletianic persecutions began in 303 CE. The last sentence gives a specific date - the 2nd day of the month of Nisan. The calender being used is suspected to be a local variant of the lunisolar Macedonian calender with Jewish names (derived from Babylonian names) substituted for the months. This was apparently the calender which was in use when Eusebius wrote his texts [1]. In this calender, Jewish Nisan, Babylonian Nisanu, and Macedonian Artemisios would all correspond to April which means this earthquake is dated to April 2.

History Against the Pagans by Orosius

Paulus Orosius, writing in Latin in 416/417 AD, stated in his book History Against the Pagans (Book 7 Paragraph 2 Bottom half of p. 322)
In the meantime Diocletian in the East and Maximianus Herculius in the West ordered the churches to be destroyed and the Christians persecuted and put to death. This persecution, the tenth in succession from Nero's, was longer and more cruel than any other that had preceded it. For ten years it was carried on without interruption; churches were burned, the innocent were proscribed, and martyrs were slaughtered. Then followed an earthquake in Syria. Thousands of people throughout Tyre and Sidon were crushed by falling buildings. In the second year of the persecution, Diocletian suggested to the unwilling Maximianus that both of them should at the same time lay aside the purple and the imperial power and, after substituting younger men for themselves in the government, pass their declining years in the leisure of private life. Accordingly on the day agreed they laid aside the power and trappings of empire Diocletian at Nicomedia, and Maximianus at Milan.
This passage appears to locate the approximate epicenter noting destruction in Sidon and Tyre. If one assumes that the earthquake followed shortly after the onset of the Diocletianic persecutions, this would date the earthquake to 303 CE.

Hieronyni Chronicon by Jerome

Eusebius wrote Chronicon in two parts in the early 4th century AD. Although the original Greek text has been lost, later Chroniclers preserved significant parts of the manuscript. Jerome translated all of the second part (Book 2) into Latin. In this translation (Eusebius Chronicon Book Two, page 309-310, 4th year of the 270th Olympiad), we read that in the 270th Olympiad
270th Olympiad


2320 19 (a jubilee according to most) (Margin Note - 304 AD)

After Theonus, Peter is ordained the 21st bishop of the Church of Alexandria, who later in the ninth year of the persecution accomplished a glorious martyrdom.

Diocletian and Maximian Augusti celebrated a triumph at Rome with notable pomp. Before their chariot went the wife, sisters and children of Narses, and all the booty, which they had looted from the Parthians.

In a horrible earthquake at Tyre and Sidon, many edifices were ruined and an immense number of people were crushed.

In the nineteenth year of Diocletian, during the month of March, in the days of Easter, the churches were destroyed. However in the 4th year of the persecution, Constantine began to reign.
This passage contains the largest amount of dating information for this earthquake. Unfortunately, the dates are contradictory. A brief list of possible dates which are all supposedly in the same 4th year of the Olympiad follows :

Text Year
The Year of Abraham 2320 ~304 CE
Margin Note 304 CE
fourth year of the 270th Olympiad [2] June or July 304 AD - June or July 305 AD
Peter became bishop of the Church in Alexandria in January 300 CE 300 CE
19th year of Diocletian who began began to rule in 284 CE 303 CE

There is some elasticity in the years listed above. For example, although the Olympiad years started in the summer, Eusebius is thought to have started Olympiad years in the fall. [2]. Later authors following in Eusebius Chronicle tradition are suspected to have started the Olympiad Year in January in sync with the Julian Calender. As these texts were copied numerous times before becoming the translated manuscript we have access to, it is possible that scribes "corrected" dates according to what they thought they should be. In addition, we did not investigate a precise year for Diocletion's 19th regnal year. In any case, this elasticity in dates (of +/- ~ 1 year) does not explain the full spread of dates (300 - 304 CE) one can obtain from this passage. However, if we discard the outlier of 300 CE, the above passage suggests the earthquake occurred in 303 or 304 CE. We would suggest, for now, that based on this and other texts that the earthquake likely occurred between 303 CE and 306 CE.

Later Authors

Ambraseys (2009) noted that later authors (listed below) "add nothing but confusion regarding the date of the event."

Ps.Dion.: Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell Mahre (Chronicum Anonymum Pseudo-Dionysianum vulgo dictum), ed. J. Chabot, Corpus Scr. Christ. Orient., Script. Syr., series 3, vol. 2 (text), 1933, and vol. 1, Louvain, 1949, vol. 2 ed. and trans. R. Hespel, Louvain, 1989.i. 149/111;

Chron. 724, Chronicon miscellaneum ad annum 724 pertinens, ed. Brooks, trans. J. B. Chabot, Chron.Min. S. vol. 2.128/100;

Mar. Scot.: Marianus Scotus, Chronicon, ed. J.-P. Migne, PL 147, 1853. iii. 319/694

Archeoseismic Evidence

Archeoseimic damage is summarized below

Location Status
Hippos aka Sussita no evidence
Gush Halav debated
Khirbet Shema possible but lacking solid evidence
en-Nabratein debated
Byblos needs investigation

Archeoseismic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below

Hippos aka Sussita

Segal et al (2014b) excavated an Odeion at Hippos-Sussita from 2008 - 2010. They report that
On the basis of an analysis of the building methods and materials and according to the numismatic and pottery finds, it can be determined to a great degree of certainty that the odeion was erected during the second half of the 1st century CE. It appears that the odeion was in use during the first three centuries of the Common Era. Its condition as revealed during its exposure by the excavators clearly indicates that it was not destroyed. This conclusion is based on the preserved uniform height of the walls, two or three courses, not including the encompassing wall of which six courses have survived. The lack of decorative items that were broken or burnt, the absence of tiles and sooty remains of the ceiling and roof, all testify that the structure was systematically dismantled. It is safe to assume, on the basis of the numismatic and pottery finds, that the dismantling of the structure was carried out during the 4th century CE, apparently before the earthquake of 363 CE. However, we cannot negate the possibility that the odeion was damaged during this earthquake and that a decision was then made not to renovate but rather to dismantle it.
In summary, they did not encounter a destruction layer. While it could be surmised that the Odeion was dismantled due to damage from Eusebius Martyr Quake, this does not constitute evidence. Thus, there is no evidence, at least as of yet, for the Eusebius' Martyr Quake from archeological excavations at Hippos-Sussita.

Gush Halav aka Giscala

Meyers, Strange, Meyers, and Hanson (1979: 37) reported on excavations at Gush Halav (referred to as Giscala by Josephus). Stratum VI contains the relevant archeoseismic evidence and was subdivided in Phase a and Phase b. A summary from their paper is presented below:

Stratum VI Late Roman (A.D. 250-362)
Phase a A.D. 250-306
Phase b A.D. 306-62/5

Meyers, Strange, Meyers, and Hanson (1979) dated the construction of a Gush Halav synagogue (in Stratum VI) to around 250 A.D. and report the village was abandoned beforehand; possibly after the Bar Kochba Revolt. The date for building the synagogue is primarily based on ceramics but is supplemented by 6 coins. They interpret destruction at the end of VIa due to the Eusebius' Martyr Earthquake of ~306 AD. However, Magness (2001a)
performed a detailed examination of the stratigraphy presented in the final report of (Meyers, Meyers, and Strange (1990)) and concluded, based on numismatic and ceramic evidence, that a synagogue was not built on the site until no earlier than the second half of the fifth century. While she agreed that earthquake destruction evidence was present in the excavation, she dated the destruction evidence to some time after abandonment of the site in the 7th or 8th centuries AD. Strange (2001) and Meyers (2001) went on to rebut Magness (2001a) to which Magness (2001b) responded again. One point of agreement however is that earthquake destruction evidence does appear to be present however this specific evidence is dated to either 363 AD or sometime after the 7th or 8th centuries AD. As we cannot responsibily report who is correct in terms of chronology vis a vis the Eusebius Martyr Quake, we classify this archeoseismic evidence as debated.

Khirbet Shema

Although excavators Meyers, Kraabel, and Strange (1976) identified two earthquake events ( Eusebius' Martyr Quake of ~306 AD and Monaxius and Plinta Quake of ~419 AD) which destroyed a Synagogue I and then a Synagogue II at Khirbet Shema, subsequent authors ( e.g. Russell (1980) and Magness (1997)) re-examined their chronology and redated the earthquake evidence. Russell (1980) redated the two earthquake events to the Cyril Quake of 363 AD and the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of ~419 AD while Magness (1997) concluded that there was no solid evidence for the existence of a Synagogue I on the site and evidence for an earthquake event in ~306 AD was lacking. She posited that Synagogue II was constructed in the late 4th to early 5th century AD and concluded that there was no solid evidence for the 419 AD (or 363 CE) earthquake as well. In Magness (1997) interpretation of the evidence, she suggested that the site had been abandoned when an earthquake brought down Synagogue II sometime before the 8th century AD.

Two sealed loci at the site provide a terminus post quem for the construction of Synagogue II. The latest coin found within a Bema was dated to 337-341 AD during the rule of Constans. The bema was described as "absolutely sealed by the stonework of the bema around and over it" where "contamination by later intrusions is virtually impossible" (Meyers, Kraabel, and Strange 1976:34). A declivity in the northwest corner of Synagogue II contained fill which was "sealed beneath more than a meter of debris, including large fallen architectural members" (Meyers, Kraabel, and Strange 1976: 34). Pottery within the fill below was described as homogeneous Middle-Late Roman. At the lowest levels a coin from Gratian (who ruled from 367-383 AD) was discovered. Meyers, Kraabel, and Strange (1976) interpreted the construction above the declivity to be part of a remodel. If we consider that construction above the declivity could also represent original construction, the terminus post quem for the construction of Synagogue II is between 337 and 383 AD. It is conceivable that Synagogue II was constructed over earthquake damaged remains of an earlier structure due to the presence of "battered architectural fragments built into Synagogue II (including those identified as belonging to the "Torah shrine")" (Magness, 1997:216) however, as pointed out by Magness (1997) the provenanace of these battered elements is unknown. They could come from another building. Nevertheless, this can be considered as possible archeoseoismic evidence which predates the construction of Synagogue II. As for the causitive earthquake(s), the Eusebius' Martyr Quake of ~306 AD and the Cyril Quake of 363 AD are both possibilities. Two other fills were examined (east and west of the Stylobate wall) but neither were sealed and neither added chronological precision to the construction of Synagogue II.

Archeoseismic evidence at Khirbet Shema for the Eusebius Martyr Quake can best desribed as possible but lacking solid evidence.


Meyers, Strange, and Meyers (1982) performed excavations of what they labelled Synagogue 2 at en-Nabratein. They subdivided the life of this structure into two phases of Period III (Late Roman, A.D. 250-350/363)

They dated Period III phase a using ceramics and some coins and end phase a with the Eusebius' Martyr Quake of ~306 AD which they beleived damaged the synagogue and led to rebuilding. The rebuilding effort initiated Period III phase b. The end of Period III phase b is not precisely dated with material remains. Ceramics and "an irregular supply of coins dating up to ca. 350 A.D." provide the earliest possible date for the end of Period III phase b. The authors state that the end of Period III phase b "is perhaps to be understood as a combination of factors, mainly the revolt against Caesar Gallus (A.D. 350-52), general economic hardships, and the great earthquake of A.D. 363". By the 7th decade of the 4th century AD, the authors consider the site to have been virtually abandoned until a third synagogue was established towards the end of the Byzantine era in A.D. 564; according to an inscription.

Magness (2010) examined the reports of Meyers, Strange, and Meyers (1982) paying attention to stratigraphic levels and chronological information and concluded that the first (and only) Synagogue built on the site ocuurred "no earlier than the second half of the fourth century, and point to occupation and activity precisely during the centuries when the excavators claim the site was abandoned." A coin of 341-346 from the east wall and pottery suggests a terminus post quem of the second half of the 4th century for the synagogue's construction. Other evidence leads to a terminus ante quem of the second half of the 5th century or later (mid 6th century). There is also the inscription which states that the synagogue was built or remodeled in 564 AD (Magness, 2010). Meyers and Meyers (2010) rebutted Magness (2010) analysis of the stratigraphy and chronology discussing intricate details of sloping bedrock, lensed stratigraphy, later disturbance of the site, the coin of 341-346 not being in the wall but in earthen fill, etc. etc. all of which is beyond our ability as non-archeologists to assess responsibly. Considering this, we have decided to label archeoseismic evidence for the Eusebius' Martyr Quake of ~306 AD at en-Nabratein as debated.


Ambraseys (2009) discussed an inscription found in Byblos which may allude to the Eusebius Martyr Quake
There is also an inscription from an altar in Byblus that records the survival of one Apollodorus after an earthquake Dussaud (1896:299). The inscription is dated by Seyrig to the second or third century, which would seem to indicate that it is not connected with this earthquake (H. Seyrig, personal communication 5 July 1972). However, since provincial epigraphy is often slower to change than that in major centres, and there is no other earthquake recorded for this location during the second or third century, the inscription has been very tentatively allocated to this event.
This archeoseismic evidence is classified as needs investigation.

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Neither Reinhardt et. al. (2006) nor Goodman-Tchernov et. al. (2009) nor Goodman-Tchernov and Austin (2015) saw evidence of a tsunami in near shore shelf deposits of Caesarea around 303 AD. Salamon et. al. (2011) noted that a tsunami was reported in a number of earlier earthquake catalogs (e.g. Shalem (1956), Ben-Menahem (1991), Amiran et al. (1994)) which several of the cataloguers (Shalem (1956) and Amiran et al. (1994) according to Salamon et al (2011)) viewed as doubtful. We agree with Salamon et. al. (2011) that the alleged tsunami was likely generated from "Eusebius' report of the sea casting up the body of the martyrdom of Apphian at the gates of Caesarea at the same time as the [Eusebius Martyr Quake] in Sidon." Salamon et al (2011) noted that a seismic sea wave is not specifically mentioned in Eusebius' text and "it is common along the eastern Mediterranean coast, even in normal weather conditions, that the sea casts up dead bodies of drowned people at the shore."

Paleoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence for the Eusebius Martyr Quake is summarized below:

Location Status
Al Harif Aqueduct Syria possible - wide spread in ages - 4.3 m of slip
Bet Zayda probable
Dead Sea none reported

Displaced Aqueduct at al Harif, Syria

Sbeinati et. al. (2010) report a seismic event X which they dated to 335 AD +/- 175 years at a dispalced aqueduct at al-Harif, Syria (close to Masyaf, Syria).

Al Harif Aqueduct Seismic Events
Figure 13. Correlation of results among paleoseismic trenching, archaeoseismic excavations, and tufa analysis. In paleoseismic trenching, the youngest age for event X is not constrained, but it is, however, limited by event Y. In archaeoseismic excavations, the period of first damage overlaps with that of the second damage due to poor age control. In tufa analysis, the onset and restart of Br-3 and Br-4 mark the damage episodes to the aqueduct; the growth of Br-5 and Br-6 shows interruptions (I) indicating the occurrence of major events. Except for the 29 June 1170 event, previous events have been unknown in the historical seismicity catalogue. The synthesis of large earthquake events results from the timing correlation among the faulting events, building repair, and tufa interruptions (also summarized in Fig. 12 and text). Although visible in trenches (faulting event X), archaeoseismic excavations (first damage), and first interruption of tufa growth (in Br-5 and Br-6 cores), the A.D. 160–510 age of event X has a large bracket. In contrast, event Y is relatively well bracketed between A.D. 625 and 690, with the overlapped dating from trench results, the second damage of the aqueduct, and the interruption and restart of Br-3 and onset of Br-4. The occurrence of the A.D. 1170 earthquake correlates well with event Z from the trenches, the age of third damage to the aqueduct, and the age of interruption of Br-4, Br-5, and Br-6. Sbeinati et. al. (2010)

Al Harif Aqueduct Radiocarbon
Figure 12. (A) Calibrated dating of samples (with calibration curve INTCAL04 from Reimer et al. [2004] with 2σ age range and 95.4% probability) and sequential distribution from Oxcal pro-gram (see also Table 1; Bronk Ramsey, 2001). The Bayesian distribution computes the time range of large earth-quakes (events W, X, Y, and Z) at the Al Harif aqueduct according to faulting events, construction and repair of walls, and starts and interruptions of the tufa deposits (see text for explanation). Number in brackets (in %) indicates how much the sample is in sequence; the number in % indicates an agreement index of overlap with prior distribution. Sbeinati et. al. (2010)

Bet Zayda

In paleoseismic trenches just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret), Wechsler at al. (2014) identified 3 events which could fit this earthquake. We suggest that Event CH4-E3 was created as a result of the Eusebius Martyr Quake.

Bet Zeyda Earthquakes
Figure 9. Probability density functions for all paleoseismic events, based on the OxCal modeling. Historically known earthquakes are marked by gray lines. The age extent of each channel is marked by rectangles. There is an age uncertainty as to the age of the oldest units in channel 4 (units 490-499) marked by a dashed rectangle. Channel 1 refers to the channel complex studied by Marco et al. (2005).

Dead Sea

Although Wechsler et al. (2018) reported that shaking was found in the Dead Sea sediment cores (Kagan et al., 2011; Migowski et al., 2004), Kagan et. al. (2011) did not assign an event of 300-307 AD to any seismites in En Feshka or Nahal Ze 'elim and Migowski et al (2004) did not assign an event between 300 and 307 CE in En Gedi to any seismites. A simple check on whether a ~304 CE seismite would have been masked or overprinted by the Monaxius and Plinta seismite of 419 CE reveals that this is not a possibility consistent with how this was reported by Migowski et al (2004: Table 2) [3]. So, there is no Dead Sea Paleoseismic evidence for this earthquake. Considering the distance to the presumed epicenter near the Lebanese littoral, it is very unlikely that such an earthquake would have formed seismites in the Dead Sea.


Paleoclimate - Droughts


[1] See Finegan (1998) Section 301.

[2] See Finegan (1998) Sections 185 – 187 for a discussion of the Olympiad calendar system.

[3] Migowski et al (2004) report the 419 CE seismite at a depth of 2.3716 m with a thickness of 0.5 cm. They report the ~175 CE seimite at a depth of 2.5562 m. A simple calculation reveals that in this part of the core, 1 cm. of sediment represents ~13 years of time. As 304 CE is 115 years earlier than 419 CE, it should be almost 9 cm deeper and thus ~8.5 cm. below the bottom of the 0.5 cm. thick 419 CE seismite. It should not have been masked or overprinted.