Eusebius Mystery Quake

127 - 130 AD - probably spurious

by Jefferson Williams


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


Introduction

Eusebius, in a terse passage, reported that Caesarea and Nicopolis were destroyed by an earthquake around 130 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. The problem with this account is there is little to no collaborating archeoseismic, paleoseismic, or tsunamogenic evidence for an earthquake in Judea in 127 - 130 AD. Two schools of thought have developed to explain Eusebius' apparent mistake. Ambraseys (2009) suggests he got his location wrong and Russell (1985) suggests he got his date wrong. This is discussed in more detail in the Textual Evidence section of this catalog entry. As noted by Ambraseys(2009), dates provided by Eusebius during this time period are sometimes off by a couple of years. When combining dates with that of other authors, one can arrive at a time span of 127 - 130 AD. Since this earthquake appears to be a spurious account in terms of Palestine, this date span won't be investigated further.

Textual Evidence

Chronicon by Eusebius

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 282, 227th Olympiad), we read that in the 227th Olympiad
Nicopolis and Caesarea were ruined in an earthquake. [1]
Eusebius dates this to the first year of the 227th Olympiad which corresponds to July 1, 130 AD – June 3- 131 AD. [2]. The problem with this date is that there is little to no paleoseismic, tsunamogenic, or archeoseismic evidence to corroborate it. As a result, two schools of thought have developed to explained what appears to be a mistake by Eusebius.

Ambraseys (2009) suggests that Eusebius was not referring to a Nicopolis and Caesarea of Palestine but rather to two like named cities (Nicopolis and NeoCaesarea) in the northeastern Anatolian province of Pontus and that his 130/131 AD date was approximately correct. Ambraseys (2009) mentions two other pairs of like named cities in other parts of the Roman Empire as Nicopolis and Caesarea were popular city names at that time. He prefers the northeastern Anatolian pair because they were larger and better known and close to the active North Anatolian Fault.

Russell (1985) suggests that rather than being geographically incorrect, Eusebius may have instead been chronologically wrong. As a native of Caesarea, Eusebius may have been aware of earthquakes that struck the area in the distant past and that Eusebius, using unknown sources and writing 200 + years after the event, merely got his date wrong. Although Russell (1985) does not propose a reason why Eusebius’ sources may have gotten the date wrong, one possibility is that his sources may have reported an earthquake that occurred during Hadrian's rule when in fact the earthquake occurred during the rule of Trajan; Hadrian's predecessor. If one changes Eusebius' date for the earthquake from Hadrian's 13th – 14th year (130/131 AD) to Trajan's 13th – 14th year (111/112 AD), one arrives at a date which is within the 4 year time span (110 – 114 AD) when the archeoseismic evidence constrains the timing of the Incense Road Earthquake.

Chronography by Elias of Nisibis

Elias of Nisibis (975 - 1046 writing around 1019 AD in his book Chronographia has an earthquake report similar to the one reported by Eusebius. In a French translation of Chronographia (top of p. 57) we can read (translated to English):
An 438 - In that year there was an earthquake: Nicoplis and Ceasarea were overthrown. From the Chronological Canon of Andronicus.
An 438 comes from the Seleucid calendar and is often abbreviated as A.G.(Anno Graecorum). Russell(1985) relates that A.G. 438 corresponds to 126/7 AD. Chronographia in original Syraic can be found here.

Guidoboni et al (1994) state that Elias of Nisbis used Eusebius as his source for this entry and supply the following quote:
Year 438 [of the Greeks; i.e. 126-127 CE]

Canon of the years of Andronicus. In that year there was an earthquake and Nicopolis and Caesarea collapsed.
Thus Elias of Nisbis adds nothing to this earthquake report.

Other Sources

This report was repeated by other later sources such as Chronicon Paschale, George Syncellus, Pseudo Dionysius and others. Ambraseys (2009) lists the following additional sources - Chron. Pasch. 255/617; Georg. Sync. 349/660.3; Ps.Dion. 124/i. 93; Chron. 724, 122/95; Anast. 502; Mar. Scot. iii. 136/664; Eli. Nis. 85/42.

Archeoseismic Evidence

A list of locations with possible archeoseismic evidence for the Eusebius Mystery earthquake is provided below accompanied by our assessment. Current status is there is no definitive archeoseismic evidence for this earthquake report.

Location Status
Heshbon indeterminate and unlikely
Caesarea indeterminate - needs investigation


Tell Hesban (Roman Esbus) aka Heshbon aka Hesban

Mitchel (1980, Ch. 4 - Stratum 13 and 14) noticed a massive collapse of bedrock in underground structures at a location known as Tell Hesban. He attributed the collapse to an earthquake. In fill atop the bedrock collapse, he found a coin from Aretas IV (9 BC – 40 AD) along with a number of pottery shards dated to a wide spread of ages over hundreds of years but with the bulk of shards from Early Roman I-IV (63 BC – 135 AD). He surmised that the fill was deposited soon after the bedrock collapse because he saw no evidence for extended exposure before filling (silt, water-laid deposits, etc.) and the fill was relatively homogeneous, unstratified, and loose soil that “gave the appearance of rapid deposition in one operation”. Mitchel (1980) assigned a date of 130 AD to the destruction layer caused by an earthquake citing Chronicon by Eusebius as a historical reference ( see Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius Chronicon Book Two, page 228, 227th Olympiad). Russell (1985) favored a date of 110-114 AD for this destruction layer.

In our opinion, this destruction layer is not well dated. It rests on an untested assumption that the fill above the bedrock collapse layer was deposited soon after the collapsed bedrock. None of Mitchel’s (1980) date information comes from beneath the collapsed layer. If one dispenses with the argument that the fill was deposited immediately after an earthquake and examines the variety of dated objects found in the fill, the objects suggest that the fill was deposited over some period of time and the most probable earthquake candidate for the bedrock collapse layer might be the 31 BC Josephus Quake. In our opinion, this archeoseismic evidence is indeterminate.

Caesarea

Ambraseys (2009) notes that
An earthquake must have caused the collapse of vaulted chambers initially built in the first century AD along the waterfront of Caesarea, as well as the destruction of important buildings in the city, during the 'Late Roman Period' ( Toombs 1978, 230). According to Russell, this earthquake, recorded by Eusebius, is the only possible explanation for the destruction (Russell, 1981), even though the 'Late Roman Period', a term used to date ceramics, in fact runs from AD 200 to 300, and Eusebius's date (AD 130) is seventy years before the earliest possible date for this period. Russell points out that ceramic chronologies are not precise.
Needed reference - (Toombs (1978))

Paleoseismic Evidence

A list of locations with possible paleoseismic evidence for the Eusebius Mystery earthquake is provided below accompanied by our assessment. Current status is there is no definitive paleoseismic evidence for this earthquake report.

Location Status
Bet Zeyda possible but unlikely
Dead Sea no evidence
Taybeh Trench possible but unlikely
Qatar, Jordan no evidence


Each site will be discussed separately. For more details on seismites and seimic events around this time, see the Paleoseismic Evidence section of the Incense Road Quake.

Bet Zayda

Wechsler at al. (2014) report modeled ages of 137 - 206 CE for event CH4-E5. Although outside their modeled ages, Eusebius Mystery Quake was listed as the historical report for Event CH4-E5. In our opinion the Migowski Quake II of ~175 AD or an unknown earthquake from around this time is a better fit for the modeled ages. Further, we disagree with the characterization of Wechsler at al. (2014) based on Guidoboni et. al. (1994) that the Eusebius Mystery Quake is a reliable report. It is a questionable report.

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

There were no date assignments to this earthquake in the Dead Sea.

Arava

Neither LeFevre et al. (2018) in the Taybeh trench (Jordan) or Klinger et. al. (2015) in Qatar (Jordan) identified a seismic event which they associated with Eusebius Mystery Quake of 130 AD although LeFevre et al. (2018) identified a seismic event (E4) in the Taybeh trench in the Arava which they modeled between 14 BC and 205 AD and associated with the Incense Road Earthquake of 110 AD - 114 AD.

Notes

Paleoclimate - Droughts

Footnotes

[1] This reads as follows in Latin "Nicopolis et Caesarea terraemotu conciderunt." Guidoboni et al (1994)

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

References