Inscription at Areopolis Quake

Before 597 CE

by Jefferson Williams

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


A fragmentary inscription from a building restoration mentions an earthquake that struck Areopolis shortly before 597 CE (e.g. 575 - 596 CE). Although there are no known textual accounts of this earthquake, there is strong supporting paleoseismic evidence.

Textual Evidence

Archeoseismic Evidence

Archeoseismic evidence is summarized below

Location Status
Areopolis definitive
Haluza possible
Rehovot ba Negev possible

Archeoseismic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below


Incription at Areopolis
Fig. 2 Inscription at Areopolis - Zayadine (1971)

Zayadine (1971) published a description of the fragmentary inscription. He suggested that the fragment indicates that a previously unreported earthquake struck Areopolis shortly before 597 CE. A translated excerpt from the article (originally in French) is presented below :
Translation : During the incumbency of most holy Bishop John [this building] has been restored in the year 492, after the earthquake.


Line 1: Bishop John of Areopolis is mentioned, to my knowledge, for the first time. But we can name three of his predecessors; they are: Anastasius, who participated in the Council of Ephesus in 449; Polychronius and Elijah who attended the synods of Jerusalem in 518 and 536.

Line 2: "has been restored": the building which is the subject of this dedication was unfortunately not mentioned. One could suppose that it belongs to the small recently discovered church (pl. III), but nothing proves it.

Line 3: "the year 492": this is the era of the Province of Arabia, well attested for region and which begins on March 22, 105 AD. This date therefore corresponds to 597 - 598 AD.

Line 4: "after the earthquake": This last line adds to the interest of this dedication, because it is the first time that an inscription mentions an earthquake in this region.

The characters on this line have been damaged, but it is safe to read; the "tone" has been shortened and the sign you see at the end of the line is a damaged cross, as we have specified above.

It is understood that the date is that of the restoration and not that of the earthquake; nevertheless, it is safe to assume that the works were not carried out long after the disaster. Among the known earthquakes, the closest to the date mentioned is 588 AD; but it seems to have mainly affected the city of Antioch. Another earthquake, which occurred in 599 AD, devastated Mesopotamia. It therefore appears that the catastrophe which affected the city of Areopolis is only attested by this inscription. Moreover, this capital of Moab seems to have been devastated by several earthquakes. Hill believes that the depiction of Poseidon on the city's coins, minted with the effigy of Caracalla, is related to these catastrophes. The decay of the Roman temple is certainly the result of a violent earthquake, as the first travelers pointed out.

Haluza (Elusa)

Negev (1976:92) report that at an eastern part of the site at Haluza (Area D), a house from Late Roman-Byzantine Haluza was discovered where "it thus seems that either the destruction of the house occurred a very short time after its abandonment, or the house had to be abandoned because of its destruction by an earthquake." Korjenkov and Mazor (2005) indicate that, although first human habitation started in the 3rd century BCE, the main building activity in the town started in the second century CE. They report that Negev (1989) reported that the Cathedral at Haluza was restored, likely after an earthquake, but inscriptions indicate that the restoration occurred in the late 5th or more likely early 6th century CE. Thus, archeoseismic evidence at Haluza for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake is classified as possible.

Rehovot ba Negev

Arch Collpase at Rehobot ba Negev
Fig. 11 Collapse of the arch in room L 207, which has been filled with earth before its complete collapse
Khorzhenkov and Mazor (2014)

Tsafrir (1988: 26) excavated the Northern Church (aka the Pilgrim Church) of Rehovot ba Negev and came to the following conclusions regarding its initial construction :
A clear terminus ante quem for the building of the church is given by a burial inscription (Ins. 2) dated to the month Apellaios 383, which falls, according to the era of the Provincia Arabia, in November- December 488 C.E. The church probably was erected in the second half of the fifth century. (See below the subsequent general discussion of the triapsidal basilicas beginning on p. 47.). Although it is clear that several parts of the complex were built later than the main hall, such as the northern chapel (see 111. 1 15), there is no doubt that the entire complex was constructed within the same few year.
Later on he noted that
A date of approximately 460-470 for the building activity therefore seems reasonable, although the calculation remains hypothetical.
After initial construction, additional architectural elements were added; foremost among them a a revetment or support wall which is described and discussed below by Tsafrir (1988: 27).
The most important architectural addition was the talus, or sloping revetment, that was built around the walls of the church from the outside to prevent their collapse. Such revetments were common in the Negev. They supported the walls of churches as well as of private houses. They are found, for example, around the walls of St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai. At Rehovot such walls may have been erected following an earthquake, but more probably it was necessary to reinforce them just because of poor quality masonry. To explain these retaining walls as having created a military defense post (as has been done in the case of the northern church at Shivta) is awkward.
Khorzhenkov and Mazor (2014: 84) identified what they believed were three (or more) earthquakes which had expressions in the walls of the northern church. The first two earthquakes struck after construction of the church around 465 CE and before the site was abandoned by its Christian inhabitants around 640 CE (when the Byzantine Empire permanently lost power in the area and could no longer support these peripheral outposts). A later earthquake struck during the Early Arab period - after ~640 CE.
The existence of revetment walls, supporting the southern wall of the Church from the south, indicates that the southern wall’s tilt occurred during the first of the Late Roman earthquakes. It seems that the southern wall began to tilt northward inside the building during the Early Arab earthquakes; additional evidence for this is the shift northwards of the upper part of the revetment wall. Stones of the perpendicular eastern wall are cracked in the small room marked on the plan. Nevertheless, this wall is better preserved (it is much higher) than the main southern wall of the North Church. This indicates that the seismic shocks during both earthquakes acted perpendicular to the main Church wall: it had freedom of oscillation and was significantly destroyed. The small eastern wall, oriented parallel to the effect of the seismic movements, withstood the seismic oscillations better, although many of its stones were significantly damaged. The whole northern wall of the Church (field station 12 in fig. 3) has a significant tilt to the south (figs. 8 a. b).
Khorzhenkov and Mazor (2014:84) discussed the two late Byzantine quakes (between 465 CE and 640 CE) further
The destruction event (an earthquake), which deformed the original wall, occurred before the decline of the Byzantine Empire. There was then another seismic event which led to the destruction of the revetment wall itself. The last event was probably an end of ›civilized‹ life here.
This suggests that the Late Byzantine earthquakes that could have struck Rehovot ba Negev could include the following Archeoseismic evidence for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake is labeled as possible.

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake is summarized below:

Location Status
En Feshka possible - 2 cm. thick seismite labeled as questionable
En Gedi possible
ZA-2 - Nahal Ze 'elim probable - 17 cm. thick intraclast breccia and liquefied sand
Taybeh Trench possible to probable - Event E3

Each site will now be discussed separately.

En Feshka

Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 186.5 cm. which might have been caused by this earthquake. This seismite was labeled as questionable.

En Gedi (DSEn)

Although Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 551 AD date to 0.3 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 220 cm (2.2033 m), it is possible that this seismite was created during the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.

Nahal Ze 'elim (ZA2)
Although Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned a 17 cm. thick intraclast breccia and liquefied sand seismite at a depth of 315 cm. to the Mount Lebanon Thrust Quake of 551 CE, the Inscription at Areopolis Quake was significantly closer and fits well within the modeled ages. Hence we suggest that the seismite at 315 cm. depth was created by the Inscription at Areopolis Quake.

Taybeh Trench, Jordan
LeFevre et al. (2018) might have seen evidence for this earthquake in the the Taybeh Trench (Event E3).

Taybeh Trench Earthquakes
Figure S5: Computed age model from OxCal v4.26 for the seismic events recorded in the trench


Paleoclimate - Droughts



Ambraseys, N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Zayadine, F. (1971). "Deux inscriptions grecques de Rabbat Moab (Areopolis) " Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 16: 71-76.