by Jefferson Williams

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Why do the earthquakes have the names they do ?

Earthquakes are supposed to be named acording to the date and approximate epicenter - for example, the 1927 Jericho Quake. This is great for instrumented earthquakes of the modern era where the date and epicentral region are known but it presents a problem for historical earthquakes where both the date and epicentral area may be in question. Dates for historical earthquakes can change as we gain more knowledge. For example, older papers frequently label the Cyril Quake(s) as the 362 AD earthquake and we now know that these earthquakes struck on May 18 and May 19 of 363 AD. Reading about the Cyril Quake(s) in older literature may lead the reader to think that there were earthquakes in 362 and 363 AD when, in fact, there were two earthquakes on May 18 and May 19 of 363 AD. Thus, historical earthquakes were named according to textual accounts. This produces a lasting name that does not present incorrect information as our knowledge increases. The name produced refers to something in one of those accounts - perhaps even something colorful from those accounts. A couple of examples follow.

The Cyril Quake(s) are named so because the best textual account we have for these earthquakes is an apparently pseudonymous account of these earthquakes attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem. The Josephus Quake of 31 BC is so named because the textual source for this earthquake is two reports by the Jewish historian Josephus. A few earthquakes where the dates are in question are listed below:


The Julian Calender is the standard for reporting dates in Antiquity and before the adoption of the Gregorian Calender in 1582 AD. Hence, all dates before 1582 AD are from the Julian Calender and all dates after are from the Gregorian Calender.

Sometime in the 20th century, the tradional dates for years BC and AD changed to BCE and CE. While BCE and CE are commonly used in archeologic literature, BC and AD still predominate in the geologic literature hence this catalog will likely contain a mix of desgnations. It may eventually be cleaned up to be all BCE and CE. Until then, please be aware that BCE = BC and CE = AD. Also, there is no year 0 (zero). 1 BCE (aka 1 BC) was immediately followed by 1 CE (aka 1 AD). There are many links in this catalog. In creating links, I tried to optimize two criteria

  1. Free non-subscription links preferred over subscription links.
  2. Links that are more likely to last are preferrd over those which may expire. This reduces manitenance in repairing broken links.
There are a lot of links to Wikipedia for both historical figures, places, ancient empires, etc. These were chosen because Wikipedia is likely to last, has a well organized format, and tends to give fairly simple time saving explanations. However, if you read a wikipedia link on something you are a subject matter expert on you will realize that Caveat emptor applies to Wikipedia. So Caveat emptor with Wikipedia. Also, I welcome feedback of better links that you may know of or broken links. Please email me if you have a helpful link to share.


Historical Earthquake research is a messy business. Archeological and Geological Data are often ambiguous and sometimes wrong. The ancient texts are at best semi-reliable and at worst downright deceptive. Scholars transpose numbers, misspell words, get citations wrong, confuse their dates, etc. etc. If you are a cited author in this catalog and I pointed out an apparent mistake of yours I apologize. But, I had to do it. We have to collectively do quality control on each other's work in order to move science forward and that involves pointing out each others mistakes. Even if a mistake has been corrected in the literature, I may point it out here not due to anti-social malice on my part but to alert anyone new to a subject why something they read may be wrong. On that note, I would be very grateful if you would alert me to my mistakes. Please email me if you find a mistake(s).