Negev Quake

5th century CE

by Jefferson Williams

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


Archeoseismic Evidence in the Negev may suggest that a localized earthquake struck the region in the 5th century CE. If so, this may have been a result of a blind thrust. It is also possible that this archeoseismic evidence is a result of the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 CE.

Textual Evidence

Archeoseismic Evidence

Archeoseismic Evidence is summarized below:

Location Status
Avdat (aka Oboda) possible
Shivta (aka Sobota) possible
Rehovot ba Negev possible

Archeoseismic Evidence is examined on a case by case basis below


Avdat Acropolis
Aerial View of Avdat Acropolis - from Wikipedia

In surveys conducted in 1994 and 1996, Korjenkov (1999) identified and examined seismic features such as
Korjenkov (1999) identified a number of seismic features at Avdat and was able to produce an estimate of local Intensity and other information as follows : Unfortunately, this estimate is derived from multiple earthquakes. Korjenkov estimated that three seismic events created the features and that the first seismic event was the southern Cyril Quake of 363 CE and and the last event was the Sword in the Sky Quake of 634 CE. The middle event might be the hypothesized Negev Quake or the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 CE.

In the New Encyclopedia of Archeological Excavations in the Holy Land and possibly it's Supplement, we can read that
one room of the earlier structure appears to have been utilized in the fourth century CE (room 7), and it apparently collapsed in the 363 earthquake.

the numismatic and ceramic evidence uncovered in this third phase indicate that the dwellings were destroyed in a violent earthquake several decades after that of 363 CE. Following this second, local earthquake, the area was abandoned and many of the building stones were robbed.
This second local earthquake could have been the hypothesized Negev Quake or the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 CE.

Erickson-Gini (personal communication, 2021) reports/interprets a large destruction event at Oboda in the early 5th century CE with the abandonment of whole areas and extensive damage and rebuilding throughout the site and the addition of revetment walls along the south face of the temenos acropolis to shore up structural damage.

Negev (1989) wrote about an earthquuake which affected Avdat/Oboda between the end of the 3rd century CE and 541 CE.
A decisive factor in determining this phase is the dating of a series of earthquakes, one or more of which shattered numerous buildings in some of the towns of the central Negev. Although literary evidence is scarce, there is ample archaeological evidence that testifies to these disasters. At Oboda the entire length of the old southern Nabatean retaining wall was thrust outwards, and for this reason it had to be supported by a heavy, slanting supporting wall. Similarly much damage was caused to a massive tower of the Nabatean period, identified in July 1989 as the temple of Obodas (?), which in the Late Roman - early Byzantine period was incorporated in the citadel occupying the eastern half of the acropolis hill. Most of the damage was caused to the western and southern walls of the temple, and for this reason these too had to be supported by still heavier stone taluses, blocking the original entrance to the temple on the southern wall. It is against this talus that the South Church was built. Similar dai'tiage was also caused to some of the nearby buildings in the so-called Roman Quarter south of the temple. We may thus place the date of the earthquake between the end of the third century A.D., when the latest building in this quarter was constructed, and A.D. 541, when the Martyrium of St. Theodore was already being used as a burial ground.
Abundant archeoseismic evidence at Avdat indicates more than one seismic event which unfortunately are not dated precisely. Acheoseismic evidence for a 5th Century Negev Quake is labeled as possible.

Shivta (aka Sobota)

Negev (1989) wrote about an earthquuake which affected Sobota (aka Shivta) between the end of the 3rd century CE and the middle of the 6th century CE. The end of the 3rd century CE date was apparently based on Negev's observations of archeoseismic damage at Avdat/Oboda.
A severe earthquake afflicted Sobata [aka Shivta] still more. At the same time both mono-apsidal churches of Sobata suffered a great deal of damage. The South Church (Fig. 5) was surrounded on all four sides by a high talus. It is highly likely that the transformation of this building from a mono-apsidal basilica into a tri-apsidal one took place at the time when the whole building underwent a complete remodeling. Yet, it is not certain whether this transformation is a direct outcome of the earthquake. The constructional history of the North Church (Fig. 4) is much the same, but outer buildings which were added after the earthquake indeed help in determining the various phases. Originally the mono-apsidal basilica had no additional chapels on the south. When the building suffered severe damage by the earthquake, it was completely surrounded by very high stone taluses on all sides, except on the eastern half of the southern wall of the basilica, where two strongly built chapels with apses and domes were constructed, taking the place of the talus as a support for the shattered southern wall. The repair of the first phase of the church, which was made after the earthquake marked the beginning of the second phase. This too has now been firmly dated by a coin of Justinian (527-538 A.D.) which was found in the intentionally made fill in the room behind the southern apse. The change from the mono-apsidal to tri-apsidal plan must have taken place at this time.

The epigraphic evidence of Sobata may help in attaining a close as possible date both for the earthquake and for the subsequent reconstruction of the North Church. One of these inscriptions, that of 506 A.D., is clearly a dedicatory inscription of a very important building, which justified the participation of a Vicarius, a man of the highest rank, in the dedication of this building. This inscription was not found in situ. However, there is no question about the inscription of A.D. 512, in which year the mosaic floor of one of the added chapels was dedicated by a bishop and the local clergy. It is thus safe to assume that the whole remodeling of the North Church began in the first decade of the sixth century. The second half of the fifth century A.D. was one of tectonic unrest. Severe earthquakes were recorded in the years 447, 498, and 502 A.D. The two latter dates would be highly probable dates for the destruction of the South and North Churches of Sobata, their total remodeling, and their rebuilding as tri-apsidal basilicae, and thus the beginning of Phase II.
Earthquakes referred to by Negev (1989) appear to come from Kallner-Amiran's (1952) catalog. The 447 CE earthquake was reported in Constantinople and would not have caused damage in the Negev (see Ambraseys (2009) for details). The 498 CE earthquake is dated to 499 CE by Ambraseys (2009) and struck Eastern Anatolia. It also would not have damaged structures in the Negev. The 502 CE earthquake is the Fire in the Sky Earthquake which could have damaged structures in the Negev although it's epicenter was not close to the region. This leaves the hypothesized Negev Quake as a distinct possibility.

Archeoseismic evidence for a 5th century Negev Quake is labeled as possible.

Rehovot ba Negev

Tilted Walls at Rehobot ba Negev
Fig. 8 A southward tilt of the whole wall of the Northern Church, a: view toward east;
b: view towards ESE from above. The angle of tilt is increasing up along the wall (a >skyscraper< effect)
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 a 5th century Negev Quake is labeled as possible.

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence for this event is summarized below:

Location Status
En Feshka possible
Nahal Ze 'elim possible
Taybeh Trench possible
Qatar, Jordan possible

Each site will now be discussed separately.

En Feshka

Kagan et. al. (2011) identified four seismites between 210 and 228 cm. depth which may have formed during the 5th century CE.

Nahal Ze 'elim

At ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned a 5 cm. thick intraclast breccia at a depth of 342 cm. to the Monaxius and Plinta Quake of 419 AD. This appears to be the same seismite Ken-Tor (2001a) labeled as Event D at ZA-1. Kagan et al (2011) likely assigned a 419 AD date because it better fits with the modeled ages. Bookman (nee Ken-Tor) co-authored a paper in 2010 ( Leroy et. al. (2010)) which maintained a 363 AD date for Event D. According to Kagan et al (2011)'s radiocarbon dating, this seismite was formed during the 5th century CE.



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

Qatar, Jordan
Klinger et. al. (2015) identified one poorly dated seismic event (E6) which could have struck during the 5th century CE.

Qatar Trench
Figure 6. Age model computed for the trench stratigraphy using OxCal v4.2 (Bronk-Ramsey et al. 2010) and IntCal13 calibration curve (Reimer et al. 2013). Light grey indicates raw calibration and dark grey indicates modelled ages including stratigraphic information. Phases indicate subsets of samples where no stratigraphic order is imposed. Klinger et al (2015)


Paleoclimate - Droughts



Negev, A., The cathedral of Elusa and the new typology and chronology of the Byzantine churches in the Negev, Liber Annus 39 (1989) 129-142.

Rodkin and Korzhenkov (2019)