Posidonius, as quoted by Strabo and Seneca, described an earthquake which "swallowed up a city above Sidon" and destroyed two-thirds of Sidon itself. The destruction in
Sidon is described as occurring slowly such that loss of life was minimal. This may describe a slow moving displacement of structures which was induced by liquefaction.
Shaking is described as moderate in Syria. It was likely stronger in Phoenicia. This earthquake is not well dated.
estimated that it occurred in the second century BCE. Although most catalogs (including Ambraseys (2009)) classify this earthquake with a date of 199 or 198 BCE, we agree with
Ambraseys (2009) that this earthquake is not well dated and can be best described as an event that probably happened around 199 BCE. A few earthquake catalogs date this earthquake to 525 BCE.
It is not currently understood how anyone came up with a 525 BCE date. See the Notes section of this entry for more details on the 525 BCE date.
And in Phoenicia, says Poseidonius, on the occasion of an earthquake, a city situated above
Sidon was swallowed up, and nearly two-thirds of
Sidon itself was engulfed too, but not all at once, so that no considerable destruction of human life took place. The same operation of nature
extended also over the whole of Syria, but with rather moderate force; and it also passed over to certain islands, both the
Cyclades and Euboea,
with the result that the fountains of Arethusa (a spring in Chalcis) were stopped up,
though after many days they gushed up at another mouth, and the island did not cease from being shaken in some part or other until a chasm
in the earth opened in the Lelantine Plain and vomited forth a river of fiery lava.
This earthquake is not well dated.
As noted by Ambraseys (2009)
and others, Book I Chapter 3 is not ordered chronologically. It is ordered thematically. However, because the account of an earthquake near Sidon
is (mistakenly) conflated with
earthquakes in the Cyclades, Euboea, and Chalcis along with a volcanic eruption in the Lelantine Plain, the dates of these alleged events might
help estimate the date of the Posidonius Quake near Sidon.
Ambraseys (2009) suggests that
the earthquake in the Cyclades refers to an earthquake that caused damage in the nearby
Dodecanese which he dates to the second century BCE based on several inscriptions
reported by Roberts (1978).
Paleoseismic Evidence for the Posidonius Quake or an earthquake from around 198/199 BC is summarized below:
Tekieh Trenches Syria
possible - ~2 m displacement
possible - wide spread in ages
possible - wide spread in ages
possible - 2.0 cm. thick Type B (microbreccias) assigned a date of 199 BCE although the ~250 BC
Fortress at Arad Quake may be a better candidate
no seismte assigned
Nahal Ze 'elim
unlikely - 8 cm. thick intraclast breccia observed at site ZA-2 assigned a date of 198/199 BC although the ~250 BC
Fortress at Arad Quake seems a better candidate
Tekieh Trenches Syria
Gomez et. al. (2003, p. 15)
may also have seen evidence for this earthquake in paleoseismic trenches in Syria (Event B). Event B is estimated to have created ~ 2 meters of displacement Gomez et. al. (2003, pp. 16-17).
Kanari, M. (2008)
and Kanari et al (2019)
examined rockfalls in
Qiryat-Shemona which were attributed to earthquakes.
Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating was performed on soil samples beneath the fallen rocks. Although rockfalls were
attributed to the Posidonius Quake (labeled 199 BCE), the error bars are so large that a number of seismic
candidates are possible.
The criteria used by Kanari (2008) to identify historical earthquakes as triggering the observed rockfalls included:
(a) Estimated minimum MMI of IX
(b) Calculated Moment-Magnitude greater than or equal to 6.5
(c) distance to the site not exceeding 100 km.
Kanari (2008) surmised that these conditions satisfied
Keefer (1984)'s upper limit for disrupted slides or falls triggered by earthquakes.
Wechsler at al. (2014) records event CH4-E6 (modeled age 392 BCE – 91 CE) in paleoseismic trenches at Bet Zayda just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret).
Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned the Posidonius Quake of ~199 BCE to the seismite at 552 cm. depth
(Tables 3 and
Considering the distances involved, the
Fortress at Arad Quake is a better candidate
for the seismite at 552 cm.
Thucydides tells us that, about the time of the
Peloponnesian War, the island of
Atalanta, either wholly, or, at any rate,
for the most part, was swallowed up. You may take Posidonius for witness that the same thing happened to Sidon.
Questionaes Naturales in its original Latin can be accessed here.
525 BCE Catalog Entries
The source for the 525 BCE entry in later catalogs is probably
Sieberg (1932b) who describes earthquake damage in Sidon, a tsunami, and
the quake being felt in the Cyclades and Euboea. Although Sieberg (1932b) never cited sources, his damage description
indicates his source was Strabo quoting Posidonius, possibly Seneca and/or another source, and perhaps a little embellishment.
Other catalogers (e.g. Ben-Menahem(1979), Ben-Menahem(1991), Antonopoulos (1979), Plassard and Kojoj (1981), and Sbeinati et. al. (2005))
more or less repeat Sieberg's description for 525 BCE. Sbeinati et. al. (2005) appears to list this same earthquake twice in 199 BCE and 525 BCE.
Obviously, this double date is an error. How Sieberg (1932b) came up with a date of 525 BCE is currently a mystery.
Migowski et al (2004) assigned a seismite at En Gedi to the 525 BCE date and Kagan et al (2011) assigned seismites at En Feshka to
both 199 BCE and 525 BCE dates. Although their date ranges may be approximately correct, due to the distance involved, we believe that their quake assignments are
wrong for both dates (199 BCE and 525 BCE). Neither Ambraseys (2009) nor Guidoboni et. al. (1994))
have an entry for a 525 BCE earthquake.
Posidonius was a celebrated Greek polymath originally from Apamea, Syria. He is thought to have authored over 20 works none of which
have survived intact. All that have been found are fragments. Some of his work, however, survives as quotations by other authors foremost among them Strabo and Seneca.