Sep 1, 2011

8 Natural Disasters of Ancient Times

Natural disasters are something that humanity has had to deal with
since its inception. They have the capability to wipe out significant
amounts of the human and wildlife populations where they strike. In
fact, it is possible that a natural disaster will be the cause of the
end of the world, whenever that inevitably happens. They could be
avoided, to some extent, by removing the human population from areas
where natural disasters are known to strike. However, looking back on
natural disasters in the past, we see that people were just as prone to
exposing themselves to the risk of natural disasters as they are today.

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The Damghan Earthquake was an earthquake of magnitude 7.9, that
struck a 200-mile (320 km) stretch of Iran on 22 December, 856 A.D. The
earthquake’s epicenter was said to be directly below the city of
Damghan, which was then the capital of Iran. It caused approximately
200,000 deaths, making it the fifth deadliest earthquake in recorded
history. The earthquake was caused by the Alpide earthquake belt, a name
for the geologic force that created a mountain range named the Alpide
belt, which is among the most seismically active areas on earth. [

Antioch Earthquake Natural Disaster

In late May, 526 AD, an earthquake struck in Syria and Antioch, which
were then part of the Byzantine empire. The death toll was a massive
250,000. The quake caused the port of Seleucia Pieria to rise up by
nearly one meter, resulting in the silting of the harbor. It was the
3rd deadliest earthquake of all time. The quake is estimated to have
been over 7 on the Richter scale (VIII on the Mercalli scale). After
the earthquake a fire broke out which razed all buildings that had not
already been destroyed.

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The Antonine Plague is named after one of its possible victims,
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the Emperor of Rome. It is otherwise known as
the plague of Galen. Galen was a Greek physician who documented the
plague. Judging by his description, historians believe that the Antonine
Plague was caused by smallpox or measles. We can call this plague a
natural disaster because it was caused by a naturally occurring disease
and it killed a significant number of people.

The Antonine Plague is thought to have come from Roman soldiers
returning from battle in the east. Over time, it spread throughout the
Roman Empire and some of the tribes to the north. An estimated 5 million
people were killed by the Antonine plague. During a second outbreak, a
Roman historian named Dio Cassius wrote that 2,000 people were dying
each day in Rome. That’s roughly one quarter of those who were infected.

365 Crete Earthquake, Apollonia, Pier (Jona)

On July 21, 365 AD, an earthquake occurred under the Mediterranean
Sea. It is thought that the earthquake was centered near the Greek
island of Crete, and that it was a magnitude eight or greater. It
destroyed nearly all of the towns on the island. It would have also
caused damage in other areas of Greece, Libya, Cyprus and Sicily.

After the earthquake, a tsunami caused significant damage in
Alexandria, Egypt and other areas. It was documented best in Alexandria.
Writings from the time tell us that ships were carried as far as two
miles inland by the wave. A description by Ammianus Marcellinus
describes the effect of the earthquake and the resulting tsunami in
detail. He wrote of how the earth shook and then the ocean receded in
Alexandria and how a great wave inundated the city with seawater. It is
estimated that thousands of people were killed.

Pompeii Bodies

The 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and the subsequent destruction
of Pompeii and Herculaneum, reminds us of the awesome power of this
active volcano. In fact, Vesuvius may be the most dangerous volcano on
Earth. There are more people living in its vicinity than any other
active volcano. Furthermore, it is most certainly going to erupt again.

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it warned the people with an
earthquake, which was ignored. The earthquake was later followed by the
expulsion of volcanic debris and the appearance of an ominous cloud over
the mountain. Pompeii was only 5 miles from the volcano; Herculaneum
was even closer. The people of these towns died as one might expect
victims of a volcano to die; they choked, burned and were subsequently
covered in volcanic debris and run off. What makes this ancient natural
disaster so interesting is the evidence we have of it.

For more than 1500 years, Pompeii lay buried in Italy. It was found
when residents were cleaning up after another major eruption, in 1631
AD. It was not completely uncovered until the 20th century. Then, people
learned all to well the horrible fate that had befallen its ancient
residents. The agony of their deaths has been immortalized in plaster.
Because their bodies rotted away long ago, while entombed in volcanic
rock, cavities, like those found in fossils, were left behind. These
were filled with plaster and what came out were near-perfect statues of
the people who died in Pompeii, as they had died. There were thousands
of victims. Today, there could be millions.


Sometime around 1645 BC, a volcano erupted on the island of
Santorini. The massive eruption caused widespread damage on both
Santorini and the nearby island of Crete. At the time, the Minoans
occupied both islands. The town on Santorini was not rediscovered until
modern times.

Interestingly, there is reason to believe that this natural disaster
inspired Plato’s tale of Atlantis. However, this is, and will likely
remain, purely speculation. It is assumed that the ancient inhabitants
of these islands picked up warnings that the volcano was going to erupt,
and heeded them. No victims of the eruption, if there were any, have
been found. Furthermore, it appears as if all transportable, valuable
items were removed prior to the eruption. Nonetheless, archaeologists
have discovered buildings and large belongings remained.


Helike was submerged in the Gulf of Corinth by an earthquake and a
tsunami in 373 BC. It remains submerged to this day. Ancient writers
commented on the destruction and some mentioned that you could see the
ruins beneath the water for hundreds of years after the disaster. It is
assumed that a number of people lost their lives, but how many is

The search for Helike did not begin until the end of the past
century. Since then, relics of Helike and, interestingly, other towns
have been found. Walls, walkways, coins and more have been viewed and
photographed. This is yet another possible scene of Atlantis, according
to some. However, the destruction of Helike happened in Plato’s
lifetime. He wrote that it happened 9,000 years before his time. It
could have been inspiration for fiction, though.

A number of other, smaller, natural disasters occurred throughout
ancient times. People were subject to them then as much as we are today.
It makes you wonder how many civilizations were destroyed by natural
disaster that we have no knowledge of, as of yet.


The Plague of Justinian was a pandemic that afflicted the Eastern
Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), including its capital Constantinople,
in the years 541–542 AD. The most commonly accepted cause of the
pandemic is bubonic plague, which later became infamous for either
causing, or for contributing to, the Black Death of the 14th century.
The plagues’ social and cultural impact during this period is comparable
to that of the Black Death. In the views of 6th century Western
historians, it was nearly worldwide in scope, striking central and south
Asia, North Africa and Arabia, and Europe as far north as Denmark and
as far west as Ireland. Until about 750, the plague would return with
each generation throughout the Mediterranean basin. The wave of disease
would also have a major impact on the future course of European history.
Modern historians named this plague incident after the Eastern Roman
Emperor Justinian I, who was in power at the time. He contracted the
disease, but was one of a limited number of survivors. The death toll
from this series of plagues was an unbelievable 40 to 100 million. [

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