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Text #1812

Pliny. Natural History. Vol. 1
[Plin. Nat. 2.86. Translated by John Bostock and H. T. Riley. George Bell and Sons. 1900. (6 Vols.) p. 331]


Earthquakes are accompanied by inundations of the sea, which is presumably caused to flood the land by the same current of air, or drawn into the bosom of the earth as it subsides. The greatest earthquake in human memory occurred when Tiberius Caesar was emperor, twelve Asiatic cities being overthrown in one night; the most numerous series of shocks was during the Punic War, when reports reached Rome of fifty-seven in a single year; it was the year when a violent earthquake occurring during an action between the Carthaginian and Roman armies at Lake Trasimene was not noticed by the combatants on either side. Nor yet is the disaster a simple one, nor does the danger consist only in the earthquake itself, but equally or more in the fact that it is a portent; the city of Rome was never shaken without this being a premonition of something about to happen.

Text #1813

Plutarch. Lives. Series: Plutarch's Parallel Lives. Vol. 3
[Plut. Fab. 3. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Harvard University Press. 1916. (11 Vols.) p. 125]


“Flaminius, however, was not persuaded, but declared that he would not suffer the war to be brought near Rome, and that he would not, like Camillus of old, fight in the city for the city’s defence. Accordingly, he ordered the tribunes to lead the army forth. But as Flaminius himself sprang upon his horse, for no apparent reason, and unaccountably, the animal was seized with quivering fright, and he was thrown and fell head foremost to the ground. Nevertheless, he in no wise desisted from his purpose, but since he had set out at the beginning to face Hannibal, drew up his forces near the lake called Thrasymené, in Tuscany.

When the soldiers of both armies had engaged, at the very crisis of the battle, an earthquake occurred, by which cities were overthrown, rivers diverted from their channels, and fragments of cliffs torn away. And yet, although the disaster was so violent, no one of the combatants noticed it at all. Flaminius himself, then, while displaying many deeds of daring and prowess, fell, and round about him the flower of his army. The rest were routed with much slaughter. Fifteen thousand were cut to pieces, and as many more taken prisoners. The body of Flaminius, to which Hannibal was eager to give honourable burial because of his valour, could not be found among the dead, but disappeared, no one ever knowing how. “

Text #1704

Dio Cassius. Roman History. Vol. 2
[DioCass. 14. Translated by Earnest Cary. Harvard University Press. 1914. (9 Vols.) pp. 103--107]


The people of Rome again chose Flaminius and Geminus consuls. At the very beginning of spring Hannibal was apprised that Flaminius together with Servilius Geminus was advancing against him with a large force, and he set himself to deceiving them. He pretended that he was going to tarry there and offer battle, and when the Romans, thinking that he would remain in his present position, became careless in guarding the roads, he set out at nightfall, leaving his cavalry behind in camp, quietly traversed the passes, and hastened on towards Arretium; and the cavalry, after he had got far ahead, set out to follow him. When the consuls found they had been tricked, Geminus stayed behind to harass those who had revolted and prevent them from assisting the Carthaginians, and Flaminius alone pursued, eager that he alone should have the credit for the expected victory. He succeeded in occupying Arretium first, for Hannibal in taking a shorter route had encountered difficult roads and had lost numerous men, many pack animals, and one of his eyes. It was late, then, when he reached Arretium and found there Flaminius, whom he regarded with contempt. He did not give battle, for the spot seemed to him unsuitable; but by way of testing his enemy he proceeded to lay waste the country. At this the Romans made a sally and he returned, to give them the idea that he was afraid. During the night he withdrew, and finding a satisfactory spot for battle, remained there. He arranged that most of the infantry should form an ambush along the mountain sides, and ordered all the cavalry to lie in wait concealed from view outside the pass; he himself encamped with a few followers on the hilltop. Flaminius was very confident, and when he saw Hannibal with but a few men on the high ground he believed that the rest of the army had been sent to some distant point, and hoped to take him easily while thus isolated. So he carelessly entered the mouth of the pass and there, since it was late, pitched camp. About midnight, when the Romans were sleeping unguarded, through scorn of their enemies, the Carthaginians surrounded them on every side at once, and by using from a distance javelins, slings, and arrows they killed some who were still in their beds and others who were just seizing their arms, without receiving themselves any serious harm in return. For the Romans, having no tangible adversaries and with darkness and mist prevailing, found no opportunity to make use of their valour. So great was the uproar and such the confusion and alarm that seized them, that they were not even aware of the earthquakes then occurring, although many buildings fell in ruins and many mountains either were cleft asunder or collapsed so that they blocked up the ravines, and rivers shut off from their ancient outlets turned elsewhere. Such were the earthquakes which overwhelmed Etruria, yet the combatants were not conscious of them. Both Flaminius himself and a vast number of others fell, though not a few managed to climb a hill. When it became day, these turned to flight, but being overtaken, surrendered themselves and their arms on promise of pardon. Hannibal, however, recking little of his oaths, kept those who were Romans in chains, but released their subjects and allies from among all the captives he had in his army.

Text #9186

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

There is a report in Gates & Ritchie. “Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes” as follows:

217 BC, June. North Africa, earthquake. More than 100 cities were destroyed, and more than 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

This seems to derive from a book entitled “Darkest Hours” by Jay Robert Nash which says:

June, 217 BC North Africa suffered what most historians describe as “the greatest shaking recorded in her history” when a massive earthquake rattled the northern rim of the continent. This happened in early June, 217 BC, at about the same time that the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, was exterminating the Roman legions of Gaius Flaminius at Trasimeno Lake.

More than 100 cities in North Africa were smashed, and about 50,000 to 75,000 persons were killed outright. Several cities in Italy, where “lakes and streams tumbled from their beds,” were also affected by the quake, but loss of life was minimal. 1

Being unable, thus far, to find an original source for this claim, I can only conclude that it is a combination of Pliny’s report of 57 earthquakes in the year of the Battle of Lake Trasimene and the massive death toll from Hannibal’s extermination of the Roman legions, combined with the fact that Hannibal was from North Africa.

  1. Burnham Inc Pub (November 1976)

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