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Text #8613

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Vol. 1
[Thuc. 3.89.1. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Clarendon Press. 1900 pp. 247--248]

In the ensuing summer the Peloponnesians and their allies, under the command of Agis the son of Archidamus, the Lacedaemonian king, came as far as the isthmus. They intended to invade Attica, but were deterred from proceeding by numerous earthquakes and no invasion took place in this year. About the time when these earthquakes prevailed, the sea at Orobiae in Euboea, retiring from what was then the line of coast and rising in a great wave, overflowed a part of the city; and although it subsided in some places, yet in others the inundation was permanent, and that which was formerly land is now sea. All the people who could not escape to the high ground perished.

A similar inundation occurred in the neighbourhood of Atalante, an island on the coast of the Opuntian Locri, which carried away a part of the Athenian fort, and dashed in pieces one of two ships which were drawn up on the beach. At Peparethus also the sea retired, but no inundation followed; an earthquake, however, overthrew a part of the wall, the Prytaneum, and a few houses. I conceive that, where the force of the earthquake was greatest, the sea was driven back, and the suddenness of the recoil made the inundation more violent; and I am of opinion that this was the cause of the phenomenon, which would never have taken place if there had been no earthquake.

Text #8616

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Regarding this series of earthquakes and tsunami, some experts propose that there are two earthquakes conflated in Strabo’s account because it is slightly different from that of Thucydides, and that the proposed other earthquake belongs to between 225 and 215 BC. I would suggest that the slight differences in the accounts are just part of how history was done back then, including the lack of clarity in Thucydides who plainly says numerous earthquakes, and then “at the time when these earthquakes prevailed”, suggesting a build-up. That does not exclude an earthquake for the later period proposed by archaeologists,12 it just means that we are here dealing with multiple earthquakes from the beginning.

Additionally, considering the amount of detail that Thucydides gives about this earthquake, it is likely that he was referring to it as well in the passage where he describes the the Spartan high admiral Astyochus sacking the island of Cos:

As he coasted along he made a descent on the island of Cos Meropis3. The city was unfortified and had been overthrown by an earthquake, the greatest which has ever happened within our memory. The citizens had fled into the mountains; so he sacked the town and overran and despoiled the country, but let go the free inhabitants whom he found. (8.41)

Considering the extent and destruction of the 426 earthquake and tsunami, this must have been what Thucydides was referring to in retrospect.

  1. Susan I. Rotroff, John Howard Oakley, Debris from a Public Dining Place in the Athenian Agora, 1992, p. 54-57

  2. Evelpidou N et al. “Holocene emergence in Euboea island (Greece)”, Marine Geology 295-298 (2012) 14–19

  3. In the winter of 412-411, the Spartan high admiral Astyochus sacked the island of Cos, an ally of Athens, taking advantage of the fact that it had been completely destroyed by an earthquake. His arrival was followed by the recovery of the whole Island.

Text #3686

Guidoboni & Comastri & Traina. Catalogue of ancient earthquakes in the Mediterranean area up to the 10th century
[pp. 118--119]

Thucydides records frequent earthquakes in central and eastern Greece in the autumn and winter of the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War (427-426). Strabo records the opening of the earth in Orchomenus. It is not clear whether some of these shocks were felt simultaneously in all these places or whether they were separate events in time. According to Ambraseys, the epicentral region was somewhere in Boeotia in the district of Orchomenos on the shore of Lake Copais, northeast of Levadia, this earthquake being perhaps a forerunner of the large earthquake of the summer of 426.1

Furthermore, probably connected to these seismic shocks, Hippocrates mentions an earthquake at Perintus shortly after the winter solstice, when the comet records by Aristotle appeared, and in the context of the epidemic which struck Perinthus at that time.

  1. Ambraseys, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East, p. 83

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