Geographical sites:

  • Etna (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #462077)
    Pleiades_icon Aetna M. mountain Geocontext: Mt. Etna
    Description: An active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily (known today as Mount Etna).
  • Catania (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #462270)
    Pleiades_icon Katane/Catina settlement, amphitheatre Description: The colonial city of Katane (modern Catania) was founded by Chalcidian Greeks sometime after the foundation of Leontini in 730 BC.
  • Gaul (click here to focus in map) (see also GeoNames #8299477)
    Geonames_icon Gallia Narbonensis historical first-order administrative division Geocontext: Europe/Paris


Text #8744

Cicero. De Natura Deorum, Academica. Vol. 19
[Cic. N.D.. 2.38. Translated by H. Rackham. Harvard University Press. 1967 p. 217]

Thus far Aristotle ; let us for our part imagine a darkness as dense as that which is said to have once covered the neighbouring districts on the occasion of an eruption of the volcano Etna, so that for two days no man could recognize his fellow, and when on the third day the sun shone upon them, they felt as if they had come to life again : well, suppose that after darkness had prevailed from the beginning of time, it similarly happened to ourselves suddenly to behold the light of day, what should we think of the splendour of the heavens?

Text #8741

Seneca. Natural Questions. Series: The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca
[Sen. 2.30.1. Translated by Harry M. Hine. The University of Chicago Press. 2010 p. 177]

Etna once overflowed with a large quantity of fire and poured out an enormous mass of burning sand; daylight was shrouded in dust, and the sudden darkness terrified whole peoples. On that occasion, they say, there were then numerous lightning-bolts and thunderclaps, which were produced by the clash of dry bodies, not of clouds, which are unlikely to have been present when the air was so hot.

Text #8742

Pliny. Natural History. Series: Natural History. Vol. 1
[Bk. 2 Ch. 19 pp. 241--242]

A bow appeared round the sun in the consulship of Lucius Opimius and Quintus Fabius,1 a hoop in that of Gaius Porcius and Manius Acilius2, and a red ring in that of Lucius Julius and Publius Rutilius3.

  1. 121 BC

  2. 114 BC

  3. 90 BC.

Text #3289

Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Series: Translated Texts for Historians. Vol. 54
[Oros. 5.13.2--5.13.3. Translated by A. T. Fear. Liverpool University Press. 2010 p. 229]

The proconsul Gnaeus Domitius1 defeated the Allobrogian Gauls near the town of Vindalium in a costly battle: the enemies’ horses and the enemy themselves scattered in terror on seeing elephants for the first time. 20,000 Allobroges are said to have been killed in this battle and 3,000 were captured.

At this same time, there was a greater than usual eruption of Etna. Torrents of fire poured out and flowed far and wide round about, causing such damage to the city of Catina and its territory that house roofs, burnt through and weighed down with hot ash, collapsed. To alleviate this catastrophe, the Senate decreed that Catina have a ten years’ exemption from taxes.

  1. Gn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, consul in 122, held proconsular command in Gaul in 121 BC.

Text #3290

Augustine. City of God
[Bk. 3 Ch. 31 pp. 159--160]

We have read in their books that the fires of Etna, pouring down from the top of the mountain to the neighboring shore, caused the sea to boil, so that rocks were burnt up, and the pitch of ships began to run,—a phenomenon incredibly surprising, but at the same time no less hurtful.  By the same violent heat, they relate that on another occasion Sicily was filled with cinders, so that the houses of the city Catina were destroyed and buried under them,—a calamity which moved the Romans to pity them, and remit their tribute for that year. 

Text #8743

Obsequens. "A Book of Prodigies After the 505th year of Rome"


  1. Cn. Domitio C. Fannio coss. AUC 632/122 BC

In the forum at Vessano a hermaphrodite was born and was carried down to the sea. In Gaul three suns and three moons were seen. A two-headed calf was born. An owl was seen on the Capitol. Catina was destroyed by the fire of Etna. The Sallyes and Allobroges were defeated.

Text #8740

Tanguy & Condomines & Goff & Chillemi & Delfa & Patane. "Mount Etna eruptions of the last 2,750 years". Bulletin Of Volcanology. Vol. 70


During this summer it is said that Sicily was invaded by such an amount of ash that roofs of the city of Catania were oppressed and overburden, and finally collapsed ” (St. Augustine, III, 31). “ At this time Mt. Etna burned more than usual and threatened the city of Catania and its outskirts by fiery torrents, so that the roofs of buildings collapsed, being overload and burned by hot ashes ” (Orosius, V, 13, 1). The more ancient authors Cicero and Seneca probably allude to the same event when they report that darkness lasted three days and lightning occurred in the volcanic plume. Let us point out that lava flows are indicated by Orosius alone, who wrote more than five centuries after the eruption. Such information, therefore, is of little value (see above a similar discussion regarding Diodorus and the Sicanians). Most current scientists, following Kieffer ( 1985 ), consider the 122 B.C. eruption as a large Plinian outburst (e.g., Coltelli et al. 1998 ). According to Kieffer, this event created the small caldera of the Cratere del Piano which is today almost entirely buried by the central cone. This view is supported by Strabo’s Geography describing, about a century later, a summit depression 3.8 km in circumference, or 1.2 km in diameter. Seneca said also that at his time (c. A.D. 60), Mt. Etna had a lower elevation than before ( letter to Lucilius , n. 51). Moreover, it seems that a long repose period followed the 122 B.C. eruption, as usually occurs after a caldera forming event.

Text #9464

Stothers. "Cloudy and clear stratospheres before A.D. 1000 inferred from written sources". Journal of Geophysical Research



Several authors mention that the eruption was followed by a dust-veil event. If the account of Obsequens can be used as valid evidence (Catania is 27 km from Mount Etna), this was possibly the largest Etnan eruption during classical antiquity before 44 BC. Tree-ring data shows that the year 125 BC was a year of ring-width minima and 123 BC a year of frost-ring signal1.

  1. Slazer M.W., Hughes M.K., Bristlecone pine tree rings and volcanic eruptions over the last 5000 yr, Quaternary Research 67 (2007) 57 – 68 [OF]

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