Text #4005

Justin. Epitome of the Phillippic History of Pompeius Trogus
[Bk. 40 Ch. 2 ]


But Syria, though unmolested by enemies, was laid waste by an earthquake, in which a hundred and seventy thousand people, and several cities, were destroyed; a portent which the soothsayers declared “to presage a change in things.” After Tigranes was conquered by Lucullus, Antiochus, the son of Cyzicenus, was made king of Syria by his authority.

Text #8756

Dio Cassius. Roman History. Vol. 3
[DioCass. 37.11. Translated by Earnest Cary. Harvard University Press. 1914. (9 Vols.) p. 119]


But his [Mithridates’] associates, on the other hand, became estranged, as the position of the Romans was ever growing more secure and that of Mithridates weaker. Among other things the greatest earthquake ever experienced destroyed many of their cities; the soldiery also mutinied, and some of Mithridates’ sons were kidnapped and conveyed to Pompey.

Text #8754

Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Series: Translated Texts for Historians. Vol. 54
[Oros. 6.5.1. Translated by A. T. Fear. Liverpool University Press. 2010 p. 272]

While Mithridates was celebrating the rites of Ceres on the Bosphorus1, there suddenly occurred such a severe earthquake that it is related to have caused great damage to both cities and the countryside.

  1. At his capital Panticapeum, the modern Vospro in the Crimea. [nE]

Text #8755

Malalas. The Chronicle of John Malalas
[Malal. 8.30. Translated by Elizabeth Jeffreys and Michael Jeffreys and Roger Scott . Australian Association for Byzantine Studies. 1986 p. 111]

He [Pompey] laid claim to the Antiochenes and, entering the city of Antioch, he made it subject to the Romans, giving generously to them and rebuilding for it had fallen down. He honoured the Antiochenes since they were Athenians by descent.

Text #4006

Ambraseys. Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East
[pp. 96--97]

The earliest source for this earthquake in Syria is Justin, a third-century-AD chronicler. He says that as a result of the earthquake several Syrian cities, which are not named, were destroyed and 170,000 people killed. He adds that this disaster was taken to be a portent of coming changes, implying that the event took place soon after the evacuation of Syria by Tigranes in 69 BC (Just. xl.2.271)

According to Justin the earthquake happened during Tigranes’ occupation of Syria (83-69 BC), probably near its en, since Pompey, after the Romans had taken Antioch in 66 BC, rebuilt the senate house, which had fallen down (Malalas, 211; Downey 1938, 107, 145). It is probable that this is the same earthquake as that recorded by Dio Cassius (AD 164-235) during the awar between the Romans and Mithridates, in alliance with Tigranes. Later authors refer to this when they say that it was because of the greatest earthquake, which destroyed many cities, that Mithridates was abandoned by his allies and his army broke up. The cities destroyed by the earthquake most probably belonged to his eastern allies in Syria and historical Armenia, who, on hearing the news of the disaster, hurried home to guard their property and restore the damage (D.C. 37.11). Orosius, a later source (AD 385-420), adds that, when Mithridates was celebrating the feast of Ceres in the Cimerian Bosphorus (Crimea), there was an earthquake, which, it is said, was equally disastrous in urban and rural areas. This passage does not imply that this event necessarily happened in the Cimerian Bosphorus. The inclusion of ‘it is said’ can equally well be interpreted to mean that it was the news of the earthquake in Syria that reached Mithridates in the Cimerian Bosphorus (Orosius, 1001).

Another earthquake is mentioned in a curious legend in the Babylonian Talmud, during the siege of Jerusalem, in the last days of the Hasmonean rule in 64-63 BC. It is thought to be coeval with the earthquake in Syria. Baba Kama relates that when a pig was brought into Jerusalem an ‘earthquake struck Israel and the land trembled a hundred miles in all directions…’ and from that thime the raising of pigs was forbidden. This story is mentioned by Arvanitakis and followed by other seismologists, who amplified the legend by adding that the earthquake was stong enought to damage the temple in Jerusalem, or that the shock was from the same earthquake as that which destroyed Antioch and was felt in Cyprus, assigning to it a magnitude Msub1 7.7 and an epicentre on Antioch (Ben-Menahem 1979). Other seismologists locate this earthquake in the Crimea (Kondorskaya and Shebalin 1982; Guidoboni 1989). In fact the earthquake in Salamis in Cyprus occurred much later in 15 BC, after which Augutsus came to the rescue of the city with gifts of money and renamed it Augusta. …

Archaeological evidence does not help to identify the location of this earthquake or the area over which it caused damage or was felt. There is some evidence that Tell Sukas, a site about 90 km south of Antioch, was abandoned probably after an earthquake in the first century BC. However, the date 68 BC, which is assigned to the event, was taken from historical information rather than from archaeological evidence and hence is of little use. At any rate, no archaeological finds from the Early Imperial period have been found at Tell Sukas to testify to the existence of any township, since civic life on the Tell came to an end sometime during the first century BC. There is also the possibility that the desertion of Tell Sukas was no isolated phenomenon, but part of a general trend in which some settlements in the area were given up in favour of the town centres founded during the Hellenistic period.

There are no details in the sources from which one could assess the location and the extent of the area seriously affected by this earthquake.

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