Historical Account of an Izmit, Turkey Earthquake in 358AD
This fascinating and disturbing account was written by Ammianus Marcellinus, a 4th century writer. (English translation from Guidoboni et al., 1994). This earthquake of ancient times, described in vivid detail here, reveals striking similarities with the recent one. Marcellinus provides moving descriptions of the shaking, the sound of the earthquake, and the ground failure on the hillsides and ensuing destruction of the houses that were built there. He describes the clearing of the air (presumably the settling of dust raised by the shaking and landslides) a few hours after main shock, and the vast piles of rubble that were then revealed. He speaks of the human tragedy, as well, describing in graphic terms injuries and unfortunate fates of earthquake victims. The similarity between what Marcellinus described and what we have all witnessed this past week on television is awesome. Unlike the 1999 Izmit earthquake, but very much like the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the earthquake in 358AD was followed by a great fire that consumed much of what remained standing.
by Stathis Stiros, Geodesy Laboratory, Dept. of Civil Engineering, Patras University, Patras, Greece.
"The recent Izmit earthquake was probably a repeat of this historical event, described below, and reported to have hit about 150 towns. No information on surface faulting is made in the ancient text, but I believe this could be used, among others, to constrain dating in trenching. The 358AD event is one of the most well-described ancient eqs, and some of its effects are not different from the present day disaster. Please note that the information below is an Appendix from an Archaeoseismological article on an earthquake of Crete at circa 365AD, submitted to the Journal of Seismology, Special Issue edited by M. Meghraoui."
Description of the effects of the AD358, Nicomedia (Izmit, Turkey) earthquake
by Ammianus Marcellinus (17.7.1-8), a 4th century writer (English translation from Guidoboni et al., 1994).
"...At the same time fearful earthquakes shattered numerous cities and mountains throughout Asia, Macedonia and Pontus with repeated shocks. Now pre-eminent among the instances of manifold disaster was the collapse of Nicomedia, the metropolis of Bithynia; and I shall give a true and concise account of the misfortune of its destruction. On the twenty fourth of August, at the first break of the day ?? a terrific earthquake, utterly destroyed the city and its suburbs. And since most of the houses were carried down the slopes of the hills, they fell one upon another, while everything resounded with the vast roar of their destruction. Mean while the hilltops re-echoed with all manner of outcries, of those seeking their wives, their children and their relatives. Finally, after the second hour, but well before the third, the air, which was now bright and clear, revealed the fatal ravages that lay concealed. For some who have been crushed by the huge bulk of the debris falling upon them perished under its very weight; some were buried up to their necks in the heaps of rubble, and might have survived had anyone helped them, but died for want of assistance; others hung impaled upon the sharp points of projecting timber. Most were killed instantly, and where there had been human beings shortly before, were now seen confused piles of corpses. Some were imprisoned unhurt within fallen house roofs, only to die in agony and starvation. Among them was Aristaenetus, vice governor of the recently created diocese which Constantius, in honour of his wife, Eusebia, had named Pietas; now he died in agony as a result of the disaster. Others, who were overtaken by the suddenness of the disaster, still lay hidden under the ruins; some with fractured skulls or severed arms or legs hovered between life and dearth, imploring the aid of others in the same situation; but they were abandoned, despite their strong entreaties. And the greater part of the temples and private houses might have been saved, and of the population as well, had not a sudden onrush of flames, sweeping over them for five days and nights, burned up whatever could be consumed."