- Georgia L. Irby
The Mediterranean Basin is prone to earthquakes, and ancient thinkers sought to explain their causes either through myth (Poseidon’s wrath) or natural philosophy (dry and wet exhalations, trapped subterranean winds). Notable theorists include Thales, Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Epicurus, Posidonius, Lucretius, and Seneca the Younger. Historians and geographers (including Thucydides, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Pausanias) described severe earthquakes and their effects on geology (diverting bodies of water or causing bodies of water and/or land masses to appear or disappear, such as Atlantis), populations, and infrastructure (e.g., the complete annihilation of Helice and Boura). Among particularly noteworthy seismic events are those that occurred in Laconia in 464 bce, along the Malian Gulf in 426 bce, at Rhodes in 227/6 bce (toppling the famous Colossus of Helios), one extending from the Levant to Euboea (of unknown date), the quake affecting Campania (especially Pompeii and Herculaneum) in 63/63 ce, and at Smyrna in 178 ce. Earthquakes were often accompanied by volcanic activity and/or tsunamis. As with other natural disasters, disaster relief was piecemeal and politically charged. Finally, earthquakes figure into Greco-Roman mythology and literature.
Earthquakes are common in the eastern Mediterranean Sea basin, an area of robust seismic activity owing to the convergence of several small, slowly moving tectonic plates: the Hellenic/Aegean Sea plate extending from southern Greece to western Turkey, the African Plate swept under the Aegean Plate in the subduction zone south of Crete, and the Eurasian Plate bordering the Gulf of Corinth to the north.
- Science, Technology, and Medicine
Updated in this version
Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.