Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 11 December 2019


The Mediterranean is a zone of intense earthquake activity because the plates carrying Africa and Europe are slowly moving together, according to the theory of plate tectonics. Notable earthquakes in antiquity include: Sparta c.464 bce, where several thousands may have perished; Helice in Achaea 373 bce, where the city was submerged under the sea; Rhodes 227/6 bce, when the Colossus statue collapsed; Pompeii62 ce, which suffered severe damage. Some destructions of Mycenaean and Minoan palaces are also attributed to earthquakes. Earthquakes were associated with Poseidon in mythology: Poseidon the Homeric ‘earth-shaker’ (ennosigaios) was fervently worshipped also as ‘earth-holder’ (gaiaochos) and ‘stabilizer’ (asphalios), in Sparta and elsewhere. King Agesipolis of Sparta was as distinctly unusual in his pragmatic approach to an earthquake in the Argolis in 388 bce (XenophonHell. 4. 7. 4–5) as Herodotus (7. 129. 4) was in his rationalist, seismological explanation of Thessalian geomorphology (see thessaly). Ancient philosophers and ‘scientists’, however, frequently speculated about the causes of earthquakes (SenecaQNat. bk. 6). Thales thought that the earth moved upon the primeval waters. Anaximenes (1) reckoned that variations in wetness and aridity caused cracks in the earth. Several philosophers, including Anaxagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, and Posidonius (2), produced theories which involved water or air entering the earth and causing explosions.


Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft 22. 480 and Suppl. 4. 344–74.Find this resource:

J. Ducat, ‘Le tremblement de terre de 464 et l'histoire de Sparte’, in Tremblements de terre, histoire et archéologie (IVe Rencontres Internationales d'archéologie et d'histoire d'Antibes, 1984), 73–85.Find this resource:

P. Autino, Memorie dell'Istituto Lombardo 1987, 355–446.Find this resource:

J. Andreau, Annales Histoire Sciences Sociales 1973, 369–95.Find this resource:

P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea. A Study of Mediterranean History (2000).Find this resource:

Do you have feedback?