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Géoarchéologie des îles de la Méditerranée

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Matthieu Ghilardi

Partie 3. Adaptation aux mutations paysagères à l'échelle intra-site : la nécessaire prise en compte des paramètres environnementaux / Human adaptation to site-scale landscape changes: the importance of environmental parameters

On the historical role of earthquakes in Antiquity

Stiros Stathis

Résumé

Numerous earthquakes, sometimes powerful and destructive, have affected parts of the Mediterranean in historic and prehistoric times, and some of them had important historical impacts, including causing serious discontinuities in the occupation history of sites. While these effects have inspired theories of the earthquake-induced collapse of entire civilizations, there is also evidence for major destructive earthquakes which had no historical impact. In order to shed light on this discrepancy, and especially in order to investigate the conditions under which earthquakes played a historical role, we analyzed a number of cases of relatively well-known earthquakes, focusing on their direct and indirect impacts and on their social, economic and political back-ground. The major finding of this study is that while theories of neo-catastrophism should be rejected, certain secondary environmental effects of earthquakes (such as the destruction of water resources), which occurred during specific social, economic and political conditions, permit or dictate an historical role for earthquakes.

Texte intégral

Introduction

1Destructive earthquakes in the Mediterranean and other regions are frequent, sometimes destructive, and following the legend of Lanciani (1918) and of Evans (1928), they have been regarded as the cause of the destruction and abandonment of ancient sites (Rapp, 1986; Jones and Stiros, 2000). There have even been theories proposed which explained the collapse of entire civilizations as a result of clusters of earth- quakes (Schaeffer, 1948; Nur and Cline, 2000; Nur and Burgess, 2008) or of their secondary or related effects (e.g. the collapse of the Minoan civilization as a result of the Santorini volcano; Marinatos, 1939). Such theories of “neocatastrophism” have been criticized by various authors (Rapp, 1986; Ambraseys, 2005; Stiros, 1996; Jusseret et al., 2013), while Stiros (1996) argued that in many cases scholars regard earthquakes as Deus ex machina to explain destruction layers, abandonment or cultural changes at ancient sites. Nevertheless, large parts of the Mediterranean have in the past experienced frequent and sometimes destructive earthquakes (Guidoboni et al., 1994; Locati et al., 2014), or even clusters of earthquakes (Pirazzoli et al., 1996); and there exists widespread 19th-20th century evidence for a clear impact, or of the potential for a clear impact, of earthquakes in the inhabitation history of various sites. For example, after the 1881 earthquake which destroyed a major part of Chios Island (eastern Aegean), the Turkish authorities imposed controls on sailing in order to avoid the abandonment of the island (see Figure 1 for a location map of the sites cited). The same scenario was repeated after the destructive 1953 Cephalonia (Ionian Sea) Island earthquakes by the Greek authorities; in this last case even fishing boats were confiscated in order to prevent further abandonment of the island, condemning part of the population remaining on the island to famine. Thera (Santorini) was nearly abandoned after the catastrophic earthquake in 1956, and inhabitation practically recovered only after the tourist boom in the 1980s. There is also widespread historical and archaeological evidence that earth- quakes had a wide range of effects on ancient sites. In some cases almost total destruction was followed by full-sale reconstruction of the civil infrastructure, but without any signifiant change in the culture; this was the case of the ancient town of Pergamon in Asia Minor after the 1246 earthquake (Rheidt, 1996). In other cases, the post-seismic recovery was associated with the introduction of a new building style resistant to earthquakes; this was the case of Smyrni (Smyrna, modern Izmir in western Turkey, Figure 1) in the 17th century (Stiros, 1995). In the case of the Mycenean center of Tiryns (on the mainland of southern Greece), inferred post-seismic reconstructions of the town were associated with a new culture, as can be deduced from changes in the ceramic style (Figure 2) which for millennia has been the most reliable marker of civilization.

Figure 1: Location map of the sites mentioned in Greece.

2There is also evidence of highly destructive earthquakes affecting major towns regarding which contemporary historical sources were silent (e.g. the seismic destruction of Roman Patras, capital of SW Greece in Roman times; Stiros and Pytharouli, 2014), or provided only some very selective and inaccurate or contradictory information about the earthquake (e.g., in the case of the island of Rhodes, where an earthquake in the late 3rd Cent. BC uplifted the ancient harbor by several meters; Kontogianni et al., 2002; Stiros and Blackman, 2014). Finally, there are a few cases of earthquakes, either local or regional (“universal”), the memory of which survived through centuries and millennia, and which seem to have been associated with extreme natural effects (e.g. tsunamis), but which had no apparent historical impact. This was the case for the legendary 365 AD earthquake, with a magnitude greater than 8.5 (although this remains controversial), which seems to have resulted in a series of major shocks which caused significant damage to a region from Sicily and Libya to Cyprus and Egypt, with different effects in different areas (earth tremor in Libya and Sicily, up to 9 m of uplift in Crete, and a tsunami in Egypt - Guidoboni et al., 1994; Pirazzoli et al., 1996; Stiros 2001; Bottari et al., 2009; Stiros, 2001 and 2010). In the aftermath of this event (or events), life returned to normal in the destroyed Cretan towns and the only apparent historical impact was the replacement of destroyed luxurious villas by modest dwellings and the end of a transitional period from paganism to Christianity, with the complete dominance of Christianity (Stiros, 2001; Stiros and Papageorgiou, 2001). Hence, from the study of numerous earthquakes derived from historical and archaeological evidence, the question arises as to why some destructive earthquakes had historical impacts and others not; or in other words, under which conditions did earthquakes play an historical role? In this chapter we try to provide some preliminary answers to these questions based on the evidence of certain rather well-documented cases of earthquakes during different periods and environments. The basic approach of the study is to analyze the direct and indirect impacts of each of the earthquakes on the civil infrastructure, the environment, and the history of the sites, in combination with the existing socio-economic and political conditions.

Figure 2: Changes in pottery style (percentage of sherds indicating a new pottery style) versus time in specific stratigraphic levels (Late Helladic III, LH III) of the Mycenaean town of Tiryns in relation to earthquakes, as inferred from structural damage. Earthquakes seem to have induced a process of societal reorganization with the adoption of new cultural elements. After Kilian, 1988 and 1996.

Methodological aspects

Direct and indirect impacts of earthquakes

3The various types of physical impact of earthquakes in relation to ancient sites have been systematically examined by Stiros (1996). In summary, earthquakes produce earth tremors which may cause the collapse of buildings, destruction of the civil infrastructure (bridges, aqueducts), but also changes in the natural environment, especially landslides on steep slopes, ground faulting and vertical land movements (uplift or subsidence); the latter tend to become obvious and important in coastal areas (Pirazzoli et al., 1996). The direct effects of earthquakes may be accompanied by secondary or chain effects, which may prove more destructive than the earthquakes themselves. Some noteworthy examples are the following. During the 1980 Al Asnam (Algeria) earthquake, ground uplift of several meters produced a barrier along a river and partly transformed a plain into a temporary lake. This was a recurrent effect (Meghraoui et al., 1988) with obvious implications for an agricultural economy in a semi-arid environment, because of the flooding of cultivated areas and of transient availability of additional water resources. In several other cases, changes in water resources imposed by earthquakes, among them damage to cisterns etc., have most probably produced changes in the quality of inhabitation (Nur and Ron, 1996). A landslide during the 1927 Damia (Jericho) earthquake blocked the flow of the Jordan River for several days – an effect apparently not unusual in the geological history of the area. A similar older event was proposed by Nur and Ron (1996) as a parallel explanation for a well-known Biblical miracle: a landslide triggered by one of the major earthquakes occurring in the Holy Land every few hundreds or thousands of years temporally blocked the flow of the Jordan River and permitted its crossing by the Israelites. It is also reasonable to assume that seismic damage to the fortifications of ancient sites (a direct effect) during periods of political instability and danger (for example, in the case of a Crusader Castle in the Dead Sea Rift offset by a fault in 1202; Marco et al., 1997), as well as the triggering of religious prejudices and political instability, have led to the abandonment of these sites (dominant, indirect effect of an earthquake). It is reported that certain historical earthquakes (e.g., 413 BC, 388 BC) have influenced military operations because they were regarded as signs from the gods, especially of the “wrath of gods” (Guidoboni et al., 1994; Papazachos and Papazachou, 1997).

Socio-economic and politic background of earthquake disasters

4One may assume that ancient societies were to a significant degree self-sufficient, and their social and economic organization was relatively primitive, so that they were able to recover rapidly from the effects of earthquakes. Of course, this may prove to be a dangerous generalization.

5The available historical and archaeological evidence of ancient earthquakes is fragmentary and limited, and very rarely does there exist a clear picture of the socio-economic and political context before, during and after earthquakes. Nevertheless in some cases ancient texts and inscriptions provide much information on the support provided by central authorities (emperors or the regional government; Helly, 1989), other states or private donors to promote the recovery of towns/regions affected by earthquakes. The case of Rhodes is especially clear, since well-acknowledged support enabled the reconstruction of the damaged harbor and the Rhodian war fleet (Guidoboni et al., 1994; Stiros and Blackman, 2014). Such support however, was clearly conditional, depending on various socio-economic and political conditions, and their timing. For example, continuation of the inhabitation (or inhabitation under certain social and political conditions) would have been difficult, especially during a cold winter with food shortages following the seismic destruction of warehouses; or in summer after seismic destruction of cisterns and aqueducts. Similarly, a damaged castle could have been rapidly repaired if the necessary degree of post-earthquake organization was available, and especially support from neighboring areas, and there was no direct threat from enemies which would have made repairs risky, if not impossible. Otherwise, the fortified center could not afford protection and a guarantee of the continuation of the political and social regime.

Case studies

6The above points are examined in a number of case studies (Table 1) which highlight the role of social, political and economic context in the survival of sites in the aftermath of earthquakes. Their locations are summarized in Figure 1.

Table 1: Summary of the impacts of earthquakes and of the modes of recovery of ancient societies (Y: yes, N: No).

Prehistoric Kea (Keos)

7In the case of the prehistoric town of Keos (Kea) in the central part of the Aegean (Figure 1), water resources played a key role in the continuation of inhabitation. As is the case with most Aegean islands, water is limited and was provided by a small spring feeding an underground cistern near the coast (“spring chamber”), slightly above sea-level. When an earth- quake destroyed houses and caused coastal subsidence, the fresh water was contaminated by sea-water and the exploitation of the spring was no longer possible (Figures 2, 3 and 4). The site was nearly abandoned and the spring chamber, invaluable in the past, was transformed to a place for dumping the waste of the few remaining inhabitants (Cummer and Schoefield, 1984; E. Schoefield, oral communication; Stiros, 2005).

Mycenaean Tiryns

8Signs of earthquake damage have been found in excavations in Tiryns, an important pre-historic town in the vicinity of the town Mycenae in southern Greece (Figure 1). The characteristic effect of the earthquakes was that the site recovered quickly, life was fully re-organized and apparently the earthquakes provided a stimulus to adopt new fashions, as can be discerned from changes in the pottery style (Figure 2).

Classical Sparta

9In 464 BC an earthquake destroyed Sparta (Figure 1), causing political instability and triggering a revolt of slaves and of oppressed tribes, and a war which could have ended with the disappearance of the Spartan State. A solution was provided by a military invasion of the Athenian army to support its main rival (Guidoboni et al., 1994) in order to secure the social state of the period.

Figure 3: Partial view of the excavation at the prehistoric site of Ayia Irini, Keos (Kea) Island, Aegean Sea. An arrow points to a spring chamber (combination of well and spring) that supplied water to the ancient site. The Figure provides a schematic explanation for the conditions that made this spring chamber useless because of contamination by saline water following earthquake-related land subsidence

Figure 4: Schematic representation of environmental changes caused by a major pre-historic earthquake in Ayia Irini, Keos (Kea) Island, Aegean Sea, and their impacts on local freshwater supplies. Local sea-level rise caused by the earthquake was followed by contamination by saline water of a spring chamber supplying fresh water to the village. This led to the devastation of the ancient site. Modified after Stiros (2005), based on data of Cummer and Schoeffield (1984) and oral communication by E. Schoeffield.

Roman Aigeira

10During the Roman period Aigeira became a prosperous town in the Gulf of Corinth (Figure 1), evidenced by various ancient remains and especially a major theatre which was under reconstruction in order to satisfy the needs of the fashion of the period (a skene was transformed to a pool permitting the reenactment of naval battles). The wealth and very existence of the town was due to an artificial harbor, constructed at the only site along the central part of the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth suitable for building a major harbor. The harbor was established to the east of a protruding limestone mass, which provided protection from westerly winds, and an artificial mole-breakwater farther to the east. Today, the entire harbor basin is several meters above the water-level, covered by houses, and only the remains of the main mole (Figure 5) have been identified at the village of Mavra Litharia, between modern Aigeira and Derveni (Papageorgiou et al., 1993; Stiros, 1998), as a result of archaeological excavations in the last decade. Because of 4 m of seismic uplift the artificial harbor became useless, and probably because of this the town rapidly declined and was abandoned as an organized entity. Evidence of episodic land uplift is provided by coastal (biological) data and the abrupt abandonment of the refurbishment of the nearby theatre, with building material left in the orchestra (Papageorgiou et al., 1993; Stiros, 1998; Pirazzoli et al., 2004).

Roman Kourion

11Kourion was the capital of Roman Cyprus, and its seismic destruction in 365 AD, evidenced from excavations, has become a legend (Sorren, 1988; Guidoboni et al., 1994; Stiros, 2001). A somewhat neglected impact of this earthquake is that after the earthquake Kourion somehow survived as an organized city, but it was no longer the capital of Cyprus: the new administration center of the island was moved to Salamis, in the eastern part of the island (Stiros, 2001).

Roman Gortyn

12During its 1000-year-long history Gortyn (Figure 1), famous for the first written Law Code in Europe (an inscription) in the classical period and the capital of Roman Crete, suffered several earthquakes which caused major damage. The town recovered from all these earthquakes, despite the damage caused to the buildings and infrastructure. An exception was an in earthquake in circa 670 AD which led to the abandonment of the town. The difference between this last terminal event and the previous earthquakes is that the historical and political context did not permit any recovery (Table 2). This is because the 670 AD earthquake occurred during a period of political and economic decline and an Arab invasion, rendering impossible any support from central authorities and/or by local donors, and which prevented its continuation as an organized town.

Discussion

13The progress of Historical Seismology (Ambraseys, 1971; Guidoboni et al., 1994; Papazachos and Papazachou, 1997; Locati et al., 2014) and of Archaeoseismology (Nikonov 1988 and 1996; Rapp, 1986, Karcz and Kafri, 1978; Stiros, 1996; Jones and Stiros, 2000; Hancock and Altunel, 1997, Galadini et al., 2006) during the last few decades has enabled us to identify earthquakes and even model some of their seismological characteristics. However, progress in understanding the historical, socio-economic, political and urban context and impacts of earthquakes has been very limited. The main reason for this is because of the limitations of the available data and the selective and fragmentary nature of the contemporary reports and archaeological evidence, as well as the fact that only rarely have multidisciplinary data been combined in order to produce certain conclusions concerning the historical context of earthquakes, avoiding certain older speculations (Marinatos, 1939; Schaeffer, 1948).

Figure 5: View of the remains of the landward (and inner) edge of the artificial mole protecting the harbor of ancient Aigeira, at Mavra Litharia (between Derveni and Akrata, Gulf of Corinth) from winds blowing from E-NE. View towards the SE, from the Old National Road, just after the 2010 excavation which uncovered additional remains of the mole and verified the ideas of Stiros (1998). The occurrence of 4 m of uplift in the 2nd Cent. AD raised the mole and the entire harbor above the water, rendering them useless. This led to the abandonment of the ancient town of Aigeira, situated on the hill in the nearfield (right part of the photo) and extending up to its summit, where the theatre was located.

Table 2: Response of Gortyn, capital of Roman/Byzantine Crete to earthquakes. Based on the data of Di Vita (1996).

14From an historical and social perspective, the available data permit us to identify discontinuities in the inhabitation history of some sites, even hiatuses in inhabitation. Previous evidence indicates that ancient societies, especially primitive and self-sufficient ones, were in a position to recover rapidly and almost comletely even from destructive earthquakes, using their own initiative and resources. However, this was on condition that basic natural resources such as water supplies were not affected, or that the damage was not beyond that which could be relatively easily repaired. If these conditions were not met, societies were condemned to complete disintegration and the sites were completely abandoned. Of course, it was possible for life to continue or resume in a rather disorganized manner for some of the survivors, or by new settlers; and this was the case for Keos. For more developed or organized societies, survival depended on their ability to obtain external support, including technical assistance and funding.

Conclusions

15Some earthquakes tended to cause not simply a physical, but also a social and political shock to ancient societies. Some earthquakes had important impacts in the inhabitation history of various areas, but there is no simple correlation between the characteristics of the earthquakes (magnitude, intensity, death toll, etc.) and their historical impacts: highly destructive earthquakes seem not to have been characterized by historical impacts, while smaller earthquakes have been. The historical impacts of earthquakes seem to have been controlled by the overall political and social conditions, and seem to have been more dependent upon the indirect (secondary, chain) effects of earth- quakes than on their direct effects. This is a point which has been ignored so far, but it must be taken into consideration in order to reconstruct the history of inhabitation of ancient sites and towns.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Location map of the sites mentioned in Greece.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 353k
Légende Figure 2: Changes in pottery style (percentage of sherds indicating a new pottery style) versus time in specific stratigraphic levels (Late Helladic III, LH III) of the Mycenaean town of Tiryns in relation to earthquakes, as inferred from structural damage. Earthquakes seem to have induced a process of societal reorganization with the adoption of new cultural elements. After Kilian, 1988 and 1996.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 83k
Légende Table 1: Summary of the impacts of earthquakes and of the modes of recovery of ancient societies (Y: yes, N: No).
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Légende Figure 3: Partial view of the excavation at the prehistoric site of Ayia Irini, Keos (Kea) Island, Aegean Sea. An arrow points to a spring chamber (combination of well and spring) that supplied water to the ancient site. The Figure provides a schematic explanation for the conditions that made this spring chamber useless because of contamination by saline water following earthquake-related land subsidence
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 392k
Légende Figure 4: Schematic representation of environmental changes caused by a major pre-historic earthquake in Ayia Irini, Keos (Kea) Island, Aegean Sea, and their impacts on local freshwater supplies. Local sea-level rise caused by the earthquake was followed by contamination by saline water of a spring chamber supplying fresh water to the village. This led to the devastation of the ancient site. Modified after Stiros (2005), based on data of Cummer and Schoeffield (1984) and oral communication by E. Schoeffield.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 223k
Légende Figure 5: View of the remains of the landward (and inner) edge of the artificial mole protecting the harbor of ancient Aigeira, at Mavra Litharia (between Derveni and Akrata, Gulf of Corinth) from winds blowing from E-NE. View towards the SE, from the Old National Road, just after the 2010 excavation which uncovered additional remains of the mole and verified the ideas of Stiros (1998). The occurrence of 4 m of uplift in the 2nd Cent. AD raised the mole and the entire harbor above the water, rendering them useless. This led to the abandonment of the ancient town of Aigeira, situated on the hill in the nearfield (right part of the photo) and extending up to its summit, where the theatre was located.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 351k
Légende Table 2: Response of Gortyn, capital of Roman/Byzantine Crete to earthquakes. Based on the data of Di Vita (1996).
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/28623/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 63k

Auteur

Dept. of Civil Engineering, Patras University, Gree, stiros@upatras.gr

© CNRS Éditions, 2016

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540