The Beirut earthquake of 551 AD


The 551 Beirut earthquake occurred on 9 July 551. It had an estimated magnitude of about 7.6 on the moment magnitude scale and a maximum felt intensity of X (Intense) on the Mercalli intensity scale. It triggered a devastating tsunami which affected the coastal towns of Byzantine Phoenicia, causing great destruction and sinking many ships. Overall large numbers of people were reported killed, with one estimate of 30,000 by Antoninus of Piacenza for Beirut alone. According to contemporary accounts the sea retreated about 2 miles.

A few decades before that event, there were a series of smaller earthquakes in Beirut and along the coast at exactly the same place. The 551 A.D. was the last big one in a series. The purpose of this little note is to draw attention to a series of different catastrophic event that occurred a few years from each other and must have been a fatal punch in the heart of society of the times. I might have seriously influenced the Middle-Age. The regression, the religious fervor or the superstition.

The extreme weather events of 535–536 were the most severe and protracted short-term episodes of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years. The event is thought to have been caused by an extensive atmospheric dust veil, possibly resulting from a large volcanic eruption in the tropics, and/or debris from space impacting the Earth. Its effects were widespread, causing unseasonal weather, crop failures, and famines worldwide.

During the decade of the 530s, it seemed to many that God had abandoned the Christian Roman Empire. There was noxious fumes in the air, the Sun, while still providing day, refused to give much heat. This caused famine unlike anything those of the time had seen before, weakening the people of Europe and the Middle East.

The cause of these disasters aren’t precisely known, but the Rabaul caldera, Lake Ilopango and Krakatoa volcanoes… or a collision with a swarm of meteors are suspected. Scientists have spent decades on the mystery. According to studies of the Greenland ice core, this sudden volcanic activity was triggered by comet debris hitting Earth at this time. This impact triggered volcanic explosions in Central America and probably in Asia as well.

***

Related links:
Beirut is ridiculously unprepared for a major earthquake
http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/beirut-is-ridiculously-unprepared-for-a-major-earthquake

* The earthquake chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the mid-8th century A.D. (not free)
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1356863?sid=21105575571331

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