Antioch-on-the-Orontes is known today as
Antakya and the earthquake happened 1900 years ago. It made headlines because Hadrian who had been campaigning in Syria had set up his headquarters at Antioch and Emperor Trajan returning from his campaign in spent the winter in the city as well. Armenia
The devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 hit
in the morning of 13 December 115 AD (although some scholars think it happened in January 115) and nearly erased the city from the map together with Apamea, Daphne and three other towns. The seismic effect was felt as far as Antioch Rhodes and triggered a tsunami along the Lebanese coastline.
Antioch-on-the-Orontes had been founded by Seleucos, one of Alexander’s generals and successors, to become one of the Seleucid’s capitals. It was erected at a very strategic location, on the eastern bank of the Orontes River at the end of the caravan route (to become the Silk Road) where merchants from India, Persia and parts of Asia Minor brought their goods in order to exchange them against products from the western Mediterranean. After being conquered by
Rome in 64 BC, was soon converted to Roman standards with the construction of a great colonnaded street, the Via Triumphalis, and appropriate buildings like a theater, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, and a forum. A new aqueduct carried water to the bath complexes and the many fountains and villas. Antioch became a stronghold and truly deserved its title “Queen of the East”. By 115 AD when the earthquake occurred, it had as many as 500,000 inhabitants, not counting the visitors. Antioch
The catastrophic event has been recorded by Cassius Dio who paints a picture of an over-crowded city because Emperor Trajan was overwintering there with his entire retinue. Beside his soldiers, many civilians had been attracted for business or tourism as well, and embassies from abroad took the opportunity to plead their cause with the emperor.
Cassius Dio tells about a sudden great bellowing roar announcing the tremendous quake itself. He speaks of buildings and people being projected into the air. Buildings were tossed around randomly; people were killed by the falling debris and the aftershocks that followed for several days making more victims, while others who were crushed by the falling buildings died with those that were trapped.
Trajan was lucky. He suffered only minor injuries and escaped through a window of the room in which he was staying. Together with other survivors, he lived outdoors in the hippodrome for several days while the city was still rocked by repeated aftershocks. No report has been found about the survival of Hadrian but he apparently made it through. In total 260,000 people seem to have perished and many sections of the city were abandoned.
Trajan soon started to restore
. The aqueduct that had been seriously damaged took serious priority and the emperor either repaired the damaged one or started the construction of a totally new water supply. Eventually, the project was finished by his successor, Hadrian. Antioch
To commemorate the rebuilding of the city, Trajan erected a gilded copy of the Tyche in the theater since she was the patron goddess of
, presiding over the city’s prosperity. This bronze statue had been made by Eutychides, a pupil of Lysippos especially for Antioch in the third century BC. One striking copy of this statue has survived and can be seen in the Museum of the Vatican. Antioch
After Trajan’s death, on 11 August 117 AD, Hadrian was proclaimed emperor by the army in
Most of the antique city, however, is still buried underneath modern