July 21, 365 AD: Alexandria and the Southern and Eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea are destroyed by a tsunami. Around sunrise on this day, there was an underwater earthquake which is estimated to have been around 8.5 on the Richter scale by modern geologists. The epicenter was near Crete, Greece. There was widespread destruction close to the epicenter, but also in distant lands as Libya, Alexandria, and the Nile Delta were all affected by the ensuing tsunami as were Cyprus, Sicily, and even as far away as Spain. On the island of Crete, almost all towns were destroyed. Ships were raised and brought inland on the wave, depositing almost two miles from the shore.
Many things at the time were interpreted as signs from God. Many of the literary references have been somewhat questionable as they may have combined the effects of several earthquakes between 350 and 450 AD in order to make a point about God’s great displeasure with events. The antagonism between paganism and Christianity was part of the Roman Empire’s history with this time in particular possible for God’s notice since Emperor Julian had just died after an unsuccessful attempt to return paganism to the Empire.
But there is geological evidence which is not subject to the religion wars of the period. There was a major clustering of seismic activity in the Eastern Mediterranean between the fourth and sixth centuries. This earthquake is thought to have caused an uplift of 29.5 feet of the entire island of Crete. Researchers have noted by carbon dating that coral reefs off the coast of the island were lifted about 33 feet and were actually thrust out of the water in one massive push. This indicates the tsunami from this date was generated by a quake in the Hellenic Trench near Crete. Archeology also lends its science to the devastating effects of the quake and tsunami. Not only were thousands of people killed, but cities were lost along with historical documents as well as libraries, especially in Alexandria.
Tsunamis are named from the Japanese term for the waves experienced there after earthquakes. The term is not scientifically accurate, but we have come to understand the scientific reasons behind the monster waves. There is evidence of tsunamis from even pre-historic times with the earliest being between 6225 and 6160 BC in the Norwegian Sea when the Storegga Slide took place. Crete was also affected by a tsunami around 1600 BC during the Minoan eruption. The Malian Gulf, Greece tsunami, the Helike, Greece earthquake, the Gulf of Naples, Italy tsunami, and the Caesarea, Israel event all predate this day’s catastrophe. Recovery efforts were not helped at all by the Romans. Emperor Valentinian only sent representatives to the region to find out why taxes were not being properly collected.
Slightly after daybreak, and heralded by a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away, its waves were rolled back, and it disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; the great wastes of those valleys and mountains, which the very creation had dismissed beneath the vast whirlpools, at that moment, as it was given to be believed, looked up at the sun’s rays.
Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered at will about the paltry remains of the waters to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea as if insulted by its repulse rises back in turn, and through the teeming shoals dashed itself violently on islands and extensive tracts of the mainland, and flattened innumerable buildings in towns or wherever they were found.
Thus in the raging conflict of the elements, the face of the earth was changed to reveal wondrous sights. For the mass of waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning, and with the tides whipped up to a height as they rushed back, some ships, after the anger of the watery element had grown old, were seen to have sunk, and the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down.
Other huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses, as happened at Alexandria, and others were hurled nearly two miles from the shore, like the Laconian vessel near the town of Methone which I saw when I passed by, yawning apart from long decay. – all from Ammianus Marcellinus (Roman historian)
Also on this day: Brrrrrrr – In 1983, the coldest recorded temperature was captured at Vostok Station.
Destruction – In 356 BC, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed.
Wild Bill Hickok – In 1865, the first shoot out in the wild west took place.
Constitutional – In 1997, the USS Constitution went back out to sea.
James Gang – In 1873, the first successful train robbery was committed by the James Gang.
* “Crete 365 uplift” by Mikenorton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crete_365_uplift.png#/media/File:Crete_365_uplift.png