Little Bits of History

February 5

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 5, 2017

62: Pompeii and Herculaneum experience an earthquake. Using evidence remaining today, it has been estimated to have had a magnitude between 5.2 and 6.1, this is an indication of the energy released during the earthquake’s most explosive moments. It has also been estimated to have reached a maximum intensity of IX or X on the Mercalli scale, a scale based on the effects of an earthquake which has a scale between I and XII. A scale of IX is considered violent while X is considered extreme. For comparison, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was a XI, a higher level of extreme. In Italy, both Pompeii and Herculaneum were heavily damaged in the quake and it is believed to have been a precursor to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed the two towns in 79.

The fault line runs along the full length of the Apennines mountain chain and continuing into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Scientists today are looking for a connection between this event and the devastating volcano eruption seventeen years later. The theory surmises that this event as well as other earthquakes along the fault line were associated with the later massive event. Understanding the link between earthquakes and volcanoes is an ongoing area of study. The simple understanding of the event has been going on for nearly 2000 years. Seneca the Younger, sometimes just known as Seneca, wrote about the phenomenon in his series of books, Naturales quaestiones (Natural Questions).

Seneca, a philosopher, dramatist, and advisor to rulers (which was the cause of his death) was able to write a seven volume encyclopedia about natural wonders. The work was not systematic, but rather a matter of ideas which occurred to the author and were then explored, using the science of his time. He studied meteors, thunder and lightning, water, wind, snow, and ice along with various other related topics. His sixth book in the series was about earthquakes and the source of the Nile River. He used this event as the basis of his study and concluded the earthquake was caused by the movement of air.

The original quake along with aftershocks lasted for several days. The focal depth has been estimated to have been in the 5-6 km range (3-3.7 miles). The damages to both towns was extensive and at least partially repaired prior to their being buried by lava flow. Bas relief found in what is believed to have been the lararium of Lucius Caecilius Incundus’s house, have been interpreted as depictions of the damages caused by the earthquake on the Temple of Jupiter, the Aquarium of Cesar, and the Vesuvius Gate. Damages were reported as far away as Naples and Nuceria. Seneca also reported the death of 600 sheep, stating the flock’s demise was due to poisonous gases.

There are other special problems connected with the discovery of ancient cities. Alexandria was ravaged by fires and street fighting and its ancient waterfront is underwater. Some discoveries at Pompeii were not revealed for many decades, because the wall painting are so pornographic. – Norman F. Cantor

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.- Seneca

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. – Seneca

Constant exposure to dangers will breed contempt for them. – Seneca

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