Little Bits of History

A Sign

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 21, 2015
Crete uplift map*

Crete uplift map*

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 Not only were thousands of people killed, but cities were lost along with historical documents as well as libraries, especially in Alexandria.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 –

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Port Royal Destroyed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 7, 2015
Port Royal, Jamaica map with changing coastlines

Port Royal, Jamaica map with changing coastlines

June 7, 1692: Port Royal, Jamaica is nearly destroyed by an earthquake. Jamaica, located in the Caribbean Sea, is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles and covers about 4,240 square miles. It is south of Cuba and west of Hispaniola. At the time, it was a Spanish possession called Santiago. Port Royal was the unofficial capital and one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the West Indies. The city was said to be both the “storehouse and treasure of the West Indies” and “one of the wickedest places on earth”. Privateers and pirates used the port as their home base as they robbed the seafaring ships in the Caribbean Sea. The location of the island is on a boundary between two tectonic plates, the Caribbean Plate and the Gonâve Microplate.

Port Royal was founded in 1518 as the center of shipping in the Caribbean. The Taino lived there prior to the Spanish arriving with Christopher Columbus in 1494. Permanent European settlement was begun in 1509 when Juan de Esquevil discovered enslaving Taino to harvest sugar cane was better than trying to find silver or gold. On this day, with the earthquake and plate shifting, two-thirds of the town or 33 acres sank into the sea when the third and main shockwave struck. A stopped watch found in the harbor in 1969 indicated the time was 11.43. There were about 6,500 people living in Port Royal at the time and about 2,000 buildings existed. Most were built of brick and many were more than one story high but they were built on a base of sand.

The shaking sand liquefied and the buildings and their occupants were swept into the sea. All the wharves sunk at once and more than 20 ships capsized in the harbor. Fissures in the sand opened and closed repeatedly which crushed those who were not swept away. Other towns were also affected. Liguanea (now Kingston) and St. Jago were also destroyed. There were landslides across the island. Like many major earthquakes, this one brought a tsunami and the water further damaged surviving buildings with uppermost rooms in the few remaining buildings being flooded. A frigate from the harbor, Swan, was carried over the housetops by the tsunami.

Accounts listed the deaths at about 2000 people from the immediate effects of the earthquake and tsunami. Many more were injured and in the following days, another 3000 died from injuries and disease. Even before the ground settled down, looting began with homes and businesses broken into and anything of value taken. Some of the corpses had their fingers cut off so that could be removed. The town was partially rebuilt but civic leaders relocated to Spanish Town. Most of the sea trade moved to Kingston. Fire devastated the city in 1703 and a hurricane struck in 1722. By the end of the 18th century, Port Royal was mostly abandoned. Another major earthquake hit in 1907 and there is some reason to believe tectonic motions will bring about another of these catastrophic events soon.

War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings. – Ludwig von Mises

Which would you rather have, a bursting planet or an earthquake here and there? – John Joseph Lynch

Blizzards, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes: They fascinate because they nakedly reveal that Mother Nature, afflicted with bipolar disorder, is as likely to snuff us as she is to succor us. – Dean Koontz

It is always interesting to see people in dead earnest, from whatever cause, and earthquakes make everybody earnest. – John Muir

Also on this day: A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama – In 1914, the Panama Canal was found to work.
It’s My Body – In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut was decided.
Treaty of Tordesillas – In 1494, this treaty was signed, parceling out the New World.
Lee, but not Robert E. – In 1776, the Lee Resolution was presented to the Second Continental Congress.
Carrie Nation – In 1899, the temperance devotee entered a saloon.

Bristol Channel Flood

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 30, 2015
Bristol Channel map

Bristol Channel map

January 30, 1607: The Bristol Channel flood takes place. The channel is a major inlet along the island of Great Britain. It separates South Wales from Devon and Somerset in South West England. It takes its name from the English city of Bristol and is over 30 miles across at its widest point. The damage on this day was most severe on the Welsh side. Cardiff was the most badly damaged with the foundation of St. Mary’s Church destroyed. The flooding covered an estimated 200 square miles and killed more than 2,000 people. Farms were washed away and livestock lost along the coasts of the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary in what was then the Kingdom of England.

The coasts of Devon and the Somerset Levels were awash in seawater with water reaching Glastonbury Tor, 14 miles inland. The seawall at Burnham-on-Sea was destroyed and water entered the low country and the moors. Thirty villages in Somerset were affected. Brean was said to have been “swallowed up” while the Church of All Saints at Kingston Seymour had water to a depth of five feet standing for ten days. A chiseled mark shows the crest of the water to be at 25.4 feet. Many area churches today sport signs showing how high the water reached during the flood. Some of the signs give the date as 1606 because at the time, the new year didn’t begin until March 25.

At the time, the cause of the flood was given as God’s punishment. A contemporary pamphlet entitled God’s warning to the people of England by the great overflowing of the waters or floods was printed. Later supposition was given as a storm surge resulting from extreme meteorological conditions associated with high tide. Newer theories as to the cause of the flood have surfaced since comparing the explanations of what happened in 1607 to what happened in 2004 in the Indian Ocean when the tsunami struck there. It is believed that the great flood in Bristol was caused by this type of phenomenon.

A huge landslide may cause a tsunami as can an earthquake. There is no evidence of a landslide. There is an unstable fault off the coast of Ireland which has caused a vertical displacement of the sea floor. One contemporary report mentioned an earth tremor on the day of the disaster. Other reasons to accept a tsunami as the cause is the displacement of large boulders onto beaches which would have taken extreme force. There is a layer up to eight inches thick composed of sand, shells, and stones within what is otherwise constant deposits of mud. This was found in boreholes from Devon to Gloucestershire. Rock erosion in the area is characteristic of high water velocities. While it is unlikely that such an event would repeat itself, if it occurred today, the cost would range from £7 – 13 billion at current insured values.

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. – Rabindranath Tagore

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. – Alan Watts

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water. – W. H. Auden

Water is the driving force of all nature. – Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day: “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s” – In 1922, Dick Martin was born.
King Richard III – In 1835, an attempt was made to assassinate President Jackson.
Assassination attempt – In 1835, the first US Presidential assassination attempt takes place.
Mr. Music – In 1858, the Halle Orchestra performed.
Really, Really Dead – In 1661, Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed in order to be executed.

Tsunami Destroyed Lisbon

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 1, 2014
Depiction of Lisbon as seen from across the River

Depiction of Lisbon as seen from across the Tagus River

November 1, 1755: Lisbon, Portugal is nearly destroyed. The Azores-Gibraltar Transform Fault runs from the eastern end of the Terceira Rift in the Azores through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean Sea. It forms part of the tectonic boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate. It is poorly understood even now and is considered to be a “diffuse” boundary. On this day, about 120 mile west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent, an 8.5 to 9.0 earthquake struck. This was not the first earthquake to affect Lisbon. There had been eight recorded in the 14th century, five in the 16th century, three in the 17th century, and two previous ones in the 18th century.

Around 9:40 AM, the quake struck and lasted between three and a half and six minutes, depending on reports. Fissures nearly 15 feet wide were noted in the city center. Survivors of the earthquake fled to the docks and open lands for safety. They watched as the waters receded. The sea floor was visible and amazed onlookers saw lost cargo and shipwrecks. About forty minutes after the earthquake, the first of three tsunami waves struck. The harbor and the downtown area were flooded and waters rushed up the Tagus River. Areas not flooded were prone to fire and these raged for five days before all could be extinguished.

Other areas were also affected by both the quake and the resulting tsunami (maremoto in Portuguese). Southern Portugal, particularly the Algarve, suffered much destruction. The fortresses along the coast were destroyed as were most of the small towns and villages. Faro survived as it was protected by the banks of the Ria Formosa. In Lagos, the waves reached the top of the city walls. Shock waves destroyed part of Covilhã’s castle walls and its large towers. Shock waves were felt throughout Europe and North Africa. They reached as far as Finland and possibly even Greenland. They traveled west to the Caribbean. Sixty-six foot waves hit the coast of North Africa and waves even hit in Martinique and Barbados, across the Atlantic.

There is no way to get an accurate death toll from this disaster. Reports of the time were not exact and there were two other events in mid-November which may have numbers included in this body count. Numbers range between 10,000 and 100,000 for Lisbon alone. Also lost were significant numbers of livestock as well as foods stored for the winter. It is one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. The after effects greatly curtailed Portugal’s colonial ambitions. It was also the first earthquake to be studied scientifically and led to the birth of modern seismology and earthquake engineering. The disaster also heavily influenced philosophers of the time. Voltaire included the event in Candide as well as his “Poem on the Lisbon disaster”.

I shall always be glad to have seen it-for the same reason Papa gave for being glad to have seen Lisbon-namely, “that it will be unnecessary ever to see it again.” – Winston Churchill

Whenever an earthquake or tsunami takes thousands of innocent lives, a shocked world talks of little else. – Anne M. Mulcahy

Stupidity is an elemental force for which no earthquake is a match. – Karl Kraus

There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state? – Lord Byron

Also on this day: Michigan’s Bridge – In 1957, Mackinac Bridge opened.
Saint Nick – In 1894, Tsar Nicholas II began his reign.
When Harry Met Oscar (and Griselio) – In 1950, President Truman survived an assassination attempt.
A Little Learning – In 1886, Ananda College was founded.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 10, 2013
Lituya Bay, Alaska with watermark line

Lituya Bay, Alaska with watermark line

July 10, 1958: Lituya Bay, Alaska is hit with the highest tsunami ever recorded. The bay was discovered in 1789 by French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse. The fjord is known for extremely high tides and strong currents. Two small glaciers, Cascade and Crillon, and the Lituya Glacier all terminate in the bay. The bay is part of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. About the size of the state of Connecticut, the Park holds nine tidewater glaciers, four of them currently shed or calve icebergs.

On this date, an earthquake caused a large landslide in the Crillon inlet located near the head of the bay. The rocks, dirt, and ice hit the bottom of the bay and formed a crater. The displaced water rushed out and formed a mega-tsunami measuring 1,724 feet in height. For comparison, the Empire State Building, the highest skyscraper in the world at the time, is 1,472 feet tall. Three fishing boats were present during the event. One boat sank, but the other two rode out the wave. The occupants were the first witnesses of a mega-tsunami and were able to speak with scientists after the fact.

The wave reached the amazing height on both sides of the bay. The force of the water broke and lifted 1,300 feet of ice across the leading edge of Lituya Glacier, there was extensive damage to the forest and the land below the high water mark was swept completely clean. The only human deaths were the two fisherman in the boat sunk by the enormous wave.

A tsunami is a series of waves caused by a large displacement of water. Earthquakes, volcanoes, underwater explosions, or landslides can cause the waves, as could a large asteroid impact. They are different from normal waves in two ways: the distance from crest to crest is greater and as they approach land and shallow waters, the height increases dramatically. Mega-tsunamis are larger waves and originate closer to shore. They also form where there is less area for water to disperse. Since they begin close to land and develop rapidly, there is little chance to escape the looming wall of water.

“A tsunami does not automatically happen but if the earthquake is strong enough there is a possibility.” – Thaksin Shinawatra

“It’s a beautiful idea that green belts can stop a tsunami, and its aims are commendable. But it isn’t true, and it won’t work.” – Andrew Baird

“The tsunami was on a completely different scale.” – Eugene Tempel

“The worldwide tsunami research field used to involve maybe 200 people.” – Frank Gonzalez

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Rogue waves are not the same as tsunamis. For many years, it was thought that sailors were not accurate in their descriptions of these waves. Sailors told of waves suddenly appearing on clear days and in mid-ocean with heights up to 100 feet – the height of ten-story building. There is no true consensus yet on what causes these waves to suddenly form. It could be diffractive focusing or focusing by currents. There could be nonlinear effects. There is some speculation that they are just part of the wave spectrum. Wind plays a part in all wave formation yet it is unlikely to be the only cause of a rogue wave, but it could be one of the factors. There is also a thermal expansion theory formed to explain them.

Also on this day: London Bridge is Falling Down – In 1212, one of London’s “Great Fires” begins on London Bridge.
Death Valley –  In 1913, the highest temperature was recorded in the Western Hemisphere.
Carolyn Keene? – In 1905, Mildred Augustine was born.