AD 17 Lydia earthquake

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Location of some of the affected towns and cities in Asia Minor

The AD 17 Lydia earthquake caused the destruction of at least twelve cities in the region of Lydia in the Roman province of Asia in Asia Minor. The earthquake was recorded by the Roman historians Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, and the Greek historians Strabo and Eusebius. Pliny called it "the greatest earthquake in human memory".[1] The city of Sardis, the former capital of the Lydian Empire, was the most affected and never completely recovered from the destruction.[2]


Historical records list up to fifteen towns and cities that were destroyed or damaged by the earthquake: Sardis, Magnesia, Temnos, Philadelphia, Aegae, Apollonis, Mostene, Hyrkanis, Hierapolis, Myrina, Cyme, Tmolus, Pergamon, Ephesus and Kibyra. Of these, Pergamon, Ephesus and Kibyra are not mentioned by Tacitus.[3] The record of damage at both Ephesus and Kibyra may refer instead to an earthquake in AD 23.[4][5] In Pergamon the Heroon of Diodoros Pasparos was remodelled after the earthquake.[6]


There are very few extant details for this earthquake. It is known that it occurred during the night, in AD 17 and that it affected a series of cities. A variety of epicenters have been used in catalogues, near Ephesus in the NGDC database,[7] at Sardis in the CFTI4MED database[8] and near Magnesia in the IISEE catalogue.[9]


The Roman Emperor, Tiberius, agreed to waive all taxes due from Sardis and the other cities for a period of five years after the earthquake. He further sent Sardis ten million sesterces and appointed Marcus Aletius, an ex-Praetor, to assess their needs. In recognition of the aid received and the tributes that were waived, twelve of the cities raised a colossal statue in Tiberius' honour in Julius Caesar's Forum in Rome, with each of the cities represented by a recognisable figure. Two additional figures were added later, representing Kibyra and Ephesus as they had also received aid from Tiberius.[10] A copy of this statue, with the figures transferred to a frieze around the base, was erected in Puteoli where it can still be seen.[11]

A statue was raised in Tiberius' honour at Sardis in AD 43, with an inscription calling him the "founder of the city".[12] Another incomplete inscription, found at Sardis, is thought to have been a copy of a formal document from the cities to the emperor expressing their gratitude. The surviving part includes signatories from representatives of eight of the cities.[13]

Commemorative coins were struck in AD 22–23 in Rome, showing Tiberius with the inscription "CIVITATIBVS ASIAE RESTITVTIS" or "cities of Asia restored". Provincial coins were also struck, including one from the city of Magnesia, bearing the inscription "ΤΙΒΕΡΙΟΝ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΝ ΚΤΙΣΤΗΝ" or "Tiberius Augustus Founder".[14]

Some of the cities changed their names in honour of the emperor. Hierapolis became Hierocaesarea, Kibyra added Caesarea after its name, Philadelphia was renamed Neocaesarea, and Sardis added "Caesarea" briefly to its name.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keitel, E. (2010). "Tacitus and the Disaster Narrative". In Kraus C.S., Marincola J. & Pelling C. Ancient Historiography and Its Contexts: Studies in Honour of A. J. Woodman. Oxford University Press. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-19-161409-5. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  2. ^ Holman Bible Editorial Staff (2011). Holman Concise Bible Dictionary. B&H Publishing Group. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-8054-9548-5. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Tacitus, Publius Cornelius; Beesly H.E. (translator) (1870). Books I. and II. of the Annals of Tacitus: translated into English with notes and marginal analysis of the chapters. Longmans. pp. 117–118. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Murphy-O'Connor, J. (2008). St. Paul's Ephesus: texts and archaeology. Liturgical Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 978-0-8146-5259-6. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  5. ^ Stillwell, R.; MacDonald W.; McAlister M.H. (1976). "Kibyra Maior (Horzum (Gölhisar)) Phrygia, Turkey". The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Mierse, W.E. (1999). Temples and towns in Roman Iberia: the social and architectural dynamics of sanctuary designs from the third century B.C. to the third century A.D. University of California Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780520203778. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  7. ^ National Geophysical Data Center. "Significant earthquake". Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  8. ^ Guidoboni, E.; Ferrari G.; Mariotti D.; Comastri A.; Tarabusi G.; Valensise G. "Catalogue of Strong Earthquakes in Italy (461 BC – 1997) and Mediterranean Area (760 B.C. – 1500)". INGV-SGA. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  9. ^ International Institute of Seismology and Earthquake Engineering. "Catalog of Damaging Earthquakes in the World (Through 2009)". Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  10. ^ Ando, C. (2000). Imperial ideology and provincial loyalty in the Roman Empire. University of California Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-520-22067-6. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Kuttner, A.L. (1995). Dynasty and empire in the age of Augustus: the case of the Boscoreale Cups. University of California Press. p. 75. ISBN 9780520067738. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  12. ^ Yegül, F.K.; Bolgil, M.C. (1986). The Bath-Gymnasium Complex at Sardis. Report (Archaeological Exploration of Sardis (1958– )). 3. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-06345-7. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Buckley, W.H.; Robinson D.M. Greek and Latin inscriptions. Publications of the American Society for the excavation of Sardis. 7. E.J. Brill. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  14. ^ Kreitzer, L.J. (2004). "Living in the Lycus valley: Earthquake Imagery in Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians". In Roskovec J., Mrázek J. & Pokorný P. Testimony and interpretation: early Christology in its Judeo-Hellenistic Milieu : studies in honor of Petr Pokorný. Journal for the study of the New Testament: Supplement series. 27. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-0-567-08298-5. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  15. ^ Ramsay, W. M. (1904). "27: Philadelphia: The Missionary City". The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 

Coordinates: 38°29′N 28°02′E / 38.49°N 28.04°E / 38.49; 28.04