Natural Disasters In History

526 Antioch Natural Disaster

It seems like there's a natural disaster every other day somewhere in the world, and it's easy to panic about something with "disaster" right in the name. That's not to say there's nothing to be alarmed about---don't take this as discouragement from following your local authorities' evacuation instructions when the big one hits. It's important to remember, however, that Mother Earth is an old broad. She's been there, done that, and she's survived much worse than what's currently being thrown at her. Well, mostly.

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Modern earthquakes are no joke, but when was the last time they obliterated a major city? Such was the fate of the ancient city of Antioch. Located in what is now Turkey, it was one of the most important cities in the world at one time, succeeded only by Rome and Alexandria in size and significance. A few hundred years after it was founded by a former general to Alexander the Great, it was already a happening place with a population of around 500,000, and then it became pretty much the birthplace of Christianity when St. Peter showed up and started preaching. It also sat on top of the intersection of four big ol' tectonic plates. Its location was crucial to maintaining the empire's defense against Persia, though, so they just kind of settled in and hoped for the best.

For about 800 years, things went pretty well. They'd had a few geological scares, but nothing Earth-shattering---that is, until May 526 A.D. Sometime between May 20 and May 29 of that year, an enormous earthquake leveled the city to the ground. It was like if modern-day Los Angeles just up and fell into the ocean one day (which it very well might). Almost all of its great buildings, including a 200-year-old church built by Constantine the Great's son, crumbled to ruins at the city's feet. The city's entire population of 250,000 perished either in the earthquake or the raging fire that swept the city shortly thereafter, because it apparently hadn't suffered enough.

Justin I, the Eastern Roman Emperor at the time, was so affected by the destruction of Antioch and other cities in the empire around the same time that he renounced his regal adornments and "appeared for seven days in sack-cloth." He vowed to restore the city and spent a great deal of money in the process, but just a little over a decade later, it was sacked by Persia, so it was all for nothing. The city never again regained its former glory, though various empires fought over the ruins for the next millennium anyway. Today, the city lies mostly beneath the Orontes River, and try as they might, archaeologists have never been able to recover many of the city's most valuable relics, including the ruins of Constantine's church. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try your hand at scuba-diving if you're ever in the area. Hey, free relics.