A Most Peculiar Earthquake From Ancient Greece

Updated on November 14, 2016
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Has studied astrology/historical seismology since the late '70s in San Francisco. Published in the ISAR International Astrologer in 2012.

Helice, Greece, 29 December 374BC (Julian date), at 5:58pm, LMT

Author's recreation of the Helice, Greece earthquake of the 4th century BC, in astrological chart form.
Author's recreation of the Helice, Greece earthquake of the 4th century BC, in astrological chart form.

A Multifaceted Catastrophe of Monumental Proportions

In the 4th century BC, the ancient Greeks started their new year at the winter solstice. During one particular transition from one year to the next the people of Helice in Achaia, which bordered the Gulf of Corinth, witnessed a peculiarity which occurred a day or two before the 4th year of the 101st Olympiad. For five days, small animals such as rats, snakes and weasels, and insects such as beetles, centipedes and worms, migrated en mass along a road that lead to the city of Keryneia. This puzzled the locals greatly.

But that was not all. A day or two after the winter solstice, a comet was witnessed above the horizon near the sun. Two days after its first appearance, its tail grew to a length that crossed one third of the early evening sky. This was a comet that would appear for 32 days, mostly in the following month of January. It belonged to a class of comets known as Kreutz sungrazers. Since they get exceptionally close to the sun in their orbit, many of them do not survive, either falling into the sun or, as was the case with this one, breaking into at least two pieces, becoming unstable in its orbit, and being ejected into the depths of space, never to return again.

Unfortunately, this comet had another distinction that set it apart from your typical comet. About two days after it was first spotted in the sky, and just over an hour after sunset, it caused a spectacular display in the western sky (it was even bright enough to cast shadows). A devastating earthquake then occurred which, due to liquifaction, formed a lagoon under the city which swallowed it up. A tsunami also formed in the gulf and the wave traveled inland to sweep over the helpless victims. Not a soul survived the catastrophe in the cities of Helice and Bura. Tens of thousands of people may have lost their lives that evening (the true death toll is unknown) and the site of the former city was abandoned for 18 years.

Map showing location of earthquake (small red circle) that wiped out Helice and Bura in Greece.
Map showing location of earthquake (small red circle) that wiped out Helice and Bura in Greece.

A Disaster With Noteworthy Chroniclers

This earthquake, along with a massive eruption of Thera, a Greek island, about 1200 years earlier, may have been the inspiration for Plato's story of Atlantis. The comet is often referred to as Aristotle's comet since he witnessed it and recorded details about it. He also gave the most reliable year for its occurrence. Due to his chronology, the best estimate for the occurrence of this comet and earthquake, is in the year of 373 BC. However, since it appears that both events occurred after the start of the ancient Greek year (the solstice) but before the beginning of our year (1 January,) the actual year would be 374 BC.

Aristotle was not any more specific than to say that the comet first appeared at about the time of the winter solstice, but two celestial factors parallel the occurrence of the quake which made it possible to determine the most likely date and time for the event (other sources give that the earthquake happened at night and one source stated that it occurred while the comet was giving its first dazzling display on the western horizon in the early evening).

The first simultaneous event was a peak in what I call Astro-Aspect Values or AAV's (a combination of angular relationships between solar system bodies that relate to past earthquakes in a statistically significant manner). The chart at the top of the page is constructed for the exact time of such a peak (of 24.6 in AAV's; the baseline being 10.6).

The second simultaneous celestial factor was that, at the time that this chart is constructed, there was an Annular Eclipse of the sun, throwing a shadow over Antarctica.

German woodcut depicting an earthquake that occurred 2 hours before dawn on 10 March 1556 AD (Julian calendar) in Istanbul Turkey that was heralded by a comet. The earthquake caused some deaths and is believed to have been about 6.75M (+-0.5M).
German woodcut depicting an earthquake that occurred 2 hours before dawn on 10 March 1556 AD (Julian calendar) in Istanbul Turkey that was heralded by a comet. The earthquake caused some deaths and is believed to have been about 6.75M (+-0.5M).

Other Peculiarities and Related Events

One oddity about this chart (only a significant factor for ancient events such as this) is that the time difference (known as ∆T or Delta T) between ephemeris time (UT or Universal Time) and the Terrestrial Time (normal clock or sundial time) of the earthquake were separated by 4h10m36s (∆T = TT - UT). As a result, the chart is constructed for 1218UT (or 1:47pm, LMT) to get the positions of the solar system bodies and the house cusps were estimated based on a time of 1629UT (or 5:58pm, LMT, with sundown 1h09m earlier).

Annular solar eclipse which occurred at its peak with the shadow path intersecting the south pole, 17 minutes (+-3mins) after the time used for the construction of the astrological chart given at the top of this article.
Annular solar eclipse which occurred at its peak with the shadow path intersecting the south pole, 17 minutes (+-3mins) after the time used for the construction of the astrological chart given at the top of this article.

Another oddity involved the Annular Solar Eclipse that definitely occurred at the time of a peak in AAV rank, but may have been as much as a day or two before the earthquake. If the earthquake did occur at the time of the eclipse (or nearly so) it would make more sense based on my research for the following reason. One way to determine a future epicenter of an earthquake related to a given eclipse is to look at the degree of longitude that intersected the starting point or end point of the eclipses path. This eclipse was a bit odd in that it appears to have intersected the location of the south pole (or at least came very close).

What this means based on my findings is that all longitudes come into play for a possible earthquake location. As a result, there would be an increased chance of their being a potential earthquake fault somewhere in the world that was ready to snap without delay (or at least around 180 times greater chance than with a normal Annular eclipse of the sun). Also, again because all the lines of longitude were in play, there could have been at least one other big event at around the same time on the surface of the earth. However, since the Helice earthquake of 374BC happened at a time so far in the past--with the chronology of earthquakes during that era so spotty--there would likely be no record of any other quake that might have occurred at about the same time.

For comparison purposes, two smaller yet significant earthquakes (both also forming tsunamis) occurred during the 19th century in what is believed to be the same epicenter area as the original 4th century BC catastrophe. The first of these two quakes was anywhere from 6.6 to 6.8 in magnitude, caused at least 65 deaths, and occurred on 23 August 1817 at 0800UT (in Aeghio at 38.244N, 22.078E). The second of these two quakes was estimated to be of 6.7 magnitude, caused the death of at least 17 people, and occurred on 26 December 1861 at 0649UT (in Achaia, Valimtika at 38.25N, 22.16E). The charts of these two earthquakes are given below.


1817 earthquake chart (near the epicenter of the 374BC event) constructed using the Kepler 8 astrology program.
1817 earthquake chart (near the epicenter of the 374BC event) constructed using the Kepler 8 astrology program.
1861 earthquake chart (near the epicenter of the 374BC event) constructed using the Kepler 8 astrology program.
1861 earthquake chart (near the epicenter of the 374BC event) constructed using the Kepler 8 astrology program.

© 2016 Joseph Ritrovato

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