Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A comparison of ancient Hellenic and Levantine texts concerning earthquakes

A comparison of ancient Hellenic and Levantine texts concerning earthquakes

Eric R. Force


The Greek and Judaic contributions to cultural history are quite distinctive, and have been so since their earliest records. Here I would like to focus on their early responses to tectonic events, which may afford some glimpses of cultural dynamics.
Both Hellenic and Levantine regions are seismically active, and in antiquity suffered seismic damage. However, the ancient responses to seismicity of Judaic and Greek traditions seem to have differed. It would be interesting to explore the factors in these differences, via both textual and archaeological evidence. Here I will focus on the texts. In order to control as best I can for plate-tectonic and other geologic differences, I address cultural responses throughout the ancient regions in which these two traditions are embedded, hence my title.


Plate tectonic factors.—Both the Hellenic and Levantine regions are impacted by the relative movements of the Eurasian, African, and Arabian tectonic plates (fig. 1 below). The tectonics of the Levantine region are the simpler; both the Arabian and African plate are moving northward in colliding with the Eurasian plate, but the Arabian place is doing so significantly faster. The relative motion is accommodated along the “Dead Sea Rift” fault zone, where the eastern (Arabian plate) side is being translated northward relative to the western (African plate) side. Where there are bends in the rift, upper-crustal holes can occur, and alluvial fan deposits, slumping walls, and lakes such as that of the Dead Sea itself tend to fill the voids. Elsewhere, crustal impingements have produced the Lebanon/Anti-Lebanon mountains. Fault movement has an appreciable vertical component only along such responses to bends, movement being essentially horizontal elsewhere (“sinistral strike-slip”). Large earthquakes are common.
The Hellenic region on both shores of the Aegean Sea is subject to three main types of faulting (fig. 1 after Reilinger et al. 1997). First, the rapid northward movement of the Arabian plate has forced a large wedge of crust to move aside in a so- called escape structure, forming the Hellenic-Turkish microplate (fig. 1). In most of mainland Greece, this motion is distributed across a wide zone oriented NE-SW, and has a horizontal component of “dextral strike-slip.” Second, both the Hellenic-Turkish and Eurasian plates collide with the African plate, which dives under them in a “subduction zone” in the northern East Mediterranean. Movement along this north-sloping boundary has a large vertical component. Third and last, tectonic basins called grabens oriented roughly east-west have opened up due to crustal stretching above the subduction zone. The Corinth “rift,” the Argos basin, and similar basins in western Turkey are examples. Tectonic movement is largely vertical. All three of these types of fault structures have produced large earthquakes.

Other geologic factors.—Earthquake intensity varies with the surface substrate, as do the exposure and preservation of fault offsets. The Levantine and Hellenic regions differ somewhat in their near-surface geologic makeup, and this factor could lead to somewhat different cultural responses.
The geology of populated parts of the Levant includes large tracts underlain by the Lisan and equivalent young sedimentary deposits, formed in basins along previous incarnations of the Dead Sea rift  (Neev and Emery 1967,  1995). Sediments of this type tend to amplify earthquake intensity, and fault movement is obscured by drag in pliable wallrocks. However, older rocks are exposed in many other places, especially along flanks of the rift as at Jerusalem. However, most even of these rocks are slightly friable.
The Hellenic realm, though riven with its own basin deposits, has comparatively more rock exposure in populated areas. Limestone is very well represented there, and most of these limestones have become tough through recrystallization. Where faulting has occurred in these limestones over the last 10,000 years, surface offsets called scarps are well preserved, though details recording movement are progressively degraded by weathering (Stewart and Hancock, 1988).

Responses to geologic factors.--Experiencing an earthquake tends to provoke otherworldly responses in any culture (Robinson 2016), and the active seismicity of both Hellenic and Levantine regions might lead one to expect strong cultural responses. We can next compare the Hellenic and Levantine cultural responses to their earthquakes, and see whether these are explained by their geologic contexts:


Earthquakes per se appear fairly commonly in ancient Greek texts; also pervasive in these texts are treatments of the underworld. Less well known are glimpses in these texts of the structure of the earth relative to earthquakes, as in Hesiod and Aristotle at opposite ends of the classical era.
I will describe these matters in the ancient texts in the roughly separate disciplines of poetry, drama, history, and philosophy, taken in the chronological order in which first entries appear. I make no claim of exhaustive coverage, especially of Hellenistic and later authors, which can reflect non-Hellenic influences. Unlike the archaeological record, I lack links between texts and earthquakes/faulting in the Mycenaean period, though this may be partly because Linear B texts have not been examined with this question in mind.

Poetry.— Homer, recording an oral tradition referring to Bronze-age events, outlines a great deal of formative Greek mythology, including earth-shaking Poseidon repeatedly attempting to alter human affairs (Iliad XX lines 54-70, XIII lines39-90), in the former intending to split the earth’s surface to lay the entire underworld bare. In the Odyssey (V lines ca. 366) earth-shaker sends a giant wave that looks like a tsunami to me. Tectonism seems to function in part as a by-product of conflict among dysfunctional gods.
References to earthquakes, the underworld, and earth structure also appear early in ancient Greek history as the poetry of Hesiod, who refers to his own time. His Theogeny of the 8th century BC, another founding document for Greek mythology, uses the term earthquakes (or shaking earth)  quite frequently. Poseidon as earth-shaker (including several times implied but not named) is responsible for many of them. It is interesting that Poseidon is both earth- shaker and internal earth-smith in both these early works (reviewed by Polimenakos 1996).
Most remarkable to me is that Hesiod’s earthquakes are mentioned in the context of earth structure, in which the deepest layer Tartarus is pointedly aseismic (ca. line 750) and girdled with bronze (ca. line 725). Above Tartarus in the Erebos layer are earthquake-ridden “roots of earth” (ca. lines 680 and 730), and apparently above that are the realms of Hades and of graves. Any resemblance to the core, mantle, and crust of the earth must be coincidental (unlike Hesiod’s division of history into pre-bronze, bronze, and iron ages, in his Works and Days). But zonation of the earth’s interior and some tectonic context is clear.
Pindar in Nemean 9, referring to a mythic tradition of Bronze-age Thebes and the family of Oedipus, has Zeus swallowing Amphiaraus in split-open earth.
In conclusion, mythic tectonic processes appear in contexts of earth structure and the underworld beginning with very early poetry. Two references to Zeus’ involvement (as opposed to Poseidon) in characters being swallowed by the earth in violent events suggest questions about the identification as earthquakes per se, but certainly emphasize the underworld.

Drama.—Next in chronology are ancient Greek dramas beginning with Aeschylus in 458 B.C. Perhaps most significant seismically is his Prometheus Bound, which ends as Prometheus descends underground in a shaking earth (lines ca. 1080), This portion of the drama is sometimes listed separately as a poem “Prometheus amid hurricane and earthquake”. Similarly, Sophocles involves an apparent earthquake in the passing of Oedipus in Oedipus at Colonus (line 1585)
Euripides made free use of earthquakes as pivots for his action, somewhat like our playwrights might use hurricanes. In his Hippolytus, an earthquake located near Corinth is evocatively described, followed by an equally well-described tsunami (lines 1200-1210). In scene III of his Bacchae, Dionysus is liberated by an earthquake, seemingly at his command. Otherwise for Euripides, earthquakes have no specific cause. The underground is central in his Alcestis and his Heracles but not in a tectonic context.
In Aristophanes’ Acharnians, Poseidon is asked to send an earthquake to punish Sparta (line 496), but the petitioner then changes his mind in suitably comic manner. Here, in Lysistrata, and The Assembly Women, earthquakes are mentioned almost as banter, just a commentary on real life.
In conclusion, earthquakes punctuate the action in a number of ancient dramas. Otherwise the appearance of earthquakes constitutes a few poignant passages amid a torrent of thoughts on other subjects. Mentions of the underworld are treated in evocative ways where they occur. An evolution in treatment of earthquakes from mythic toward factual occurs between Aeschylus and Aristophanes.

History.—Herodotus did not mention many earthquakes (though see History V, 85 and 86) but did feature one as pivotal. This is that in Delos (VI, 98), said to be unique in this sacred spot and divide Greek history into epochs.
Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War mentions at least nine earthquakes (Force 2015) during the Peloponnesian Wars, several of them influencing military outcomes, as does Xenophon in the sequel Hellenica (book 3, chapter 2 line 24). These authors note without comment that commanders treated earthquakes as omens. Like Herodotus, Thucydides chooses one earthquake as most pivotal in Greek history, this one near Sparta (ca. 464 B.C.) and which permitted a rebellion of slaves, thus weakening Sparta’s military hegemony.
None of these historians invoked divine causation for his earthquakes, indeed Thucydides contributed a break-through in natural earth process (Force 2015). In III (xi) 89 we have, “The cause in my opinion of this phenomenon (which today we call tsunami) must be sought in the earthquake. At the point where its shock has been most violent, the sea is driven back, and suddenly recoiling with redoubled force, causes the inundation” (Crawley-Feetham translation). Though the earthquake itself was not addressed in terms of natural process, the consequent tsunami certainly was.
In conclusion, ancient Greece’s founders of history treated earthquakes in secular manner (though reporting the participants otherwise), devoid of underworld connection. All were impressed with cultural consequences of earthquakes. Thucydides’ explanation of tsunami as a natural process was prescient.

Philosophy.—Earthquakes are a component in the work of the earliest Greek philosophers. Thales in the 6th century B.C. attempted explanations of several phenomena as natural processes, and he and several subsequent philosophers addressed earthquakes in terms of the movement of subsurface fluids. This tradition continued in the 4th century with Aristotle, who in his Meteorology gave an extensive discussion and critique of causation by subsurface winds, including evidence from distribution, fluid ejection, differing character of shocks, aftershocks, etc. Intermediate in chronology, however, are a number of philosophers who in searching for natural causes look to “spirit” in driving the dynamics (reviewed by Polimenakos 1996). Pythagoras apparently dealt with the problem by declaring Poseidon a force of nature. All these thinkers apparently felt that rapid fluid motion must be required to produce rapid earth response. But worthy of notice here is an insistence on natural or quasi-natural processes and an involvement of subsurface motion.
Plato (in his Timaeus) inspired speculation for millenia about the supposed continent of Atlantis, submerged in an earthquake. It seems likely that this was in preparation for his ideas of a hypothetical ideal society, and may have been inspired by the submergence of the coastal plain of Helike in his own time (Soter 1998), emphasized by Lucretius and Pausanius many years later.
In conclusion, aome ancient Greek philosophers tried to combine mythological and natural agents for earthquakes, but others broached serious questions about entirely natural causes of earthquakes, incorporating subsurface agents.

Summary.—As befits the tectonic environment of the Hellenic world, ancient Greek authors from the beginning incorporated earthquakes as they developed their disciplines. There seems a transition, especially noticeable about 450 B.C. with historians and philosophers leading the way, from mention of earthquakes in supernatural toward factual and then natural contexts (Plato is an exception). Poseidon is accordingly given less credit for causing earthquakes.
For both poets and dramatists, earthquakes commonly heralded the underworld, perhaps predictably as this linkage supported their themes. In some cases identification as earthquakes is not even clear. But it’s interesting that in these evocative Greek texts, the otherworldly nature of earthquakes points toward the underworld.
Ancient Greek historians tended to treat earthquakes as pivotal events, reporting in a secular manner some quasi-cultic responses. Thucydides nailed the natural origin of tsunami relative to earthquakes. Ancient Greek philosophers searched for natural causes for earthquakes in the earth’s subsurface.


The great majority of textual material from the Levant region is Hebraic, from the Judaic cultural tradition. Biblical material is the part of it coeval with the Greek texts summarized above.
Biblical text material has been interpreted in many ways by many authors.  Of course, few have focused on earthquakes. In one method of such analysis, Force (2015) reduced Biblical mention of earthquakes to a sequence presented in Biblical order, which was in turn meant to represent chronologic order of occurrence. Force recognized thirteen stages, referencing each by chapter and verse. For the present paper it seems unnecessary to repeat all thirteen; better to summarize four main stages recognized. Earliest were events ascribed to God with no apparent realization of tectonic activity; these are unwitting accounts by its beneficiaries and victims. Second came tectonic events specifically described as demonstrations of God’s power, potentially altering history. Third was a large number of prophetic predictions of tectonic destruction, forming implied threats for religious manipulation, and last were New Testament visions of tectonism in connection with the end of the world, itself a sort of super-threat. It was noted that natural causes of earthquakes were not contemplated in any of these stages. Indeed it was the mythic context of several of these earthquakes that persisted through the ancient period into the present day.
A second way to organize the scriptural data on earthquakes would be based on the time period of writing and incorporation. For the period of writing itself brings into view the authors themselves and their personal experiences and biases. The chronology of writing and incorporation is complex (i.e. several books are of composite origin and age) and somewhat counterintuitive (table 1). I have used the Wikipedia (“Dating the Bible”) chronology because it represents current consensus.

Table 1. Era of recording or incorporation of selected Biblical books (columns) and era of nominal time of event described (rows), showing mention of earthquakes per se (red)
Era of event or prediction
Era of recording or incorporation
Early Monarchic
Later Monarchic
Joshua 1-14

Genesis and other Torah
Amos, (first)Isaiah
I, II Samuel, Psalms 1-89, I Kings, Jeremiah




Joel, Haggai, Zechariah

The overall pattern that emerges from this analysis, though well-accepted, has an inverse aspect. The earliest-written books are those of the prophets Amos, then (first) Isaiah in the late 8th century B.C. This tradition of prophesy persisted for over 800 years, long into the post-exilic period, finally into the New Testament. It consisted essentially of manipulation involving threats of all sorts of ills especially earthquakes if religious observance did not improve. The term earthquake occurs throughout this tradition. Beginning with the authors of the Deuteronomic history (excepting Joshua 1-14 as below), in the 7th century B.C., the term (sometimes reversed as shaking earth) enters the vocabulary of Hebrew religious history as well as the prophetic books.
The book of Genesis and the rest of the Torah, on the other hand, is post-exilic, composed from several sources, including traditional ones, but rather late and certainly several millennia after the events described. Thus it is interesting that the term earthquake does not appear in the Torah accounts, nor in conjunction with Joshua and Jericho’s conquest, thought to have been written separately from the rest of the Deuteronomic histories. It is possible that the original participants did not use the term; or it is possible that the term did not transmit across the centuries to the writers. Archaeological evidence strongly suggests, however, that events and disasters such as Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan, and the fall of the walls of Jericho had tectonic origins (Neev and Emery 1995, Nur 2008).
With these results in mind, those of Force (2015) take on a new complexion. It appears that his first stage, which includes these tectonic events—but not labeled as such- -were records of oral traditions whose tectonic significance had long been lost by the time they were recorded (table 1). It is his third stage of prophetic threats and manipulation that both had the earliest origins, and emphasize earthquakes per se. So there never was a time of biblical record when recorders were unaware of earthquakes, indeed some were acutely aware of them, but events that had already become mythic by the time of recordation were ascribed to God’s power rather than tectonism.
Of particular interest is the book of Amos, the earliest-written. The word earthquake appears in the first verse of the book as an introduction to Amos’ prophesy, which included a forecast of destruction that did occur two years later. Because this earthquake was so severe, its damage at widespread sites could be closely dated at 750 B.C. (Austin et al. 2000).
Also of interest is Zechariah 14, which seems to describe particular fault transport directions for a predicted event in this region (“ . . . and half of the mountain shall remove to the north, and half of it toward the south” in KJV), directions that fit those of the Dead Sea rift. It is thought that this chapter was composed in the 5th century B.C., making it approximately coeval with the prescient observations of Thucydides (just prior to the Hellenistic period). Observations linking earthquakes and fault motion had already been recorded in Zoroastrian literature, however (Berberian, 2014).
God is the direct cause of all of these tectonic destructions in the Biblical literature, whether or not earthquakes are described as such. Natural processes are nowhere addressed as possible causes. Indeed the Hebrew literature continued to avoid the subject of natural causes into the Talmudic era, even though Greek influence is noted then (Becker 1998).
Conclusions drawn from voluminous Hebraic literature may, however, apply to the region rather than the culture. We have seen that the tectonic geology of the region is distinctive. Is it possible that cultural response to tectonism is correspondingly distinctive? However, Iron-age texts from other cultures of the region are scarce? For this reason I have looked at discussions of the late Bronze-Age Ugaritic texts with this question in mind. In CAT 1.3 III lines 4-31 (pp. 233-234), Smith and Pitard (2009) characterize Ugaritic treatment of all natural processes as “shamanistic” rather than “Yahwistic”. In CAT 1.4 VIII lines 1-9 (pp. 711-716) they note that Ugaritic treatment of the underworld somewhat resembles the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic, rather than resembling the few Judaic treatments, in which the underworld is represented only by the grave or the bottom of the sea.
This comparison with Ugaritic texts, though necessarily sketchy, strongly suggests that the remarkable treatment of earthquakes in Hebraic literature is due to cultural rather than regional character. Religious imperatives molded this literature from its beginning, and apparently earthquakes and other natural events were used as needed.


The contrast between ancient Greek and Judaic texts with regard to earthquakes is stark. Earthquakes in the Greek literature were treated as pivotal phenomena to be discussed, and to be endured as part of life. Discussion was largely secular, and pervasive throughout the culture. Treatment in the context of their polytheistic religion faded in favor of a search for natural causes. Earthquakes as significant gateways to the underworld is characteristic.
Hebraic/Judaic treatment of earthquakes is relatively monotonic as acts of God, driven by relentless monotheists. Neither a search for natural causes nor curiosity about the underworld appears.
Both strains of thought about earthquakes persist in our modern world, perhaps inevitably as both Greek and Hebraic thought are foundations thereof.


Ed Wright and Matt Winter contributed thoughts for the Judaic/Hebrew parts, and Jeremy Rutter for the Hellenic part.


Austin, S. A., Franz, G. W., and Frost, E. G., 2000, Amos’s earthquake: an extraordinary Middle East seismic event of 750 B.C.: International Geology Review v. 42, p. 657-671.

Becker, Hans-Jurgen, 1998, Earthquakes, insects, miracles, and the order of nature, in Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman culture v. 1, Peter Schafer, ed., p. 387-396: Mohr-siebeck, Tubingen.

Berberian, M., 2014, Earthquakes and coseismic surface faulting on the Iranian plateau: a historical, social, and physical approach: Amsterdam, Elsevier.

Force, E. R., 2015, Impact of tectonic activity on ancient civilizations: recurrent shakeups, tenacity, resilience, and change: Lexington

Neev, D., and Emery, K.O., 1967, The Dead Sea: Geological Survey of Israel Bulletin 41.

------1995, The destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho: geological, climatological, and archaeological background: Oxford

Nur, A., 2008, Apocalypse: Princeton

Polimenakos, L. C., 1996, Thoughts on the perception of the earthquake in Greek antiquity p. 253-260, in Archaeoseismology, British School at Athens Occasional paper 7.

Reilinger, R. E., and 8 others, 1997, Global Positioning System measurements of present-day crustal movements in the Arabia-Africa-Eurasia plate collision zone: Journal of Geophysical Researh v. 102 B5 p. 9983-9999.

Robinson, A., 2016, Earth-shattering events: Thames and Hudson

Smith, M. S. and Pitard, W. T., 2009 The Ugaritic Baal Cycle v. II: Brill, Leiden.
Pp. 233-4 (CAT 1.3 III lines 4-31) Ugaritic treatment of nature more shamanistic than “Yahwistic”
Pp. 711-716 (CAT 1.4 VIII lines 1-9) underworld in the style of older regional treatments cf. Gilgamesh. Compared to Job (7:9) and Jonah (2:7) in which underworld is the grave and sea-bottom respectively.

Soter, S., 1998, Uplift and subsidence of the Helike delta, in Coastal Tectonics, I. Stewart and C. Vita-Finzi, eds.: p. 41-56, Geological Society (London) Special Publication 146.

Stewart, I. S., and Hancock, P. L., 1988, Normal fault zone evolution and fault-scarp degradation in the Aegean region: Basin Research v. 1, p. 139-153

Wikipedia, xxxx, Dating the Bible: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible 

Fig. 1 after Reilinger et al. (1997).  Simplified tectonic map of the eastern Mediterranean region. Solid lines are strike-slip faults, ticked lines are normal faults, and lines with trianges are thrust faults.  Dashed lies are international boundaries

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bronze-Age faulting at Mycenae (Greece) and a glimpse at cultural responses

Bronze-Age faulting at Mycenae (Greece) and a glimpse at cultural responses

Eric R. Force

Abstract:  The upper citadel at Mycenae is the upthrown block between two active normal faults, both represented by prominent scarps.  One of these faults is known to have moved during Mycenaean times (in this case between about 1650 and 1300 B.C.),  and a temple complex is draped across a fault scarp along a splay of the other, the more famous Lion Gate fault zone. The sole outcrop exposure of this fault scarp within the temple complex was already thought  to have had “cultic” significance. The scarp itself provided the focus for the arrangement of adjacent cultic paraphernalia. Inhabitants of Mycenae, accustomed to the movement of faults in their midst as well as accompanying earthquakes, responded in a cultic/religious framework reflecting an appreciation of a link between these phenomena and their relation to the “underworld.”


A role of tectonic activity in ancient Hellenic cultures has recently been documented (e.g. de Boer and Sanders 2005,  Force 2015).  Currently, the review of Stewart (in press) is finding that temples and sanctuaries of classical ancient Hellenic culture took advantage of active faults in various ways--topographic scarps formed along the planes of such faults are commonly found in such association, for example.  Stewart suggested that this association at Mycenae is possible.  The numerous implications of such early religious/tectonic links there, including what form they might take, require testing of this hypothesis.
 The hilltop citadel of Mycenae at the head of the Argos basin gives its name to the entire Late Bronze-Age culture of mainland Greece. “Well-built Mycenae” was a referent for several aspects of later classical Greek culture via Homer.  It was a major center of Mycenaean culture from at least 1600 B.C. until this culture ended (and the Bronze Age ended with it) after 1200 B.C. Its position at the head of an extensional basin produces high seismicity today (e.g. Ambraseys 2009), and its geology reveals a Holocene history of complex tectonic behavior.

Local tectonic setting
Two of the citadel’s most famous cultural features are themselves tectonic features—the Lion Gate on its western margin (FIG 1) and the Perseia spring on its northern margin. These are located along recently active faults that form the SW and NE margins of the upper citadel, respectively (FIG. 2).  The faults are both steeply dipping normal faults, i.e. upper block thrown down, but dip away from each other so that the citadel between them is a horst, i.e. a block raised up relative to those on either side. 
The bedrock wall on which the NE bastion of the Lion Gate rests is itself a fault plane striking SE and dipping about 60 degrees SW (FIG. 1)  It preserves details of its movement (down-dip ”slickensides”), showing its last movement to be very recent in a geologic sense, as erosion degrades such features (Stewart and Hancock 1988).  The Lion Gate and the “cyclopean” wall built atop this bedrock, however, show that this fault has not moved since their construction in the LH III A2 or early LH III B period (French 1996), ca. 1350-1300 B.C.  For convenience I will refer to this as the Lion Gate fault zone.
The NE-dipping fault forming the NE margin of the citadel,  mapped and described by Maroukian et al. (1996), also has cyclopean walls built atop its exposures (their fig. 3). ).  I will refer to this fault as the Perseia fault.  The Perseia spring along the fault plane feeds a cistern accessed by three flights of steps within a corbel-vaulted tunnel starting from inside the citadel, a design for surviving siege (FIG. 2). Maroukian et al. (1996) made another important observation:  the Perseia fault, present as a continuous fault scarp (readily visible on Google Earth) dammed the Havos stream SE of the spring (FIG. 2), and the 2.5 m of sediments that filled the impoundment contain only “Mycenaean” sherds at the base, and only significantly more recent sherds higher within this fill.  Maroukian et al. conclude that this drainage disruption occurred in the Mycenaean period, i.e. probably 1650 to 1200 B.C  However, an additional constraint is the age of walls built on its scarp, about 1350-1300 B.C.., suggesting the available period of movement is about 1650 to 1300 B.C.
This is consistent with the observation of Maroukian et al. (their fig. 5) that the lowest 1.5 m of the Perseia fault plane is fresh, complete with slickensides and showing no evidence of weathering or erosion, in contrast to the weathered and eroded 1.5 m portion above.  Since the lower interval corresponds with the part of the fault plane that impounds Mycenaean-age sediment, the lower portion must have been exposed by fault movement at that time. We must conclude as did Maroukian that faulting occurred “during Mycenaean time”, and we can assume that Mycenaeans were present to observe at least the changes in exposed fault planes. 
Earlier offset followed by partial burial in the channel of the Havos drainage is documented by Maroukian et al.  (1996) along the Perseia fault.  Also known is earthquake damage to the citadel during LH III B Middle time, about 1250 BC (French 1996) and probably also in early LH III C (about 1200 BC; Kilian 1996).  There is no evidence of fault offset in Mycenae for these later seismic events, but clearly Mycenae was seismically risky in prehistory, as it has been since.
There is no direct evidence that the Lion Gate fault moved in the 1650-1300 B.C. interval as the Perseia fault did, but the similarity of the faults and their symmetry certainly suggest the possibility.  The extension of the Lion Gate fault through the citadel is uncertain; based on Google Earth images I would extend it as a slightly sinuous fault zone trending first about S30W across the citadel, then S40W to the lip of the Havos stream’s ravine.  A historical image of the fault rock at the Lion Gate (e.g. Taylour 1983 fig. 94) as well as my own observation (FIG. 1) show that it is not a single plane.  Google Earth images show a conspicuous “avenue” of poor rock exposure about 15-30 m wide along the trend of this fault as it is exposed at Lion Gate (FIG. 2).  Foundations of Mycenaean structures are conspicuously absent in this avenue, either because of deeper burial on the down-dropped block, or an ancient perception of great seismic risk. Indeed it is this zone that divides Mycenae into a lower and an upper citadel.

The Lion Gate fault zone in the temple complex

The evidence of Mycenaean-age fault movement might moderate our surprise in finding it involved in the architecture and culture of the lower citadel.  Excavation by Taylour (1970) of a temple complex of about 1300 B.C. in the lower citadel documented a planar bedrock exposure with about the same trend and slope as the fault-scarp at the Lion Gate (and quite unlike that of country-rock bedding).  That is, this plane strikes NW-SE and dips steeply SW.  The exposure occurs in a back room of the temple dubbed “the alcove” by its excavators (FIG. 2).  The details of architecture, cultic offerings, etc. prompted Taylour to suggest that the rock exposure itself was of some “cultic” significance.  He pointedly repeated this suggestion in a later summary (Taylour 1983, p. 50), adding details such as the planar shape and unaltered natural surface of this outcrop.  Taylour (1983, p. 56) was willing to consider that this outcrop might be central to activities at the temple, the cultic/religious significance of which is not in dispute.
The location and elevation of this temple and its outcrop/alcove are quite close to my projection of the Lion Gate fault zone toward the SE; they lie SW of it (FIG. 2) and topographically about 8 m below its elevation at the Lion Gate or its SE projection, as might be expected from the fault’s SW dip.  Thus it is likely that the outcrop in the alcove is part of the Lion Gate fault zone in the broad sense. Taylour’s (1970, 1983) descriptions of the outcrop are insufficient to determine whether it is fault-rock, and no photograph that includes it (Taylour 1983 fig. 24, see also Moore and Taylour 1999 including microfiche) is useful for this purpose, but its attitude (Taylour 1970 fig. 1; 1983 fig. 26) is as one would expect for an exposure of the Lion Gate fault zone, and is not that of regional bedding.
This outcrop is continuous and along-trend with the SW margin of bedrock shelves on either side of the temple complex per se, i.e. under South House annex to the NW and the megaron to the SE (FIG. 3).  That is, this margin is an abrupt down-to-SW step in the bedrock surface as shown by excavations along trend (p. 32 and 33 respectively in Taylour 1981), perhaps as far as the similar bedrock shelf within grave circle A (Wace 1921-3).
The excavation literature reveals details of bedrock exposed in the temple complex (Taylour 1981, Moore and Taylour 1999). They show that Taylour’s outcrop in the alcove abruptly separates plastered bedrock floors to the NE 1.75 m higher (room 19, known as the Room of the Idols) than that to the SW (room 18, in the central temple).  A considerable amount of bedrock excavation and removal would be required to produce this relation, and clearly would alter the natural surface of the exposures in the alcove. So the outcrop itself represents a SW-dipping fault plane, this exposure of which forms a fault scarp (FIG. 3).  Room 19 is on the upthrown block, the alcove floor and room 18 on the downthrown block.  The fault plane and its scarp elsewhere in the temple complex is obscured by walls and stairways; it trends obliquely under the SW corner of room 19 and the stairway leading up to it (FIG. 3).  Its extensions to the SE and NW are marked by the bedrock shelf margin.  The temple complex and its neighboring structures are thus draped across a fault scarp, apparently a splay within the Lion Gate fault zone. However, the only exposure of the fault plane itself after temple-complex construction would have been that in the alcove.

Apparent cultic/religious responses

Construction of the temple complex required intimate knowledge of the fault scarp there, and obscured it in all but one place.  Three additional features of the alcove and adjacent room 19 suggest that Taylour (1970, 1983) was correct in assigning a cultic significance to the alcove outcrop, and that this significance relates to the fault scarp exposed there.  First, the anomalous concentration of snake figurines near the fault scarp and its hidden extensions suggests an association with the underworld (Taylour 1983, p. 53-55, Moore and Taylour 1999, p. 117).
Second, the excavators found that most figurines in these two rooms were broken in half, one half of which was found in each room (Moore and Taylour, 1999, p. 17).  Thus half of each of these figurines was found on the upthrown block and half on the downthrown block of the fault.  The geometry of this arrangement is roughly symmetrical about the fault scarp, though subsequent construction obscured this even from excavators.   It seems likely that the placement of figurines was intentional, and reflects some attempt at correlation or landscape reconstruction across the offset, i.e. “stitching” together their landscape.  If these particular figurines are heirlooms as suggested by Taylour 1983, p. 53, perhaps appropriate terms describing their placement would be commemoration or even re-enactment of the fault’s movement. Following a later earthquake of ca. 1250 B.C. (Taylour 1983, French 1996) room 19 and its cultic paraphernalia were walled off.  The placement  of figurines is thus constrained between construction of the rooms and the walling off of one of them.  If the breaks in the figurines are a result of the 1250 B.C. earthquake, then their arrangement is constrained between that earthquake and the walling-off of room 19.  However, Hinzen et al. 2014 found such breakage etc. of these figurines unlikely for this particular earthquake.
Third, leaving only one exposure of the fault plane and obscuring it elsewhere suggests an aspect of the alcove outcrop that could be like a museum or sanctuary.

Conclusion and speculation
            First, it seems clear that ties between faults and cultic/religious practices documented for ancient Hellenic cultures of later periods extend back into the Mycenaean era.  Indeed, these ties are quite vivid, though mysterious to us. 
Available evidence strongly suggests that the Mycenaeans would have been cognizant of fault-scarp planes as features of significance; they would have observed that their precious spring was along one of the two conspicuous scarps (the Perseia fault) that was growing in height, and that the upper part of their citadel was being uplifted, accompanied no doubt by earthquakes.  They would have observed a similarity of the Perseia scarp to that at the Lion Gate and the alcove, and generational memory might even have included the latter’s appearance after an earthquake. It would be a powerful experience to see fault scarps appear in the aftermath of an earthquake, forming a continuous curtain that offset their landscape. Links among landscape, solid-earth structure, and earthquakes would become apparent.
It also appears that their observations had cultic/religious responses, as they linked the surface of their citadel to their underworld.  Indeed Taylour  (1983 p. 56) thought the significance of his “cultic” outcrop with attendant snake figurines was that of a link to the underworld, even though he was not aware of this outcrop as a fault scarp.   Mycenaean awareness of a “before-and-after” aspect of their faulted landscape is apparently marked by their remarkable arrangement of cultic figurines in the temple complex. 
Thus Mycenaean need for a religious response to their tectonic environment required an underworld aspect, an earth-structure aspect, and an earthquake aspect.  The latter two aspects recall the suggestion by Polimenakos (1996, p. 252-255) that our earliest glimpses of Poseidon (PO-SE-DA-O-NE in Linear B) include both of these, i.e. as earth-smith and earth-shaker, though navigation of the underworld might have required additional deities.
The fascinating possibility suggests itself that the inhabitants of ancient Mycenae appreciated something about their local tectonic processes as these unfolded before them.  They probably had a precocious appreciation that earthquakes and faults are related.  Despite seismic/faulting disruption they responded in several constructive ways:  they took advantage of the increased elevation of their upper citadel by building walls (“Well-Built”) on the margins of uplifted blocks, and they took advantage of springs along them.  But they also apparently envisioned these processes as links to their underworld, enshrining them in various ways and commemorating their tectonic history.  Perhaps it is no accident that the Lion Gate itself displays this tectonic-cultural relationship.

Recommended further work

Results described here suggest further avenues of research for confirmation and for exploring implications.  Perhaps most urgent is the need for more specific ages for the “Mycenaean” sherds in basal sediments impounded behind the Perseia fault-scarp dam on Havos stream (cf.. Force 2004 for criteria of dating using detrital sherd assemblages).   Work on the age and geometry of faulting along the Lion Gate zone is also needed; examination of the Havos stream’s ravine might be helpful in this regard.  A proper description of the rock outcrop in the alcove would be useful. I have a hunch that in view of results presented here, the age and nature of figurines in the temple complex will be re-evaluated.


This manuscript is meant thus far as a discussion paper.  I would like to acknowledge the influence on this presentation of scholars no longer with us:  Jelle de Boer, Klaus Kilian, and of course Lord William Taylour.  Special thanks are due Jeremy Rutter for advice, encouragement, edits, and lessons in “Prehistoric Aegean Archaeology.” George Davis, David Soren, Ed Wright, and Elisabeth French have also encouraged and/or advised.  Jane Brandon Force was my full-time judge of logic and plausibility, and Germaine Shames helped with logistics.   I take total responsibility for my conclusions.

Figure 1—Photograph of the back side of Lion Gate with slickensided fault rock visible through it, and “cyclopean” walls atop and beside it.

Figure 2—Sketch map of Mycenae showing citadel walls (solid),  Perseia and Lion Gate fault and fault zone (dashed), and Havos Stream ravine (dotted).  Upper citadel upthrown relative to blocks across these faults.  Lettered localities:  A, Lion Gate, B. “alcove” outcrop, C. Perseia spring and cistern, D. Section of Havos Stream dammed by Perseia fault. 

Figure 3—Environs of the Temple Complex at Mycenae after Taylour 1983, annotated in red with the normal fault at the elevation of bedrock in room 18.  U, upthrown block; D, downthrown block; ticks on fault in the direction of steep dip.  Floors in rooms 18 and 19 are plastered bedrock.

References (Stiros and Jones appearing so often below refers to Stiros, S., and Jones, R. E., 1996, Archaeoseismology:  British School at Athens, Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper 7.)

Ambraseys, N., 2009, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East:  a multi-disciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900:  Cambridge Press.

deBoer, J. Z., and Sanders, 2005, Earthquakes in human history:  Princeton University Press.

Force, E. R., 2004, Late Holocene behavior of Chaco and McElmo canyon drainages (SW US): a comparison based on archaeologic age controls:  Geoarchaeology v. 19, p. 585-609.

Force, E. R., 2015, Impact of tectonic activity on ancient civilizations:  Lexington.

French, E. B., 1996, Evidence for an earthquake at Mycenae, in Stiros and Jones, p. 51-54.

Hinzen, K.G., Vetters, M., Kalytta, T., Reamer, S.  K., and Damm-Meinhardt, U., 2015, Testing the response of Mycenaean figures and vessels to earthquake ground motions:  Geoarchaeology v. 30, p. 1-18.

Kilian, K., 1996, Earthquakes and arcahaeological context at 13th century Tiryns, in Stiros ad Jones, p. 63-68.

Maroukian, H., Gaki-Papanastassiou, K., and Papanastassious,  1996, Geomorphic-seismotectonic observations in relation to the catastrophies at Mycenae, in Stiros and Jones, p. 189-194.

Moore, A. D., and (posthumous) Taylour, W. D., 1999, Well Built Mycenae--The Temple Complex:  The Helleno-British Excavations within the Citadel at Mycenae 1959-1969, fascicule 10, Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Polimenakos, L. C., 1996, Thoughts on the perception of the earthquake in Greek antiquity, in Stiros and Jones, p. 253-260.

Stewart, I. S., in press, Seismic faults and sacred sanctuaries in Aegean antiquity:  Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association

Stewart, I. S., and Hancock, P. L., 1988, Normal fault zone evolution and fault-scarp degradation in the Aegean region:  Basin Research v. 1, p. 139-153

Taylour, Lord W, D., 1970, New light on Mycenaean religion: Antiquity v. 44, p. 170-180.

Taylour, Lord W. D., 1981, Well Built Mycenae—The Excavations: The Helleno-British Excavations within the Citadel at Mycenae 1959-1969, fascicule 1, Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Taylour, L. W., 1983, The Mycenaeans, 2nd ed.: Thames and Hudson

Wace, A. J. B., 1921-3, Excavations at Mycenae VIII: Lion Gate and Grave Circle area:  Annual of the British School of Archaeology at Athens v. 25.