Potidea Tsunami

This is one of those stories that aggravates me greatly because it seems to provide a ‘scientific’ corroboration for something in Herodotus, and so the evidence of such corroboration would be interesting, but instead the vast majority of the media reports concentrate on ‘implications’ (i.e. it happened 2500 years ago, so it might happen again!). In any event, the AFP coverage via Deutsche Welle seems to have the most of interest to us, despite their headline:

Greece should add northwestern regions to its list of areas at risk of tsunamis and earthquakes, according to German scientists. The experts used an account of fifth-century B.C. historian Herodotus in their research.

Scientists from the RWTH Aachen University have warned that northwestern coastal regions of Greece remain prone to earthquakes and tsunamis and should be added to the list of areas at risk.

“We have found several historic tsunamis on the coast,” Professor Klaus Reicherter told the DPA news agency. “That means there is a certain risk for the coastal areas.”

He and his colleagues found sediment on the northern Greek peninsula where Potidaea, and its modern counterpart, Nea Potidaea, is located. They showed signs of massive marine events, such as large waves.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus lent a hand to modern-day researchers

Excavations in the suburbs of the nearby ancient city of Mende uncovered a high-energy level dating back to the fifth century B.C. that contained far older sea shells that were likely picked up off the ocean floor and deposited during a tsunami.

An account dating back to 479 B.C. by Greek scholar Herodotus triggered the scientists’ research. He described “mighty waves” that killed hundreds of Persian invaders that year, in what was then Potidaea.

Over the last four years, the researchers sought out lagoons to look for sediment like marine sands or gravel that are typical for an area affected by a tsunami.

They also found evidence of massive blocks of rock formations “where you do have to ask yourself, how did they get out of the ocean,” Reicherter said. [...]

Some coverage does quote a bit of Herodotus, or at least paraphrase him, so here’s a full bit from 8.129.1-3 (via Perseus):

This is how Timoxenus’ treachery was brought to light. But when Artabazus had besieged Potidaea for three months, there was a great ebb-tide in the sea which lasted for a long while, and when the foreigners saw that the sea was turned to a marsh, they prepared to pass over it into Pallene. [2] When they had made their way over two-fifths of it, however, and three yet remained to cross before they could be in Pallene, there came a great flood-tide, higher, as the people of the place say, than any one of the many that had been before. Some of them who did not know how to swim were drowned, and those who knew were slain by the Potidaeans, who came among them in boats. [3] The Potidaeans say that the cause of the high sea and flood and the Persian disaster lay in the fact that those same Persians who now perished in the sea had profaned the temple and the image of Poseidon which was in the suburb of the city. I think that in saying that this was the cause they are correct. Those who escaped alive were led away by Artabazus to Mardonius in Thessaly. This is how the men who had been the king’s escort fared.

It’s worth noting — as Colin McLarty has done in the ongoing discussion of this on the Classics list — that a generation later, during the Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides would recognize the connection between earthquakes and tsunamis. See, e.g. 3.89.1-5 … again, via Perseus):

The next summer the Peloponnesians and their allies set out to invade Attica under the command of Agis, son of Archidamus, and went as far as the Isthmus, but numerous earthquakes occurring, turned back again without the invasion taking place. [2] About the same time that these earthquakes were so common, the sea at Orobiae, in Euboea, retiring from the then line of coast, returned in a huge wave and invaded a great part of the town, and retreated leaving some of it still under water; so that what was once land is now sea; such of the inhabitants perishing as could not run up to the higher ground in time. [3] A similar inundation also occurred at Atalanta, the island off the Opuntian-Locrian coast, carrying away part of the Athenian fort and wrecking one of two ships which were drawn up on the beach. [4] At Peparethus also the sea retreated a little, without however any inundation following; and an earthquake threw down part of the wall, the town hall, and a few other buildings. [5] The cause, in my opinion, of this phenomenon must be sought in the earthquake. At the point where its shock has been the most violent the sea is driven back, and suddenly recoiling with redoubled force, causes the inundation. Without an earthquake I do not see how such an accident could happen.

T.C. Smid comments on both these events in ‘Tsunamis’ in Greek Literature, Greece & Rome, Second Series, 17 (1970), pp. 100-104.

Of course, tsunamis in the Mediterranean have been the source of a fair bit of attention here at rogueclassicism … some of our previous coverage:

On the one mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus, see also Adrian Murdoch’s Tsunami in late antiquity … we also note at Corinthian Matters: Did a tsunami destroy ancient Lechaion?

… and we’ll end with an assortment of the other press coverage of the ‘Potidea event’:

Hopefully we’ll get further coverage when/if Dr Reicherter’s paper is published …

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