Saturday, November 28, 2015

1650 years ago.

1,650 years ago

Precisely one thousand, six hundred and fifty years ago, on July 21st (I’d have blogged about it then but I didn’t join up until the following month). The Middle East was born. Oh, the land was there, and there were people there, but everything was different, totally different.
Imagine. On July 20, 365 CE, the south shore of the Mediterranean sea was thriving. There were dozens of major cities which had populations in the hundreds of thousands. Most of these places were rich beyond anything that had been known before or long since. Then the next day….BANG!!!!
A Magnitude NINE earthquake just southeast of Crete sent a tsunami as powerful as that which wrecked the lands of the Indian Ocean in 2004 crashing into North Africa, Southern Italy, Greece and the eastern shore of the Med.
Cities were wiped off the map. Alexandria in Egypt and Lepdis Magna in Libya were devastated. The great Lighthouse managed to survive (it didn’t fall until a thousand years later), but the great palaces and downtown area of Alexandria, Queen of the Nile, fell into the sea.
The Roman government responded as one might expect. They raised taxes. This led to a massive revolt among the survivors. The Berbers fled the cities. With the huge farmlands poisoned by seawater, there was mass starvation. Then another earthquake devastated western Asia and the Huns invaded Europe, forcing the Goths onto Roman territory. Civilization crumbled. Rome itself was sacked in 410, something that hadn’t happened for centuries.
Paganism, the traditional and Greco-Roman faiths, which were already in trouble, died out rather quickly, and the many Christian sects were in open warfare with each other. Islam wouldn’t arrive for centuries, but the gangrenous rot caused by the tsunami’s damage (tens of millions of books and documents, wiped away, hundreds of thousands of artisans and skilled laborers dead), was very slow to heal. Western civilization in the area was  barely hanging on when the Muslims arrived 300 years later.
What is amazing to me is how little natural disasters are accounted for in history. While the eruption of Vesuvious in 79 AD is well known, almost nothing else was. The tsunami was for the most part forgotten until archaeologists started finding clues in in the 1970s. Historians before that had always wondered why the thriving cities of North Africa just suddenly poofed out by the time the Vandals arrived.
Ancient history is indeed ancient history. But the vibrations from such remote times still affects us today.


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