9 Natural Disasters That Shook the Ancient World ...


In many cases throughout history, natural disasters have caused destruction on a global scale, with seas often engulfing large masses of land, or resplendent civilizations being swept away by drought, plague or earthquakes. In the following, we will take a look at some of the most notable disasters the ancient world has seen.

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The Damghan Earthquake

The Damghan earthquake of 865 AD is considered today to be the 5th most destructive earthquake in recorded history. With its epicenter estimated at right under Damghan – the capital of Iran at the time – the 7.9 degree magnitude earthquake has led to the death of more than 200,000 people.


The Damghan earthquake of 865 AD was one of the most destructive natural disasters in recorded history. It is estimated that the epicenter of the 7.9 magnitude quake was located directly beneath Damghan, the capital of Iran at the time. The earthquake caused extensive destruction to the city and its surrounding areas, resulting in the death of more than 200,000 people. The effects of the earthquake were felt as far away as Damascus and Baghdad. In the aftermath of the disaster, the city of Damghan was abandoned and never rebuilt. The earthquake is believed to have been caused by a fault line located in the Zagros Mountains, which is still active today.


The Antonine Plague

The Antonine plague has struck the Roman Empire between 160 and 180 AD and was named after the then emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Caused by a naturally occurring disease, it spread throughout the Empire, its death toll being estimated at more than 2,000 per day.


Often thought to have been either smallpox or measles, this devastating pandemic greatly weakened the Roman military and economy. The Antonine Plague was particularly deadly in densely populated areas, creating a significant impact on Roman society. Public gatherings became sparse and the social order was disrupted as fear and mortality cast shadows across the empire. The workforce shrank, and with it the production of food and goods, which brought the bustling Roman life to a slow ember, illustrating the vulnerability of even the mightiest civilization to the ruthless force of nature.



One of the greatest natural disasters that shook the ancient world was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which lead to the burial of the entire city of Pompeii under stone and ash. Thousands of victims died, and their gruesome fate was immortalized as the cooling volcanic rock left perfectly preserved “statues” of Pompeii's unfortunate residents.


The cataclysmic event in 79 AD, was not fully comprehended until excavations in the 18th century unearthed the tragic tableau. The volcanic eruption served as a time capsule, preserving daily life from two millennia ago. These haunting impressions give us unique insights into the fashion, culture, and lifestyles of an ancient civilization. The city's sudden demise evoked both the fearsome power of nature and the enduring resilience of humanity, as Pompeii now stands as a poignant testament to both life and loss in the ancient world.


The Minoan Eruption

Yet another important catastrophe of ancient history is the Minoan Eruption. Occurring in 1646 BC on the island of Santorini, it was responsible for widespread damage that reached the island of Crete – both islands having been inhabited by the Minoans. Strangely, no victims of the eruption were ever found.


The Minoan Eruption was one of the most destructive natural disasters in ancient history. It was caused by the eruption of the volcano on the island of Santorini, which had an estimated Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6 to 7. The eruption is believed to have triggered a massive tsunami that caused widespread destruction and reached as far as the island of Crete, which was inhabited by the Minoans at the time. Despite the magnitude of the eruption, surprisingly no victims were ever found. The effects of the eruption can still be seen today, with the island of Santorini having been drastically altered due to the eruption.


Plague of Justinian

The cultural implications of this plague were close to that of the Black Death in the 14th century. It had spread to Northern Europe, as well as areas like Arabia, Asia and Northern Africa, returning occasionally until about 750 AD and having a lasting impact on European development throughout the years.


The Central Asian Drought

Probably one of the most historically significant natural disasters of the ancient world was the Central Asian drought that led to the migration of nomadic Hun tribes to the fertile lands of Europe. The Huns' raiding of the Roman Empire has later triggered Germanic migrations and the fall of the Empire itself.


The Destruction of Helike

Helike was submerged as a result of a powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit the area around the Gulf of Corinth around 373 BC. The disaster itself was shrouded in mystery for years, and ruins of other towns were also found around the same area quite recently.


Bronze Age Collapse

Advanced technology has finally found the main reason for the territorial changes at the end of the Bronze Age. A succession of severe droughts between 1250 BC and 1100 BC have led to the fall of civilizations such as Egypt, the Hittite Empire or the Mycenaean culture in Greece.


The Bronze Age Collapse was a period of widespread cultural disruption and population decline that occurred during the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age in the Mediterranean and Near East regions. Evidence suggests that a series of severe droughts between 1250 BC and 1100 BC caused the collapse of civilizations such as Egypt, the Hittite Empire, and the Mycenaean culture in Greece. This period of instability also saw the decline of trade networks and the interruption of long-distance communication, leading to the fragmentation of political systems and the displacement of entire populations. In addition, the collapse of the Bronze Age was accompanied by a shift in the production of goods from bronze to iron, the emergence of new cultural practices, and the emergence of new religions.


End of the Ice Age

Finally, probably the greatest natural catastrophe in all of ancient history was the end of the last Great Ice Age. When the huge, thick ice caps started to melt at the poles, results were disastrous, with huge land masses around Thailand, the Indian Ocean, Britain, Denmark and the Mediterranean being engulfed by water over a relatively short period of time.

Which of these do you think is the most important and deadliest natural catastrophe of the ancient world? Can you name any other events that should be on my list?


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I have been to Pompeii and found it so sad. I think it was obviously one of the worst natural disasters ever as it must have happened so quickly judging by the way the poor victims are in various positions just as they were in real life. That poor little dog curled up asleep too!

very interesting, nice article

Very interesting. :)

Nice article

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