The decline of the large population centers around the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age has been associated with a set of large earthquakes ("earthquake storm") occurring between 1300 BCE and 1150 BCE (e.g., late Minoan Crete Earthquakes). What evidence is there of such events? How can they explain the collapse of these civilizations?

  • $\begingroup$ Earthquake leading to population decline? Possibly, but epidemic diseases, volcanic eruptions and climate changes must be at least as likely. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ @GordonStanger I would agree that earthquakes, even an unusually high cycle of them, would seem to not be a likely direct cause of a substantial global population decline. Localized, sure, but not global. It could theoretically be a contributing factor to epidemic and volcanic type factors though one could postulate. As for damage to localized population centers and the decline of those civilizations, that would seem more plausible at least as contributing trigger events, I would find any such conclusions highly speculative though. $\endgroup$
    – dlb
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @dlb, that seems to go against the current understanding of the end of the Bronze Age. Supposedly, the set of earthquakes debilitated the Mediterranean city states and they were more susceptible to uprisings, war, and consequently economic and social decay: youtube.com/watch?v=ErOitC7OyHk $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ The paper you link to finds evidence for an earthquake in Crete, but not elsewhere in Greece. In general I don't know of any demonstrated situation where an earthquake caused the collapse of any civilization. More commonly, volcanic eruptions and climate change are thought to have been factors in the LBA collapse, although even the evidence for the effect of those is not very convincing. $\endgroup$
    – pixel
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


Nur & Cline (2000) constructed a map of sites destroyed in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean region during the years 1225–1175 BCE. They also provided a map of earthquakes of magnitude above 6.5 that were measured during the XX century. They claimed that "virtually all of these Late Bronze Age sites lie within the affected (“high-shaking”) areas". They also showed evidence of earthquake damage in many of the main cities of the area and point out that:

While such a ‘‘storm’’ is unlikely to have been the sole cause of the end of the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, it may have interacted with the other forces at work in these areas c. 1200 BCE

The idea of an "earthquake storm" has been around at least since 1970. Ambraseys (1970) describe multiple "earthquake sequences" lasting around 40-50 years with "quiet periods of more than a century in a nearby fault system (the Anatolian fault zone).

In a study preceding the Nur & Cline work, Nur (1998) provided a possible explanation to connect earthquake damage with civilization collapse:

The earthquake in this ca. 50 year long storm could have render many of the urban centers militarily vulnerable, thus inviting attacks not by powerful, distant Sea People, but by opportunistic indigenous or neighboring populations. These attack might have led in turn to the political and social collapse of the centres, followed by a dark age of recovery and rebuilding often lasting a few hundred years.

They also provide an example from the Old Testament: Jericho, that was attack by invaders after the city walls collapse.

A simple explanation of the potential set of events is given in this video.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting. I find it really curious how much of history was (possibly) affected by natural disasters, seen as an act of God back then. Also today, among religious people I guess. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 1:12

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