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Monumental articulated ancient Greek and Roman columns and temples and earthquakes: archaeological, historical, and engineering approaches

Abstract

Structural analyses indicate that monumental articulated ancient Greek and Roman (MAGR) columns and temples have a very particular seismic response, differing from rigid structures (made with mortar); tall columns in particular, have an excellent seismic performance, favoring anthropogenic effects as causes of their destruction. Archeoseismological studies, on the other hand, provide evidence of seismic damage in MAGR structures. To investigate this apparent conflict, we analyzed the conditions and limitations of structural models, as well as historical and archeological evidence of response of such structures to natural and anthropogenic effects. In addition, we examined two groups of MAGR structures: first, structures damaged or destroyed by known causes, including earthquakes and wind; second, structures damaged by unknown causes, based on comparative damage analyses with emphasis on geotechnical (soil dynamics) effects. This analysis indicates that reports of deliberate destructions of MAGR structures are exaggerated, and in addition, (i) these structures seem safe against earthquakes only if structurally healthy, concerning both their superstructure and foundations; this condition is not always satisfied, and hence, no controversy exists between structural engineering and archeoseismological approaches; (ii) their seismic response is sensitive to small changes of the source- and site-specific parameters; and (iii) no deterministic evidence of absence or of occurrence of critical earthquakes can be derived from their survival or damage, because the latter reflects superimposition of natural and anthropogenic destructive effects, some with apparently similar outcomes, and rarely only single event destructions. These results are important for palaeoseismology (paleoseismology), seismic risk assessment, archaeology (archeology), and restoration of ancient monuments.

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Acknowledgments

This article benefited from highly constructive, careful, and detailed comments of two anonymous reviewers which are very much appreciated.

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Correspondence to Stathis C. Stiros.

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Highlights

• Structurally healthy monumental articulated Greek and Roman temples and columns tend to withstand earthquakes.

• Seismic and wind-induced damage and toppling of these structures are mostly related to structural and foundations weaknesses.

• There are no controversy between earthquake engineering/ archaeoseismological approaches and no deterministic evaluations of causes of damage.

Appendix

Appendix

Literary sources and inscriptions reporting seismic effects on MAGR temples and columns

Source: Guidoboni et al. (1994)

c. 27 BC, Tralles, modern Turkey, collapsed gymnasium, i.e. a structure usually having columns (Strabo 12.8.18).

76 BC, Rieti, Italy, temples were shaken, and various structures were collapsed (Julius Obsequens 59).

c. AD47, Antioch, Turkey, three temples were torn apart (Malalas 246).

c. AD47, Samos, two inscriptions commemorating the rebuilding by emperor Claudius of two temples, destroyed by aging and earthquakes.

AD51 Rome, restoration of a shrine built a few years earlier. Restoration commemorated by a damaged inscription correlates with the AD51 earthquake.

AD69–79 Corinth, inscription commemorating repairs in three temples destroyed by earthquakes and the passage of time.

AD80, Nola, near Naples, Italy, inscription commemorating the restoration of a temple with four columns in its front, destroyed by an earthquake (perhaps related to the famous eruption of Vesuvius in AD79).

AD142/144, Lindus, Rhodes, rebuilding of the sanctuary of Asclepius destroyed by an earthquake.

AD160/161? Cyzicus, in the Sea of Marmara, Turkey, a gigantic temple collapsed during an earthquake (Dio Casius, 70.4). Excavations and other evidence summarized in the text is broadly consistent with the report and testify to partial collapse of a temple with columns over 20m high.

AD358, Nicomedia (Izmit, Turkey), destruction of temples by earthquakes and fire 

Before AD374, Reggio Calabria, Italy, restoration of baths destroyed by an earthquake and restoration of a basilica adding a portico with columns, inscription.

AD458, Antioch, Syria, destruction of the Nympeum and of its porticos, Evagrius 2.12.

AD477/480, Constantinople, Theophanes 125–126, churches and porticos collapsed during earthquake.

AD554–558, Cos island, Aegean Sea, practically the whole city was reduced to a gigantic heap of ruble, littered with stones and fragments of broken pillars and beams (Agathias 2.16, 1–6).

AD557, Constantinople. During a destructive earthquake, the churches of St Stratonicus and of St Callinicus at Rhegium collapsed, as did the porphyry column which stood in front of the palace of Jucundianae. It fell with the stele on top, and penetrated 8 feet in to ground; the column of emperor Arcadius also fell down (Theophanes, 231).

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Stiros, S.C. Monumental articulated ancient Greek and Roman columns and temples and earthquakes: archaeological, historical, and engineering approaches. J Seismol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10950-019-09902-6

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Keywords

  • Archaeoseismology (archeoseismology)
  • Historical seismology
  • Ancient column
  • Rocking
  • Earthquake response
  • Soil dynamics