In the 5th-century BCE, it seemed as if Mother Nature tried to step up her game with several natural disasters, almost as if she were trying to outshine the death and destruction that mankind was achieving through its own bloodlust. The most famous natural disaster that occurred during the Peloponnesian War was the plague in Athens, which began back in 430 BCE, but was known to come back in waves for years to come. In fact, the plague was having another outbreak in 426, when the next set of natural disasters occurred.
According to the great Greek historian, Thucydides (c. 460-400 BCE), around the summer of 426 BCE, the Peloponnesian forces were mustering their manpower for one of their seemingly annual invasions of Athenian-controlled Attica. The troops rallied under Archidamus, a Spartan prince, and set off for battle. But when they reached the isthmus between the Peloponnesus and Attica, a terrible series of earthquakes set the ground shaking. Losing their nerve, the army abandoned the invasion and dispersed back to their homes. The Peloponnesians, however, were not the only ones who felt the quakes. Athenians in Attica also felt the motion, as did the Greeks in the regions of Boetia and Euboea.
Unfortunately, humans and their homes were not the only things that were moved by the earthquake—it also affected the Aegean Sea, triggering a tsunami. Thucydides wrote that several coastal communities eerily noticed that their shoreline was receding dramatically back into the sea. By name, the historian wrote that the settlement of Orobiea in Euboea, and the islands of Peparethus and Atalanta all saw this phenomenon. Peparethus was lucky, as the water supposedly came back harmlessly. For Orobiea and Atalanta, however, the sea rushed back in with a vengeance. Orobiea was reported to have been totally submerged by a massive wave and the island of Atalanta suffered serious damage to its anchored ships and coastal fortifications. While much of the destruction in Atalanta could be repaired, Thucydides wrote that when the sea returned to calm, the city of Orobiea sadly remained underwater. Despite these disasters, the warring factions of Athens and Sparta quickly resumed their wars, which would continue for decades until peace finally arrived in 404 BCE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Crashing Waves, by George Howell Gay (1858–1931), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- History of the Peloponnesian War (Book II) by Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner and introduced by M. I. Finley. New York: Penguin Classics, 1972.