Skip to content Skip to navigation

Amanda Gaggioli, "Earthquakes and the Structuring of Greco-Roman Society"

May 19, 2022 - 12:10pm to 1:10pm
Building 110, Room 112

The Department of Classics at Stanford University invites you to attend a public dissertation defense by Amanda Gaggioli:

"Earthquakes and the Structuring of Greco-Roman Society: the longue durée of human-geological environment relationships in Helike, Greece ”

Earthquakes have been linked with societal collapse and ‘catastrophe’ in various places throughout the past, most notably in the eastern Mediterranean with the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1200 BCE) and the division and decline of the Roman Empire from the fourth to sixth centuries CE. Archaeological evidence of widespread destruction, complemented by an inflation of historical earthquake records for late Roman contexts, points to periods of higher seismicity coinciding with political and economic weakening and socio-cultural downturn. However, since ancient times, humans living with persistent earthquake hazards have demonstrated forms of resilience. I show how earthquakes traditionally perceived as ‘natural’ disasters are not ‘natural’ but social and a critical factor in political ecological relationships through the case of Helike, Greece from the third millennium BCE to fifth century CE. New methods from geoarchaeology and soil micromorphology combined with evidence ranging from Greco-Roman perceptions of earthquakes in textual records to destruction, innovation, and invention in settlement architecture and soft sediment deformation structures (SSDS) in soil thin sections prove the ‘catastrophe’ narratives of earthquakes to be either false or simplistic. The results expose the persistent factor of earthquakes and other geological hazards in the resilience and political ecology of human-environment relationships. Patterned material-geological evidence from six occupation phases at Helike at levels of the site, private and public structures, and particular structural elements indicates cultural decisions that negotiated environmental conditions, political leadership and organization, economic resources and production, and cultural values.

The case of Helike demonstrates how factors of earthquakes and other geological hazards persistently shaped and were shaped by political, economic, and cultural developments. The use of innovative methodological approaches and techniques to new types of data confronts ‘catastrophe’ narratives and reveals a resilience and political ecology of human-earthquake relationships in Greco-Roman society and culture.

Event Sponsor: 
Department of Classics
Contact Email:
Contact Phone: