Journal of Seismology

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 479–495 | Cite as

The earthquake of Carnuntum in the fourth century a.d. – archaeological results, seismologic scenario and seismotectonic implications for the Vienna Basin fault, Austria



Excavations in the former Roman provincial capital of Pannonia Superior, Carnuntum, 40 km east of Vienna revealed damaged masonry structures from many parts of the ancient settlements. A compilation of structurally damaged buildings has formerly been given by Kandler (Acta Archaeol Acad Sci Hung, 41:313–336, 1989), who related damage to an earthquake in the middle of the fourth century a.d. This paper reviews and supplements these data, and discusses the significance of the style of damage. It is concluded that seismic damage is the only likely interpretation for the damaging mechanism. Although archaeological age dating for the individual collapsed buildings only constrains the timing of their destruction to a few decades around 350 a.d., we assume a single damaging event. In spite of the restrictions on damage assessment by the nature of the archaeological data, it is possible to give a reasonable appraisal of macroseismic intensity. The tentative seismological interpretation of damage leads to an intensity estimate of about nine of the European macroseismic scale (EMS-1998). Comparison with macroseismic data of modern earthquakes in the region, which show a rapid decrease of intensity with distance form the epicentre, indicate a near-by seismic source unless exceptionally high epicentral intensities are assumed for the fourth century event. The most likely source is an active sinistral strike-slip fault (Lassee Fault) passing about 8 km NW of the archaeological site. The fault belongs to Vienna Basin fault system with about 2 mm sinistral movement per year. The system is characterized by fault segmentation and distinct seismicity along the different segments. Moderate seismicity during the last centuries at the southern segments (e.g., Schwadorf 1927, I 0=8) strongly contrasts from the Lassee fault segment with Carnuntum as the only known severe earthquake. The earthquake of Carnuntum provides evidence for the overall seismic style of deformation along this segment, which previously has not been regarded seismically active. Also, the fourth century earthquake is the strongest event known from the Vienna Basin fault so far.

Key words

earthquake Carnuntum Vienna Basin archeoseismology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department für Geodynamik und SedimentologieViennaAustria
  2. 2.Institut für Meteorologie und Geophysik der Universität WienViennaAustria
  3. 3.Österreichisches Archäologisches InstitutViennaAustria

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