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

  • Kurt Decker
  • Georg Gangl
  • Manfred Kandler


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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. ACORN (2004) Catalogue of earthquakes in the region of the Alps–Western Carpathians–Bohemian Massif for the period from 1267 to 2004, Computer file, Vienna (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, Department of Geophysics)-Brno (Institute of Physics of the Earth, University Brno)Google Scholar
  2. Albarello D, Berardi A, Margottino C, Cucciarelli M (1995) Macro-seismic estimates of magnitude in Italy. PAGEOPH 145:297–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blake A (1941) On the estimation of focal depth from macroseismic data. Bull Seismol Soc Am 31:225–231Google Scholar
  4. Decker K, Peresson H (1996) Tertiary kinematics in the Alpine Carpathian Pannonian system: links between thrusting, transform faulting and crustal extension. In: Wessely G, Liebl W (eds) Oil and gas in Alpidic thrustbelts and basins of central and eastern Europe. EAGE Spec Publ 5:69–77Google Scholar
  5. Decker K, Peresson H, Hinsch R (2005) Active tectonics and quaternary basin formation along the Vienna Basin transform fault. Quat Sci Rev 24:305–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dell J (1893) Ausgrabungen im Jahre 1891. Archäologisch–epigraphische Mitteilungen aus Österreich–Ungarn 16:141–177Google Scholar
  7. Drimmel J (1980) Rezente Seismizität und Seismotektonik des Alpenostraums. In: Oberhauser R (ed) Der geologische Aufbau Österreichs. Vienna (Geol. B.–A.):505–527Google Scholar
  8. Fuchs W, Grill R (1984) Geologische Karte von Wien und Umgebung 1:200.000. Vienna (Geol. B.–A.)Google Scholar
  9. Gangl G (1975) Seismotektonische Untersuchungen am Alpenostrand. Mitt Geol Ges Wien 66–67:33–48 (1973–1974)Google Scholar
  10. Grenerczy G (2002) Tectonic processes in the Eurasian–African plate boundary zone revealed by space geodesy. In: Stein S, Freymueller JT (eds) Plate boundary zones. AGU Monogr Geodyn Ser 30:67–86Google Scholar
  11. Grenerczy G, Kenyeres A, Fejes I (2000) Present crustal movement and strain distribution in Central Europe inferred from GPS measurements. J Geophys Res 105(B9):21835–21846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grünewald M (1974) Die Gefäßkeramik des Legionslagers Carnuntum (Grabungen 1968–1974), Vienna (Austrian Academy of Sciences). Der römische Limes in Österreich 29:58Google Scholar
  13. Grünthal G (ed) (1998) European Macroseismic Scale 1998. Cahiers du Centre Européen de Géodynamique et de Séismologie, vol 19. Luxembourg, p 99Google Scholar
  14. Gutdeutsch R, Aric K (1988) Seismicity and neotectonics of the East Alpine–Carpathian and Pannonian area. AAPG Mem 45:183–194Google Scholar
  15. Gutdeutsch R, Hammerl C (1999) An uncertainty parameter of historical earthquakes – the record threshold. J Seismol 3:351–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gutdeutsch R, Lenhardt W (1996) Seismological interpretation of the South Alpine earthquake of January 25th, 1348, ESC general assembly Reykjavik abstract W1.19Google Scholar
  17. Gutdeutsch R, Kaiser D, Jentzsch G (2002) Estimation of earthquake magnitudes from epicentral intensities and other focal parameters in central and southern Europe. Geophys J Int 151:824–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heiling I (1995) KG Bruckneudorf. Fundber Österr 34:686Google Scholar
  19. Hinsch R, Decker K (2003) Do seismic slip deficits indicate an underestimated earthquake potential along the Vienna Basin transform fault system? Terra Nova 15(5):343–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hinsch R, Decker K, Wagreich M (2005) 3-D mapping of segmented active faults in the southern Vienna Basin. Quat Sci Rev 24:321–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jobst W (1978) Die Theateranlage im römischen Tempelbezirk auf dem Pfaffenberg. Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft der Freunde Carnuntums 1978(4):10–16Google Scholar
  22. Jobst W (2001) Das Heidentor von Carnuntum. Ein spätantikes Triumphalmonument am Donaulimes. Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, p 264Google Scholar
  23. Kandler M (1980) Archäologische Beobachtungen zur Baugeschichte des Legionslagers Carnuntum am Ausgang der Antike. In: Wofram H, Daim F (eds) Die Völker an der mittleren und unteren Donau im fünften und sechsten Jahrhundert, Denkschriften der philosophisch–historischen Klasse der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 145:83–93Google Scholar
  24. Kandler M (1989) Eine Erdbebenkatastrophe in Carnuntum? Acta Archaeol Acad Sci Hung 41:313–336. Akademia Kiado, BudapestGoogle Scholar
  25. Kandler M (2003) Die Erforschung des Kultbezirkes. In: Eschbaumer P, Gassner V, Jilek S, Kandler M, Kremer G, Pfisterer M, Radbauer S, Winter H (eds) Der Kultbezirk des Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus in den östlichen Canabae von Carnuntum. Carnuntum Jahrbuch 2003(2004):117–167Google Scholar
  26. Kandler M, Zabehlicky H (1987) Untersuchungen in den canabae legionis von Carnuntum im Jahr 1986. Pro Austria Rom 37:12–15Google Scholar
  27. Kandler M, Decker K, Gangl G (2006) Archäologische Befunde von Erdbebenschäden im Raum von Carnuntum und ihre seismotektonische Interpretation. Geographica Historica (in press)Google Scholar
  28. Lenhardt WA (1995) Regional earthquake hazard in Austria. In: Duma G (ed) 10th European conference on earthquake engineering. Vienna, Austria. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp 63–68Google Scholar
  29. Reinecker J, Lenhardt WA (1999) Present-day stress field and deformation in eastern Austria. Int J Earth Sci 88:532–550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schenk V, Schenková Z, Kottnauer P, Guterch B, Labák P (2000) Earthquake hazard for the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia – contribution to the ILC/IASPEI global seismic hazard assessment program. Nat Hazards 21:331–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schenková Z, Schenk V, Pospisil L, Kottnauer P (1995) Seismogeological pattern of a transition area between the eastern Alps and the western Carpathians. Tectonophysics 248:235–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sefara J, Kovac M, Plasienka D, Sujan M (1998) Seismogenic zones in the eastern Alpine–western Carpathian–Pannonian junction area. Geol Carpath 49(4):247–260Google Scholar
  33. Shebalin NV, Leydecker G (1998) Earthquake catalogue for central and southeastern Europe 342 b.c.–1990 a.d. European commission, report no. ETNU CT 93-0087, Brussels, 1998Google Scholar
  34. Staník I, Turčan V (2001) Zum Untergangshorizont der römischen Station in Stupava, Anodos. Studies of the Ancient World 1:209–213Google Scholar
  35. Stiglitz H, Jilek S (1997) Das Auxiliarkastell von Carnuntum. Bericht über die Grabungen 1977–1988. In: Stiglitz H (ed) Das Auxiliarkastell Carnuntum 1. Sonderschriften des Österr. Archäologischen Instituts 29:13–146Google Scholar
  36. Stiros SC (1996) Identification of earthquakes from archaeological data: methodology, criteria and limitation. In: Stiros S, Jones RE (eds) Archaeoseismology, Fitch Laboratory, British School at Athens, pp 129–152Google Scholar
  37. Swoboda F (1964) Carnuntum. Seine Geschichte und seine Denkmäler, Römische Forschungen in Niederösterreich, vol 1. Böhlau, Graz-Köln, p 316Google Scholar
  38. Van Gils JM, Leydecker G (1991) Catalogue of European earthquakes with intensities higher than 4, Commission of the European communities – nuclear science and technology, 353 pp, 14 fig, 1 tab – ISBN 92-826-2506-0, Catalogue number: CD-NA-13406-EN-C. Brussels, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  39. Von Groller-Mildensee M (1900) Limesstation und Tempelbezirk auf dem Pfaffenberg bei Deutsch–Altenburg. Der römische Limes in Österreich 1:65Google Scholar
  40. Zabehlicky H (2004) Zum Abschluß der Grabungen im Hauptgebäude der Villa von Bruckneudorf, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts in Wien, vol 73Google Scholar
  41. ZAMG – Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (2003) Catalogue of felt earthquakes in Austria 1201–2002, computer file. ZAMG, ViennaGoogle Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations