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Contextualising the Earthquake of 749 CE: From High-Definition Archaeology to Global History

Organised by Rubina Raja (Aarhus University) and Achim Lichtenberger (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)

Date: 7-8 April 2022 (NOTE NEW DATE)

Time:  9:15-18:30

Venue: The Carlsberg Academy, Gamle Carlsberg Vej 15, 1799 Copenhagen V


The earthquake that hit parts of the Levant on the morning of 18th January 749 CE devastated vast parts of the region, including the former Umayyad capital, Damascus. It affected parts of modern-day central and northern Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Southern Syria. The region that for more than a millennium had been deeply entangled with the Graeco-Roman cultural spheres had, at this point in time, been under Islamic rule for more than a century. In 745 CE, The Umayyad Dynasty had moved the capital of its empire from Damascus to Harran, a city that was not destroyed by the earthquake. However, the move of the capital was done in a period when political upheaval and military unrest were already a factor in the region.

Cultural and religious changes have often been investigated for the period between the 6th and 8th centuries. Seldom, however, has this period been viewed in light of the impact that the earthquake had and the plentiful evidence it has left, or the event that before the earthquake might have impacted the state of the region and therefore the possibilities for societies to re-establish themselves.

Settlements and the economy of the region are often said to have declined under the new Abbasid rulers compared to the prosperity the region had encountered under the Umayyads. Although material evidence for Abbasid settlement in the region has been unearthed in recent years – keep in mind, that presence might have been larger than thought – it still needs to be asked, why the effect of the earthquake seems to have had such a profound impact, and why the region lacked resources and resilience for rebuilding and regeneration.

It is therefore crucial to look at evidence for earlier impactful earthquakes in the region – in particular the 363 CE earthquake and societal responses to this – as well as the question of slow climate change (the little ice age) and the regional impact this might have had.

The question regarding the end of the Umayyad dynasty and the transition to the Abbasid dynasty, which significantly changed the region and indeed has impacts that culturally and religiously have influenced the Mediterranean world and regions beyond until today, in this light remains understudied.

Therefore, the aim of this conference and the following publication is to revisit earthquake evidence from a number of sites across the region and to reassess the history of the region in light of what the earthquake evidence tells us about the region. Furthermore, a number of papers will focus on the history – local and global – and seismology of the region as well as the sources telling us about the earthquake in order to contextualise this period as solidly as possible within world history.


  • Aliquot, Julien (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), HiSoMA, Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, Université de Lyon)
  • Blanke, Louise (University of Edinburgh)
  • Cytryn-Silverman, Katia (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Dey, Hendrik (Hunter College, CUNY)
  • Eisenberg, Michael (University of Haifa)
  • Goodman, Beverly (University of Haifa)
  • Heidemann, Stefan (Universität Hamburg)
  • Lichtenberger, Achim (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster) - organiser
  • Marco, Schmuel (Tel Aviv University)
  • Mazor, Gabriel (Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Mordecai, Lee (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Niemi, Tina (University of Missouri-Kansas City)
  • Pickett, Jordan (University of Georgia)
  • Preiser-Kapeller, Johannes (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Raja, Rubina (Aarhus University) - organiser
  • Seigne, Jacques (Université François-Rabelais, Tours)
  • Simpson, Ian (Universiteit Leiden)
  • Ward, Walter (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
  • Xoplaki, Elena (University of Giessen)

Practical information for speakers


Please make your own travel arrangements to/from Copenhagen, and we will reimburse you after the conference. Please note that we are only allowed to reimburse tickets booked directly through an airline and not via Momondo or other search engines. We would appreciate it if you would book a reasonably priced flight. We can only reimburse economy-class tickets. 

To claim back conference-related travel expenses, you will receive a link to a travel reimbursement form after the event.  

NOTE: Once you have booked your flight, please forward your itinerary to Christina Levisen (levisen@cas.au.dk), so that the hotel booking can be finalised.



Dinner and diet

A speakers’ dinner will be held 7 April, and we will of course cater for you during the conference. 

If you have any dietary restrictions (incl. allergies), please let Christina Levisen (levisen@cas.au.dk) know no later than 21 March, so that she can notify the restaurant/caterers.