In the winter of 479 B.C., a tsunami was the savior of Potidaea, drowning hundreds of Persian invaders as they lay siege to the ancient Greek village.
New geological evidence suggests that the region may still be vulnerable to tsunami events, according to Klaus Reicherter of Aachen University in Germany and his colleagues.
The Greek historian Herodotus described the strange retreat of the tide and massive waves at Potidaea, making his account the first description of a historical tsunami. Reicherter and colleagues have added to the story by sampling sediments on the Possidi peninsula in northern Greece where Potidaea (and its modern counterpart, Nea Potidea) is located.
The sediment cores show signs of “high-energy” marine events like significant waves, and excavations in the suburbs of the nearby ancient city of Mende have uncovered a high-energy level dated to the 5th century B.C. The Mende layer contains much older marine seashells that were probably scoured from the ocean bed and deposited during a tsunami.
Earthquake forecast modeling in the North Aegean Basin near the peninsula suggests that future earthquakes in the area could produce significant tsunami waves, although the area is not included currently in the ten “tsunami” prone regions of Greece. However, Reicherter and colleagues say their new findings suggest the Thermaikos Gulf where the peninsula is located should be included in tsunami hazard calculations, especially since the area is densely populated and home to many holiday resorts.
Reicherter will present his findings at the Annual Meeting of the Seismological Society of America (SSA) on April 19 in San Diego.
SSA is a scientific society devoted to the advancement of earthquake science. Founded in 1906 in San Francisco, the Society now has members throughout the world representing a variety of technical interests: seismologists and other geophysicists, geologists, engineers, insurers, and policy-makers in preparedness and safety.
Potidaea (Greek: Ποτίδαια Potidaia, modern transliteration: Potidea) was a colony founded by the Corinthians around 600 BC in the narrowest point of the peninsula of Pallene, the westernmost of three peninsulas at the southern end of Chalcidice in northern Greece.
While besieged by the Persians in 479 BC, the town was saved by the earliest recorded tsunami in history. Herodotus reports how the Persians attackers who tried to exploit an unusual retreat of the water were suddenly surprised by “a great flood-tide, higher, as the people of the place say, than any one of the many that had been before”.
During the Delian League conflicts occurred between Athens and Corinth. However, the Corinthians sent a supreme magistrate each year. Potidaea was inevitably involved in all of the conflicts between Athens and Corinth.
The people revolted against the Athenians in 432 BC, but it was besieged during the Peloponnesian War and taken in the Battle of Potidaea in 430 BC. The Athenians preserved the city until 404 BC, when it was passed into Chalcidice.
The Athenians retook the city in 363 BC, but in 356 BC Potidaea fell into the hands of Philip II of Macedon. Potidaea was destroyed and her territory handed to the Olynthians. Cassander built a city on the same site which was named Cassandreia, perhaps a sign that he intended it to be his capital. Cassandreia, much reduced in size, was used to establish a home for refugees from Asia Minor after the first world war, and at that time was renamed ‘New Potidaea’ (Nea Potidaia). A modern village nearby on the peninsula preserves the name of Cassandreia.
The modern settlement of Nea Potidea is near this ancient site.