Unearthed in Ancient Text: The Lost Earthquake of 15th Century Italy

by Liam O'Connor
15th Century Italian Earthquake

Discovered in Ancient Text: Uncovering the Lost Earthquake of 15th Century Italy

A recent fortuitous discovery within a 15th-century Hebrew prayer book has provided valuable insights into Italy’s historical seismic activity, shedding light on a previously undocumented earthquake that affected the Marche region in the central Apennines.

Paolo Galli, the individual who stumbled upon this historical treasure within the Apostolic Vatican Library while in search of contemporaneous accounts of another notable Italian earthquake, has chronicled his findings in Seismological Research Letters. Galli notes that this revelation not only assists in bridging gaps in Italy’s seismic history but also prompts reflection on our limited understanding of seismogenesis, even during periods covered by written records.

The Significance of Historical Sources in Earthquake Research

Galli emphasizes the wealth of historical sources in Italy, acknowledging its richness while also recognizing the existence of temporal and geographical gaps. He points out that documentation related to earthquakes in the Papal States, of which the Marche Region was a part in the 15th century, was comparatively scarcer.

The note unearthed by Galli was inscribed on a page of the prayer book, which was transcribed in the town of Camerino in the Marche region and completed during September-October 1446. In eight concise lines, it vividly describes an earthquake in the vicinity of Camerino that caused the collapse of houses, the governor’s courtyard, and entire cities and villages, leaving them in ruins.

The note also provides a glimpse into the human response to this catastrophe, narrating how men and women, dressed in white attire, arrived in Camerino with horses, mules, and donkeys laden with provisions, aiming to aid the destitute. Furthermore, it mentions that the earthquakes persisted from March to September.

This newly discovered note stands as the sole evidence of a destructive earthquake in the Marche region during the 15th century. Galli notes that a petition from 1446, requesting funds for the restoration of city walls and a castle in Petrino, a settlement located 20 kilometers from Camerino, may be the only other potential written indication of a damaging earthquake in the region.

A Rare Insight into 15th Century Seismic Activity

Historical records regarding earthquake observations in Italy for the 15th century are scarce, with only 450 documented instances. Nearly half of these observations pertain to a significant earthquake sequence in 1456 in the south-central Apennines. Galli’s original intention was to find more information about this particular sequence while perusing the library’s medieval manuscripts, leading him to the unexpected discovery within the prayer book.

Galli highlights the seismic events of 1456 as the most catastrophic sequence in central-southern Italy during the late Middle Ages. Despite the abundance of historical sources, including a treatise by the renowned humanist Giannozzo Manetti, uncertainties still persist regarding the epicentral areas, as well as the parameters of individual mainshocks, such as magnitude and epicenter, and their seismic sources.

Based on the descriptions within the prayer book note, Galli speculates that the Camerino earthquake may have registered around an 8 on the Mercalli-Cancani-Sieberg intensity scale, indicating severe damage with partial collapses of roughly half of the town’s structures, along with the toppling of columns, monuments, and walls.

Galli further posits that the Camerino earthquake could be akin to a seismic event in 1799, noting similarities in terms of epicentral location and intensity of shaking. While this remains a hypothesis, the manuscript’s depiction of settlements reduced to rubble suggests a possible shared epicentral area. Additionally, the absence of distant accounts hints at a shallow-depth fault, resembling the circumstances of the 1799 earthquake.

Reference: “All the People of Israel Are Friends: An Unknown Mid‐Fifteenth Century Earthquake in the Marche Region (Central Italian Apennines) Recorded in a Coeval Hebrew Manuscript” by Paolo Galli, 1 November 2023, Seismological Research Letters. DOI: 10.1785/0220230209

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about 15th Century Italian Earthquake

What is the significance of the note discovered in the 15th-century Hebrew prayer book?

The note found in the 15th-century Hebrew prayer book is of great significance as it unveils a previously unknown earthquake in Italy’s Marche region, contributing to our understanding of the country’s seismic history.

Who discovered this historical note, and where was it found?

Paolo Galli discovered the note in the Apostolic Vatican Library while conducting research for contemporaneous accounts of historic Italian earthquakes.

What does the note reveal about the earthquake in Camerino in the 15th century?

The note provides details of an earthquake around Camerino, describing the destruction of houses, the governor’s courtyard, and entire cities and villages, offering insights into the scale of the seismic event.

Why is historical documentation of earthquakes in Italy important?

Historical documentation of earthquakes in Italy is crucial as it helps bridge gaps in our knowledge of seismic events, allowing researchers to better understand the region’s seismic history and potentially assess future seismic risks.

How does this discovery compare to other earthquake records in Italy?

This discovery is unique in that it is the only known evidence of a damaging earthquake in the Marche region from the 15th century, adding a valuable data point to the limited records of seismic activity during that era.

What implications does this have for seismic research in Italy?

The note’s discovery underscores the importance of historical sources in seismic research and highlights the need to continue exploring such records to gain a more comprehensive understanding of Italy’s seismic past and present.

Is there a connection between the 15th-century Camerino earthquake and later seismic events in the region?

While it remains a hypothesis, Paolo Galli suggests a possible connection between the Camerino earthquake and a similar seismic event in 1799, based on similarities in epicentral location and intensity of shaking, highlighting the need for further research in this area.

Where can I find more details about this discovery and research?

You can find more information about this discovery and the research conducted by Paolo Galli in the article “All the People of Israel Are Friends: An Unknown Mid‐Fifteenth Century Earthquake in the Marche Region (Central Italian Apennines) Recorded in a Coeval Hebrew Manuscript” published in Seismological Research Letters with DOI: 10.1785/0220230209.

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HistoryBuff December 28, 2023 - 10:51 am

Historical records rock! Unearthed treasures like this expand our past knowledge. Fascinating! _xD83D__xDCDA__xD83C__xDF0B_

PaoloGalli December 28, 2023 - 2:43 pm

great find in ancient prayr book! tells abt old earthquke in italy. helps seismc histry!

EarthquakeEnthusiast December 28, 2023 - 10:38 pm

wow, 15th centry quake! Italy’s past shakes us! Need more of these hidden gems! _xD83C__xDF0D__xD83D__xDCDC_

SeismologyExpert December 29, 2023 - 4:38 am

Impressive disco’vry! Old notes show quake’s pwr, adds 2 research. Italy’s seismic story unfolds.


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