On this day October 11, 1138

A massive earthquake, one of the deadliest in recorded history, struck Aleppo, Syria. The United States Geological Survey lists it as the fourth deadliest earthquake in history.

Rank Earthquake Mag. Country Date Fatalities
1 “Shaanxi” 8 China January 23, 1556 830,000
2 “Tangshan” 7.8 China July 27, 1976 242,000
3 “Indian Ocean” 9.1 Indonesia December 26, 2004 230,210
4 Aleppo 8.5 Syria October 11, 1138 230,000
5 “Haiyuan” 8.5 China December 16, 1920 240,000
“Damghan”  ? Iran December 22, 856 200,000

A contemporary chronicler in Damascus, Ibn al-Qalanisi, recorded the main quake on Wednesday, 11 October 1138. He wrote that it was preceded by an initial quake on 10 October and there were aftershocks on the evening of 20 October, on 25 October, on the night of 30 October-1 November, and finishing with another in the early morning of 3 November.

However, Kemal al-Din, an author writing later recorded only one earthquake on 19–20 October, which disagrees with al Qalanisi’s account. Given that al Qalanisi was writing as the earthquakes occurred and that accounts from other historians support a 10 or 11 October date, his date of 11 October is considered authoritative.

The worst hit area was Harem, where Crusaders had built a large citadel. Sources indicate that the castle was destroyed and the church fell in on itself. The fort of Atharib, then occupied by Muslims, was destroyed. The citadel also collapsed, killing 600 of the castle guard, though the governor and some servants survived, and fled to Mosul. The town of Zaradna, already sacked by the warring forces, was utterly obliterated, as was the small fort at Shih.

The residents of Aleppo, a large city of several tens of thousands during this period, had been warned by the foreshocks and fled to the countryside before the main quake. The walls of the citadel collapsed, as did the walls east and west of the citadel. Numerous houses were destroyed, with the stones used in their construction falling in streets. Contemporary accounts of the damage simply state that Aleppo was destroyed, though comparison of reports indicate that it did not bear the worst of the quake.

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