October 11, 1138: Aleppo Unlucky or Cursed?

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A Brief History

On October 11, 1138, the city that would one day become the most populous city in modern Syria, Aleppo, was hit with a catastrophic earthquake. An absolutely stunning 230,000 people are believed to have died in this earthquake, making it the third worst earthquake disaster in human history.

Digging Deeper

Found on the North shore of the Dead Sea, Aleppo is an ancient city that goes back to 5000 BCE. A minor quake hit the city on October 10, 1138, and the deadly one hit the next day. Located in a region torn by sectarian war, Aleppo is also in a geographic fault zone prone to earthquakes, and was the subject of major quakes in 1137 and 1139, making the 1130’s kind of a bad time to be around there. Even larger quakes hit in 1156 through 1159.  (Today is also a bad time to be there, and as many residents as possible are fleeing the city and even the country at this time.) Even back in the 12th Century Aleppo was a war torn land, the scene of battles between Christian Crusaders and Muslims.

The main construction material in 12th Century Aleppo was stone, which of course does not hold up well to earthquakes. All major buildings were destroyed, as well as many stone dwellings. Even the Citadel tumbled to the ground, killing 600 in that building alone.

Natural disasters are often blamed on “An act of God” as if “God” is punishing the affected people for some slight they have inflicted upon Him or His Word. No doubt there were some folks then that thought this was the case, and we could probably find someone today to make that argument as well. (No, we do not want to find these people.)

The death toll in the Syrian Civil War since 2011 is well over 400,000, of which at least 50,000 have been killed in Aleppo alone. Close to a fifth of Syria’s population have fled the war torn country (nearly 5 million!) and become refugees, and a similar percentage or even more may have fled from Aleppo’s population of 1.8 million, probably well over 50,000 in 2016 alone.

Aleppo does not sound like a lucky place, and things do not seem likely to improve any time soon. Even if they do, who knows when the next big earthquake will hit? Aleppo certainly ranks at or near the top of the worst places in the world to be right now.

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been to Syria?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Mansel, Philip.  Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City.  I.B. Tauris, 2016.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.