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First historical evidence of a significant Mt. Etna eruption in 1224

First historical evidence of a significant Mt. Etna eruption in 1224

By Emanuela Guidoboni and Cecilia Ciuccarelli

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Vol.4 No.178 (2008)

Mt. Etna around 1840. Drawing by C. Reiss, engraving by I.G. Martini.

Abstract: The 1224 Mt. Etna eruption is a significant event both in terms of the mass of erupted materials and because it involved the lower eastern slope of the volcano, reaching down to the sea. Nevertheless, it is unknown to current historical catalogues. According to the historical sources, only two other lava flows actually reached as far as the sea: in 396 BC, just north of the present-day inhabited area of Acireale, according to the geological data alone, and in 1669, when the lava covered the south-eastern flank of Mt. Etna and damaged Catania. We present and discuss the two medieval sources that attest to the eruption of 1224 and make available the original texts. Furthermore, through the close analysis of the historical and topographic context of the Etna area, taking account of the roads and ports in the early 13th century, we have tried to single out the possible area of the lava’s outlet into the sea in 1224 on historical grounds. A repeat of an eruption similar to that of 1224 would have a serious impact to day as the coast is densely populated.

Introduction: Etna has been an active volcano ever since ancient times and the history of its activity has been reconstructed by scholars and subsequently by volcanologists, starting from the end of the 18th century up to the present day. Although more than a hundred eruptions from the 7th century BC to the 19th century have been reported in current catalogues, only about a dozen eruptions are dated prior to 1284 AD. Catalogue data currently combine: 1) historical evidence, that is, evidence based on written texts; and 2) evidence based on archeomagnetic and paleomagnetic dating. Often, however, the latter dates are not entirely independent of the historical data.

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