Recent anthropological research has given increased attention to disasters as social phenomena following the realisation that they not only constitute one of the basic elements of many environments, but they also form part of the constructed features of human systems (Oliver-Smith, 1996). Impact and response are central themes in the discussions, especially where natural-resource-dependent communities (NRCs) are concerned. More importantly, disasters have been shown to act as significant accelerators in political, social, cultural and economic situations of instability. Disasters can and have changed history (e.g. Prince, 1920; Sheets and Grayson, 1979; Tainter, 1988; Yoffee and Cowgill, 1988; Whittow, 1980; Ward and Joukowsky, 1992; Weiss et al., 1993). At a regional scale, they can be seen to influence economic strategies (Andreau, 1973; Widemann, 1986). Essentially, a disaster is an event that involves a ‘combination of a potentially destructive agent(s) from the natural and/or technological environment and a population in a socially and technologically produced condition of environmental vulnerability’ (Oliver-Smith, 1996:305). This combination leads to damage of the major social organisational elements and physical facilities of a community to such a degree that the essential functions of the society are interrupted or destroyed. A result is individual and group stress combined with social disorganisation of varying degrees of severity. Disasters, therefore, tend to affect most aspects of community life. The impact of disasters on human societies depends on the magnitude, duration and frequency of the phenomenon, on its impact on natural resources, on the pre-existing adaptive strategies of the affected human population and on the size and distribution of the groups.
For antiquity, we have some information on the impact of earthquakes and natural catastrophes in Anatolia and the Levant (Ünal, 1977; Fadhil, 1993).