Abstract Historical and archaeological data are used to test geological claims that, in the fourth to sixth centuries AD, the Eastern Mediterranean experienced an unusual clustering of destructive earthquakes (the ‘Early Byzantine Tectonic Paroxsym’). A review of historical accounts of a notable earthquake at this time, that of 21 July AD 365, indicates that this event destroyed nearly all the towns in Crete and was followed by a tsunami which devastated the Nile Delta. The AD 365 event was also probably responsible for reported or observed destruction in ancient towns of west Cyprus and Libya. This earthquake is most likely to be identified with a Hellenic Arc subduction-zone event of ‘great’ (M>8) magnitude, as testified by up to 9 m of uplift in western Crete dated by previous geological studies to around this time. Historical and archaeological data also support the hypothesis that the fourth to sixth centuries AD was a period of abnormally high seismicity in the Eastern Mediterranean. The high seismicity rates of this period may reflect a reactivation of all plate boundaries in the region (Dead Sea Transform, East Anatolian Fault, North Anatolian Fault, Hellenic Arc, Cyprus Arc Fault).