The source mechanisms responsible for large historical tsunamis that have struck eastern Sicily and southern Calabria are a topic of robust debate. We have compiled a database of historical coeval descriptions of three large tsunamis: 11 January 1693, 6 February 1783, and 28 December 1908. By using accounts of run-up and inundation and employing an approach proposed by Okal and Synolakis in 2004, we can provide discriminants to define the nature of the near-field tsunami sources (fault dislocation or landslide).
Historical reports for the 1908 event describe affected localities, maximum run-ups, and inundation areas. However, for the 1693 and 1783 tsunamis, reports are limited to inundation and occasional run-up estimates. We calculate run-up values for these events using available relations between inundation and run-up. We employed the model of Okal and Synolakis to the obtained profiles of tsunami run-up along the inundated shorelines. The 1908 run-up data distribution confirms that the tsunami is compatible with a seismic dislocation source, whereas the 1783 data supports contemporary observations and recent offshore investigations suggesting that the tsunami was produced by an earthquake-triggered submarine landslide. Analysis of the 1693 event data suggests that the tsunami was generated during a tectonic event and thus a seismogenic source should be found offshore.