THE development of the concept of seismic gaps, regions of low earthquake activity where large events are expected, has been one of the notable achievements of seismology and plate tectonics. Its application to long-term earthquake hazard assessment continues to be an active field of seismological research. Here I have surveyed well documented case histories of repeated rupture of the same segment of circum-Pacific plate boundary and characterized their general features. I find that variability in fault slip and spatial extent of great earthquakes rupturing the same plate boundary segment is typical rather than exceptional but sequences of major events fill identified seismic gaps with remarkable order. Earthquakes are concentrated late in the seismic cycle and occur with increasing size and magnitude. Furthermore, earthquake rup-ture starts near zones of concentrated moment release, suggesting that high-slip regions control the timing of recurrent events. The absence of major earthquakes early in the seismic cycle indicates a more complex behaviour for lower-slip regions, which may explain the observed cycle-to-cycle diversity of gap-filling sequences. ?? 1989 Nature Publishing Group.