Memory for aversive events is central to survival but can become maladaptive in psychiatric disorders. Memory enhancement for emotional events is thought to depend on amygdala modulation of hippocampal activity. However, the neural dynamics of amygdala-hippocampal communication during emotional memory encoding remain unknown. Using simultaneous intracranial recordings from both structures in human patients, here we show that successful emotional memory encoding depends on the amygdala theta phase to which hippocampal gamma activity and neuronal firing couple. The phase difference between subsequently remembered vs. not-remembered emotional stimuli translates to a time period that enables lagged coherence between amygdala and downstream hippocampal gamma. These results reveal a mechanism whereby amygdala theta phase coordinates transient amygdala -hippocampal gamma coherence to facilitate aversive memory encoding. Pacing of lagged gamma coherence via amygdala theta phase may represent a general mechanism through which the amygdala relays emotional content to distant brain regions to modulate other aspects of cognition, such as attention and decision-making.