Ancient Coastal Settlements, Ports and Harbours


This project was started in 2010, aiming at collecting, identifying and locating ancient ports and harbours. It led to an extensive Catalogue including thousands of places. Much attention was also devoted from the onset to structural aspects as described by Vitruvius, and as resulting from modern coastal engineering such as design waves and harbour silting-up. Additional attention was devoted to ancient ships and sailing, as they define the harbour needs.

This work is reported in 4 volumes, all available in pdf versions, and most of it is reproduced on this web site:

Volume I: Catalogue of Ancient Ports gives a list of ancient coastal settlements, ports and harbours with latitudes/longitudes, based on the works of ancient and modern authors.

You can download the latest updated database as an xls table.

Volume II: Citations of Ancient Authors gives citations of known ancient authors explicitly mentioning ports and harbours, in French. This work is not available on the web site as it would take too much space.

Volume III: Ancient Port Structures presents:

  • Some thoughts on the design of several ancient ports (Actium, Alexandria, Apollonia, the Bosphorus, Delos, El Hanieh, Leptis Magna, Marius’ canal, Narbonne, Nirou Khani, Portus, Pisa, Puteoli & Nesis, Charmothas, Thapsus);
  • A list of around 200 proposed locations for potential ancient harbours;
  • Some comments on ancient port structures, like Vitruvius’ methods, failure of breakwaters and breakwater remains, design waves, reinforced concrete, pilae and arched breakwaters, pierced stones, defensive harbour chains, harbour silting-up, tombolos and salients;
  • Some notes on ancient merchant ships and galleys, sailing techniques and Mediterranean sailing routes;
  • Some thoughts about ancient maritime trade networks and intermodal hubs;
  • Some remarks on ancient maps, on ancient measures and ancient climate, including earthquakes and tsunamis.

Volume IV: Stories of Ancient Sailors provides around twenty stories of ancient sailors … just for the pleasure of reading, in French.


Should the knowledge gathered in this work be given a name, it might be called “palaeoportology” …

You will have to excuse my limited knowledge
of the English language.

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A few words on “methodology”

The aim of this project is not only to compile a Catalogue of “all” coastal settlements, ports and harbours, but also to describe a few ancient ports and to better understand how the ancients have been building and using them.

My approach is ‘multidisciplinary’, in the sense that my background being that of a modern coastal engineer, I introduce my own experience into the world of historians, archaeologists, geoarchaeologists, etc. and I believe a different point of view is always usefull. However, some dangers exist, as an outsider can easily forget or underestimate some aspects that are obvious to other disciplines, especcially when he works in a somewhat lonely way: multidisciplinarity is more powerfull in a ‘brainstorming’ approach, when the different disciplines can discuss directly, but that is not always feasible.

My methodology was rather simple: read, read and read. I have of course visited a number of ancient places, and that is how it all began many years ago in Alexandria. I have been talking to archaeologists. I have been sailing to a few places. I have even been diving on some. But the bulk of my knowledge on ancient ports was found in books.

Do not, therefore, expect the traditional ‘introduction-methdology-results-discussion-conclusion’ presentation.

I felt a strong motivation to explain what I had discovered, not to a few professionals who know all of that, but to other people like me who would appreciate a synthetic explanation. With that aim in mind, I started my own web site in 2011.

Perhaps, a few new points of view popped up during these wanderings, and I hope they will be usefull.

The present seventh edition of this work (March, 5th, 2020) comes after a sixth edition (June 21st, 2017), a fifth edition (March 8th, 2016), a fourth edition (January 1st, 2014), a third edition (February 26th, 2013), a second edition (March 29th, 2012) and a first edition (September 19th, 2011).