A few Ancient Ports

Some work was carried out by the author on Alexandria (Egypt), Apollonia, El-Hanieh and Leptis Magna (Libya), Marius’ canal and Narbonne (France), Portus (Rome), Sharm Yanbu (Saudi Arabia). In addition, a study on potential ancient harbours and a study of ancient intermodal hubs and trade networks was undertaken.

Alexandria Magnus Portus. It is shown that Franck Goddio’s description of the submerged Royal Quarters of Magnus Portus fits very well with Ptolemy II’s fleet of giant ships.
Some explanation is given for the casting and positioning of the large concrete blocks (several hundreds of tons) used for some quays. A wooden quay structure is also described.

Alexandria Pharos island. The harbour at Pharos island was mentioned already by Homer and is therefore perhaps the oldest large ancient port. It was described in detail by Jondet (1916) featuring a main breakwater of more than 2300 m consisting of two rubble mounds on a water depth of 4 to 5 m with 40 to 60 m in-between. South of this breakwater several harbour basins were found. They now being are covered by a large land reclamation project that was obviously started during the summer 2016 …

Apollonia. This ancient port is considered by experts as most important because it is well preserved (under water) and it covers a long time span of many centuries. It has been explored by several divers and especcially by Jean-Pierre Misson who made many under water pictures that are published here for the first time. Special attention is devoted to the question of the ‘quays’ that are located on the South side of the inner port.

El Hanieh. This anchorage in Cyrenaica has been explored by the diver Jean-Pierre Misson in the sixties and 12 ancient stone anchors have been retrieved to date. Two typical de-silting channels are described: they induce currents that clean up the area from sand deposits.

Leptis Magna. Several reports have been published on the ancient port (e.g. Bartocini, 1958) but no information is available on the quay structures located on the coast on the northern side of the port. A detailed description is provided with photos. A nice mooring stone with horizontal axis is found in that area. It is also believed that the coast is protected by what would be called today a “berm breakwater”, i.e. a rockfill structure.

Marius’ canal. Archaeologists have been looking for Marius’ camp and canal for several centuries and it seems that Otello Badan and his friend Mario Maretti have finally found it on the eastern side of the Rhône delta. Further research is still ongoing.

Narbonne. Narbo is a major ancient port which has been located by Corinne Sanchez and her team during their 2011-2014 campaigns. However, access for sailing boats was uneasy due the local wind climate with frequent strong NW wind. Some attention is devoted to the sailing conditions from the open sea to inside the ancient bay of Narbo, now Etang de Sigean and Bages.

Portus. Considering that Portus Claudius could host no more than 100 to 150 ships along its quays, and that at least 300 ships had to be handled within two rather short summer periods, it is shown that Portus Trajanus with its typical hexagonal basin, provides the required length of quays. Some calculations were made to try to explain this shape from a pragmatic point of view.

Latest news: http://www.portusproject.org/

Pozzuoli. Puteoli was a major Roman port. It was sheltered by the most famous arched breakwater. This breakwater was buried under the modern breakwater (!) but it was still visible in the 19th c. and known as “Molo Caligoliano”. It consisted of 15 pilae made of marine concrete as described by Paolo Antonio Paoliin 1768.

Sharm Yanbu. This place is located in Saudi Arabia, around 15 km north of Yanbu on the Red Sea coast. It fits Diodorus’ description of Charmothas so closely that it is suggested that further geo-archaeological investigations should be conducted on site.

Thapsus. Located at Bekalta, Ras Dimas, on the eastern Tunisian coast, it features an 1100 m long ancient breakwater in water depths up to 8 m, making it one of the largest ancient breakwaters in the Mediterranean Sea. The remains have not been searched in detail but their volume could be from a vertical breakwater made of layers of Roman concrete as well as from a rubble mound breakwater, or some kind of combination.

Potential Ancient Harbours. Would you believe that a shelter that is considered today as “excellent” from a nautical point of view would not have been used in ancient times, at least as a bad weather refuge shelter?! This study compares the lists of “excellent” modern shelters and recognised ancient coastal settlements. The result is a list of over 200 places that might be further considered by historians and archaeologists to find out if they were indeed ancient settlements.

Ancient hubs and networks. Around 1500 ancient ports are mentioned explicitly by (75) ancient authors. 4 ports are ‘main hubs’: Rome, Alexandria, Carthage and Gades. 81 ports are mentioned by five or more ancient authors and might by seen as ‘local hubs’. A group of 15 ports which might be called ‘regional hubs’ is also listed.