Remains of ancient breakwaters

Many breakwaters have been built in antiquity to improve sheltering for ships. Some have been luckily preserved and survived 2000 years of wave attack, but most of the ancient breakwaters were destroyed by wave action and remains are found under water as “submerged breakwaters”.


Rubble mound breakwater at Kissamos (Crete) (picture H. Hampsa, 2006)


Rubble-mound breakwaters consist of piles of stones more or less sorted according to their unit weight: smaller stones for the core and larger stones as an armour layer protecting the core from wave attack.

This kind of structure has been around for over 2500 years and modern coastal engineers still build them to create harbours sheltered from wave penetration. Modern design made some progress since ancient times and ancient breakwaters may have been over- or undersized. The result is that some breakwaters are still in good shape today and many others are now submerged as a consequence of 2000 years of storms. Without going into the details of breakwater design, it can be understood easily that stability of a structure made of stones depends primarily on the stone size in relation to the strength of wave action: breakwaters in open waters exposed to storms acting on large areas and therefore inducing high waves, must consist of larger stones than breakwaters located in sheltered areas (more on breakwater failure …).

Careful examination of historical Google Earth images enables us to see quite a few breakwaters in shallow waters, which are collected together with some other pictures made on site, into a pdf document “Ancient breakwater remains“.

Some remarkable ancient rubble mound breakwaters can be listed as follows:

  • Thapsus (Bekalta, Tunisia): about 870 m long, submerged in open water;
  • Leptis Minor (Lamta, Tunisia): about 560 m long pier, submerged in open water;
  • Leukas/Ligia (Lefkada island, Greece): about 540 m long, submerged in sheltered water;
  • Pythagoreion (Samos island, Greece): about 480 m long, submerged in open water;
  • Acholla (Ras Boutria, Tunisia): about 460 m long pier, submerged in open water;
  • Sullecthum (Salakta, Tunisia): about 350 m long, submerged in open water;
  • Tieion (Filyos, Turkey): over 350 m long, submerged in open water;
  • Mytlilini (Lesbos island, Greece): about 350 m long, submerged in sheltered water;
  • Sabratha (Libya): about 320 m long, submerged in open water;
  • Leptis Magna (Lebda, Libya): about 300 m long, berm breakwater in open water;
  • Methone (Modon, Greece): about 250 m long, submerged in fairly open water;
  • Neftina (Lemnos island, Greece): about 200 m long, submerged in open water;

and many others, smaller ones.

An index of all breakwaters collected here is given hereafter and everybody is welcome to send me more information and pictures on ancient breakwater remains …

  • Akko, GE 2010 (Acre, Israël)
  • Amathonte, GE 2003 (Amathonte, Cyprus)
  • Andros, GE 2003 (Andros island, Greece)
  • Anthedon, GE 2003 (Anthidonia, Greece)
  • Antissa, GE 2002 (Lesbos island, Greece)
  • Antium, GE 2010 (Anzio, Italy)
  • Apollonia, GE 2010 (Susah, Libya)
  • Assos, GE 2006 (Assos, Turkey)
  • Astura, GE 2010 (Torre Astura, Italy)
  • Caesarea, GE 2010 (Caesarea Maritima, Israël)
  • Calpe, GE 2013 (Kerpe, Turkey)
  • Carpis, GE 2009 (Sidi Raïs, Tunisia)
  • Cheimerion, GE 2006 (Amoudia, Greece)
  • Chersonesos, GE 2002 (Hersonissos, Crete)
  • Cisamo, GE 2013 (Kissamos-Kastelli, Crete)
  • Cisamo, Hampsa 2006 (Kissamos-Kastelli, Crete)
  • Delion, GE 2010 (Delesi, Greece)
  • Delos, GE 2004 (Delos island, Greece)
  • Elaious, GE 2009 (Abide, Turkey)
  • Emporia, de Graauw 2008 (Sant Marti d’Empuries, Spain)
  • Emporia, GE 2009 (Sant Marti d’Empuries, Spain)
  • Enopia, GE 2011 (Egina island, Greece)
  • Gigthis, GE 2010 (Bou Ghrara, Tunisia)
  • Halicarnassus, Flemming 1969 (Bodrum, Turkey)
  • Halicarnassus, GE 2006 (Bodrum, Turkey)
  • Hephaistia, GE 2009 (Lemnos island, Greece)
  • Hierapytna, GE 2010 (Ierapetra, Crete)
  • Iassos, GE 2002 (Kıyıkışlacık, Turkey)
  • Iol-Caesarea, GE 2003 (Cherchel, Algeria)
  • Kainopolis, GE 2004 (Maaten al Uqla, Libya)
  • Kenchreai, GE 2013 (Kenchreai, Greece)
  • Klazomenae, GE 2002 (Liman Tepe, Turkey)
  • Klazomenae, GE 2006 (Karantina island, Turkey)
  • Klazomenae, Sahoglu 2011 (Liman Tepe, Turkey)
  • Knidos, GE 2005 (Cnide, Turkey)
  • Kossura, GE 2012 (Pantelleria, Italy)
  • Lasea, GE 2004 (Chrysostomos, Crete)
  • Leptiminus, GE 2011 (Lamta, Tunisia)
  • Leptis Magna, de Graauw 2005 (Lebda, Libya)
  • Leptis Magna, GE 2013 (Lebda, Libya)
  • Maritima Civitas Colonia, GE 2003 (Les Laurons, France)
  • Methone, GE 2013 (Modon, Peloponnesus)
  • Misenum, GE 2007 (Miseno, Italy)
  • Mitylene, GE 2006 (Lesbos island, Greece)
  • Myndus, GE 2011 (Gümüslük, Turkey)
  • Myrina, GE 2006 (Aliaga, Turkey)
  • Neftina, GE 2009 (Lemnos island, Greece)
  • Nora, GE 2013 (Capo di Pula, Sardinia)
  • Paphos, GE 2002 (Paphos, Cyprus)
  • Phaselis, GE 2002 (Tekirova, Turkey)
  • Phaselis, GE 2013 (Tekirova, Turkey)
  • Portus, de Graauw 2011 (Fiumicino, Italy)
  • Portus, GE 2007 (Fiumicino, Italy)
  • Psyra, GE 2010 (Psara island, Greece)
  • Pullaria, GE 2007 (Brioni island, Croatia)
  • Pyrgi, GE 2006 (Santa Severa, Italy)
  • Sabratha, GE 2013 (Sabratha, Libya)
  • Salamis, GE 2008 (Salamine island, Greece)
  • Sami, de Graauw 2013 (Kefalonia island, Greece)
  • Seleukia Pieria, GE 2008 (Seleukia, Syria)
  • Sotiras, GE 2009 (Lemnos island, Greece)
  • Syllectum, GE 2012 (Salakta, Tunisia)
  • Thanos, GE 2009 (Lemnos island, Greece)
  • Thapsus, GE 2009 (Bekalta, Tunisia)
  • Thassos, GE 2009 (Thassos island, Greece)
  • Tieion, GE 2012 (Filyos, Turkey)
  • Wadi el-Jarf, GE 2004 (Gulf of Suez, Egypt)