You can download the latest updated database as an xls table.
A harbour is a place where ships can seek shelter. The concept of ‘shelter’ has to include anchorages, landing places on beaches, and ports including structures such as access channels, breakwaters, jetties, landing stages, quays, warehouses for storing commodities and equipment, shipsheds and slipways. Shelters of interest for this catalogue include all places which may have been used by seafarers sailing over long distances. Villae maritimae are also of interest, but shelters the likes of local fishermen, who may have landed their boats on the beach in front of their homes, are of less interest. In another limitation, only maritime harbours and some river ports that could be reached by deep sea ships are considered.
In a first stage, I listed only ports that are explicitly mentioned by each ancient author (portus, navale, statio). Cities where the presence of a port was known from other sources were not attributed to an author who mentions the city but does not mention the port. This limitation was certainly questionable as one cannot imagine coastal settlements without at least a minimal shelter for boats. I therefore decided to include all sites mentioned by the authors of a Periplus such as Stadiasmus, Antonine, Arrian and Marcian who were sailors and for whom one might consider that all places they mention are harbours. Furthermore, I considered that all coastal settlements mentioned in the Barrington Atlas must have had a shelter and I included them too. Finally, I added a few locations that I considered as “potential ancient ports” from a nautical point of view, after comparing the list with nautical guides/pilots used by modern sailors.
This led me to try to position all ports of the present catalogue on Google Earth. This was done with near-total success, excepting a few places where ancient documents do not provide sufficient data or provide contradictory data. This occurred mainly for some peripheral areas (Black Sea, Red Sea, and Atlantic Ocean). In such cases I tried to make some suggestions, usually marked by « ? » and/or with bottom page notes.
The spelling of many names has changed over time (e.g. in Arabic countries) and the list gives the most common names but without trying to be exhaustive.
A nice evolution map of the Roman empire is shown on Wikimedia Commons.
The list of ancient ports is starting in the North Sea and ending in Morocco, via the Mediterranean Sea in a clockwise turn: Spain, South of France, Italy, Adriatic, Greece, Black Sea, Turkey, Red Sea and North Africa. This order has been followed as far as possible as some unknowns remain: disappeared ports, cities not yet located precisely … and probably some mistakes on my side.
Ports are grouped into 17 geographical areas in the menu bar above and in the following list:
- UK & northern Europe
- Spain & Portugal
- Corsica & Sardinia
- Western Italy
- Sicily, Malta, Lampedusa
- Adriatic Sea
- Continental Greece
- Greek islands
- Crete & Cyprus
- Bosphorus & Black Sea
- Red Sea & Gulf
- Egypt & Libya
- North Africa
Each area has a link to Google Earth to show the position of each port.
If you are looking for the location of a specific port, use the search engine (top right of this page) that will lead you to the page where this port is mentioned.
If you are uncertain about the spelling, you may enter just the part of the name you are certain of into the search engine.
Once on the page containing your port, use your browser’s search engine to find your port in the table.
Note that you can also download the complete xls table with the link at the top of each page and use that to work offline. This may be much more convenient if you have to conduct some kind of study on ancient ports …
… and if you are not an expert historian, this may help you to start …
Further details can be found in ‘Ancient Ships‘ hereafter.