Some ancient Greek terms

NB: the definitions provided below are no more than the most probable (and schematic) definitions. Note also that some small variations of the meaning may exist when translating from one language into another.

1. Geographical descriptions

oikoumene (Latin: oecumene, mundus; FR: monde habité; GB: inhabited world): initially described as a circular island in the middle of an external ocean.
periêgêsis, periodos, periplous (Latin: periplus, descriptio; FR: périple; GB: round trip): designates a go-around tour with a detailed description, and ‘periplous’ being more devoted to sailing.
stadiasmos (Latin: stadiasmus; FR: stadiasme; GB: stadiasmus): description of the world based on an itinerary, usually along the coastline, on board a ship or on foot and mentioning distances (usually in stadia).

2. Harbours and mooring places

emporion (Latin: emporium, portus; FR: ville portuaire; GB: port of trade): maritime city with commercial port and trade facilities.
aigialos (Latin: acta, litus; FR: plage de halage; GB: beaching area) is a simple beach used for hauling (navy) ships on.
ankyrobolion, salos, episalos (Latin: statio navium; FR: mouillage peu profond en baie ouverte ; GB: shallow anchorage in open roadstead): shallow anchorage preferably on sandy bottom providing good holding for anchors, but with limited protection against waves.
hormos (Latin: portus, statio navium; FR: rade, havre, abri; GB: roadstead, harbour): sheltered area for ships, in most weather conditions. Strabo (Geogr, 14, 6) also used ‘proshormos’ for a landing place and ‘hyphormos’ if moorage was available. Thucydides (Pelop. War, 4, 26) used ‘katarsis’ for a landing place. Note that before imperial times, ‘limên’ was used to designate a ‘hormos’.
limên (Latin: portus; FR: port; GB: port): place with moorings where ships can load and unload. A good port will enable operations independently of wave and current conditions. Strabo (Geogr, 16, 2) also used ‘eulimenos’ for a good harbour at Laodicea and ‘euphuei limeni’ for a good harbour at Sidon.
epineion (Latin: portus; FR: avant-port; GB: fore-port): port disconnected from the city and used for war ships (e.g. Piraeus/Athens and Ostia/Rome).
naustathmon (Latin: navale; FR: base navale; GB: naval base, naval station): harbour used mainly for war ships.
neôrion (pl. neôria) (Latin: navale; FR: arsenal, chantier naval; GB: dockyard, shipyard): place for ship building and repair.
neôsoikos (pl. neôsoikoi), epistion (Latin: navale, navalia; FR: loge, hangar à bateau; GB: shipshed, boathouse): shed for sheltering a boat, usually built partly over water.
limên kleistos (pl. limenes kleistoi) (Latin: portus; FR: port fermé; GB: closed port): intra-muros port connected to the city, protected by the city walls and with a narrowed entrance closable by means of doors and/or a chain.
kôthôn (Latin: cothon, cothonum; FR: cothon; GB: cothon): used since antiquity to refer to the circular port of Carthage. Today’s specialists of harbour archaeology unduly associate this term to an excavated harbour-basin of any shape connected to the sea through a channel (Carayon, 2017). The term ‘kibotos‘ (chest, box), used in Alexandria, would better fit quadrilateral shapes. The Greek word for an excavated man-made harbour-basin is oryktos.
lekanion (Latin: navaculum?; FR: darse, bassin portuaire; GB: dock, harbour basin): enclosed area of water used for loading, unloading, building or repairing ships.
ichthyotrofeíon (Latin: piscina; FR: basin d’aquaculture; GB: artificial fish pond, fish pool): used for breeding fish, usually a structure built out from the shoreline into the sea with marine concrete, or cut into shoreline formations of soft bedrock (acc. to Oleson, 2014).
diorygma, diôrux cheiropoiêtos (Latin: fossa; FR: canal; GB: canal): man-made navigation canal.

3. Harbour structures

choma (Latin: agger, moles, brachium; FR: brise-lames; GB: breakwater): massive rubble mound built out into the sea. Appian (Libyca, 121) uses this word for Scipio’s rubble embankment at Carthage. However, the same Appian (Libyca, 123-124) also mentions a quay as a ‘choma’ – ‘chomati’, and Strabo (Geogr. 5.4.6) describes the Puteoli arched moles as a ‘chomata’. The Latin word ‘brachium’ stands for ‘arm’ and is used in ancient port descriptions to designate a mole with a curved plan-shape (typically at Portus). The word ‘mole’ is still used both in FR and GB by archaeologists for a massive structure separating two bodies of water, like a breakwater, a jetty or a causeway.
prokumia, prokymatia (Latin: moles, brachium; FR: brise-lames; GB: breakwater): massive structure built out into the sea to protect a port from wave attack: Flavius (Jewish War 1.412 & Jewish Ant. 15.334) describing the Caesarea mole, makes a distinction between the detached outer breakwater as a ‘prokumia’ and the main breakwater supporting the city wall, towers, warehouses and quays, as a ‘teichos’.
probolon, choma, apobasis (Latin: crepido; FR: quai; GB: quay; US: dock): structure to load and unload ships that can be docked and moored on only one side, usually made of blocks of stone or masonry.
skala (Latin: scala; FR: appontement, débarcadère; GB: wharf, landing stage; US: pier, landing stage): structure to load and unload ships, usually on piles (e.g. finger pier).
sitônion (Latin: horreum (pl. horrea); FR: entrepôt; GB: warehouse): public warehouses used to store grain and many other types of consumables.
diolkos (Latin: clivus; FR: cale de halage; GB: slipway, ways): ramp sloping toward the water on which boats can be hauled in and out of the water.

4. Harbour construction

symmagma? (Latin: caementa; FR: agrégats; GB: rubble aggregate): decimetre-sized chunks of rock (preferably Puteoli volcanic tuff, but possibly calcarenite) incorporated with mortar to form Roman concrete (Latin: rudus, opus caementicium).
telma (Latin: materia, arenatum, commixtione; FR: mortier de chaux; GB: lime mortar) is a mixture of lime (GR: chalix; Latin: calx; FR: chaux) and sand (GR: ammos; Latin: arena; FR: sable).
The Romans invented marine concrete (FR: béton hydraulique, béton maritime) which is made by adding some activated aluminium silicates (pozzolana) to activate setting in wet condition, or underwater, and further protect hardened concrete from chemical attack, inducing an extraordinary longevity in seawater, not yet fully understood.
ammokonia, konis (Latin: puteolanus pulvis; FR: pouzzolane; GB: pozzolana) is a powdery, pumiceous, incoherent volcanic ash, found in the Campi Flegrei volcanic district, near the city of Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) (Oleson, 2014).
pila (Latin: pila; FR: bloc de béton; GB: block of concrete): large mass of concrete, often a cube or rectangular prism in shape which is poured into wooden formworks, possibly underwater.
kibôtion (Latin: arca; FR: coffrage, caisson; GB: formwork, caisson): structure, usually made of timber, into which concrete or similar materials are poured. The vertical piles placed on the outer walls of the caisson are called stipites, the piles placed inside the caisson are destinae and the horizontal tie-beams are catenae.
anachoma, gephyra? (Latin: arcae duplices, saeptio; FR: batardeau; GB: cofferdam): watertight structure, usually made of sheet piling, that encloses an area under water that can be pumped dry, in order to enable construction work to be carried out “in the dry”.

Further reading

KOWALSKI, JM., 2012, « Navigation et Géographie dans l’antiquité Gréco-Romaine – La terre vue de la mer », éd. Picard, Paris.

ARNAUD, P., 2016, “Cities and Maritime Trade under the Roman Empire”, in “Connecting the Ancient World – Mediterranean Shipping, Maritime Networks and their Impact”, Christoph Schäfer (ed.), Pharos
Studien zur griechisch-römischen Antike, Band 35, (p 117-173).

ARNAUD, P., 2016, « Entre mer et rivière : les ports fluvio-maritimes de Méditerranée ancienne », Colloque ‘Les ports dans l’espace méditerranéen antique. Narbonne et les systèmes portuaires fluvio-lagunaires’, Espace Capdeville, Montpellier 22/23 mai 2014.

ARNAUD, P., 2015, « Inscriptions and port societies: evidence, “Analyse du discours”, silences, portscape … », International Conference on Roman Port Societies through the evidence of inscriptions, organized by Pascal Arnaud and Simon Keay as part of the ERC Advanced Grant funded Rome’s Mediterranean Ports Project in conjunction with the British School at Rome, 29-30 January 2015.

BONNIER, A., 2008, « Epineia kai limenes: the relationship between harbours and cities in ancient greek texts », Opuscula, 1, 2008, Stockholm.

OBIED, C., 2021, “Navigating Perceptions – Mariners and geographers of the Roman Levant”, in “Under the Mediterranean I”, Honor Frost Foundation, edt. Stella Demesticha & Lucy Blue, Sidestone Press, Leiden, (372 p).

OLESON, J., 2014, BRANDON, C., HOHLFELDER, R., JACKSON, M., “Building for Eternity – The history and Technology of Roman Concrete Engineering in the Sea”, Oxbow Books, (327 p).

OLESON, J., 1985, “Herod and Vitruvius: Preliminary Thoughts on Harbour Engineering at Sebastos; the Harbour of Caesarea Maritima”, BAR International Series 257, (p 165-172).