Rare remains of a military vessel and a Greek funerary complex have been found in the ancient sunken city of Thônis-Heracleion which was once Egypt’s main Mediterranean port. Officials said Monday that the find was made during underwater excavations at the fabulous port city, Thonis-Heracleion, which sat on the edge of the Nile River, next to the Mediterranean.
Founded in the eighth century BCE and thrived between the sixth and second centuries BCE, the city was for years seen as Egypt’s largest port in the area until Alexander the Great founded the coastal city of Alexandria in 331 BC. After a series of earthquakes and tidal waves, the city submerged but was rediscovered in 2001 in Abu Qir bay near Alexandria, now Egypt’s second-largest city.
The military vessel, found by an Egyptian-French mission led by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), sank when the famed Amun Temple it was mooring next to collapsed in an earthquake in the second century BC, according to Reuters. “An Egyptian-French mission … found the debris of a military vessel from the Ptolemaic era and the remains of a Greek funerary complex dating to the fourth century BC,” Egypt’s tourism and antiquities ministry said.
Preliminary studies show that the 25-meter-long vessel, which was flat-bottomed with large oars, mast, and sails, was usually used for navigation within the Nile Delta. It also had features of Ancient Egyptian construction, the antiquities ministry said.
The funerary complex found by the archaeologists dates back to the first years of the 4th century BC, the ministry said, adding that the discovery “beautifully illustrates the presence of the Greek merchants who lived in that city.”
Greeks were allowed to settle in the area during the late Pharaonic dynasties. In the process, they built their own sanctuaries close to the huge temple of Amun. “Those were destroyed, simultaneously and their remains are found mixed with those of the Egyptian temple,” the ministry said.
Face2Face Africa earlier reported that before the rediscovery of Thonis-Heracleion in modern times, the city was immortalized by a handful of ancient scribes, including the Greek historian Herodotus. He wrote of its temples to Osiris, network of canals and a visit Helen and Paris of Troy paid to the city before their affair triggered the Trojan War.
The city’s Greek name is derived from a temple created there to pay tribute to Herakles’ first visit to Egypt. Herakles was known to the Egyptians as Khonsu, the son of Amun.
When the city was rediscovered, one Oxford University professor said the sandy seafloor acted as a perfect preservative from the eighth century when it sank until the year 2000, when it was located.
Since its rediscovery, the treasures of Thonis-Heracleion have been displayed in a Paris exhibit, a documentary video, several online exhibits and news stories. Researchers continue to speculate on what caused it to sink in the first place. Theories still center around natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and tidal waves that caused the city’s silt foundation to liquefy and collapse.
The city’s fall may seem to coincide very loosely with the development of Islam and its spread across the northern half of Africa, on both sides of the Sahara desert.