Ancient Greek military harbor of Salamis possibly discovered by archaeologists

greek-harbor-salamis-discovered_1Credit: V. Mentoyannis

Marking the turning point in the second Persian invasion of Greece (and possibly the Persian Greek Wars), the Battle of Salamis fought in 480 BC was a major naval engagement where the Greeks emerged victorious in spite of being outnumbered by their Persian counterparts. And now after almost 2,500 years, archaeologists have possibly identified the ancient military harbor that played its crucial role in one of the largest naval battles of antiquity. To that end, a collaborative effort by a team of 20 researchers hailing from two Greek universities — the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology, have found an apt spot in a nicely sheltered Bay of Ambelaki, in the Peloponnese region of Greece.

According to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports –

This is the first systematic underwater reconnaissance to be initiated by Greek institutions in a severely polluted marine environment, yet in a crucial area of historical importance.

In that regard, the comprehensive survey conducted by the archaeologists revealed a bevy of structural remains in the area (visible during low tides), ranging from fortifications to buildings, mostly dating from both the Classical period (5th-4th centuries BC) and the Hellenistic period (after 323 BC). The physical scope of the harbor translated to an impressive 200-ft wall by the edge that had a massive round tower at its end, thus mirroring the design of many contemporary military harbors. This fortified ‘zone’ in the northwestern part of the bay was extended by a 160-ft long mole (derived from Latin mōlēs) on the eastern side, which basically relates to a stone structure used as a pier or a causeway to connect places separated by water. The southern side of the bay further revealed an arrangement of now-submerged structural elements, including breakwaters, a 130-ft long mole and a 100-ft long wall with a square tower-like attachment.


The long wall in the north-western sector of the fortified zone. Credit: V. Mentoyannis

Yannos Lolos, professor of archaeology at the University of Ioannina and president of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology, told (to Live Science) –

The fortified northwestern part of the bay is the prime evidence for the identification of that special ‘closed area’ as the main military zone of the harbor of Salamis, certainly an Athenian territory in Classical times. This evidence, supplemented by the information from ancient historical and literary sources, leaves no doubt about the role of the bay as the main assembly and launching point of the Greek fleet in close proximity to the theater of the sea battle in the straits.

And since the researchers are talking about the historical side of affairs, according to Herodotus, the Greeks had around 378 triremes (a type of ancient galley with three banks of oars) that were used to lure the much-bigger Persian fleet into the narrow straits by Salamis. The grand tactical ambit worked in favor of the Greeks, especially after the Persians were left disorganized and leaderless in the opening phase of the battle when their admiral Ariabignes (a brother of Xerxes) was killed on the left flank of his foes.

But in spite of the flurry of triremes and similar ship-types used in this incredible naval engagement, the archaeologists are not holding out any hope to find any of these fascinating ancient specimens of marine-based warfare. However at the same, they are confident that the underwater archaeological map of the area would lead to even more pertinent structural discoveries. And the good news for history enthusiasts is that the current project will continue till 2018. Lolos added –

I am fairly hopeful that future underwater discoveries in the wider area of Ambelaki will comprise finds, of all kinds, which may prove to have an association with crucial events of Athenian history of the fifth century BC.


Artist’s illustration of ancient triremes. Source: Pinterest

Source: Live Science

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