An ancient Egyptian city found 6.5 km off of modern Egypt’s coastline reveals fascinating relics of Heracleion, also known as Thonis.
The city’s ruins are located in Abu Qir Bay, originally existing near Alexandria, 2.5 km off the coast. Heracleion’s ruins span an area that is 11km by 15km – deservedly so considering the classical tale of Heracleion which was said to be a prosperous, brilliant, thriving city before it was engulfed by the sea around 1,500 years ago.
The ruins were first discovered by Franck Goddio using his unique survey-based approach that utilizes the most sophisticated technical equipment. In cooperation with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Oxford’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology and the Department of Antiquities of Egypt, Franck was able to locate, map and excavate several parts of the city.
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As you will see in the pictures, the relics recovered from the excavations boldly reveal the cities’ beauty and glory before it was buried by water. Anything from colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewellery and coins, ritual objects and ceramics, were found and each reveals the opulence Heracleion experienced during its time. Many of the finds illustrate how crucial this city was to the ancient world economy. This is also seen by the huge amount of gold coins and bronze, lead and stone weights used to measure value of goods in ancient times. T
The importance of Heracleion has also been proved by the discovery of 64 ships, which is the largest number of ancient vessels ever found in one place. Along with these ships, a mind-boggling 700 anchors were found on the ocean floor.
Along with these 16ft statues there are hundreds of smaller statues of Egyptian gods, among them the figures that guarded the temple where Cleopatra who was inaugurated as Queen of the Nile.
Many amulets, or religious charms, have been unearthed, too, showing gods such as Isis, Osiris and Horus. These had been created not only for Egyptians but also for visiting traders who used to incorporate them into their religion or kept them as trinkets.
Heracleion can now be added to the number as Egypt’s most important port during the time of the later pharaohs. The importance of Heracleion has further been seen by the discovery of 64 ships, the largest number of ancient vessels ever found in one place and a fascinating 700 anchors. The city had been a major motorway junction. It had a naturally navigable channel next to its ancient harbor and a further artificial channel appears to had been dug to accelerate trade.
The very name of the city had been taken from the most famous of Greek heroes, Heracles aka Hercules whose 12 labors had killed the Hydra and had captured Cerberus, the multi-headed hellhound that guarded the gates of the Underworld who had captivated the ancient world. Heraklion, Crete’s capital and largest city, had also been named after Heracles, as was Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town that had been buried under ash when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. When Heracleion had faded in importance in the later classical period, its neighboring city of Alexandria had become the capital of Egypt in 312BC.
The discovery of Heracleion will now add depth and detail to our knowledge of the ancient world, because among the discoveries, there are perfectly preserved steles (inscribed pillars) decorated with hieroglyphics. Once translated, they will reveal much about the religious and political life in this corner of ancient Egypt. A similar inscription on the Rosetta stone had been discovered in the Nile Delta town of Rosetta in 1799 by a French soldier, and now preserved in the British Museum, it had cracked the code of hieroglyphics in the first place.
And like the Rosetta stone, those steles found beneath the waters of Aboukir Bay are inscribed in Greek and Egyptian, too. The possibility of discovery of many more archaeological gems at Heracleion has now been opened.
Moreover, Heracleion had been extremely crucial to the economy of the ancient world. This can be seen in the discovery of gold coins and lead, bronze and stone weights from Athens (used to measure the value of goods and to calculate the tax owed), which depicts that Heracleion had been a lucrative Mediterranean post.