Galley from Ptolemaic times found in Abukir Bay, near Alexandria | Culture


A diver, among the remains of the hull of the Ptolemaic galley found in the submerged city of Thonis-Heracleion, 30 kilometers northeast of Alexandria.
A diver, among the remains of the hull of the Ptolemaic galley found in the submerged city of Thonis-Heracleion, 30 kilometers northeast of Alexandria.ChristophGerigk©FranckGoddio/Hilti Foundation

The news that the divers of Frank Goddio and his European Institute for Underwater Archeology (IEASM) have found an exceptional galley from the times of the Ptolemaic kings in the bay of Abukir, in the Mediterranean, 30 kilometers northeast of Alexandria, it is one of those that make you dream. The words galley and Ptolemy (323 BC to 30 BC) conjure up phenomenal historical images: the ships of Ptolemy I and II crossing the Mediterranean with the books taken in definitive loan to nourish the Library of Alexandria; those that burned in the port of the city during the Alexandrian wars of Caesar, those of Cleopatra taking those of Villadiego after the wake of the queen to the despair of Marco Antonio (who “like a jealous duck”, Shakespeare dixit, “Flies after her in the heat of combat”) in the battle of Actium …

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The discovered galley also has a story worthy of an adventure film, as explained by the IEASM. It sank in the second century BC in the city of Thonis-Heracleion, where it was moored on a pier, being hit by large blocks of the famous temple of Amun in the town during an earthquake. The ship was in the canal that ran on the south face of the sanctuary when the disaster occurred.

The stone blocks that sank it, however, protected the remains of the galley by leaving them stuck in the bottom of the canal, which was filled with the rubble of the temple. The ship, underwater archaeologists have explained, lies under five meters of hard clay mixed with the remains of the sanctuary and could only be detected using a state-of-the-art bottom-tracking device.

“The finding of fast galleys from this time is extremely rare,” emphasizes Goddio in an IEASM note. “The only other example is the Carthaginian ship of Marsala, from 235 BC. Before that discovery, Hellenistic ships of this type were completely unknown to archaeologists ”. Goddio continues: “Our preliminary study shows that the galley hull that we have found was built in the classical tradition with mortise and tenon joints (characteristic of hull board joining) and a very well finished internal structure. However, the galley also presents characteristics of ancient Egyptian shipbuilding and allows us to speak of a mixed construction technique. It was a rowing boat that was also provided with a large sail, as evidenced by a mast base of considerable dimensions ”.

According to Goddio, this “long boatIt was flat-bottomed and had a flat keel, which was advantageous for navigating the Nile and its delta. Archaeologists note that some features of Egyptian shipbuilding along with evidence that wood was reused on the ship indicate that it was built in Egypt. With a length of more than 25 meters, it had a length-width ratio of 6 to 1.

Remains of Greek offerings among the ruins of the sanctuaries doomed under the sea at Thonis-Heracleion.
Remains of Greek offerings among the ruins of the sanctuaries doomed under the sea at Thonis-Heracleion.IEASM/Hilti Foundation

The galley is one of the most interesting discoveries of IEASM’s 2021 campaign off the Egyptian coast, which is working in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities with the support of the Hilti foundation. Elsewhere in the city, a burial mound near the northeast entrance channel has revealed remains of a large Greek burial area with sumptuous offerings. According to archaeologists, it dates back to the very beginning of the 4th century BC. For researchers, the find illustrates the presence of Greek merchants and mercenaries who lived in Thonis-Heracleion, a city that controlled access to Egypt at the mouth of the canopic branch of the Nile. .

The Greeks were allowed to settle in the city during the late Pharaonic period. There they built their own shrines near the great temple of Amun. These constructions were also destroyed during the cataclysm and their remains have been found mixed with those of the temple of the Egyptian god. Important remains of that sacred building slipped into the deep channel during a landslide caused by a liquefaction event, when the ground went from solid to liquid. These remains have been found in very good condition, almost original. They bear witness to the richness of the sanctuaries of Thonis-Heracleion, now submerged under the sea seven kilometers from the present coast of Egypt.

The city was for centuries the largest port of the pharaohs in the Mediterranean before Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 331 BC. C. Numerous earthquakes, followed by tidal waves that unleashed liquefaction phenomena caused a 110-square-kilometer portion of the Nile Delta to collapse under the sea, washing away the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. The two cities were rediscovered by Goddio and his family in 2000 and 1999 respectively.


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