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Mapping the ancient ports of Lesbos
Author Theotokis Theodoulou
Translated by Lucie Vidličková
Edited by Kristian L. Lorenzo

Pictures:
Map of Lesbos with Classical poleis. Circles mark places where port remains were located  Northeastern mole of the ancient north trade port of Mytilene in Epano Skala  One of the arched transversal openings in the northeastern mole of the north port of Mytilene  Edge of mole, which was located in the port of Methymna  Antissa, where remains of an ancient port mole were located  Underwater photo of an ancient mole in Eressos  A preserved part of an ancient dock at the edge of a mole in St. Fokas

The study of ancient ports is a very significant part of maritime archaeology. Both their locations and the quality of their preserved remains stand as witnesses to the excellent technical knowledge required for their construction. The significance of ports for the economic, social and political development of Aegean city-states is intimately linked with the histories of the cultures which developed in the Mediterranean basin. 

Greece’s long coastline and plethora of islands contain the remains of ancient ports close to almost every coastal settlement. The island of Lesbos, a crossroads of multiple Aegean maritime trade routes, preserves the remains of ancient ports in all the capitals of its Classical Pentapolis (Mytilene, Methymna, Antissa, Eresos and Pyrrha), as well as in other locations suitable for the landing of ships (St. Fokas, Skala Sykamias, Mesitziki etc.) 

With the aim to systematically map these remains, the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities inaugurated a program focused on documenting Lesbos’s ancient port network. Work began in 2007 after the first photographic recording. Since then, two surveys have taken place (2008, 2009) which included: 

  1. Topographical and architectural mapping for a three-dimensional model (GIS - Geographic Information System) of the island 
  2. Development of a presentation detailing the archaeological evidence uncovered 

The Port authority of Lesbos funded 2009 and 2010’s research, and the Prefecture of Lesbos signed an agreement to continue the program. The National Technical University of Athens online data bank of Limenoscope also provided support.

 

Progress:

In 2007, both surface and underwater photographs were taken of the remains of the port constructions in Mytilene, Methymna, Antissa, Eressos, Pyrrha, Ag. Fokas and Kalo or Tsamour Limani.

In 2008, photographic mapping of the ports in Methymna and Eressos took place. At the same time, mapping of the port remains in St.. Fokas (ancient Vrissa) also began. In Methymna, part of the ancient mole tip was discovered, most probably of the Classical period. Its construction shows a different orientation to that of the modern basin. 

In 2009, both St.. Fokas’s port and a small rock fill close to the ancient sanctuary of Messa in the Mesitziki spot in Kalloni Bay were completely mapped. Furthermore in St. Fokas, apart from the preserved windward mole, the team discovered a second underwater breakwater for the protection of the mole from the east. In association with this mole the team also located a previously unknown artificial platform containing the remains of buildings. In the wider area of the port, a local fisherman helped us locate two wrecked cargoes full of Chian amphorae of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The Vrissans Association of Athens supported the survey of this area.

Pyrrha’s seafront was also explored with the aim to locate port facilities known from earlier written works. Unfortunately, no such remains were discovered. 

During the same mission, exploration and mapping of the ancient port of Antissa brought to light new evidence for ancient constructions including portions of the city’s Archaic fortifications, the foundations of which are presently submerged, as well as another potential basin. 

Apart from the discoveries noted above, the Ephorate’s team located and documented the remnants of a port in Skala Sykamias, two locations containing building remains on the beach of Methymna and the fragmentary remains of constructions which have fallen into the sea.  

The Ephorate also located and recorded building remains in the following areas: Pigadakia, Pyrgoi Thermis, Skala Mistegnon, Skala Neon Kydonion, Apotheka and Skamnioudi (Kourtir). Finally, photographs were taken of the port of Eressos and the windward jetty of Epano Skala, Mytilene’s northern commercial port, for the purpose of creating a photomosaic. 

Analysis of the above data is expected to shed light on marine activities and routes in the area of Lesbos during antiquity, while advancing our knowledge of the technical integrity of ancient ports and the skills of their creators. 

 

Head of Research: Dr. Th. Theodoulou (Archaeologist, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities)

 

Participants: X. Argiris (Archaeologist), G. Sapountzis (Archaeologist), G. Pittos (Topographer), V. Mentogiannis (Photographer), A. Patsourou and L. Mersenie (Divers from the Ephorate), F. Bitsikas (student at the Department of Cultural Heritage Management and New Technologies at the University of Ioannina (Agrinio)). G. Kourtzelis (Archaeologist from the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Lesbos and PhD candidate in Digital Archaeology at the University of the Aegean) handled the digital processing of the accumulated data. 

 

Preliminary results have so far appeared in the following:

Theodoulou T., 2008, “The harbour network of ancient Lesvos. First step of an underwater approach” in H. Tzalas (ed.), Tropis Χ. 10th International symposium on ship construction in antiquity, Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition, Hydra, 28 Aug. – 2 Sept. 2008 (υπ? ?κδοση).

Theodoulou T., “Recording the harbour network of ancient Lesbos (2008-2009)”, in

Harbors and Harbor Cities in the Eastern Mediterranean from Antiquity to Byzantium. Recent Discoveries & New Approaches, Instanbul, 30 May 1 June 2011, (forthcoming)

Θεοδουλου Θ., 2010 “Υποβρυχια ερευνα στα αρχαια λιμανια της Λεσβου”, Αρχαιολογια και Τεχνες 116, Αθηνα: Εκδ. Οργανισμος Λαμπρακη, 93-102 [http://www.arxaiologia.gr/assets/media/PDFofIssues/8982.pdf]

Θεοδουλου Θ., Κουρτζελλης Γ., 2010, “Λιμανια και ναυτικοι δρομοι στην αρχαια Λεσβο”, Λεσβιακο Ημερολογιο 2011. Γραμματα, τεχνες, πολιτισμος, Μυτιληνη: Αιολιδα, 129-147

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