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Remains of ancient naval base discovered in Athens' Piraeus Harbour


Marine archaeologist Bjørn Lovén from the University of Copenhagen has - with a team of Greek colleagues - discovered the remains of Athens' ancient naval base that was established in 493 BCE. The base, which was one of the Ancient World's largest structures, played a pivotal role in the defense of Ancient Greece.

Remains of ancient naval base discovered in Athens' Piraeus Harbour
An archaeologist excavates one of the shipsheds at Mounichia Harbour -on one of the very rare
days of good visibility [Credit: Vassilis Tsiairis]
With its massive harbour fortifications and ship-sheds designed to hold hundreds of war ships - the so-called triremes - the Piraeus Harbour naval base would have made for an impressive sight 2,500 years ago.

Remains of ancient naval base discovered in Athens' Piraeus Harbour
The harbours of the Piraeus are heavily polluted. Archaeologists wore chemical-resistant Viking Pro 1000 drysuits 
and Interspiro full-face masks with positive-pressure valves. Such equipment completely seals the diver from the 
contaminated underwater environment of the harbour basins [Credit: Vassilis Tsiairis]
Today, the remains of the naval base lie hidden under the water of the Mounichia fishing and yachting harbour, which is why it has taken archaeologist Bjørn Lovén and his team a long time to find it.

Remains of ancient naval base discovered in Athens' Piraeus Harbour
Mounichia Harbour: Archaeologists documented the 10 x 10 meter square tower on the southern fortified mole 
using digital survey techniques [Credit: Bjørn Lovén]
"Some days, underwater visibility in the harbour was as low as 20 centimetres so we have had extremely poor working conditions. However, we did finally locate the remains and excavated six ship-sheds that were used to protect the Greek ships from shipworm and from drying when they were not needed on the sea. And the sheds were monumental: the foundations under the columns were 1,4 by 1,4 metres, and the sheds themselves were 7-8 metres tall and 50 metres long," says archaeologist Bjørn Lovén, who led the excavations of the naval base.

Remains of ancient naval base discovered in Athens' Piraeus Harbour
Drawing of ship shed [Credit: Yiannis Nakas]
Lovén continues: "Based on pottery and carbon-14 dating from a worked piece of wood found inside the foundations of a colonnade, we dated the ship-sheds to around 520-480 BCE, or shortly thereafter, and this means that these sheds probably housed the ships which were deployed to fight the Persian invasion forces during the famous Battle of Salamis 480 BCE."

Remains of ancient naval base discovered in Athens' Piraeus Harbour
Satellite photo the modern Piraeus showing the configurations of the three harbours, Kantharos, Zea, and Mounichia 
[Credit: GoogleEarthPro]
"This naval battle was a pivotal event in Greek history; it is difficult to predict what would have happened if the Greek fleet had lost at Salamis, but it is clear that a Persian victory would have had immense consequences for subsequent cultural and social developments in Europe. The victory at Salamis rightly echoes through history and awakens awe and inspiration around the world today."

Zea Harbour Project (ZHP) - the combined land and underwater archaeological 
investigation of the ancient harbours of Zea and Mounichia in the Piraeus - 
was launched in 2002 [Credit: ZHP]

The discovery of the naval base was part of the Zea Harbour Project, a major exavation of the Athenian naval facilities in Piraeus carried out 2001-2012. Read more about the project on the Carlsberg Foundation's website.

The Battle of Salamis

The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle fought between an alliance of Greek city-states under Themistocles and the Persian Empire under King Xerxes in 480 BC which resulted in a decisive victory for the outnumbered Greeks.

The Wooden Wall: Battle of Salamis [Credit: Bjørn Lovén]

The battle was fought in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, and marked the high-point of the second Persian invasion of Greece. Two-thirds of the ships that participated on the Greek side came from Athens - and thus the naval base which Bjørn Lovén and his team have discovered.

Source: University of Copenhagen [June 11, 2016]
TANN

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