It was believed to be a mythical city, until of course it was actually discovered. Some believe that its discovery changed history as we know it forever. The ancient city of Heracleion was known to many ancient Greek philosophers, among them Herodotus, who referred to this ancient city in numerous of his writings, although the existence of this city wasn’t proven until the nineteenth century. With the discovery of Heracleion , countless enigmas were solved and we managed to learn so much more about our past through this ancient city.
As most of the incredible discoveries, this too was made by accident when marine archaeologist Franck Goddio was looking for warships that sank during the Battle of the Nile in 1798 that belonged to Napoleon along the coast of Alexandria, and just when he thought that there was nothing down there, he came across one of the most important discoveries a marine archaeologist can make.
Among the Egyptians and Greek, the city was referred to as Heraklionpor Thonis. It was believed to have been a prosperous empire between the seventh century BC and the eight century AD. The location of the city was just off the coast of Alexandria in the Aboukir Bay.
The importance of ancient Heracleion
Just like many other cities and legendary empires, Heracleion vanished without a trace, and thousands of years later, its treasures rose out of the water as millions watched the amazing discovery bring back Heracleion to life.
Among the items found there were giant statues of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, Hapi and figures of a mysterious and unknown Egyptian Pharaoh, all of them were found in a surprisingly good condition.
Hundreds of smaller statues were also discovered that once belonged to the of Cleopatra. Dozens of religious artifacts were found that belonged to supreme gods of ancient Egypt such as Isis, Osiris and Horus. Underwater archaeologists also came across several sarcophagi with the mummified remains of animals sacrificed to Amun-Gereb, the supreme god of the Egyptians. But perhaps the most important of the discoveries are the numerous pillars with inscriptions and hieroglyphics, that are according to archaeologists in excellent condition.
Researchers have managed to identify the main sections of this ancient sunken city, golden plates with records in Greek language speaking of Ptolemy III (282-222 a. C), who restored the shrines and/or temples dedicated to Hercules. A black granite stele was also discovered almost intact; researchers managed to learn that Heracleion was the Greek name of this ancient city, but for ancient Egyptians, the city was called Thonis. Historians believe that the ancient city of Heracleion was located in a strategic place that connected the peninsula. Researchers have discovered numerous docks and ancient anchors.
For Pharaohs of ancient Egypt Thonis, as it was referred to, was considered as the main port due to its geographical position. It was there, where trade was mainly done, and where visitors form Greece and other countries sailed to. Archaeologists have found over six hundred antique anchors of various shapes and over sixty shipwrecks dating from the sixth to the second century BC. According to Goddio, ancient sailors would throw their anchors into the water after long journeys as offerings to the gods.
Goddio discovered numerous statues, among those, near the shrine dedicated to Osiris, a large number of artifact were found made out of pink granite. Other objects and statues were also found, but the once that caught the attention of archaeologists were three colossal statues made out of pink granite, depicting a king, a queen and the god of fertility, abundance and the Nile flooding. This demonstrates the great importance the temple once had in ancient Heracleion .
Another one of the objects found holding important significant was a stele made out of pink granite, with bilingual writings describing the ideological significance that the sanctuary of Heracleion had under the Ptolomaic reign.
Did Heracleion vanish just like Atlantis?
Well, many large cities just like Heracleion , Alexandria and Canoups were destroyed by catastrophic natural disasters. Researchers from the University of Cambridge conducted a study of the Mediterranean tectonic plates and discovered that a geological fault could have caused a great earthquake and tsunami in the year 365 AD. According to scientists, the earthquake that struct the region in the past could happen again since they calculated that due to the geological features, the region is prone to catastrophic earthquakes every 800 years.
The fate of Heracleion was shared by other ancient cities that suffered similar catastrophes hundreds or thousands of years ago, some of them are the ancient city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC and the ancient city of Canopus.
Just like this city was discovered by chance, marine archaeologists will perhaps, one day, also find the legendary city/continent of Atlantis, who might be located somewhere under water, waiting to come to life once again, winning over history and archaeology for good.
Image source: ©Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photos: Christoph Gerigk