Book Review -‘Thonis-Heracleion in Context’ by Matthew A. Cobb

By Matthew A. Cobb, published November 2020



The Egyptian port city of Thonis (called Heracleion by the Greeks) served as an important strategic, commercial and religious centre from the seventh to mid-second centuries bc, but appears to have dwindled in significance after this date. This was in large part the consequence of a natural disaster taking place around the mid-second century bc, which resulted in soil liquefaction and the submergence of parts of Thonis-Heracleion. The rediscovered site, located at the western end of modern Aboukir Bay, has in the last few decades been subject to collaborative maritime surveys and excavations under the auspices of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, and the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities. Work is still ongoing, but the fruits of the research undertaken so far are brought together in this 16-chapter volume (plus an introduction and appendix).

The volume does not exclusively focus on Thonis-Heracleion, but considers the site in the wider context of the north-west Delta region and the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, six chapters are given over to a comparative study of other sites – especially Naukratis an emporion located further up the Canopic branch which had a significant Greek presence from the seventh century bc. One notable absence, however, is Alexandria, which a number of the contributors note was likely responsible for the decline in the commercial significance of Thonis-Heracleion during the Ptolemaic period. This absence is perhaps justifiable given that the recent land-based and maritime excavations at this site have been covered in another volume, also edited by Damian Robinson and Franck Goddio (Alexandria and the North-Western Delta, 2010).

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Filed under: Antiquity | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Archaeology | Harbours & Dockyards

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