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Discovered at the Salamis ruins, a marble head from an ancient Greek statue. Source: Maraba / Greek Ministry of Culture.

Marine Archaeologists Drain Sea To Investigate Underwater Building At Salamis Ruins

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The Greek Ministry of Culture has announced a major discovery by marine archaeologists off the island of Salamis. It has been revealed that divers and researchers have found a monumental structure or building. This is near the site of one of the most important naval battles in history, the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).

The marine archaeologists have been investigating the waters in Ampelakia Bay, off the island of Salamis. The research was carried out by experts from the “Institute of Marine Archaeological Research (IMAR) in cooperation with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture and Sports” according to Tornos News .

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from thirty disciplines were involved in the project, including those from the fields of marine archaeology and geophysical sciences. They were led by Dr. Angeliki Simosi and Prof. Yiannos G. Lolos.

A Building Under the Sea

2018 was the team’s third year investigating the area and it was by far their most successful season. The team used new techniques to investigate the waters around the historic island of Salamis during the summer months. This allowed them to fully excavate a large structure in the west of Ampelakia Bay, found in shallow waters and buried in mud .

They were aware of the existence of the structure because its outline could be made out during low tide. In previous years the team found structures in the east and south of Ampelakia Bay, which may have been the gathering area for the Greek fleet who fought in the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).

The site of the building discovered in the Ampelakia Bay in Salamis. (Maraba / Greek Ministry of Culture)

The site of the building discovered in the Ampelakia Bay in Salamis. (Maraba / Greek Ministry of Culture)

Divers have now located a 50-foot-long structure that “was arranged on a north-south axis” according to Newsweek. It appears to have been a section of a large public building that dates from at least 2,200 years ago. Newsweek also reports that it was probably “one of the main public buildings in the area, located at the lowest point of the ancient city —at the port”.

Researchers also exposed some ceramics, plinths, and columns that are from the building. Numerous fragments of amphora and jar handles were also retrieved from the mud. An abundance of pottery from the Classical to the Roman period was also uncovered by the archaeologists.

Treasures Beneath the Bay

They also found many fragments of marble statues including one head of what appears to be a representation of a young athlete. The head of the young man may represent the Messenger of the Gods , Hermes. Based on the style of the artifact it probably came from the school of sculpture inspired by the famous Lysippus.

In an innovative new technique, a barrier was installed around the site to allow access to the area for proper examination. This, according to Tornos News “enabled the combined use of methods and technical means for underwater and land excavation in researching the ancient building structure”. This excavation technique allowed for the seabed to be explored in a thorough manner. It even allowed the archaeologists to excavate the foundation of the large building.

Archaeologists working at the site of the Salamis ruins. (Maraba / Greek Ministry of Culture)

Archaeologists working at the site of the Salamis ruins. (Maraba / Greek Ministry of Culture)

Based on a preliminary examination of the findings, the building was either a temple or stoa (a covered walkway). It probably dates from the Hellenistic period and was in use up to the 3rd century AD, when Salamis was part of the Roman Empire. Tornos News reports that part of the structure “makes up the base of a solid, later pier, constructed at least 200 years ago”.

The Battle of Salamis

The construction was built after the famous Battle of Salamis which took place in the waters off the island. This was fought in 480 BC between the Greeks and the Persians. This battle was a great Greek naval victory and was pivotal in the defeat of the Persian invasion . The Battle of Salamis is widely seen as saving the classical world , which was so influential in the development of Western Civilization .

Battle of Salamis - the Achaemenid fleet, in red, entered from the east, right, and confronted the Greek fleet, in blue, within the confines of the strait. (पाटलिपुत्र / Public Domain)

Battle of Salamis - the Achaemenid fleet, in red, entered from the east, right, and confronted the Greek fleet, in blue, within the confines of the strait. ( पाटलिपुत्र / Public Domain )

It is believed that the building was probably located near the agora or main public space in Salamis. This was a very important port and later became part of the Athenian Empire , but it should not be confused with the ancient city of Salamis in Cyprus .

We know from the ancient travel writer Pausanias that the low-lying parts of the city were in ruins by the mid-2nd century AD. Why the large building fell into the sea is as yet unknown, but it may have been because of rising sea levels or an earthquake.

The discovery is helping historians to better understand ancient Salamis. Researchers are also extracting sediments from the site to establish the geography of the coastline when the city was an important port and the Battle of Salamis was fought.

Conservation work is being carried out on some of the artifacts, especially the remarkable head that was found. This find is only the latest of many spectacular finds made by marine archaeologists, including the discovery of an ancient naval base near Athens.

Top image: Discovered at the Salamis ruins, a marble head from an ancient Greek statue. Source: Maraba / Greek Ministry of Culture.

By Ed Whelan

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