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A scientist investigates the outer part of the entrance canal.

Underwater Ruins of Greek Harbor Are Full of Surprises


University of Copenhagen

Researchers have made some surprising discoveries while investigating the underwater ruins of Lechaion, ancient Corinth’s partially submerged harbor town.

Lechaion was one of two bustling ports of the ancient city of Corinth. The harbor saw vibrant maritime activity for more than a thousand years, from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE. Ships and fleets departed filled with cargoes, colonists, and marines destined for ports all over the Mediterranean and beyond.

Aerial photo of the Western Mole (Credit: K. Xenikakis & S. Gesafidis).

“According to ancient sources, most of the city’s wealth derived from the maritime trade that passed through her two harbors, eventually earning her the nickname ‘Wealthy Corinth’,” says archaeologist Bjørn Lovén from the University of Copenhagen and co-director of the Lechaion Harbor Project (LHP).

The Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP), a collaboration between the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Greece, the University of Copenhagen, and the Danish Institute at Athens, is exploring the submerged main harbor of ancient Corinth.

The research team has initiated full-scale excavations and a digital and geophysical survey of the seaward side of the harbor using various innovative technologies, including a newly developed 3D parametric sub-bottom profiler. To date they have uncovered two monumental moles constructed of ashlar blocks, along with a smaller mole, two areas of wooden caissons, a breakwater, and an entrance canal that leads into Lechaion’s three inner harbor basins.

The 2015 excavations focused on two areas. The first is a unique, early Byzantine mole constructed of six well-preserved wooden caissons together stretching 57 meters in length. The second is the stone-lined entrance canal to the little-explored Inner Harbor of Lechaion.

“We have found and documented several monumental architectural structures, built at great expense, showing that Lechaion was developed as a grand harbor to match the importance of her powerful metropolis, Corinth,” says Lovén.

Surprise Discovery

The discovery of well-preserved wooden caissons, however, caught everyone off guard. The wooden caissons acted as single-mission barges, built for the express purpose of being sunk together with their concrete cargoes, all of which were designed to form a solid foundation to hold back the force of the sea along this highly exposed stretch of coast.

Roman imperial engineers employed a similar technology on a large scale at Caesarea Maritima in Israel in the late first century BCE, but these are the first of their kind ever discovered in Greece with their wooden elements still preserved.

A preliminary C-14 carbon date places the caissons in the time frame of the Leonidas Basilica, the largest Christian church of its time. Construction of the basilica began in the middle of the 5th century CE. It was 180 meters (591 feet) long—about the same size as the first building phase of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Scholars generally assume that harbor facilities in the Mediterranean were built in the Greek and Roman period, then simply repaired and maintained during the Byzantine period. The discovery of the mole constructed of wooden caissons challenges this picture.

The mole is a rare example of major harbor construction in this later era, but it may be indicative of a larger pattern of more ambitious harbor construction in this period, such as the Theodosian harbor (modern Yenikapi) at Constantinople, which has recently been excavated.

Researchers wonder if it is possible that the construction of this immense edifice coincided with renewed buildup of the harbor, thereby facilitating the arrivals and departures of visitors and pilgrims. At all events, the benefit of these innovations was short-lived, as Lechaion and its basilica were destroyed by a massive earthquake in the late 6th or early 7th century CE.

Archaeologist documenting wooden caisson

Archaeologist documenting wooden caisson (V. Tsiairis)

Unexpected Scale

Vestiges of the ancient entrance canal have been exposed on the modern beach for years, so there has been little doubt of its location. The scale, however, was surprising. So far, the team has uncovered some 55 meters (180 feet) of its sides, which protected ships coming into and exiting the three inner harbors of the town.

And the team has also found evidence that the ancient harbor was likely located much farther to seaward, perhaps as far as 45 meters (148 feet) from the modern shore. A geophysical study is underway to understand how the site has evolved over time as a result of sea-level change and possible coastal subsidence.

Lovén says the project should offer a clearer picture of how this bustling harbor evolved over time and enabled the development of Corinth as a major economic and military power during the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods.

Featured image: A scientist investigates the outer part of the entrance canal. (Credit: V. Tsiairis)

The article ‘Underwater Ruins of Greek Harbor Are Full of Surprises’ by Carsten Munk Hansen-U. Copenhagen was originally posted on Futurity and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.



I was not familiar with this usage of "mole" either.

From Wikipedia.

"A mole is a massive structure, usually of stone, used as a pier, breakwater, or a causeway between places separated by water. The word comes from Middle French mole, ultimately from Latin mōlēs, meaning a large mass, especially of rock, and it has the same root as molecule.[2] A mole may have a wooden structure built on top of it that resembles a wooden pier. The defining feature of a mole, however, is that water cannot freely flow underneath it, unlike a true pier. The oldest known mole is at Wadi al-Jarf, an ancient Egyptian harbor complex on the Red Sea."

Article never helped me learned what is a 'mole'?...jdm

Actually the article doesn't only attribute this harbour being submerged to climate change. It mentions sea level rise (which could possibly be due to warming) but it also talks about coastal subsidance. I'm no expert in such things but coastal subsidance could be due to plate tectonics (earthquakes or whatever) or perhaps erosion. What i'm getting from the article is that they haven't 100% got to the bottom of the cause of this harbour becoming submerged.

LOL at "broader perspective", more like "pick and choose my facts perspective." Climate change has been happening ever since the earth developed an atmosphere. But mostly over long periods of time, ever heard of geologic time scales, you twit-made heretic? Human-made climate change gave us the warmest year on record, which statistical analysis virtually proves is our doing and not some once-in-eons fluke that we just happen to be around to observe.
If you truly believe what you espouse, go start your car, close the garage and STAY in your car. Cuz, you know, greenhouse gases in a closed system have no effect.

P.S. Evolution is fact, too. (no longer a theory) and that IS magical
This is a great website when not everything is attributed to aliens, superhumans or divine intervention.

So ancient Corinth's harbour town Lechaion was partially submerged by sea level rise. And so, how can we blame our modern human era for the climate change that caused that? Oh wait, nature has been changing for eons without our help.

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