The construction, use and evolution of the Hellenistic and Roman harbours of the Aegean


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Nakas, Ioannis D. (2022). The construction, use and evolution of the Hellenistic and Roman harbours of the Aegean. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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One of the fundamental premises on which the successful function of harbours as centres of commerce and interaction is based is their ability to accommodate and handle ships and their cargoes. This is especially the case during periods in which seaborne trade and travel acquire a major role like the Hellenistic and Roman ones. But, despite the important developments in the study of the harbours of the period, their operation as ship havens and the practicalities of ship and cargo handling have largely eluded the attention of previous scholarship that has addressed the operation of ancient harbours mainly through their history and architecture. The primary aim of this thesis is to understand the harbours of the Hellenistic and Roman Aegean vis-à-vis their relationship with ships and seamanship and the practical issues related with it. In order to do so I approach harbours ‘through the eyes of the mariners’, devising a new methodology that combines data on ship typology, size and handling with the reconstruction of the three harbours chosen as case studies (Delos, Lechaion and Kenchreai). By employing this methodology I address, in an innovative and inclusive manner, the relationship of harbours with ship and cargo traffic, an essential practical aspect of their operation that largely dictated their function and development.

Through the combined study of ships and harbours a complicated image of versatility appears. The three case study harbours were in their majority small, shallow and exposed areas, often fragmented into various smaller anchorages. They were also related with sandy beaches, ideal for the accommodation and beaching of small vessels and lighters but not of ships of medium and large capacity. Docking facilities were few, exposed and most probably reserved for stone and marble cargoes. Anchoring in the open and employing lighters was most likely the main method of using these harbours, allowing ships to sail more easily from and to harbour basins, change anchorages and avoid the entanglement in small and often cramped spaces. Harbour works in the sea were few as well as technologically simple, with a focus on the creation of monumental commercial infrastructures on land instead. Functionality and adaptability were the main elements in the operation of the harbours studied, which despite their relative simplicity still functioned perfectly as commercial centres, marketplaces and maritime façades of cities, states and regions.

The successful application of the methodology of this thesis to the case study harbours highlights the possibilities it has concerning the better and more inclusive understanding of harbours as human spaces. It also underlines its dynamics as a methodological tool that can be applied in other contemporary sites, historical periods and different geographical regions.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology (CAHA)
Funders: Other
Other Funders: College of Arts and Law
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
V Naval Science > VM Naval architecture. Shipbuilding. Marine engineering


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