June 03, 2011

Piraeus: the ancient island of Athens

Piraeus, the harbor of Athens used to be an island according to Strabo:
And as for the Peiraeus, it was becaue the Peiraeus was formerly an island and lay "over against" the mainland, they say
This has now been confirmed in a new article. I am reminded of Plato's narrative about how Attica had been affected by soil erosion. His explanation was probably not correct (the soil did not sink to the sea, but sea levels rose in the 9,000 years before his time), but it's fascinating that his description of a much larger Attica was basically correct.

Whether due to tradition or the ability to back-project geological phenomena into the past, the Greeks of the classical age certainly knew something about the geological past of their homeland.

Geology doi: 10.1130/G31818.1

Piraeus, the ancient island of Athens: Evidence from Holocene sediments and historical archives

Jean-Philippe Goiran et al.


The famous Greek geographer Strabo wrote in the first century A.D., that Piraeus was formerly an island and lay 'over against' the mainland, from which it got its name. To validate Strabo's hypothesis, cartographic and historical data were compiled with multiproxy paleoenvironmental analyses and radiocarbon dating from a series of boreholes drilled in the Cephissus coastal plain, southwest of Athens, Greece. The results of this interdisciplinary geoarchaeological research demonstrate the reliability of Strabo's text by revealing that Piraeus was indeed an island. In early Holocene time, the rocky hill of Piraeus was linked to the mainland of Attica. During the late to final Neolithic Period (4850–3450 B.C.), Piraeus became an island in a shallow marine bay, due to sea-level rise in the Holocene. Between 2850 and 1550 B.C., in the Early and Middle Bronze Age, Piraeus was separated from the mainland by a wide lagoon. In the fifth century B.C., Themistocles, Cimon, and then Pericles connected Athens to Piraeus by building two "long walls" partly built on a residual coastal marsh called the Halipedon. This study reveals an impressive example of past landscape evolution.

Link

4 comments:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"Whether due to tradition or the ability to back-project geological phenomena into the past," . . .

Another plausible possibility is that inferrences could have been possible from materials encountered by construction workers in the 5th century BCE in the course of the construction of the "long walls."

DagoRed said...

You underestimate the power of oral tradition, the ancient people passed their history from generation to generation, gathered in front of the fire, on long winter nights. They had no television and did not get the clubs.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Oral tradition definitely gets passed on, but in many cases has been shown to be quite at odds with historical reality from hard evidence. Like a game of telephone, the accuracy degrades a lot until the message becomes very simple, particularly in the particulars of a complicated story.

Only once writing appears on the scene does the long term accuracy increase.

terryt said...

"Oral tradition definitely gets passed on, but in many cases has been shown to be quite at odds with historical reality from hard evidence".

seems from some studies that it is OK for about 250 years. Beyond that it takes on supernatural elements.