The military port of ancient Amathus, 10 km east of modern Limassol, Cyprus, was constructed by Antigonos Monopthalmos and his son Demetrius Poliorcetes at the very end of the 4th century BC. A few years later, the island was conquered by Ptolemy I and the building works of the harbour were visibly abandoned, since it represented a potential danger to Alexandria if it were to fall under the control of anyone hostile to Ptolemaic power. It has remained intact up to the present because it lies under 1 to 5 metres of water and thus has escaped any plundering. The site is an exceptional monument and a unique example of naval architecture on Cyprus and more generally in the Mediterranean. It dates from the very beginning of the Hellenistic era and is the work of one of the greatest of Alexander the Great’s Diadochi. There can be little doubt that this construction should be listed and protected as part of Cyprus’ maritime heritage.
The port is in an almost untouched state of preservation because it was never used. The architecture is composed of large limestone blocks extracted from nearby quarries. They are laid as headers. The size of the harbour basin is unusual, being more than 100 m each side and a full stadion long, that is, 180 m for the South Mole.
Throughout our three excavation campaigns we conducted some 20 sondages and we were able to clear sections of three moles, with a rather narrow opening to the south-east in order to control more efficiently the movement of shipping. We managed to understand the construction method of the moles, from the extraction of blocks of stone from nearby quarries to the placing of these blocks using machinery that gradually advanced as each block was laid. We revealed up to eight courses of headers, sometimes secured by very large dovetail joints: the bronze enveloped in lead can weigh 56 kg.
The study brings together an international and interdisciplinary team, involving several specialists working in collaboration with an archaeologist and an architect in order to understand this Hellenistic port, with the aim of dating the construction.
The 43 coins that were found during the excavations are held in the Museum of Limassol. Professor Olivier Picard, former director of the Ecole Française d’Athènes, travelled to Cyprus to study these coins: Andreas Georgiades was responsible for making the moulds and Athanassios Athanassiou photographed them. Despite the corrosion caused by more than 2,300 years in seawater, Professor Picard was able to identify the pieces, most notably a hoard of bronze coins issued under Demetrius Poliorcetes, which was found near the harbour mouth, effectively dating the construction work to before 294 BC (Fig. 4).
The ceramologists Françoise Alabe and Cécile Harlaut studied the pottery from the end of the 4th century BC. These rejects from a workshop situated near the harbour seem to have been deliberately thrown in, with the intention of filling the harbour basin, as were the amphorae that were studied by J.-Y. Empereur. As for the metallic objects, these were studied by Maria Michael of Nicosia University with illustrations by Clara Vasitsek.
The history of the survival of the port up to the modern era has also been examined. Two wells and a sakieh were excavated near the shoreline. They were filled with Late Roman pottery, studied by May Tuna, as well as by amphorae, with a high proportion of local production.
The fauna of the wells has been examined by Angelos Hadjikoumis, an archaeozoologist from Nicosia University, and the wood by Brita Lorentzen and Sturt Manning of Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory. At some time during the 5th century AD tanners occupied the site and practised their trade in the neighbouring agora of Amathus town, up until the abandonment of the wells shortly before the arrival of the Arabs in 649 AD.
The study missions (archaeology, architecture, numismatics, archaeometallurgy and archaeozoology) and the necessary documentation (illustrations, photography, translation) were all made possible and financed by the generous support of the Honor Frost Foundation, which I would like to thank. Technical aid and a financial contribution were kindly provided by the École Française d’Athènes.
In 2017, we still need to finish the translation of certain chapters of the manuscript, which will be published in English, and ensure a scientific review before the work is laid out and then sent to the printer. Our aim is to present the finished volume at the conference organised by the Honor Frost Foundation in Nicosia in October 2017 to mark the centenary of Honor Frost’s birth.