The Ancient port of Eretria

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The site of Eretria, ancient city of Euboea, has been identified from the point of view of archaeological excavations with the modern town situated 20 km southeast of Chalkis in Cental Euboea.

Eretria stretches along the west end of a narrow coastal plain. Surrounded by the mountain chain of Euboean Olympus to the north and west, it is dominated to the east by Mount Servouni, a southern offshoot of the mountain range of Dirfis. Its southern side is washed by the Gulf of Euboea that divides Eretria from the coasts of Eastern Attica.

The coastal plain is overlooked by the calcareous hill of Kasteli. On that site, as revealed by archaeological finds, stood the acropolis of Eretria in classical times. The hill, inaccessible from the north, together with three gulfs to the south, and a number of rocky islets provided a unique fortification that commanded the sea route to the southern part of the Gulf of Euboea, as well as the road axis that stretched from Central Euboea to the southeast.


Historical Development

Human presence in the area of Eretria dates to the proto-Neolithic Period. On the site of present-day Eretia and in the vicinity of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros were found traces of a settlement dating to the Early Helladic I; said settlement expanded in Early Helladic II to the north and south, occupying the hill of classical acropolis and the Pezonisi islet.

In ancient Greek texts, mention of Eretria was first made in the Homeric works (Iliad B, 537), as one of the cities of Euboea that took part in the Trojan War.

In the 9th and 8th century BC the town flourished greatly due to extensive maritime commerce. Its maritime wealth is evidenced by the close relations it developed with areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, mainly Syria, Palestine and Cyprus. Eretria also experienced prosperity in the 8th century, it participated in the second phase of the Greek colonization together with Chalkis and established in the Gulf of Neapoli the colony of Pithikouses (modern Iskia). In northern Aegean, the most important colony of Eretria was Mendi in Chalkidiki.

The Eretrian supremacy at sea, resonant of the events that took place in the geometric and early archaic period, enjoys particular mention in the ancient Greek texts.

The name of the town itself is derived from the noun "Eretmon" (in Greek oarsman) and according to archaeologist Nikolaos KONDOLEON it aims to show the "town whose inhabitants never cease to row".

The pure maritime character of the city is attested on the one hand by the cult of Eretrian hero Nafstolos in the area of the closed port, and by the principle of "Aynafton" (in Greek eternal sailors) on the other. This epigraphically substantiated principle has been intertwined with Eretrian navigation since the 6th century BC. According to the relevant inscription which was discovered on a modern wall in the area of the present-day port, the Eretrian fleet dominated during the first half of the 6th century BC the northern and southern passage of the Euboean Gulf to the open sea.

In the course of the Ionian revolt against the Persians, Eretria offered its support to the Ionian population by contributing five triremes, something which accounted for the town’s subsequent destruction by the Persians in 480 BC. In the Battle of Artemisium Eretria participated with seven triremes. It further joined the First Athenian Alliance which it later deserted in 411 BC, a time at which the Spartans destroyed the Athenian fleet in the Eretrian port. In the wake of 411 BC the first Euboean league was set up, with Eretria as its capital. Between 377 and 357 BC, Eretria [was brought into ] remained a member of the Second Athenian Alliance, while in the time-period 341-338 BC the Euboean League was reconstituted.

Conflict over the control of Eretria’s strategic position arose among the Macedonian kingdoms during the era of successors, and the town was thus rendered a bone of contention.

Of equal importance in the history of Eretria was the dominance of cynical philosopher Menedemus in the early 3rd century BC, who was later forced into exile (274 BC).

In 198 BC the town was taken and destroyed y Lucius, brother of the Roman hero in the Battle of Pydna Titus Quinctius Flamininus. The latter accorded Eretria a certain degree of independence and set up again the Euboean League with which the town of Eretria allied itself.

Although Eretria did not manage to sustain itself to the same level of prosperity and power, it continued to occupy the same geographical site until the 7th century BC; at that time-period fear for pirate raids drove its inhabitants to move farther inland and seek shelter on the forested slopes of Eretrian Olympus.


Written Sources

Although the Eretrian maritime superiority was directly associated with the town’s port facilities, the number of extant written sources, and epigraphic evidence attesting to this fact are fairly limited.

Thucydides refers to the port of Eretria in his account of the naval engagement between Sparta and Athens that took place at the port’s entrance and ended with the destruction of the Athenian fleet (411 BC, Thuc. 8, 95). The port, as Pseudoskylax points out (Skyl. 22), «Μετά δε άνδρον Εύβοια νήσος αύτη τετράπολις εισί δε εν Κάρυστος. Ερέτρια και λιμήν».

In antiquity the port preserved its original width (8 m) and stood at 86 cm lower from today’s sea level. The original construction dates to the beginning of the second half of the 4th century BC, while certain repairs for the port’s enhancement were carried out in the early 3rd century BC.

An inscription dating between 322 and 308 BC contains the terms and conditions pertaining to the drainage of a marshy area. Said project was assigned by the Municipality of Eretrians to someone by the name of Herefanis. The majority of researchers agree that this marshy area was the basin of the interior port, which at the time had become shallow and turned into a marsh (IG XII 9, No 191).

Selected Written Sources

History of Research

The studies on the ancient port coincide with the beginning of the topographic study in Eretria. The first scientist who studied the visible port installations and made mention of a closed port was the American archaeologist john Pickard in 1890.

A number of other studies followed, notably those conducted in the early 20th century by county engineer Athanasios GEORGIADIS who linked his name with the port’s study. His research on the chronology of Eretria’s port installations (he pointed out that the western jetty was a project of the 5th century BC) was widely used and constituted the basis for every later text that dealt with the town’s port. As regards the chronology of the port facilities in classical times, as well as the chronology of the waterside alterations that were carried out in the course of the last 5000 years, the studies of Clemens Crause are of equal significance. According to the latter’s estimations, the eastern and coastal wall dates between the late 5th and early 4th century BC.

Yet, the most pivotal study, notwithstanding certain chronological inaccuracies, was conducted by Evangelos KAMBOUROGLOU, who offered a final image of the geological changes that the Eretrian land underwent and provided information on the coastal geomorphology of the area in antiquity.



Late-Classical Eastern Jetty

Today the surviving part of this jetty lies in an eastward-westward direction, measures 19 m in length and is made of stone (the type of construction is similar to the one of the Eastern jetty that dates to the same period). Prior to its destruction by earth fills that were carried out at the end of the 1960’s, the jetty extended from the southern tip of Pezonisi and run southwards along 60 meters, then wound to the west closing the ancient port on the northeast.

Classical-period jetty and 2nd-century spur dike

At the southern end of the town’s western wall a rectangular stone construction runs almost parallel to the western jetty. It is half a meter wide, and its direction remains steady along 48 meters, while it slightly winds to the south-east and stretches along another five meters. During the last five years, this construction lies beneath the seafloor at about 60-80 cm. At the point of curvature there is a rip-rap running parallel to the present-day coast; the ceramics that were incorporated in it revealed that it dates to the 2nd century BC when it served as a protective spur dike of the coastal wall which survives today.

The spur dike is 110 m long and 4 m wide. Its upper surface displays a camber. This structure was apparently built in haste and in all probability is associated with the siege of Eretria by the Romans in 198 BC (Liv. 32, 16, 6-17). Au contraire, the jetty is a continuation of the western wall and, on the basis of this, its construction is traced somewhere between the late 5th and early 4th century BC.

Western jetty of the late Classical Period

This jetty demarcates the western end of the Eretrian port. It is a monumental crude-stone structure extending along 600 m approximately, with a direction from NNW to SSE. Its south-southwestern tip on which the modern port’s lighthouse is sited winds to the east for about 55 m, thus protecting the port’s entrance from the south. The first 300 m of this construction are covered by a modern jetty, which, after said 300 m, runs in parallel to the ancient structure.



The main and the interior port

Today one can discern two basins: the first one occupied the central gulf of Eretria and was protected by the large jetty to the west and by Pezonisi to the east. It lied exactly at the site where the basin of the today’s port is situated. The monumental structures date to the middle of the 4th century BC, and probably are associated with the attempt of the Macedonians to fortify those Greek ports whose geographical position was of strategic importance.

It is worth pointing out that the port’s entrance measured 400 m. To the northeast, a second entrance led to the interior port that at present is silted up. It formed part of the town’s fortification during the late 4th century BC, thus constituting an extension of the eastern wall. In the classical period this silted up basin served as a port, and was also used as such in the early Hellenistic times until the last quarter of the 4th century BC, when it turned into a shallow marsh. The latter necessitated its drainage, as indicated by extant epigraphic evidence. The state of the port basin in classical times is somehow vague, as the only evidence that has survived into the present is the jetty that extends as a continuation of the town’s western walls.

Equally unknown remains today the port’s state in geometric times, that is, the era in which Eretria experienced prosperity on a large scale, particularly in the 8th century BC when it played a fundamental role in Euboean colonization. In addition, there is scanty knowledge today for the Eretrian port in the Archaic period, a time at which, as indicated by various inscriptions, Eretria had established its maritime supremacy, thus becoming the leading city of Euboea. Today we can only assume that during those time-periods the Eretrians made use of the interior port of the Classical period.



Archaeologist Petros KALLIGAS agrees on the existence of a fortress that stood on the site where the large western jetty turned, the purpose of which was to protect the port’s entrance.

The interior port was protected by the extension of the eastern wall and its entrance was sheltered by at least one fortifying tower. Today only a very small portion of the fortification is conspicuous due to earth fills that were carried out in the area, as well as to unchecked building.



’ρανόπουλος Ε., 1995

«Ιστορία της Εύβοιας». Αθήνα


Γεωργιάδης Α., 1913

« Εις την άνω Ερετρικήν επιγραφή», Αρχαιολογική ΕφημερίδαΕφημερίς, σελ. 214- 215.

Georgiadis A. M., 1907

"Les ports de la Grèce dans l´Antiquité qui subsistent encore aujourd´hui".


Θέμελης Π., 1969

«Ερετριακά», Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς, 154- 157

Καλλιγάς Π. Γ., 1983

«Ανασκαφή στην Ερέτρια, 1981» Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς, 106- 136, πιν. 38- 46


Καμπούρογλου Ε., 1989

«ΕΡΕΤΡΙΑ, Παλαιογεωγραφική και Γεωμορφολογική Εξέλιξη κατά το Ολόκαινο Σχέση Φυσικού Περιβάλλοντος και Αρχαίων Οικισμών». Αθήνα.

Κούρου Ν., 1993

«Εύβοια και Ανατολική Μεσόγειος στις Αρχές της Πρώτης Χιλιετίας», Αρχείον Ευβοϊκών Μελετών 29 (1990- 1991), 237- 279

Κοντολέων Ν., 1963

«Οι Αειναύται της Ερέτριας», Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς, 1- 45

Krause C., 1982

"Zur Stadtebaulichen Entwicklung Eretrias", Antike Kunst 25, 137- 144

Lehmann- Hartleben K., 1924

"Die Antiken hafenlangen des Mittelmeers" Leipsing

Παπαβασιλείου Γ., 1913

«Ερετρικός Νόμος», Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς, 210- 214

Pickard J., 1891

"A Topografical Study of Eretria. Papers of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Excavations by the school at Eretria in 1891", American Journal of Archaeology VII,No 4, 371- 389, εικ. XIV- XIX.

Scranton R., L., 1941

"Greek Walls", 81 London


Myres J., 1906

"On the list of Thalassocracies in Eusebius", Journal of Hellenic Studies 96- 97

Σαμψων Α., 1980

«Η Νεολιθική και η Πρωτοελλαδική Ι στην Εύβοια». Αθήνα

Wallace W., P., 1956

"The Euboian League and its Coinage" Toronto

Winter F., E., 1971

"Greek Fortifications" London


" Les ports de la Grèce dans l´Antiquitè


Ινιωτάκης Πολυχρόνη / Iniotakis Polychronis


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