The ports of Thasos


The island of Thasos is situated in the north Aegean, near the Thracian coast, on the maritime routes leading to the Black Sea and the Thracian mainland.


Historical Development

The first colony of the island that was made by Parian settlers under Telesikles, is located on the north coast and is dated round 680 B.C. After founding the colony and with the assistance of other Greeks, the settlers expanded on the Thracian coast from Strymona River to Nestos and Stryme creating the Peraia.

The potential that the island offered for various cultivations (e.g. vines, timber), for fishing but mainly the goldmines and silver mines not only on the island but also in Thrace (Paggeo, Skapti Yle), played a primordial part in its evolution into a great commercial and nautical power.

The archaeological evidence for the commercial relations of the island is abundant. Silver coins of Thasos are traced as far as Egypt and Syria, while products of areas such as Corinth and Ionia can be found as early as the last quarter of the 7th c B.C.

The city of Thasos, big and populous, is enclosed since the beginning of the 5th c B.C. within a fortification wall made of marble. Because of its strategic position as a bridging point towards Thrace and Asia Minor, along with Imbros and Temedos, it attracted the interest of local and foreign powers. During the Persian Wars Mardonios sieged it in 492 B.C., while after the victory of the Greeks Thasos entered the Athenian League with the obligation to provide 33 triremes. It was its position on the grain trade route, that made her confront the Athenians, when she attempted to leave the League, and endure the dissolution of her fortification walls and her navy as well as the detachment of her possessions in the mainland. The island prospers anew after the reacquisition of part of its territorial possessions and the rise of the wine exports (ranging from the African coast to the Black Sea). After a period of civil combats the city is restored with the construction of big edifices and the reinforcement of the fortification wall, as a result of the progress made at that time in the besiege techniques. During the Hellenistic period it is incorporated in the Macedonian Kingdom and in the following Roman times declines. It prospers again during the Early Christian times.

Within this geographical and historical framework ancient Thasos formed as early as the 7th c B.C. on the north-eastern end of the island port installations to serve the naval force both of the city and of her allies, as a forward base of the Athenian League in the north Aegean, as well as the increased import and export commercial traffic. The ports of the island are among the most characteristic and best-preserved ancient ports of Greece.


Selected Written Sources

The ports of Thasos are mentioned by Pseudo-Scylax in Periplus, 67 (a text of the time of Phillip II father of Alexander the Great): "Θάσος νήσος και πόλις και λιμένας δύο τούτων, ο εις κλειστός."

In Herodotus mention is also made to the construction of the closed harbour and the building of the Thasian navy (VI, 46): "οι γάρ δή Θάσιοι, οία υπό Ιστιαίου τέ του Μιλησίου πολιορκηθέντες και προσόδων εουσέων μεγάλεων, εχρέωντο τοισι χρήμασι νέας τε ναυπηγεύμενοι μακράς και τείχος ισχυρότερον περιβαλλόμενοι. η δε πρόσοδος σφι εγίνετο εκ της ηπείρου και από των μετάλλων."

Further information for the size of the fleet can be drawn upon the following passages: Herodotus VI 47, Thucydites, I 200, 2/ I 101, 1 and 3/ IV 104-5/ VIII 64, 2, 3, 4. Xenophon, Hellenica, 12. Ploutarch, Lives, Kimon 14, 2.

Plyne the Eldest attributes to the Thasians the placing of decks onboard the triremes NH, VII, 209.

As regards the commercial port a 3rd century BC inscription is preserved, which delineates the anchoring regulations for the ships, according to their size: IG XII Suppl. Nr. 348.

Selected Written Sources


The ports were already known to the travelers of the 19th century (G. Perrot, 1864, Conze, 1860). Modern research that has been undertaken in the area is directly connected to dredging works in the port basin for the facilitation of current mooring needs. At the beginning, 1980-1984, small-scale excavation work was carried out by the Greek Department of Underwater Antiquities. Further to this a joint mission of the Greek Department of Underwater Antiquities and the French School at Athens carried out the excavation of the closed military port and of part of the commercial port in eight campaigns.



The remains of the closed harbour are situated in the middle of the eastern part of the ancient city, under the modern port installations, in a rather good state of preservation. The ancient military harbour was enclosed within a marine wall, which is nothing but the continuation of the land fortification towards the sea. The part of the wall separating the harbour from the city area is now extinct; therefore it is hard to say whether there was direct communication between these areas, apart from two gates on the city wall outside the harbour area. During the Hellenistic period the wall is reinforced with circular towers and its western side is being expanded outside the wall through the construction of an artificial beach, made of marble and schist slabs in two rows, which hold together the filling of rubble. In this area is also placed the sanctuary of Soteira (Artemis?). The present state of the port was formed during the Early Christian Times and was preserved by the Genoans, while its overall dimensions have remained constant since the time of its construction. To the North –East lays the commercial port basin, which is protected against the northern winds by a fortified mole.

The basin of the military port is quadrilateral in shape and up to 3m deep today. It is defined by two moles and is protected by a marine wall, a continuation of the land fortification. To the north NE the basin of the commercial port is to be found, open to the south, which served the great commercial activity of the island. It is protected through a fortified mole against the northern winds and communicates with the agora of the city through two gates on the city wall.



The jetties of the basins coincide with projections of the city walls in the sea.



The moles of the closed harbour are formed by the extension of the land fortification wall towards the sea and are partially covered by the modern quays. In the northern part of the port the marine wall starts off from the land wall, near the gate of the Goddess with the chariot, follows for 148.6m a SE-SW direction and then turns SW at a length of 45m (points A-B). The wall is 3m wide, and is made of a double row of schist slabs with rubble fill in-between, mounted with marble blocks, on rubble foundations. A part of it is preserved at a height of 2m. In the SW part the wall (points G-H) starts off from the marine gate and turns NE (points F-G) for 31m. During the excavation only its inner face was revealed. It is made of marble blocks in even layers and rubble fill; a part of it is also preserved at a height of 2.13m. The way blocks placed vertically are spaced every 2.40 to 2.50m in the segment F-G of the mole is very characteristic.

In the area between the points D-F the excavators estimate that the continuation of the marine wall is to be found and as a result they place the entrance of the port in the area between the points C-D. The restricted opening of the entrance at this point, namely 20m, would also account for the use of the term ‘kleistos’, translated enclosed or closable, in the ancient sources. It is very usual at this period to place the entrance of the military ports at an angle.

On the side of the ancient agora the excavators place another stress of the wall that separated it from the harbour area and through gates communicated with it.

During the Early Christian Times the plan of the port changes and the entrance is shifted to the point where it stands today. During this period a new part of the mole is constructed (points C-D and D-E) from architectural members in second use and roughly made columns. Its one end (point E), underneath the modern red light, is made of spolia joint with hydraulic concrete and is founded on an ancient construction, which consists of transversal and horizontal stone blocks joint with axe tenons (two have preserved the lead fill).

Lasting the excavation the already known mole of the commercial port, situated outside the fortification wall, was partially explored. It follows an E-W direction, is 115m long and 18-30m wide. At its W end it forms a semicircular area with a diameter of 20m. It is built with two rows of worked stone blocks, of greater size on the windward side, with central fill of marble and schist splinters. The superstructure is made of marble blocks, which were found misplaced or fallen on top of or round the mole. It is estimated that the mole was also fortified and that on the southern part there must have been a quay at the base of the fortification wall. The semicircular end is supposed to be a tower.

During the Hellenistic period the fortification wall of the closed military harbour was reinforced with circular towers at its angles. The existence of three of these towers is archaeologically attested. They form part of the general reinforcement program of the city instigated by the progress made during this time in the besiege techniques.

The tower at point G, with a diameter of 8m at its base, is preserved at the height of 6 layers made of marble blocks (height of layer from bottom to top: 0.40, 0.25, 0.15, 0.35 and 0.50m). Its interior has been filled with small stones and the excavators believe that there was no arrangement for interior free space. The tower was a donation of proxenos Heracleodoros, as is stated on an inscription associated with the building material of the tower (Et Thas V, 376).

The tower at point B, 10m in diameter, is today submerged. It is preserved at a height of three layers made of trapezoidal schist blocks (average length 2m/0.50-0.80m and average height 0.30-0.45m) and is founded on small stones. The excavators have traced an entrance at the point of its joint with the wall of the 5th c BC, where a differentiation in the masonry is observed.

The tower at point C, 9.60m in diameter, is preserved at a height of two layers in shallow water. It is built with schist blocks of similar dimensions to those of the tower at point B, the lower of which, 0.35m high, projects 010m. Its position was associated to the existence of the entrance of the harbour at that point. It is also suggested that towers B and C had interior arrangements for war machines, i.e. catapults etc.

The existence of a tower at point F, which is mentioned in the preliminary reports of the excavation, is considered, according to new evidence yielded through additional research, to be uncertain.


Ship sheds

Being a military port, the port of Thasos ought to possess ship sheds for the safekeeping of its long ships. Their remains were located in the area between the points A-B-C in the NE part of the port. Part of the foundations was revealed made of schist slabs, on a double row in the part a-b, 40m long, and 1.10 wide, and on a single row in the part g-d, 14m long. The foundations form a Π shaped room, 44m long and 19m wide, which could shelter three triremes (length of trireme 36m and width 6m). Part of the foundation of a similar room is preserved next to it extending to the south. According to the preserved remains the excavators suggested a reconstruction of three groups of ship sheds on the three sides of the port basin, with a capacity of 50 triremes (this is an estimate based on information from ancient sources), with colonnades supporting the roof and separating the hauling gradients. Lasting the research part of wall foundations was revealed, 9m long, which is estimated to belong to a certain building of the early phase of the ship sheds, contemporary with the construction of the wall of the late 6th – early 5th c BC, which was later abandoned when the orientation of the ship sheds changed for the better arrangement of the space available.



Based on the archaeological evidence, mainly ceramics and isolated finds, along with certain constructional characteristics the excavators discern three main phases in the history of the military port. The fortification of the port is dated round the end of the 6th –beginning of 5th c BC based on the ceramic evidence and similarities to the land fortification. The ship sheds are dated round the middle of the 5th c. At the end of the 4th c BC the wall was reinforced with circular towers, just as the land wall is reinforced with square ones. At that time the artificial beach at the western end outside the port is also dated. During the Early Christian Times (4th – 7th c AD) a new segment of mole is constructed and the entrance of the port is shifted. The port from that time onwards serves the increased commercial activity of the area. The port is abandoned after the destruction of the city at the late 6th – early 7th c AD and starts functioning again from the 10th c.

The mole of the commercial harbour dates at the end of the 6th – beginning of the 5th c BC (its foundations), is rebuilt round the 4th c BC and continues in use until the 7th c AD.

The ports of Thasos are very important for the study of ancient port installations. The military port of Thasos is one of the most characteristic examples of a closed harbour with some of the most ancient extant ship sheds. Their history is interwoven with the economic life of the city and their forms is dictated by the technical progress made both in architecture and besiege techniques.

As regards especially the military harbour, it is walled during the classical times and is provided with ship sheds, capable of sheltering a great number of warships. Later on their fortification is enhanced through the construction of circular towers and in the Early Christian Times its plan is altered and the entrance is shifted to where it stands today. Based on the results of the research this is one of the best-preserved examples of the closed military harbour type, which evolved in Greece in order to serve the sea defense of the city along with the protection and mooring of its ships, in places where, by position, juncture or tradition relied on the navy as their main weapon.



Μίχα Παρασκευή / Micha Paraskevi



Αρχοντίδου Α. & Empereur J.-Y., 1987a

”Ελληνογαλλική έρευνα στο αρχαίο λιμάνι της Θάσου. Αναφορά δύο ανασκαφικών περιόδων”, Αναστύλωση – Συντήρηση – Προστασία Μνημείων και Συνόλων, 2, 1987, σελ. 73-77.

(Archontidou Α. & Empereur J.-Y., 1987a, ”Gallo-Ellenike anaskaphe sto archaio limani tes Thasou; Ekthese ton dyo anaskafikon periodon", Anastylose – Synterese – Prostasia Mnemeion kai Synolon, 2, Athens, pp. 73-77.)

Archontidou A. & Empereur J. –Y., 1987b

"Thasos, 3 : Le port", B.C.H. 111, pp.622-626.

Archontidou-Argyri A., Simossi A. & Empereur J. –Y., 1989

"The underwater excavation at the ancient port of Thasos, Greece", I.J.N.A. 18.1, pp. 51-59.

Blackman, D.J., 1982

"Ancient Harbours in the Mediterranean", I.J.N.A., 11.2, pp.79-104.

Blackman, D.J., 1982

"Ancient Harbours in the Mediterranean", I.J.N.A., 11.3, 1982. pp.185-211.

Empereur J. –Y. & Simossi A., 1988

"Thasos, 2: Le port", B.C.H. 112, pp.736-742.

Empereur J. –Y. & Simossi A., 1989

"Thasos: Le port", B.C.H. 113, 2, pp. 734-740.

Empereur J. –Y. & Simossi A., 1990

"Thasos: Le port", B.C.H. 114, 2, pp. 881-887.

Empereur J. –Y. & Simossi A., 1991

"Thasos: Le port", B.C.H. 115, 2, pp. 712-720.

Empereur J. –Y. & Simossi A., 1992

"Thasos: Le port", B.C.H. 116, 2, pp. 721-726.

Empereur J. –Y. & Simossi A., 1993

"Thasos: Le port", B.C.H. 117, 2, pp. 647-652.

Grandjean Y. & Salviat F., 2000

Guide de Thasos, 2000, pp. 52-57 EfA.

Λιανός N., Σίμωσι A. & Empereur J.-Y., 1985

”Ενάλιες έρευνες στο λιμάνι της Θάσου”, Α.Α.Α. 18, σελ. 119-136.

(Lianos N., Simossi A. & Empereur J.-Y., 1985, Enalies ereunes sto limani tes Thasou, Α.Α.Α. 18, pp. 119-136.)

Lianos N.A., 1993

"The area of the ancient closed of Thasos (A preliminary report)", 1993, Tropis V [1999], pp.133-160.

Perrot G., 1864

Mιmoire sur l’ξle de Thasos, Paris.

Σίμωσι A. & Empereur J. –Y., 1985

”Ενάλιες έρευνες στο λιμάνι της Θάσου”, Α.Α.Α. 18, σελ. 119-136.

(Simossi A. & Empereur J. –Y., 1985, "Enalies ereunes sto limani tes Thasou", A.A.A. 18, pp. 129-134.)

Σίμωσι Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1987

A.A.A. 20, σελ. 75-92.

(Simossi Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1987, A.A.A. 20, pp. 75-92.)


Σίμωσι Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1990

”Θάσος, Αρχαίο λιμάνι”, Α.Δ. 45 [1995], Χρονικά ’΄2, σελ. 529-532.

(Simossi Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1990, ”Thasos, Archaio Limani”, A.D. 45 [1995], Chronika ’΄2, pp. 529-532)

Σίμωσι Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1991

”Θάσος, Υποβρύχια ανασκαφική έρευνα”, Α.Δ. 46 [1996], Χρονικά ’΄2, σελ. 525-526.

(1991: Thasos, Underwater research, A.D. 46 [1996], Chronika ’΄2, pp. 525-526.)

Σίμωσι Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1992

”Θάσος, Εμπορικό λιμάνι”, Α.Δ. 47 [1997], Χρονικά ’΄2, σελ. 694-696.

(1992: Thasos, "Commercial Port" , A.D. 47 [1997], Χρονικά ’΄2, pp. 694-696.)

Simossi A., 1993

Le port de guerre de Thasos, D.E.A., Universitι Aix-En Provence 1, Juin 1993.

Σίμωσι Α., 1994-1995

”Το αρχαίο πολεμικό λιμάνι της Θάσου”, Α.Δ. 49-50, Μελέτες Α΄ [1998], σελ. 133-159.

(Simossi Α. & Empereur J. –Y., 1994-1995: "Thasos, to archaio polemikolimani tes Thasou", A.D. 49-50, Meletes Α [1998], pp. 133-160.)

Simossi A., 1995

”Les Neoria du port de guerre de Thasos: une dιcouverte rιcente”, Mιlanges Claude Vatin, 1995, pp. 163-178.


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