The ports of Abdera

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Abdera is one of the most important cities of northern Thrace. The geomorphology of the area where the city is situated, a promontory with many bays, have allowed the use of the natural characteristics of the coast for the formation with minor interventions of harbours and anchorages. Today the ancient coastline has receded and is to be found on dry land, due to floods and alluvia from the river Nestos. The area of the ancient port is covered by an uncultivated marsh.


Historical Development

The foundation of the city goes back in myth. It is alluded that it was built to honor Abderos, who was devoured by the horses of Geriones. Ionians settled there round the 7th c BC. The city gained great renown and became a very important commercial and agricultural center. Its democratic regime and its important mint gave her impetus in the creation of a fleet to serve its commercial traffic. During the Persian Wars the city possesses a harbour capable of sheltering the fleet of the Thasians following the command of Dareios as is reported by Herodotus. Abdera among other things is the home country of Democretos.


Selected Written Sources

The port of Abdera is mentioned in the 6th book of Herodotus (VI 46-7), with the occasion of a command of the Persian king Dareios: «πέμψας άγγελον εκέλευε σφέας το τείχος περιαιρέειν και τάς νέας ες Άβδηρα κομίζειν», «οι δέ Θάσιοι τω βασιλέι κελέυσαντι καί τό τείχος το σφέτερον κατείλον καί τάς νέας τάς πάσας εκόμισαν ες Άβδηρα».

Selected Written Sources


Excavation work is being carried out in the area by the Archaeologike Etaireia. Moreover the Department of Underwater Antiquities carried out two consecutive underwater campaigns (1993-1994).



Three port basins have been traced, which offer protection against several winds. Two of them are made by the extension of the city wall and the third was formed by an artificial breakwater.



The archaic mole was formed by the extension of the city wall, which runs from E to W and protects the port from the north. This part of the wall ends at the sea, which is today traced by a layer of sand with shells and pebbles in the area where the sea basin stood. The foundation of the wall made of rubble that was found was probably built at the level of the sea surface. At the western end, where it meets the sea, it widens either to offer greater protection or to serve as a basis for a tower.



At the port that lies south in the area of the modern port of Abdera a mole was traced that protects the port from east and south. It is 170-180m long, runs from E-W with a slight turn to the north. Its width is from 5.5 to 8m. It is made of granite blocks and rough stone boulders. The excavators traced two building phases. To the second one belongs a gradient that was interpreted as a new foundation base.

At the point where the mole turns north, at its southern side, stand two adjacent horseshoe shaped towers.

The port that lies at the eastern part of the city, in Agios Giannis area, is formed by the extension of the eastern part of the city wall; it is 30m long and ends at a semicircular tower, 6m in diameter. Its masonry is rather refined and it is founded on an older square structure. It was probably destroyed by an earthquake, as can be surmised by the fallen blocks on its eastern side.



During the land excavation the remains of a building came to light, 6m away to the south of the city wall running parallel to it, which was identified with the ship shed of the archaic port. Its northern side is formed by a segment of wall, which is interrupted by a row of column bases (only one column survives), made of local volcanic stone. The bases show a substantial gradient towards the west. The building was most probably roofed with red and black clay tiles judging from the ones located in the destruction-fill covering its floor. It is estimated that similar structures were to be found further to the south. At some point the ship shed is destroyed, most probably by flood, the port is silted up and a new part of the wall delimiting the new coastline is being built.



The installations of the archaic port and the ship shed are dated based on the ceramic evidence round the 6th or the early 5th c BC. Round the end of the 5th – beginning of the 4th c BC the harbour is silted probably because of some flood of the river Nestos. The traffic was then transferred to the port that lies in the area of the modern port of Abdera, a fact that is also observed in the area of the city as a transfer of activity from the north to the south. The installations of that port are dated round the 4th c BC and are still in use up to the Byzantine period. Last the mole in Agios Giannis area is dated in the classical period based on similarities in construction with the city wall.

The case of Abdera is rather characteristic for the Greek world. It a usual phenomenon for cities built on promontories to make full use of the natural morphology of the coast and thus with minor interventions have safe anchorages that can protect their ships against several winds.


Θεοδουλου, Θ. /Theodoulou, Th.



Κουκούλη-Χρυσανθάκη, Χ., 1991,

”Ανασκαφή αρχαίων Αβδήρων”, Πρακτικά Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας 146, [1994], 193-199.

(Koukouli-Ghrysanthaki, Ch., 1991, "Anaskaphe Abderon", Praktika Archeologikes Etaireias 146, [1994], pp.193-199.)

Κουκούλη-Χρυσανθάκη, Χ., 1992,

”Ανασκαφή αρχαίων Αβδήρων”, Πρακτικά Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας, [1995], 162-163.

Κουκούλη-Χρυσανθάκη, Χ., 1992

"Anaskaphe Abderon", Praktika Archeologikes Etaireias 147, [1995], pp.162-63.

Κουκούλη-Χρυσανθάκη, Χ., 1993

”Ανασκαφή αρχαίων Αβδήρων”, Πρακτικά Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας, [1996], 135-136.

(1993, "Anaskaphe archaion Abderon", Praktika Archaiologikes Etaireias, [1996], 135-136.)

Σαμίου, Χ., 1993

”Άβδηρα”, Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον 48, Χρονικά ’΄2 [1998], 585-586.

(Samiou, Chr., 1993, "Abdera", Archaeologikon Deltion 48, Chronika B 2 [1998], pp. 585-586.)

Σαμίου, Χ., 1994,

”Άβδηρα”, Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον 49, Χρονικά ’΄2 [1999], 855.

(1994, "Abdera", Archaeologikon Deltion 49, Chronika B 2 [1999], p. 855.)

Samiou, Chr., 1993

"Ancient Ports of Abdera in Aegean Thrace", TROPIS V, [1999], 363-368.



Μίχα Παρασκευή / Micha Paraskevi


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