Limenoscope - Ancient Hellenic Ports
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Piraeus - Kantharos
Kantharos is the larger of the three natural gulfs of Piraeus peninsula (the other two being Zea and Mounichia) in the South Athenian coast and it was used by Athenians as their main trading port. The formation and operation of Kantharos gulf as a harbour played an important role in the peak of the city that led to the Athenian hegemony.
Visible remains of the ancient establishments are minimal, although testimonies for their existence found in ancient literature as well as evidence brought up by recent research provide a clear image of the harbour installations and the surroundings in antiquity.  


Main features
Region Saronic Gulf  
Use Commercial - Military  
Prosperity period (centuries) 5th B.C. - 4th B.C.  
Existence of contemporary port Yes  
Findings on site No, harbourworks until 19th c. but now covered under modern constructions  
General description
"Megas Limin" or "Kantharos", a name derived most probably from the basin's shape that resembled the homonymous vessel, is located in the Northwest of the Piraeus peninsula. It was the "εμπόριον" (= the merchant harbour) of Piraeus although the existence of ship sheds near the port's entrance, at the Southeast, indicates a partial use for military purposes.
North of the ship sheds area was the main dock, separated by a "διάζευγμα" (=pier). The indicative stones ("όρος") that have been found determine the area of the "πορθμεία" (=the mooring sites) for the merchant and passenger vessels on both sides of the pier. In the northeastern cove a pier has been traced, probably related with the "μακρά στοά" (long arcade) that was located there. Four more stoae were located in the eastern part of the port's basin, among which the most important is mentioned as "deigma" (sample's exhibition).
The northwestern bay was a shallow swampy area, considered as the "κωφός λιμήν" mentioned in the written sources. At the entrance of this area what is mentioned, as "δια μέσου χώμα" (=earth in between) must be sought. The fortified promontory of Hiaetionia was closing the northwestern side of the basin (Imag. 1, 2).  
Technical features
Construction period (centuries) 5th B.C. - 4th B.C.  
Port configuration Natural Harbour, Inner Harbour  
Port basin size m2 
Main wind direction SW
Port land area km2 
Port entrance At the SE, 50m. wide, safed probably with a chain (Papachatzis 1974, 98), among two rectangular towers of the city wall (Spon 1676, 234).  
Change of sea surface elevation 1.5 m 
Sedimentation No  
Outer port structures Moles
Inner port structures Quays, Piers  
Land facilities Shipsheds, Temples, Store Buildings, Stoes, Defence Structures, Lighthouses  
Construction method Ashlars of sand stone. Several quarryies have been located in Hiaetionia promontory and Piraeus penisnsula.  
Neotectonic history  
Shore line displacement  
Function and operations
Fishermen and farmers inhabited the Piraeus peninsula until the dawn of the 5th century B.C. In the meantime Phaliro gulf was used as Athens harbour. Piraeus was extensively domiciled and the ports were constructed and walled after Themistokles urge, when he was elected as the "archon eponymous" in 493-492 B.C. Until the middle of the 5th century B.C. the entire Piraeus peninsula was fortified and connected to Athens with the so called "μακρά τείχη" (=long walls). At the same time the city of Piraeus kept growing.
The importance of Piraeus ports is directly related to the development of the Athenian state, so Kantharos became the prominent trading port of the Mediterranean during the 5th century B.C. The crucial character of Kantharos for Athens is depicted by the integrated program for urban development (hypodamian system), the fortification works for which Athens spent tremendous wealth (Isocrates mentions 1000 ingots for ship sheds building) and the governors and economical officers appointed to the port to sustain its impeccable function that are mentioned in the written sources.
The ports of Piraeus among which Kantharos is included paid host to the Athenian war fleet, which allowed the development of the Athenian democracy and hegemony. Simultaneously, trade fleets accompanied by war vessels ensured a constant supply of imports like grain and row materials and the export of the Athenian products like pottery, oil, honey, etc.  
References in ancient literature
  • Αιλιανός, Ποικίλη Iστορία 2. 13
  • Αππιανός, Λιβικά 96, Μιθριδάτειος 30, 40, 41
  • Αριστοτέλης, Πολιτικά, ΙΙ 8, Αθ. Πολιτεία, 19, 37, 38, 54, 24, 46, 49, 61
  • Αριστοφάνης, Ιππείς 815, Ειρήνη 145
  • Βιτρούβιος 7. 152. 12
  • Δείναρχος, Kατά Φιλοκλέους 1, 13, Kατά Δημοσθένους παρ. 17
  • Δημοσθένης 34. 37, 19. 60, 19. 125
  • Διογένης Λαέρτιος, 6. 1
  • Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης, 11. 41, 12. 49, 14. 33, 14. 85, 18. 64, 18. 68, 20. 45
  • Δίων Χρυσόστομος, 6. 87, 25. 4
  • Ηρόδοτος, 6. 116, 8. 76, 77, 107, 92. 5, 93
  • Θεόφραστος, Χαρακτήρες 23
  • Θουκυδίδης, 1. 93, 93. 3, 107, 2. 13, 13. 8, 93, 94, 7. 11, 12. 4, 8. 90
  • Ισοκράτης, Αεροπογειτικός 66, Περί Αντιδόσεως 307
  • Καλλίμαχος Ύμνος εις την Αρτεμιν, 259
  • Λυκούργος, Κατά Λεωκράτους παρ. 11
  • Ξενοφών Ελληνικά , 4. 10, 2, 2. 4, 4. 31, 4. 11, Ανάβασις 7, 1. 27
  • Παυσανίας, Ι. 1. 2, 1. 1. 3, 1. 4, 2, 3, 25. 5 8. 10. 4
  • Πλάτων, Γοργίας 455
  • Πλίνιος, ΝΗ. 38. 1, 7. 37. 125
  • Πλούταρχος, Θεμιστοκλής, 32, 19. , Δημήτριος 8, Κίμων 13, Σύλλας 14
  • Πολύαινος, Στρατηγικά Ι 40. 3
  • Στράβων, 9. 1, 1. 15, 2, 395 , Ι. 3  
  • Related researches Archeological  
    Findings in museums Yes  
    Other references
  • Alten G., 1881, "Die Befestigungen der Hafenstadt Athens" Erlautender Text Heft I, Berlin, pp. 10-15
  • Blackman D. J., 1968, "The ship-sheds", in J. S. Morrison & R. T. Williams, Greek oared ships, Cambridge, pp. 181-192
  • Blackman D. J., 1973, "Evidence of sea level change in ancient harbours and coastal installations" in Marine Archaeology, Symposium of Colston Research Society, pp. 115-139
  • Blackman D. J., 1982, "Ancient Harbours in the Mediterranean", IJNA 11. 2, pp. 79-104 and 11. 3, pp. 185-221.
  • Blackman D. J., 1987, "Triremes and shipsheds", Τropis ΙΙ, Αthens (1990), pp. 35-52
  • Blackman D. J., 1996, "New evidence for ancient ship dimensions" Tropis ΙV, Athens (1996), pp. 113-125
  • Bradford J., 1957, Ancient Landscapes, London
  • Casson L., 1971, Ships and seamanship in the ancient world, Princeton
  • Casson L., 1974, Travel in the ancient world, London
  • Casson L., 1991, The ancient mariners, seafarers and sea fighters of the Mediterranean in ancient times,, New Jersey (1st edition, Oxford 1959)
  • Curtius E. - Kaupert J. A., 1881, Karten von Attika, ErlautenderText, Heft I, Der Peiraeus von A. Milchhofer, Berlin
  • Day J., 1927, "The Kophos Limen of the Piraeus", A.J.A. 31, pp. 441-449
  • Dodwell E., 1819, A classical and topographical tour through Greece during the years 1801-1805 and 1806, Londοn
  • Eickstedt K.-V. von, 1991, Beitrage zur topographie des Antikes Piraus, Athenes
  • Foucart P., 1887, "Les fortfications du Piree en 394-393", B.C.H. 11, pp. 129-144.
  • Frost H., 1972, "Ancient harbours and anchorages in the eastern Mediterranean", in UNESCO 1972, pp. 95-114
  • Frost H., 1987, "Where did they build Ancient Warships" in Tropis ΙΙ. Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on ship construction in antiquity, Delphi 1987, Αthens (1990), pp. 181-185
  • Hoepfner W. - Schandrner E., 1994, Haus und Stadt im Klassichen Griechenland, Neubeargeitung, Munchen, pp. 22-50
  • Garland R., 1987, The Piraeus, from the fifth to the first century B.C., Ithaka N.Y.
  • Georgiades A. S., 1907, Les ports de la Grece dans l' Antiquite, qui subsistent encore aujourd'hui, Athenes
  • Goodchild R.G., 1956, "Harbours, docks and lighthouses", in Ch. Singer & al., A history of technology, Οxford, v. II, pp. 516-524
  • Judeich W., 1905, "Topographie von Athen" in Mόmmers Handb. d. Klass, Altertumswissenschaft III 2/2/1905, pp. 375-403
  • Judeich W., Judeich W., 1905, Topograph von Athen, (III, 2, 2), Munchen
  • Mazarakis Ainian Ph., 1992, Les Structures Portuaires en Grece Antique. Memoire presente en vue de l' obtention du titre de Licencie, Univ. Libre de Bruxelles
  • Milshoefer A., 1881, "Der Peiraieus", in Curtious E. & Kaupert J.A., 1881, pp. 23-71
  • Negris P., 1904, "Vestiges antiques submerges", Ath. Mitt. 29, pp. 340-363
  • Noack F., 1908, "Bemerkungen zu den Piraeusmauern", Ath. Mitt. 33, pp. 33-38
  • Spon, 1676, Voyage d'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece et du Levant, v. ΙΙ
  • Steinhauer G., 1996, "La decouverte de I'arsenal de Philon", in Tropis IV, Athens, pp. 471-480
  • Touchais G., 1979, "Chronique des fouilles en 1978" : Le Piree, B.C.H. 103, p. 541
  • Travlos I., 1988, Bildlexikon zur Topographie des antiken Attika Αγγελόπουλος Η., 1898, Περί Πειραιώς και των λιμένων αυτού κατά τους αρχαίους χρόνους, Αθήνα
  • Αλεξανδρή Ο., 1973/74, "Πειραιεύς", Α.Δ. 29Β, σσ. 99, 144 & 151
  • Δραγάτσης Ι. Χ. - Αγγελόπουλος Η. , 1899, "Περί των εν Πειραιεί ανασκαφών", Π.Α.Ε. 1899, σσ. 37-41
  • Δραγάτσης Ι. Χ. , 1885, "Έκθεσης των εν Πειραιεί ανασκαφών", Π.Α.Ε., σσ. 63-68
  • Δραγάτσης Ι. Χ. , 1885β, "Πειραϊκές αρχαιότητες", Α.Ε., σσ. 85-92
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  • Σοφού Ε.Ν., 1973, "Χάρτης του Πειραιώς συνταχθείς 1687 υπό των ενετών" Α.Ε., σσ. 246-58, πιν. 112-113
  • Σταϊνχάουερ Γ.Α., 1995, "Τοπογραφία του Πειραιά. Νεώτερες αρχαιολογικές ανακαλύψεις" στο Πανάγος Χ.Θ. 1968
  • Σταϊνχάουερ Γ.Α., 1998, Τα μνημεία και το αρχαιολογικό μουσείο του Πειραιά, Τουμπής, Αθήνα
  • Σταϊνχάουερ Γ.Α., 2000, "Αρχαίος Πειραιάς: Η πόλη του Θεμιστοκλή και του Ιππόδαμου" στο Σταϊνχάουερ Γ. Α. - Μαλικουτη Μ. Γ. - Τσοκόπουλος Β., Πειραιάς, Κέντρο Ναυτιλίας και Πολιτισμού, Αθήνα, σσ. 9-123
  • Τραυλός Ι.Ν. ,1972, "Πειραιεύς" Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Δομή, σσ. 442-456  
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    Author Theotokis Theodoulou  
    Editor Theotokis Theodoulou  
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