1,200 years after it was lost, the Lost City of Heracleion was found deep underwater.

Similar to the classical story, Heracleion was a wealthy and thriving place about 1500 years before the water ate it away. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century BC, wrote about it because it was so magnificent.

The most beautiful lady in the world, Helen of Troy, or “the face that launched a thousand ships,” was the subject of his amazing tale. She and her famous Trojan lover, Paris, traveled to Heracleion, a port of “great wealth” at the time.

However, there was no tangible proof of this massive colony until 2001, when a team led by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio discovered some artifacts that eventually led to one of the biggest discoveries of the twenty-first century.

Goddio made this far more important find while searching for Napoleon’s vessels from the Battle of the Nile in 1798, when Nelson defeated him in these same waters. Since then, the Department of Antiquities of Egypt and the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology have joined Goddio’s team, yielding an abundance of astounding discoveries.

Before they could get the enormous stone fragments to the surface, the archaeologists had to first tackle the enormous challenge of reassembling them on the seabed. After being hidden under the water and silt of Aboukir Bay, 20 miles northeast of Alexandria, for over a millennium, their amazing discoveries have now been made public twelve years later.

Massive statues of the Egyptian god Hapi, the goddess Isis, and an unknown Egyptian king have been found; they were all kept in perfect condition by their muddy burial shroud. There are hundreds of lesser sculptures of Egyptian gods in addition to these 16-foot ones, including the ones that guarded the temple where Cleopatra was crowned Queen of the Nile.

The Amun-Gereb temple at Heracleion appears to have served as the Egyptian counterpart of Westminster Abbey, the site of our own Queen’s coronation sixty years prior. Numerous sarcophagi bearing the corpses of animals sacrificed to the Egyptian deity Amun-Gereb have been discovered. Numerous amulets, or religious trinkets, depicting gods like Horus, Osiris, and Isis have also been discovered.

These were manufactured not just for the Egyptians but also for foreign traders who, it is said, retained them as mementos to remind them of their extensive travels and integrated them into their own religions. The finding of 64 ships, the most ancient vessels ever discovered in one location, and an astounding 700 anchors have further demonstrated the significance of Heracleion.

Additional discoveries highlight the importance of Heracleion to the ancient world’s economy. Heracleion was a prosperous Mediterranean trading center, as evidenced by the gold coins and the lead, bronze, and stone weights from Athens that were used to weigh products and determine the amount of tax due.

The Mediterranean Sea served as the ancient world’s version of an extremely fast freeway. Their most important towns, such as Rome, Athens, and Constantinople, were all situated on rivers or on the coast with easy access to the sea.

Heracleion can now be included in their list as the most significant harbor in Egypt during the later pharaohs’ reign. It was the point where Egypt’s lifeline, the Nile, met the Mediterranean, or, if you will, a major highway intersection. In addition to having a naturally navigable waterway beside its old harbor, archaeologists have discovered that an additional artificial channel appears to have been created to facilitate trade.

Our grasp of the ancient world will be greatly expanded by the Heracleion finds, in part because of the discovery of wonderfully preserved hieroglyphically decorated steles. When translated, they will provide a wealth of information on the political and theological climate of this area of ancient Egypt.

The first clue to the hieroglyphic code was found on the Rosetta Stone, which is currently housed in the British Museum and was found by a French soldier in the town of Rosetta in the Nile Delta in 1799.

Additionally, those steles that were discovered beneath the waters of Aboukir Bay have Greek and Egyptian writing on them, just like the Rosetta Stone. Who knows how many more treasures from Heracleion’s archaeology will be found?

The city’s name is derived from the most well-known of all Greek heroes, Heracles, also known as Hercules. The ancient world was enthralled with Heracles’ 12 labors, which included killing the Hydra and capturing Cerberus, the multiheaded hellhound that guarded the Underworld’s gates.

Both Heraklion, the capital and greatest city of Crete, and Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town buried beneath ash after Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, have Heracles’ names.

It seems that Heracleion’s prominence declined in the later classical era, since its neighboring city, Alexandria, overtook it and became Egypt’s capital in 312 BC.

Nevertheless, Heracleion continued to exist, eventually coming under Roman rule, until it eventually went to ruin in the sixth or seventh century AD. The sea has revealed one of its biggest mysteries 1,500 years later. What an exciting discovery we have on our hands.

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