Legendary Ancient Fortress Discovered in Egypt

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The ancient city gate, located near the fortress. Image: S E Sidebotham/Antiquity

The location of a fortress dating back to the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt has been found at Berenike on the Red Sea coast. The Ptolemaic dynasty was a
Macedonian-Greek family that ruled in Egypt during the Hellenic period, from 305 to 30 BC.

Berenike was part of a chain of ports along the Red Sea coast, and was a key player in cross- continental trade. There is evidence that war elephants, most likely imported from Eritrea in east Africa, were brought to the town to supply the army of the Ptolemies.

After Rome conquered Egypt in 30 BC, the town continued to develop commercial links stretching from Greece to Italy, as well as southern Arabia, India, the Malay Peninsula, Ethiopia, and east Africa.

Scholars have long known that there had been a large fortress in the ancient port city, but for nearly two hundred years they had not been able to ascertain its exact location. Now archaeologists have finally discovered the remains of the legendary structure that once protected the Graeco-Roman port.

Investigations over the last two decades identified the foundations of a huge building, roughly 160m long and 80m wide, consisting of three large courtyards and a complex of workshops and stores. A line of defences, located to the north and north-east of the fort, were also found, as well as a double line of walls protecting the western part of the fortress. A single defensive line sufficed further to the east.

Fragments of the skull of a young elephant, found in an ancient rubbish dump on the south side of the northern defensive wall. Image: S E Sidebotham/Antiquity

The excavations showed no evidence of an attack against the city of Berenike, so the huge fort must have acted as a successful deterrent to local peoples who might otherwise have threatened the rule of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Further excavations revealed that square towers were built at the corners of the structure and in strategic places where sections of the walls connected. Living quarters and a fortified extension of the city gate dating to the 3rd century BC were also found.

The most impressive discovery, however, was the complex of rock-cut wells over which the city gate was built: the only wells yet discovered in an ancient city on the Red Sea coast.

The results of the research have been published in the archaeological journal Antiquity.

1 Comment

  1. Surprising Surprise!
    Good evening,
    How could such an impressive fortress be so hard to discover???
    By the way,
    The actual name of this military compound would more conveniently be FERONIKE (((Φέρνω τη Νίκη = I bring Victory))), what do you think?

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