Partially submerged ancient stoa discovered on Salamis

Partially submerged ancient stoa discovered on Salamis

Underwater research off the east coast of Salamis (also known as Salamina) island near Athens continued in July 2022 for the seventh consecutive year as part of a three-year program (2020-2022). The project, a collaboration between the Institute of Underwater Archaeological Research (IENAE) and the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture, is directed by Dr Angeliki G. Simosi. Professor Emeritus Yiannos G. Lolos, from the University of Ioannina and a member of the Board of Directors of IENAE serves as the field and documentation manager, along with Dr Christina Marampea as the main collaborator, involving archaeologists, specialists, and technicians.

According to a recent announcement by the Ministry of Culture, this marks the first interdisciplinary underwater research carried out intensively by Greek institutions since 2016, focusing on the historic maritime strait between the mainland and Salamis island, specifically in the coastal area of Ampelaki-Kynosoura. The 2022 underwater survey, successfully conducted by a 12-member team on the northwest side of today’s Bay of Ampelaki, systematically investigated submerged remains of the Classical city of Salamis in recent years, including large parts of the sea wall, measuring 3-4m thick, and other public structures.

A particularly intriguing find was the excavation of a large oblong public building, partially submerged and oriented in a general North-South direction. Situated in the northwest cove of the bay, within an area enclosed by the ancient sea wall (from the south and east), whose course has been fully documented in previous surveys.

The investigation of the building, based on a survey grid using 4 x 4-meter squares, utilized an “amphibian” excavation process, combining methods and techniques of terrestrial and underwater archaeology. This involved installing a coffer dam around the site and using two water pumps to extract seawater in a total area of 60 square meters.

The building, with a width of 6m and a length of 32m, continues under the sediments to the north, on the seashore, and exhibits a square projection (wing) at its southern end. Based on the size, shape, and layout of its spaces, as well as other architectural elements, the revealed building possesses all the characteristics of an ancient stoa (arcade), according to the announcement.

Its interior comprises at least six or seven rooms, with a significant discovery in one room having internal dimensions of 4.7 x 4.7m, where a large storage jar was found in the northwest corner. Of the building’s outer walls, constructed with large stone blocks approximately 0.60m thick, only one or two layers of stone are preserved. The excavated section of the western long wall and the transverse internal walls reveal a solid, well-built foundation.

A marble fragment, dated to the 4th century BC, depicts a bearded man being crowned. The outstretched arm holding the crown may belong to the Homeric hero, Ajax, associated with Salamis.

The ancient ruins, along with other adjacent structures in the area of the Bay of Ampelaki, have been largely stripped of their masonry. Until the end of the 19th century, the area was heavily exploited for construction materials, used on other buildings on the island and the nearby mainland. Nevertheless, the excavation of the partially submerged ancient stoa has yielded numerous portable finds, including a large quantity of pottery from various periods. Significant amounts of pottery from the Early Byzantine and medieval-early modern periods were recovered from the low-lying marshy sediments.

The ceramic findings related to the operation of the building include abundant fragments of pottery of various types, dated to the Classical-Hellenistic periods. Of particular importance is the collection of Athenian black-painted vessels from the Late Classical period (4th century BC), found on the floor level of the building. Numerous clay objects were also collected, including amphorae caps, as well as fragments of marble objects and 22 bronze coins, from Athens and elsewhere.

Among the marble finds, two are especially noteworthy. Both dated to the 4th century BC, the first is a fragment of a column with part of an inscription, in two or three fragmentary verses. The second fragment, which would have formed the upper part of another column, reveals part of a relief depicting the muscular right hand of a large figure, probably a hero (Ajax?), crowning an upright bearded man. The scene directly refers to a similar relief representation on a marble stele from about 320 BC, on display at the Archaeological Museum of Salamis (MP 4228), depicting Ajax, an important hero in the epic cycle of the Trojan War, long associated with Salamis, being venerated at the ancient festival of Aiantia.

The discovery of the stoa is a critically significant development in the ongoing examination of the topography and residential organization of the ancient city of Salamis. The building, situated with an open front to the west, likely designates the eastern boundary of the Agora of the Classical-Hellenistic city. This Agora would have expanded towards the west-northwest from the building. Pausanias, the ancient geographer and traveler, provided a description of the stoa in his work (1.35.3) during the mid-2nd century AD. Notably, this location aligns precisely with the low southwestern part of the Pounta peninsula, where W. Kendrick Pritchett proposed the site for the ancient Agora in 1959, building upon earlier observations by A. Milchhöfer (1895).


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