Piraeus had been an island during the Neolithic Age; Modern Science confirms yet another Aegean Myth

In this post you will read how Modern Science has confirmed yet another Aegean Myth.

From the paper titled “Piraeus, the ancient island of Athens: Evidence from Holocene sediments and historical archives”, by
Jean-Philippe Goiran et al. (2011), we read:

“In the first century A.D., the Greek geographer Strabo wrote, “Piraeus was formerly an island and lay ‘over against’ [beyond, on the other side] the mainland, from which it got the name it has” (in Jones, 1960, p. 216−219, our brackets; Chantraine, 2009). Many centuries before Strabo visited Attica, the idea of Piraeus as an island to the southwest of Athens was present in the oral tradition of the Athenians. We know that the rocky island of Piraeus was connected to the mainland during the fifth century B.C. (Strabo, in Jones, 1960, p. 216−219; Plutarch’s Lives of Cimon, in Perrin, 1985, p. 444−447; Conwell, 2008; Garland, 1987). First Themistocles (Plutarch’s Lives of Themistocles, in Perrin, 1985, p. 54−55), then Cimon and Pericles (for the later middle wall) built two “long walls” connecting the city of Athens with the harbors of Phaleron Bay and Piraeus. The objective was to fortify all the territory between Athens and its main harbor Piraeus, creating a fortress with access to the sea (Steinhauer, 2000; Papahatzis, 1974). However, the question remains, was Piraeus already connected to the plain of the Cephissus River during the construction of the long walls, or was it necessary to fill in the marine or lagoon areas in between?

In order to obtain answers, it was essential to understand the natural and cultural processes that affected the sedimentary sequences deposited between the hill of Piraeus and the plain of Cephissus. The main factors that feature in the evolution of the Piraeus coastal landscape are the Holocene sea-level rise, which was a reaction to glaciohydroisostatic changes (Blackman, 1973; Kelletat, 2005; Lambeck et al., 2004; Lambeck, 1995, 1996; Lambeck and Bard, 2000; Lambeck and Purcell, 2005; Loven et al., 2007; Peltier, 2004), the tectonic stability of the area documented by the relative absence of earthquakes during the past few thousand years (Pirazzoli, 2005; Flemming et al., 1973; Flemming and Webb, 1986; Papazachos, 1990; Stocchi and Spada, 2009; Lekkas, 2001), the low tidal range (±0.25–0.30 m) (Andritsanos et al., 2000), and the progradation of the deltaic fan of the Cephissus River.

We drilled and sampled in detail 10 rotational boreholes. The core samples were analyzed for microfaunal content and radiocarbon dating. Topographic and bathymetric data from recent and old maps (Curtius and Kaupert, 1881) and references in ancient authors (Strabo,, in Jones, 1960, p. 216−219; Plutarch’s Lives of Cimon, in Perrin, 1985, p. 444−447) were combined with the results of the detailed analysis of core samples.”

“Our paleoenvironmental interpretation suggests that between 6800 and 5400 cal. yr B.P., Piraeus was an island in the center of a shallow marine bay. Until ca. 3500 cal. yr B.P., a wide oligohaline lagoon separated the island of Piraeus from the mainland. This lagoon was filled in periodically by the deltaic fans of the Cephissus and Korydallos Rivers. It is difficult to say exactly when Piraeus became connected to the mainland, but it was certainly after 3000 cal. yr B.P. and before the sixth century B.C.; during the fifth century B.C., when the long walls were constructed, Piraeus was connected to the mainland. A freshwater marsh remained at the northern part of the long walls (Halipedon), while beach ridges developed in the eastern part of the Piraeus peninsula. The marshlands north of the beach ridges would have become filled with coarse material during the construction of the long walls, as is mentioned in Plutarch’s text (see Perrin, 1985, p. 444−447).”

“The geoarchaeological research has proven Strabo’s statement, that Piraeus was formerly an island, to be true. However, it is interesting to note that this was only factually accurate many millennia (ca. 7000–5000 cal. yr B.P.) before Strabo ever visited this region.”

NovoScriptorium: in Greek “περαιεύς” or “πορθμεύς” means “one who undertakes the passage of people and things from one shore to the other”. The medieval Souda Lexicon also mentions that “Ήν πρότερον ο Πειραιεύς νήσος· όθεν και τούνομα είληφεν από του διαπεράν” (in English: “Piraeus had previously been an island; whence it received its name, from διαπεράν“. This is the verb “διαπεράω“. It is probable that its source had been Strabo, but it cannot be excluded that other sources, which are not available in our time, were also used to provide this lemma.

This is yet another Aegean Myth that, apparently, describes an actual fact of the Neolithic Age. Concluding this short presentation, let us remind you some of our previous similar posts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides, Isidoros Aggelos

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