Egypt

The sites in Egypt

English translation of this part is in the works.

En collaboration avec le Musée national l’IEASM/FEFNA mène des missions archéologiques aux Philippines. Ces travaux portent pour l’essentiel sur la recherche, la découverte et l’étude des épaves des navires coulés sur les écueils au large de l’archipel.

Initiées par les témoignages textuels et/ou oraux ainsi que par les découvertes archéologiques des années précédentes, les prospections sous-marines sont systématiquement poursuivies à l’aide d’appareils de détection géophysique afin d’approfondir les pistes de recherche et vérifier les hypothèses de travail.

Parce que la découverte d’épaves présente un intérêt « archéologique, historique ou artistique » - comme les identifie la législation française -, l’IEASM/FEFNA et le Musée national des Philippines ont défini un projet de recherche afin d’étudier l’histoire de l’archipel à travers les échanges commerciaux, du VIIIe-IXe siècle au XVIIIe siècle. La démarche scientifique prend notamment en compte l’étude des jonques retrouvées lors de recherches systématiques d’épaves d’origine européenne ou suivant les indications fournies par des pêcheurs ayant ramené à terre du mobilier archéologique. Cartographiées, soumises à une évaluation archéologique et parfois fouillées, les épaves sont nommées d’après le nom du récif proche du lieu de leur découverte. Les cargaisons de ces navires marchands offrent une large vue des productions asiatiques et permettent de comprendre et de retracer sur plus de six siècles les différentes étapes du commerce entre l’Empire du milieu et les contrées du sud-est asiatique - « commerce de Nanhai » -, l’océan Indien et le Moyen-Orient.

Des échanges avec l’Extrême-Orient, on ne connaissait il y a encore peu que la phase terminale et européenne qui commence avec l’arrivée des Portugais en Asie au XVIe siècle. Or, les fouilles révèlent les formes et l’intensité des échanges entre la Chine et les pays riverains aux époques antérieures, du XIe au XVe siècle. Par là même, le destin croisé des objets trouvés participe à l’interprétation historique de l’épave en tant que site ; il renseigne sur les activités, le comportement et les besoins d’un groupe humain, voire sur les relations culturelles et commerciales que celui-ci pouvait entretenir avec d’autres groupes.

L’un des objectifs de l’IEASM/FEFNA est alors d’inventorier, répertorier, étudier tout objet, quel qu’il soit, car il est témoin d’un savoir vivre ; il est aussi un instrument de datation... il est également un révélateur de l’existence et de la vitalité des échanges culturels et commerciaux à une époque et permet de découvrir les antiques voies du négoce. Parfois, les fouilles mettent au jour l’histoire de marchandises d’exception, comme la porcelaine. Les jonques Breaker et Investigator (fin XIe et XIIIe siècle) donnent ainsi à voir une multitude d’exemplaires de cette porcelaine blanche dont parlait Marco Polo. Les jonques Lena et Santa Cruz (fin XVe siècle) offrent des modèles de ces porcelaines aux parois fines, qui parviendront en Europe quelques décennies plus tard par l’intermédiaire des Ibériques au XVIe siècle.

Depuis la deuxième moitié de ce siècle, en échange des porcelaines, mais aussi des soies, de l’or et des épices, les Espagnols, installés aux Philippines, importent massivement des pièces de monnaies frappées avec l’argent extrait des mines du Mexique et du Pérou. Les galions de Manille, à l’instar des San Jose, Nuestra Señora de la Vida et San Diego, sont les instruments de ces opérations commerciales trans-Pacifique. Les Chinois absorbent alors la majeure partie des importations d’argent et développent, pour cela, un commerce très actif sur les Philippines qui étendaient ses ramifications jusqu’au sultanat de Jolo. À la fin du XVIe siècle, le port espagnol de Manille est à son apogée. Véritable plaque tournante du commerce Est-Asiatique, il est le carrefour quasi-obligé de tous les trafics. Les ressortissants du Céleste Empire y sont omniprésents (approximativement 30000 membres), et ce sont alors près de 90 jonques, venues du Sud de la Chine qui fréquentent annuellement la colonie espagnole.

Le combat du San Diego contre le Mauritius d’Olivier de Noort annonce la suprématie des Hollandais dans cette région au début du siècle suivant. Rouliers du commerce européen, les Hollandais ont rapidement compris l’importance du commerce régional et inter-régional sino-asiatique. Ils s’efforceront d’interdire l’accès des jonques à Manille puis tentent de désarçonner la navigation chinoise afin de distraire à leur profit la manne de ce commerce purement asiatique. Par le jeu subtil des oppositions secrètes et des alliances dissimulées le commerce devient sino-européen et la Méditerranée chinoise entre dans l’histoire du monde rejetant quelque peu dans l’obscurité le commerce intra-asiatique auquel il doit d’exister.

Si les études des épaves découvertes aux Philippines ne sauraient à elles seules rendre compte de la multiplicité et de l’évolution des échanges antérieurs à l’ère des Grandes Compagnies en Asie du Sud-Est, elles contribuent cependant à défricher ce vaste domaine de la recherche. Les vestiges du Griffin et du Royal Captain témoignent quant à elles de la période qui s’ouvre et de l’étonnante interpénétration mondiale des cultures obtenue dès le XVIIIe siècle grâce aux échanges commerciaux. Il y a dans l’histoire de ces vaisseaux de l’Honourable East India Compagny deux exemples caractéristiques de la vitalité des circuits maritimes inter-asiatiques et de l’intensité du trafic international à cette époque. De la recherche en archives à la fouille en passant par l’interprétation des résultats et la découverte des sites à l’aide de technologies avancées, apparaissent, incidemment, les intentions de la politique anglaise en mer de Chine dans la deuxième moitié du XVIIIe siècle.

In Alexandria, campaigns of topography, soundings and archaeological excavations have made it possible to develop, for the first time, a complete panorama of the famous Portus Magnus based on observations made in situ. The topography obtained is very different from what had been previously imagined from textual interpretation.



The submerged port lands and infrastructures are situated at a maximum depth of 6.5 metres. If we estimate that the ancient city once sat at a height of two metres above sea level, we can deduce that successive collapses combined with rises in sea level created a difference of over eight metres between the lands and structures and their original level. The Portus Magnus has now been mapped in its entirety. For the first time, a detailed vision of the Alexandrian port is available, as it looked during the Roman Period before the great destructions that changed the topography of the area.

The Royal Quarters began at Cape Lochias, which shut off to the east the great port where the galleys, reserved for the king’s exclusive use, were deployed. Traces of the port infrastructure remain visible on the ground because of its breakwaters and long protective wall which, according to Strabo, “hid it from men’s sight”. The island of Antirhodos, the private property of the kings, was also part of the Royal Quarters. This completely paved island was rediscovered in an entirely different location from that imagined by historians. Its central channel, 300 metres long, has an immense esplanade facing the Caesarium. The Caesarium’s entrance on the ancient coast is determined by the points where the ‘needles of Cleopatra’ stood.

On the esplanade, the remains of the foundations of a palace have been excavated. The existence of this palace was still attested by Strabo at the end of the Ptolemaic Period. These remains have been dated to the 3rd century B.C.E. The central part is strewn with numerous vestiges, including shafts of red granite columns. On a minor arm of the island, a beautiful statue of a priest of Isis (SCA 449) bearing an Osirian vase and two sphinxes were discovered. One of them (SCA 450) bears the image of King Ptolemy XII, father of Cleopatra VII. The presence of this sculpture indicates that a shrine dedicated to Isis must have been located on the island.

A small port, magnificently protected, is contained between the two arms of the island and a jetty. It is lined with quays and the great esplanade where the palace stands. Research has shown that this island had probably been developed before the founding of Alexandria and that extensive work was executed there later, towards the middle of the 3rd century B.C.E. The occupation of this island is attested after the end of the Ptolemaic Period by the artefacts found there and the presence of statue (SCA 535, 536, 537, 547) bases dating from the reigns of Septimus Severus and Caracalla.

The peninsula of the Poseidium formed an arc of land extending into the port. At its northernmost point, a strong breakwater protected the royal port of the galleys. The remains of a temple from the Roman Period have been excavated where it meets the ancient shoreline. At the end of a wall of the peninsula, extending toward the centre of a port basin, excavations have revealed foundations dating from the end of the 1st century B.C.E. and redevelopments from the period of the Antonines. The identity of the ruins is not certain, but we know, thanks to Strabo, that Marcus Antonius built the Timonium, a small palace-retreat at the end of a wall of the Poseidium. He wanted to retreat there and live in seclusion after his defeat at Actium by his rival Octavian. Could the ruins from the end of the Ptolemaic Period be those of the famous Roman general’s retreat? Excavations in progress may reveal this.

Several large port basins were developed between the cape, the peninsula, the island, the breakwater and the sea walls. Ships, even with a deep draft, could easily dock alongside the numerous quays. The ancient coast of the Royal Quarters has been discovered. This alone shows that 19th-and 20th-century reclamation work encroaching on the sea with landfills did not entirely conceal the zone that subsidence and land collapse had previously submerged. Visible along the entire eastern part of the Portus Magnus, this ancient coast is sometimes paved and contains numerous architectural remains and beautiful remnants of statuary.

To the west of the Portus Magnus, facing the Heptastadium, a port protected this long causeway of Alexander’s. Its sea walls, constructed of great limestone blocks, formed a rampart against seaborne attacks. It featured basins ideally suited to receiving ships waiting to go from the eastern port to the western port that gave access to Egyptian domestic traffic. Indeed, according to the texts, two openings were constructed in this sea wall and controlled by forts, allowing passage from one port to another. In this location there were also large shipyards that gave the name Navalia to this part of the Portus Magnus.

Two channels leading to the large port have been mapped. The main channel, towards the middle of the harbour, was bordered to the west by a large submerged rock. The narrower minor channel allowed ships to pass between this rock and the island of Pharos. The famous lighthouse must have stood nearby. Considering the topographical and geological results along with the literary evidence, and in the absence of archaeological proof showing another position, it is reasonable to hypothesize at this point that the lighthouse was located on the rock situated between the two channels.

Nothing visible remains today of this prestigious monument that was a wonder of its day. Its remains are probably hidden by the enormous mass of the current western breakwater, which links Fort Qait Bey to the great central rock, now submerged and mostly covered by the blocks of the modern structure.

The layout of the Portus Magnus now appears in all its splendour. It has proved more functional than historians had imagined. As discoveries were made, it became possible to see that first the Ptolemaic engineers, then the Romans, used the natural layout of the area extremely intelligently, and made this site a powerful port complex that could handle heavy traffic very well. With the layout of the interior ports and the numerous monuments that surrounded it, this great port, the emporium of Egypt during the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, must certainly have looked extraordinary.

Franck Goddio, «Redicovered Sites : Alexandria » in Egypt Sunken Treasures, catalogue of the exhibition, Prestel Vlg, 2008, 2nd revised and updated edition, PP. 37-39


Over six kilometres from the coast, facing the zone of East Canopus to the east, an immense concentration of ruins was discovered.

In this area, surveys uncovered the former Nile bed corresponding to the Canopic channel. Excavations made it possible to dig out a surrounding wall over 150 metres long. It probably enclosed a temple.



The discovery of the naos (SCA 0457) (monolithic chapel containing the image of the principal god venerated in this shrine) dedicated to “the Amun of the Gereb” along with information from the famous stele with the Decree of Canopus made it possible to determine the name of the city in which it stood: Heracleion. Another find confirmed the location’s identity: a gold plaque (SCA 0897) inscribed in Greek indicating that King Ptolemy III had founded (or renovated) a shrine to Herakles in this place.

A further extraordinary discovery: an intact stele (SCA 0277) of granodiorite, duplicate of the Stele of Naukratis, was recovered in this same shrine, under a wall near the naos. In traditional Egyptian, this text sanctions a decision that the founder of the 30th Dynasty, Nekhtnebef of Sebennytos (also known as Nectanebo I), made in the first year of his reign (November 378 B.C.E.), hence shortly after his accession to the throne, in favour of the temple of Neith, patron deity of Sais and protector of the preceding dynasties. Henceforth, a tithe was to be deducted from the volume of taxes regularly levied by the state, on goods and products of the Greeks of Naukratis as well as on imports that arrived by sea through the Canopic channel. The text also gave us the site’s Egyptian name: “Pharaoh orders that this be recorded on the present stele erected at the mouth of the sea of the Greeks, in the city named the Thonis of Sais.”

The simultaneous discovery of these two epigraphical documents assures the identities of the places and solves a mystery of historical geography. It sheds light on ancient texts: the Heracleion of the Greeks was none other than the Thonis of the Egyptians. The site consists of a peninsula located between several communicating port basins to the east and a lake to the west. This locality controlled access to the Canopic channel. By its geographical position, it was the principal port for trade with the Greek seas under the Pharaohs and the centre from which foreign ships were monitored. Judging by the material discovered, excavations show that this port experienced intense activity at the beginning of the city’s prosperity. The sea floor has eloquently proved this with over 700 ancient anchors of various shapes and sixteen shipwrecks dating from the 6th to the 2nd centuries B.C.E.

Boats required to pay tolls put in at the port. After a dangerous journey, sailors dedicated offerings to the gods. Remains of their gifts are scattered in large numbers on the floor of the port basins. Small votive anchors of bronze, lead or stone lie alongside cupules, miniature containers and amulets – fragile and moving proof of fulfilled vows. A more important canal linked the port basins to the Western Lake via Heracleion-Thonis. Sumptuous ritual gifts have been found, identifying the sacred character of this great waterway to the shrine. They recall the intense religious activity of this place and reflect the ceremonies of Osiris-Dionysus that took place between Heracleion and Canopus.

Significant monuments were still in the temple area. Near the naos a large basin of red granite was excavated. It was probably intended for the celebration of the mysteries of Osiris. Three colossal red granite statues over five metres high, representing a king (SCA 0279), a queen (SCA 0208) and Hapi (SCA 0281), god of fertility, abundance and the flooding of the Nile, are imposing evidence of the temple’s majesty. Beautifully crafted statues of gods and royalty, numerous bronze statuettes of divinities and ritual instruments illustrate the shrine’s cult and rituals.

An immense bilingual stele of red granite (SCA 0529), dating from the reign of Ptolemy VIII, proves that the shrine of Heracleion maintained its ideological importance under the Ptolemaic kings for Egyptians as well as for Greeks.

The paucity of objects from the Roman Period indicates that this importance did not survive after the conquerors of the Ptolemaic dynasty took control of Egypt. Was the great shrine of the Amon of the Gereb (identified with Zeus) and his son Khons (identified with Herakles) not an essential site for the celebration of dynastic continuity for these vanquished kings? The site’s occupation continued until the end of the 8th century, and the Byzantine presence, attested by the texts, is illustrated by the discovery of modest architectural elements and some jewels and coins.

With each mission the map comes closer to completion, revealing a great Egyptian emporium, active several centuries before the founding of Alexandria. The city developed around the majestic temple and was criss-crossed with a network of canals. Numerous port basins connected to the Nile received ships of all sizes at anchor. Merchandise was transported to the Western Lake, connected by a long canal to the city of Canopus. This waterway was certainly the outlet of the canal that linked Alexandria to Canopus at the time of the Ptolemaic rulers. On the islands and islets there blossomed minor shrines, esplanades supporting pavilions dominating the man-made lake, and dwellings. The city of Heracleion-Thonis, situated near the mouth of the Canopic channel linking it to Naukratis, controlled maritime traffic entering or leaving Egypt. It also served as an interface with the Canopic interior for the distribution of merchandise thanks to a network of canals that assured easy communication between its port basins, Canopus and the inland areas.

Franck Goddio, «Redicovered Sites : Alexandria » in Egypt Sunken Treasures, catalogue of the exhibition, Prestel Vlg, 2008, 2nd revised and updated edition, PP. 44-48


Research began in 1996 in the Bay of Aboukir has made it possible to determine the outline of the submerged Canopic region, the position of the principal archaeological deposits, as well as the course of the riverbed of the Nile’s former western channel.

It appears that an immense triangle of land, with a height of ten kilometres and a base of ten kilometres, was submerged by water after collapse and slow subsidence. It was on this submerged land that the cities mentioned in ancient texts prospered long ago. The analysis of these discoveries and their integration into our knowledge of ancient geography and history, as well as studies of the archaeological material, have made essential contributions to our knowledge of the Canopic region, also called Herakleotic, in reference to the existence of the great temple of Herakles near its shores.



To the east of the modern port of Aboukir researchers identified a zone containing numerous remains, including some that clearly corresponded to those discovered by Prince Toussoun in 1933. The site consists of a row of ruins 150 metres long. Broken shafts of columns of smooth red granite of various diameters are combined with limestone construction blocks and other architectural elements. Several minor constructions connect this site to a square edifice on the west with sides of thirty metres and a surviving height of almost three metres. Artefacts, including jewels, crosses, coins and seals of the Byzantine Period, contribute to identifying this complex as an immense Christian establishment. Islamic (SCA 0100, 0101) and Byzantine (SCA 0093, 0094, 0097, 0098, 0099, 0199, 0201, 0096, 0200, 0095) coins have also been discovered in various spots.

To the north of these structures, under almost two metres of sand, researchers have also dug out the well-preserved foundations of a surrounding temple wall that measures 103 metres and is constructed of large limestone blocks. The presence of these remains reveals that the largest Egyptian shrine found thus far in the region existed on this submerged site.

Between this monument and the Christian architectural complex, excavations revealed a dump where statues had been thrown, probably to be cut into pieces and used in other constructions.
Pieces of granite inscribed with hieroglyphs proved to have been part of the Naos of the Decades (SCA 0161, 0162, 0163, 0164), a famous monolithic chapel, a unique example of its kind.
Among the fragments of statuary, a remarkable marble head of the god Sarapis (SCA 0169), dating from the Ptolemaic Period, once belonged to a statue over four metres high. It was the image of the principal deity of the Sarapeum of Canopus, very well attested in ancient texts and visited by pilgrims, some of whom travelled great distances to visit its god, who was endowed with miraculous healing powers. A comparison of ancient texts, linked with certain archaeological observations, suggests that a Christian establishment built next to a great Pharaonic shrine could correspond to the foundations of the Martyry of Saint John and Saint Cyril. According to Tyrannius Rufinus, the Martyry was constructed near the Sarapeum: “Indeed, in the sepulchre of Sarapis, when the profane edifices were razed, on one side a martyry was built, on the other a church” (Ecclesiastical History, 2, 26-27).


Bathymetric map of the main archaeological sites of Canopus in 2007.

Moreover, several observations confirm that the remains of the Egyptian temple could belong to the Sarapeum of Canopus. The distance between it and the temple of Heracleion corresponds to that mentioned in ancient texts. The size of its stone temenos shows that this monument was indeed a major shrine. The dating of objects within its area demonstrates that the monument and its vicinity were occupied during the Roman Period, and excavations show that the great temple was destroyed at the hand of man before the collapse of the Christian constructions. Its stones have almost completely disappeared, with the exception of the foundation courses. The monument apparently served as a quarry.

The establishment of the Christian complex seems therefore to have benefited from having these construction materials in the immediate vicinity. After clearly experiencing a period of prosperity in the 7th century C.E., this Christian shrine seems to have survived during the Islamic Period until the mid-8th century. These observations can be compared to texts describing the destruction of the great Serapeum of Canopus in 391 C.E. The pagan Eunapus (347–early 5th century C.E.) is very specific on this subject: “The shrines of Canopus met the same fate, when Theodosius was Emperor, when Theophilus was the leader of the damned (…). For together those people attacked our shrines with a quarryman’s enthusiasm, as if they were dealing with stones, began the assault and, without even alleging rumour of a war, destroyed the shrine devoted to Sarapis and attacked the offerings (…). Of the shrine of Sarapis only the foundation was left, because of the weight of the stones, which were not easy to move (…). Finally they introduced into these sacred places men called monks” (Life of the Philosophers, Aedesius).

Franck Goddio, «Redicovered Sites : the Submerged Canopic Region, Eastern Canopus » in Egypt Sunken Treasures, catalogue of the exhibition, Prestel Vlg, 2008,2nd revised and updated edition, PP. 40-44


English translation of this part in the works.

La flotte qui avait transporté Bonaparte et ses savants en Égypte fût détruite par Nelson au cours de la fameuse bataille d’Aboukir dans la baie au nord-est d’Alexandrie, le 1er août 1798.

L’épave du vaisseau amiral de cette flotte, l’Orient, fût découverte par Jacques Dumas en 1983. En 1998, treize ans après la mort de son initiateur, la fouille de l’Orient a été reprise par Franck Goddio et se poursuit quelques années. Outre l’Orient, jaugeant plus de 2700 tonneaux et portant 126 canons, les frégates Artémise et Sérieuse ont été mises au jour. La Sérieuse, le plus petit bateau de la flotte, coula au cours d’une tentative désespérée pour barrer la route à la flotte britannique.

Sept ancres appartenant à différents navires ont été trouvées autour de l’Orient. Elles contribuent à reconstituer les positions exactes où se trouvaient certains navires juste avant l’explosion formidable qui détruisit l’Orient. Un des résultats les plus remarquables du travail de l’IEASM, dirigé par Franck Goddio, est la réalisatin de cartes détaillées des fonds marins de la baie d’Aboukir. Elles permettent de comprendre le positionnement des bateaux pendant la bataille et éclairent la tactique des deux camps ainsi que le déroulement du combat. La disposition des débris de l’épave de l’Orient et leur dispersion sur plus d’un demi-kilomètre carré, ont permis de conclure que le gigantesque vaisseau de guerre n’a pas été détruit par une explosion comme on le croyait jusqu’à présent mais par deux explosions presque simultanées.

En plus des canons, des armes et des munitions, de nombreux objets usuels ont été trouvés fournissant de précieuses informations sur la vie quotidienne à bord et sur l’équipage des navires. Par ailleurs de nombreuses monnaies d’or, d’argent et de cuivre en provenance de France ont été découvertes, certaines remontent à l’époque de Louis XIV, d’autres à celle de Louis XV, la majorité à l’ère de Louis XVI. Plus surprenantes encore, sont les pièces d’or de Malte, de l’Empire Ottoman, de Venise, d’Espagne et du Portugal qui laissent supposer qu’il pourrait s’agir d’une partie du trésor de Malte que Bonaparte, en route vers l’Egypte, avait pillé.

Publication en cours.