- The Shelby White - Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications
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The rediscovery of Naukratis: 19th and early 20th century excavations
In the nineteenth century, Naukratis had long been known from ancient written sources and held a prominent place in the popular imagination. Yet the precise location of the ancient site had been forgotten.
It was only in 1883 that the young William Flinders Petrie, pioneer of Egyptian archaeology, rediscovered it near the modern village of Nebira. Excavations by Petrie and his collaborator Ernest Gardner, conducted in 1884-5 and 1885-6 on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund, and in 1899 and 1903 by David Hogarth under the auspices of the British School at Athens, brought to light a complete city with Greek and Egyptian sanctuaries, houses, workshops and cemeteries.
Thousands of finds were recovered, ranging from painted Greek pottery and transport amphorae from across the Mediterranean world, to Cypriot, Greek and Egyptian sculptures and terracotta figurines, faience scarabs and amulets, Phoenician tridacna shells, iron tools, weights, coins, jewellery, and architectural elements.
Many groups of material to this day count among the most significant archaeological assemblages of their kind ever discovered.
These early excavations at Naukratis were pioneering work conducted under difficult circumstances. Excavation reports were published quickly, yet they were brief and incomplete, and illustrate only a small number of the many finds.
Objects found at Naukratis were soon distributed to museums worldwide, especially to institutions linked with the Egypt Exploration Fund, which, through public subscription, had sponsored Petrie’s fieldwork, and, for the two later seasons, to the institutions that had supported Hogarth’s fieldwork. A part of the finds also remained in Egyptian museums. Today, some 60 collections worldwide still hold finds from Naukratis.
The town of Naukratis
Sherd from a Chian pottery chalice bearing a partially preserved incised votive dedication to Apollo; early 6th century BC
Ancient Naukratis consisted of houses, workshops, sanctuaries, and a cemetery. As the Canopic branch of the Nile once flowed past it, we also have to imagine a harbour area, warehouses, and probably a canal connecting it to neighbouring Sais. A monumental Egyptian temple enclosure in the southern part dominated the site. It is known today as the ‘Great Temenos’.
The enclosure featured a massive entrance gate, approached by a sculpture-lined avenue. Inside it stood temples dedicated to Amun-Ra (of) Baded, his consort Mut, his son Khonsou-Thot, and the god Min. Ptolemaic Greeks saw in Amun-Re their own god, Theban Zeus. A square mudbrick structure with a casemate foundation was probably a storage/cult building.
The northern part of town contained Greek sanctuaries: the Milesian sanctuary of Apollo and the adjoining Samian sanctuary of Hera, a sanctuary of the Dioskouroi, and next to it a large conglomerate structure. The latter was identified by Hogarth as the Hellenion sanctuary.
According to Herodotus (2.178) the Hellenion was established by Greeks from nine cities: Ionians from Chios, Teos, Phokaia, and Klazomenai, Dorians from Rhodes, Knidos, Halikarnassos, and Phaselis, and Aeolians from Mytilene. The finds from this area attest the worship of several gods, including the ‘gods of the Hellenes’, one of the earliest known expressions of the ancient Greeks’ perception of a communal ‘Hellenic’ identity.
In the centre of Naukratis lay the important early sanctuary of Aphrodite. Next to it was the ‘faience factory’, a workshop where widely exported scarabs and other amulets were manufactured in the sixth century BC.
Other workshops in Naukratis produced pottery, lamps, terracotta figurines, alabaster flasks (alabastra) as well as probably sculpture. Houses built from mudbrick were located in all areas of the site; a cemetery (of Archaic to Hellenistic date) existed to the north.