An excavation site in 1899 with lots of people with baskets in the foreground and huts in the background..

Naukratis – Greeks in Egypt

Key project information

Duration

January 2004 – March 2024

Contact details

Email: avilling@britishmuseum.org

Partners

The Naukratis Project collaborates with over 80 institutions worldwide. Their contributions are vital to its work. 

Supported by

View list of project supporters

Grant number

Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant F/100 052/E

What happened when ancient Greeks first came to Egypt, and how did contact between Egyptian and Mediterranean civilisations shape the history of the ancient world?

The ancient city of Naukratis in the Nile Delta holds answers to these key questions. Founded in the 7th century BC as a gateway for Mediterranean trade, it was home to the earliest Greek settlement in Egypt and remained a focus of contact and exchange until the 7th century AD.

Until recently, little was known about Naukratis. The archaeological site was rediscovered in the late 19th century. Excavation finds reached the British Museum and many other museums around the world but most were never studied. Further fieldwork in the 20th century raised more questions than they answered. 

For the first time, this research project combines all the evidence from these earlier investigations with insights from new fieldwork to examine Naukratis and its role in the history of Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Phoenicia, Persia and Rome.

About the project

Naukratis – Greeks in Egypt is a major, long-term research project that traces the development of Naukratis as a multi-ethnic port city over its long history of more than 1200 years. Through the study of Naukratis, it aims to shed new light on contact and exchange between the civilisations of Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean world in a key period of their histories. 

The project is run by a team of classical archaeologists and Egyptologists based at the British Museum in partnership with institutions and researchers in the UK and worldwide. The initial phase (2004–2010) was focused on material in the British Museum collection. The second phase (2011–2023) brings together all available evidence about Naukratis to create a comprehensive view of the site. It integrates three strands of research:

  • Reassembly, study and recontextualisation of all finds from the 19th and 20th-century excavations in more than 70 museums and archives worldwide.
  • New fieldwork to complement and re-evaluate the picture created by early excavations.
  • Scientific analysis of key groups of material to help understand patterns of trade and cultural exchange.

Another closely connected project on the archaeology and history of the western Nile Delta helps place Naukratis in its wider regional context. 

Aims

This project aims to find out:

  • When, why and by whom was Naukratis established – was it founded by Egyptians or Greeks and what role did Cypriots and Phoenicians play? 
  • Who were the people of Naukratis? Where did the port city’s traders and craft workers come from? How did the town’s men and women live and interact? 
  • How did the port function as an interface between cultures and what ideas and innovations did it give to the ancient world?
  • How did relations between Egypt and the Mediterranean world change over the centuries? How did trade develop, and what was the impact of Persian, Macedonian, Ptolemaic and Roman rule?
  • How did the interests and preconceptions of 19th and 20th-century archaeologists, collectors and curators shape our picture of intercultural relations, and how can resulting biases be overcome? 

The project’s core outputs are a website and database that bring together all material from old excavations, and a publication on the results from new fieldwork. 

Findings from the project are also shared through workshops, conferences, journal articles and a number of exhibitions. 
 

Conclusion

The Naukratis project goals are nearly achieved. Over 18,000 finds from early fieldwork and dozens of analytical chapters are published online and seven seasons of fieldwork have been completed. For the first time, there is a solid basis for understanding Naukratis, its people, its history and its wider significance. 

Far from being a predominantly Greek 'colony', Naukratis emerges as an international harbour town where Egyptians lived side by side with Greeks, Cypriots and people of other nationalities. New fieldwork shows a city stretched out alongside the river that – surprising for classicists – had a predominantly Egyptian aspect. Restudy of early finds reveals a population engaged in diverse cultural practices, from worshipping in Greek and Egyptian temples to domestic rituals evoking the Nile’s fertility – as attested by rediscovered nude and sexually explicit figurines long hidden in museum storerooms. 

In a field traditionally dominated by written texts and major monuments, this project highlights the contribution that archaeology can make to understanding historical questions. It also emphasises the importance of critically reassessing traditional narratives, and charts a path for how to gain new insights from old, problematic data. 

Meet the team

Alexandra Villing headshot

Alexandra Villing

Principal Investigator 
Department of Greece and Rome 
British Museum

Aurélia Masson-Berghoff headshot

Aurélia Masson-Berghoff

Co-Investigator 
Department of Greece and Rome / Department of Egypt and Sudan 
British Museum 

Ross Thomas headshot

Ross Iain Thomas

Co-Investigator 
Department of Greece and Rome 
British Museum

Alan Johnston headshot

Alan Johnston

Researcher
Institute of Classical Studies, London 

Project team

Project supporter

Project supporters

Supported by

  • Leverhulme Trust
  • Christian and Florence Levett
  • Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications
  • Honor Frost Foundation
  • Institute of Classical Studies, University of London
  • British Academy – Reckitt Fund
  • Gerda Henkel Stiftung
  • Other private individuals and foundations

Outputs

Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt. British Museum Online Research Catalogue

ONLINE CATALOGUE

This catalogue presents the wealth of archaeological finds made in late 19th and early 20th-century excavations at the site of ancient Naukratis that are now dispersed in museums around the world, alongside archival documents and detailed analyses. 

Alexandra Villing; Marianne Bergeron; Giorgos Bourogiannis; Alan Johnston; François Leclère; Aurélia Masson; Ross Thomas

Published in 2013 – ongoing (this 2019 archived version will soon be updated and moved to a new location)

Egypt's cosmopolitan port city: British Museum excavations 2012–2019

BOOK

This volume will publish in full the results of the seven field seasons of survey and excavation by the British Museum at Naukratis (2012–2019), which have identified its layout and limits, located the river harbour and assessed the origins, institutions and roles of different Naukratis communities.

Book editors: Ross Thomas; Alexandra Villing 

Due to be published in 2024

The Western Nile Delta: ARCE fieldwork in the region of Kom Firin and Naukratis (1977–1983) revisited

BOOK 

This volume will present the data from the fieldwork conducted between 1977 and 1983 in the central-western Nile Delta region, set in the context of current scholarship and complemented by additional new research on the area, its archaeology and history.

Book editors: Aurélia Masson-Berghoff; Ross Thomas

Due to be published in 2023

Southward Ho! A journey from Ionia to Egypt'

BOOK CHAPTER

Alan Johnston; Alexandra Villing

Published in 2022

Mediterranean encounters: Greeks, Carians and Egyptians in the first millennium BC

BOOK CHAPTER

Alexandra Villing

Published in 2022

Between Apollo and Osiris: Egyptianising East Greek pottery, translating gods and cross-cultural interaction in the 6th century BC

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Alexandra Villing 

Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 136, 1–110

Published in 2021

Naukratis in context

JOURNAL

Aurélia Masson-Berghoff; Ross Thomas 

British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 24

Published in 2019

Making pottery in the Nile Delta: ceramic provenance and technology at Naukratis, 6th–3rd centuries BC

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Michela Spataro; Hans Mommsen; Alexandra Villing

Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11, 1059–1087

Published in 2019

(Re)sources: origins of metals in Late Period Egypt

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Aurélia Masson-Berghoff; Ernst Pernicka; Duncan Hook; Andrew Meek

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 21, 318–39

Published in 2018

Greece and Egypt: reconsidering early contact and exchange

BOOK CHAPTER

Alexandra Villing 

Published in 2017

Discerning differences: ion beam analysis of ancient faience from Naukratis and Rhodes

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Andrew Meek; Anne Bouquillon; Patrice Lehuédé; Aurélia Masson; Alexandra Villing; Geneviève Pierrat-Bonnefois; Virginia Webb

Technè. La science au service de l’histoire de l’art et de la préservation des biens culturels 43, 94–101

Published in 2016

Egypt and Greece: early encounters

BOOK CHAPTER

Aurélia Masson-Berghoff; Alexandra Villing

Published in 2016

A Greek in Egypt: the Hunter from Naukratis

EXHIBITION

This spotlight touring exhibition was centred around a unique Cypriot sculpture of a hunter from Naukratis.

Opened in 2016

The mystery of Naukratis: revealing Egypt’s international gateway

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Alexandra Villing; Ross Thomas

Current World Archaeology 77, 22–9

Published in 2016

Three chapters in the book ‘Thonis-Heracleion in Context’

BOOK CHAPTER

Chapter by Alexandra Villing: Egyptian-Greek exchange in the Late Period: the view from Nokradj-Naukratis
Chapter by Ross Thomas: Naukratis, ‘Mistress of ships’ in context
Chapter by Aurélia Masson: Cult and trade. A reflexion on Egyptian metal offerings from Naucratis

Published in 2015

Roman Naukratis in its Alexandrian context

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Ross Thomas

British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 21, 193–218

Published in 2014

Égyptiens et Grecs à Naucratis et Daphnae. Projets en cours du British Museum

JOURNAL ARTICLE

François Leclère; Jeffrey Spencer; Alexandra Villing

Bulletin de la Société française d'Archéologie classique (XLIV, 2012/2013), Revue archéologique 57, 126–35

Published in 2014

Naukratis revisited 2012: integrating new fieldwork and old research

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Ross Thomas; Alexandra Villing


British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 20, 81–125

Published in 2013

Naukratis: Greek diversity in Egypt. Studies on East Greek pottery and exchange in the eastern Mediterranean

BOOK

Alexandra Villing; Udo Schlotzhauer

Published in 2006