Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Harbor of Theodosius

Harbor of Theodosius
Image Harbor of Theodosius
The Harbor of Theodosius
  • The harbor was built in the late 4th century during the reign of Theodosius I, and was the city's major point of trade in Late Antiquity. The area was later transformed for agricultural use due to the effects of erosion and silting. In Ottoman times, the area was built over.
  • In November 2005, workers on the Bosphorus Tunnel Project discovered the silted-up remains of the harbour. Excavations produced evidence of the 4th-century Port of Theodosius. There, archaeologists uncovered traces of the city wall of Constantine the Great, and the remains of over 35 Byzantine ships from the 7th to 10th centuries, including several Byzantine galleys, remains of which had never before been fou.nd.

The Harbor of Eleutherios later known as the Harbor of Theodosius (Greek: λιμήν Θεοδοσίου, Latin: Portus Theodosiacus) was one of the ports of ancient Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, located beneath the modern Yenikapi neighbourhood of Istanbul, Turkey.

The Harbor of Theodosius in Istanbul dates back to the period of 4th century A.D. It was unearthed in Yenikapi in Istanbul. Various works of excavation in Yenikapi, Sirkeci and Uskudar count among the splendor remains of archaeology belonging to the periods ranging from Ottoman, Roman, Byzantine, Ancient Greek and Neolithic times.

Istanbul, which happens to be capital of these two empires for several centuries has been successfully preserving its importance in all the periods of history till now. Travelers from the world over have been inspired by the majestic beauty of the districts of Pera and Galata, the Golden Horn, the Virgin’s Tower and its grand mosques atop the seven hills. However, as of now, the city is facing the problem of transportation which originated way back in the 19th century and persists even today. The problem was meant to be solved by the construction of rail link projects namely Marmaray and the Metro.

These two projects by the Department of Transportation will help in making a rail link between Asian and the European continents through a tunnel beneath the Bosphorus.

Portus Theodosiacus

In the year 2004, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums undertook the work of archaeological excavations around the terminals before proceeding with the digging work for the Marmaray and the Metro construction. These excavations which are being carried out by the efforts of dig teams have unearthed several cultural treasures of historical importance for Istanbul.

The Harbor of Theodosius, which is regarded to be the most prominent harbor of the Byzantine era, is the result of these archaeological excavations. This harbor was unearthed in Yenikapi (‘Vlanga’ in the Ottoman times). The district of Yenikapi was known to be the fruit and vegetable garden of Istanbul. it has also become known by reading the notes of the travelers visiting Istanbul during the mid-16th century that the Harbor of Theodosius, built during the 4th century and used till 7th century was used as a truck garden after it silted up and became a part of the mainland.

Harbor of Theodosius

Excavations undertaken at Yenikapi

Although the location of this harbor of Istanbul, namely, the Theodosius’ harbor was known from the maps in the ancient times, however, there was no knowledge about its exact size, position and the layout of this harbor which played an important role in the economy of the Byzantine period.

Founded on the crossroads between the Balkans and Anatolia and the pathway extending from the Aegean right up to the Black Sea, Byzantion’s location was a great contributor to the development of the city, so mush so that it dominated various commercial routes.

Discovered ship.

To meet the growing needs of the expanding capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Theodosius I commissioned the construction of the Theodosius Harbor between 379-395 A.D. so, a breakwater extending from east to west along the south way of a natural bay was built for creating this harbor. And a large tower that stood at the far end for keeping a guard on the entrance of the harbor was among several other structures and silos for keeping the grain brought by big ships from Alexandria and neighboring ports that stood around the harbor. Sources claim that the Alexandria silo was the only silo of the city that was in wide use during the 10th century when this harbor silted up.

During the archaeological excavation undertaken in the harbor, 34 ships were excavated out of which 21 were in the Metro while 13 were in the Marmaray excavations. Once again, this harbor silted up from the alluvion brought by the waters of the Lycos (Bayrampasa) River which emptied in the natural bay. Apart from the alluvion, the built of enormous silt was also the result of the construction and farming carried out in the city.

The Harbour of Eleutherios (Greek: λιμήν Ἐλευθερίου), later known as the Harbour of Theodosius (Greek: λιμήν Θεοδοσίου, Latin: Portus Theodosiacus) was one of the ports of ancient Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, located beneath the modern Yenikapi neighbourhood of Istanbul, Turkey.
Image (Feedblitz.com) 

From the excavations, it came to the notice that the majority of the shipwrecks in the Theodosius Harbor are at the eastern side nearing the entrance of the harbor. While the harbor was thought to have been silted up from the western end towards the east, the eastern end continued to be in wide use till a natural calamity that took place in the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century rendered extensive damage to the ships there.

The YK 1 ship that carried amphorae from the Marmara Island and was anchored here was claimed by the excavations to have been sunk. The YK 12 was another shipwreck that was found in the excavations in the area of the harbor. Several fragments of amphorae along with 16 intact amphorae were found on this YK 12. Although, at present, the exact cause of the disaster that struck these ships cannot be found, however, the assumption is some natural disaster or tragedy including tsunami or a storm might be the possible reason behind the cause of the disaster to these ships.
Unearthed pottery

The history of Istanbul has got some very crucial data from the architectural remains recovered to the western side of the Yenikapi excavation area in the work being carried out in the 3rd and 2nd Zone towards the east. A quay consisting of stone blocks of rectangular shape has been found at the western edge within the breakwater.

The excavations in the Metro area uncovered a church building that was believed to be built in the 13th century A.D. when large amount of silt was piling up in the harbor. And around this church building were found twenty-three graves. The excavations also unearthed a gold coin belonging to the time of Justinian the Great (527-565 A.D.).

Post Card of Constantinople

In the Yenikapi excavations being carried out under the Marmaray and Metro Project, nearly 25,000 artifacts have been unearthed so far. And the most distinguishing factor or such findings happens to be the vital information provided by them regarding day-to-day life, economy, trade, culture and religious aspects of the period to which they belong. Some of the findings uncovered during the excavations include hawsers of the sunken ships, inscribed image of a ship on an amphora that belongs to the 10th century, iron and stone anchors and baked clay tablets with names, place of origin of the owners of the ship inscribed on them. All such findings also provide important information regarding the types of ships and the shipping during the period.

Apart from the above named findings, there are nearly 2,500 items made of wood including combs, different varieties of spoons, bath clogs etc. that have been found by the excavation work. Also, a Christ figure, tools of bone and ivory, a bronze balance, bronze weights, lead tablets and a scale weight in the form of Athena’s bust throw light on the lifestyle of the period they belong.

Archaeological excavations in Sirkeci

Under the Marmaray Project, the archaeological works being carried out in the eastern and the western shafts and in the south and the north entrance areas of the Rail Station in Sirkeci provide an excellent opportunity for knowing the stratigraphy of the city of Istanbul. In such excavation works, several structural remains that belong to the period ranging from the Early Byzantine to the Byzantine and even the Late Ottoman times along with a considerable number of small items and pottery have been found. These relate important details about the different aspects of the life of these periods.

Archaeological excavations in Uskudar Square

As part of the Marmaray project, a large number of archaeological excavations were undertaken from the year 2004 which continued till the year 2008. These excavations conducted in the Uskudar Square found the remains of the foundation of a bazaar whose existence was although known from a number of other sources but was unable to have been unearthed so far. And to unearth the foundation of this bazaar, the workers involved in the excavation work had to drill up quite deep up to nearly 7 meters.

The archaeological remains was found deep in the fill dirt. In the excavations, there were no traces or archaeological remains belonging to the Roman period or the earlier periods. But, the excavations uncovered a huge amount of pottery, along with coins, oil-lamps, stamp seals that dated back to the different periods ranging from the Roman period to the Late Roman period and the Byzantine period.

A Computer Re-Constructed Portus Theodosiacus of Constantinople.
This image and the one below used under FAIR USE from Byzantium1200.
Review for comment, criticism and scholarship as allowed under FAIR USE section 107 of the
US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
The Byzantium 1200 website published an article with some stunningly beautiful computer
recreations of the harbor.  A lot of thought went to their work on this project.  Especially
interesting is a breakdown of the harbor section by section on if there is proof that
part really existed or if it is simply pure imagination.
 As always the historians and artists are groping in the dark as to what things really
looked like.  Guess work is all we have after so many centuries.  But I suspect they are
right on with this article.


(Harbour of Eleutherios)         

(sultanahmet1.com)          (Yenikapi-shipwrecks)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice piece .