Ancient Ports of Trade on the Red Sea Coasts—The ‘Parameters of Attractiveness’ of Site Locations and Human Adaptations to Fluctuating Land- and Sea-Scapes. Case Study Berenike Troglodytica, Southeastern Egypt



The Red Sea region is unfavourable for long-shore nautical activity as it lacks natural topographic features that could be used as harbours; there are only a few suitable bays for landing along its coasts, where wadi mouths allow for a break in the reef. However, experiencing seasonally variable winds and currents, parts of the Red Sea constituted favourable marine environments for sea voyaging, contact and trade for millennia. This paper focuses on the influence that the local environmental and climatic context (including land- and sea-scape), had on the location, development, and ultimate success or decline of key Classical (Greco-Roman) ports of trade on the Red Sea coast, most pertinently those involved in exchange on the Spice, Incense and Maritime Silk Routes. The importance of changes in geomorphological, climatic, landscape and sea level configurations that led to the alternation of these human-adapted landscapes will be discussed within the new theoretical framework of ‘Parameters of Attractiveness’ developed whilst focusing on a case study, the Greco-Roman port town of Berenike Troglodytica on the southern Red Sea coast of Egypt. These parameters—grouped into 4 main categories: Sea, Land, Resources, and Socio-Economic and Political—were designed in order to statistically quantify the attractiveness of particular sites along the rims of the Red Sea for use as trade ports.


Berenike Anti Porter Port Town Myos Hormos Periplus Maris Erythraei 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author would like to thank Dr. Damian Robinson and Prof. Andrew Wilson for unfailing support during this research, and Dr. Lucy Blue and Prof. Chris Gosden for invaluable comments. Thanks are also extended to Prof. Tom Hillard and two other anonymous reviewers for further insights and comments relating to Red Sea ports and ancient Roman port technologies, as well as very valuable comments regarding socio-economic and political parameters, especially in relation to demand and port infrastructure and facilities. This research has been so far carried out with generous support of The Griffith Egyptological Fund, a Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology scholarship and Meyerstein Award from the University of Oxford.

The deepest gratitude is also given to Saudi Geological Survey and Dr. Najeeb Rasul for the invitation to the Red Sea workshop in Jeddah in 2016 and SGS support for a ‘Landscapes and Environments of late Holocene Red Sea ports of trade: Geomorphological and Geoarchaeological survey’ and a planned fieldwork season of the ‘Coastal Cultural Landscapes of the Saudi Red Sea’, led by the author of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ancient HistoryMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Archaeological ScienceUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  3. 3.Oxford Centre for Maritime ArchaeologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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