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Canopus menouthis herakleion.jpg
Map of Nile Delta showing ancient Canopus, Heracleion, and Menouthis
Heracleion is located in Egypt
Location near Alexandria, Egypt
Coordinates 31°18′15″N 30°06′02″E / 31.30417°N 30.10056°E / 31.30417; 30.10056Coordinates: 31°18′15″N 30°06′02″E / 31.30417°N 30.10056°E / 31.30417; 30.10056
Heracleion is also a spelling of Heraklion, Crete's largest city and capital.

Heracleion (Greek: Ηράκλειον), also known as Thonis (Θώνις), was an ancient Egyptian city near Alexandria whose ruins are located in Abu Qir Bay, currently 2.5 km off the coast. Its legendary beginnings go back to as early as the 12th century BC, and it is mentioned by ancient Greek historians. Its importance grew especially during the waning days of the Pharaohs—the late period, when it was Egypt's main port.

Heracleion was originally built on some adjoining islands in the Nile Delta, and was intersected by canals. It possessed a number of anchorages.

Legendary beginnings[edit]

The stelae of Ptolemy VIII from the temple of Heracleion

It was believed that Paris and Helen of Troy were stranded there on their flight from the jealous Menelaus, before the Trojan war began. Also, it was believed that Heracles himself had visited the city, and that the city had gained its name from him.

Ancient references[edit]

Until very recently the site had been known only from a few literary and epigraphic sources, one of which interestingly mentions the site as an emporion, just like Naukratis.

— British Museum, 2013[1]

The city was mentioned by the ancient historians Diodorus (1.9.4) and Strabo (17. 1.16). Also see Herodotus (2.113).[1]

Heracleion is also mentioned in the Twin steles of Decree of Nectanebo I (originally known as the 'Stele of Naukratis'), which specify that one tenth of the taxes on imports passing through the town of Thonis/Herakleion were to be given to the sanctuary of Neith of Sais.[1] The city is also mentioned in the Decree of Canopus honoring Pharaoh Ptolemy III.

The city of Heracleion was also the site of the celebration of the ‘mysteries of Osiris' each year during the month of Khoiak. The god in his ceremonial boat was brought in procession from the temple of Amun in that city to his shrine in Canopus.[2]


Ptolemaic coins from the submerged Heracleion

The city had a large temple of Khonsou, son of Amun, who was known to the Greeks as Herakles.[citation needed] Later, the worship of Amun became more prominent.

Heracleion flourished especially from the 6th to the 4th century BC, as revealed by numerous archaeological finds. Pharaoh Nectanebo I made many additions to the temple in the 4th century B.C.[3]

The city sank in the 6th or 7th century A.D., probably due to major earthquakes and floods. The ruins submerged in the sea were finally located and rediscovered by the French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000.[4] Until then, the scholars were not sure if Heracleion and Thonis were in fact one and the same city.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Naukratis: a city and trading port in Egypt, British Museum
  2. ^ PDF file Research by Franck Goddio
  3. ^ "Lost city of Heracleion gives up its secrets". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-06-06. 
  4. ^ Goddio, Franck. "Heracleion". Sunken civilisation. Retrieved 2013-06-06. 

External links[edit]