Enigmatic Egypt: Roman Ruination – Red Sea

The Egyptian grand tour of Roman ruination concludes with a relaxed Red Sea cruise.

The cruise is an excuse for a Red Sea Romp through the dusty archives of ancient annals, medieval manuscripts, archaeological articles and the mainstream mindset.

Passengers entertain themselves by proposing Roman names for each port of call.

The captain and crew actively encourage passengers to dive into the archives looking for potential place names, Roman references and [more importantly] any geographical references that can be loosely linked to a port of call.

Academic accolades are awarded to every vaguely viable vignette.

Don’t be shy!

Any old half-arsed argument is academically acceptable.

Plus, there aren’t any ancient “Welcome” signs to puncture prestige or prevent publication.

The grunt to guesswork ratio varies by latitude and location.

In the northern Roman Red Sea the waters have “gradually receded over the centuries”.

The Red Sea is believed by some historians to have gradually receded over the centuries, its coastline slowly moving southward away from Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake.


While in the south of Roman Egypt there has been an “estimated 1–2m rise in sea level”.


The Ptolemaic town seems to have been farther north and west of the Roman emporium due to silting of the harbor by local wadi water run-off, which more than offset an estimated 1–2m rise in sea level since Hellenistic times.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert


Gradualist Academics usually politely ignore this apparent contradiction because:

a) They can’t invoke an Ice Age to explain away a sea level rise “since Hellenistic times”.


b) They can’t invoke Post-Glacial Rebound in Egypt to explain away the receding Roman Red Sea “over the centuries”.

Post-glacial rebound (also called either isostatic rebound or crustal rebound) is the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period, through a process known as isostatic depression.


The melting of glaciers at the end of ice ages is one example of eustatic sea level rise.


But the changes “since Hellenistic times” are understandable to Catastrophic Geologists.

The “lateral displacement” implies the land parted to form the Red Sea in Biblical times.

In other words:

The Parting of the Red Sea narrative is all about Geology in the 1st millennium CE.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/the-heinsohn-horizon-and-the-parting-of-the-red-sea/comment-page-1/


The historical narrative unwittingly endorses the Catastrophic narrative by confirming commercial activity during the Ptolemaic period was “mainly within the Red Sea”.

There was commercial activity at some of the ports in the Ptolemaic era.

At that time trade seems to have been mainly within the Red Sea with the establishment of a number of elephant-hunting stations down the African coast to the Bab el-Mandeb and perhaps beyond, along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa (Strabo, Geography 16.4.7ff; Pliny, Natural History 6.34.170–5).

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert


See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/the-miocene-mysteries/

Overall, the evidence suggests the connection between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean only became navigable during the Roman era.

Literary evidence and archaeological excavations in Egypt and elsewhere in the Red Sea-Indian Ocean region suggest that in the early Roman era (30 BC-second century AD) maritime commerce with South Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and coastal sub-Saharan Africa reached its zenith.

This trade was of a greater volume, involved a larger variety of goods and ranged farther afield in the Roman than in the Ptolemaic period.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert


The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea or Periplus of the Red Sea is a Greco-Roman periplus, written in Greek, describing navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports like Berenice along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and the Sindh and South western India.

The text has been ascribed to different dates between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE, but a mid-1st-century date is now the most commonly accepted.



Intriguing evidence from India suggests:

1) Trading between the Red Sea and India/Taprobane ended at the Heinsohn Horizon in “the 10th century”.

2) The historical narrative of the “ancient Tamil country” has imported 700 phantom years from Western academia i.e. it’s demise is dated to 200 AD.

3) The Roman ruination in Egypt and Southern India is associated with a lot of sand.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/lost-in-academia-periplus-of-the-erythraean-sea/

Pattanam is a village located in the Periyar delta in Eranakulam district in the southern Indian state of Kerala

According to the recent archaeological excavations, Pattanam seems to have been first occupied by an indigenous population around 1000 BC and continued to be active till the 10th century AD.

The site for archaeological research at Pattanam (10° 09.434’ N 76° 12.587’ E) covers about 45 hectares. Due to habitation activities it is a “disturbed” site; some parts are partially destroyed due to sand quarrying.



The excavation work at Pattanam was stalled after ASI suspended KCHR’s license in September 2015, triggered by a complaint by Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram, an RSS affiliate body, who claimed that the project was a “collective conspiracy and propaganda to claim that Pattanam was the ancient Muziris.”

History lost…twice? ‘Muziris’ excavations in Kerala’s Pattanam face right wing wrath – Hindustan Times – Manas Roshan

Pattanam Excavations 2007 – 2015

It includes Mediterranean amphora, terra sigillata sherds, Roman glass fragments and gaming counters (dated 100 BC – 400 AD); turquoise glazed pottery, torpedo jar fragments and frankincense crumbs of West Asian, South Arabian Mesopotamian origin (dated 300 BC – 1000 AD); Chinese blue on white porcelain sherds (dated 1600 AD – 1900 AD); Local black and red ware sherds, Indian rouletted ware, gemstones, glass beads, semi precious stone beads / inlays / intaglio, cameo–blanks, coins, spices, pottery terracotta objects and human bones.

They have also identified iron, copper, gold and lead objects as well as crucible slag, furnace installations, lapidary remains of semi-precious stones and spindle whorls suggesting industrial character of the settlement.

Muziris (Muciri), A Sangam Era Port in Kerala: History Through the Ages
Know Your Heritage – R Muthusamy – 2 Feb 2017


The economy of the ancient Tamil country (Sangam era: 200 BCE – 200 CE) describes the ancient economy of a region in southern India that mostly covers the present-day states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.


Unsurprisingly, academia blames Claudius Ptolemy for their gradualist shortcomings.

The second century AD geographer Claudius Ptolemy (Geography 4.5) indicates six ports on the Red Sea coast of Egypt.

They were, from north to south:

Clysma-Qolzoum-Arsinoë-Cleopatris (near Suez), Philoteras, Myos Hormos (Quseir?),
Leukos Limen/Albus Portus, Nechesia (Mersa Nakari?) and Berenike.

Ptolemy’s locations are only approximate; he does not indicate when these were founded nor whether all were operating in his day.

Confusion in the location and identification of the classical Red Sea Egyptian ports stems from Claudius Ptolemy’s imprecise coordinates and from differing accounts in other ancient authors.

Strabo (Geography 16.4.5) lists four ports from north to south: Philoteras, Arsinoë, Myos Hormos and Berenike.

Later in the first century AD, Pliny the Elder (Natural History 6.33.167–8) gives the order of Egypt’s Red Sea ports from north to south as: Arsinoë, Philoteras (Aenum), Myos Hormos and Berenike.

The Periplus Maris Erythraei (approximately contemporary with Pliny) mentions that Myos Hormos was 1,800 stades from Berenike.

No ancient author except Claudius Ptolemy mentions Leukos Limen and Nechesia.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert


The gradualist criticisms of Ptolemy aren’t justified because the displacement of the Red Sea ports was tracked for posterity in the Gazetteer of Ptolemy’s Geographia.

The digitised gazetteer also reveals the migration of the Red Sea coastlines since 194 BC.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/the-arabian-horizon-the-ptolemy-inheritance/

The Geography, also known by its Latin names as the Geographia and the Cosmographia, is a gazetteer, an atlas, and a treatise on cartography, compiling the geographical knowledge of the 2nd-century Roman Empire.

Originally written by Claudius Ptolemy in Greek at Alexandria around AD 150, the work was a revision of a now-lost atlas by Marinus of Tyre using additional Roman and Persian gazetteers and new principles.


In the 1920s an attempt was made to locate the Roman ports using Ptolemy’s latitudes.

On paper this approach looked promising.

The latitudes given by Ptolemy for the five ancient ports on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea correspond fairly closely with those of the five anchorages still in use by native craft :-

Muller, relying on a statement implied in Artemidorus and repeated in Pliny that Philoteras was north of Myos Hormos, exchanges in his Latin translation the latitudes for Myos Hormos and Philoteras as given in the Greek text of Ptolemy.

To confuse the issue still further, there is a misprint in the Latin which gives 27° 50′ instead of the correct 27° 30′.

So M. Couvat, misled by this unwarrantable conjecture that the latitudes had been exchanged, quoting direct from Mullers Latin gives Philoteras as 27° 50′ and Myos Hormos as 26° 45′.

But I see no reason for altering the Greek text of Ptolemy which I have followed in the above table.

The Roman Roads and Stations in the Eastern Desert of Egypt
G W Murray
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology – Vol 11 – 1925


But this approach produced inconsistent [aka random] results.

(a) Myos Hormos,

The identification of the “ Mouse Harbour ” with Abu Sha‘ar is rendered obvious and certain by the remains of a fortified town very nearly in the latitude given by Ptolemy, at the end of a seven-stage road from Coptos, with a spring at a little distance which can hardly be other than the Fons Tadnos of Pliny (PL XIY, fig. 2).

(b) Philoteras

The latitude is given by Ptolemy as 26° 45′ (with a variant reading of 26° 30′), a position which lands us near the present Port Safaga.

But the depth of that anchorage must have rendered it unsuitable for ancient craft. Nor can the Ras Abu Suma anchorage, a little further north, be Philoteras, for there are no ancient ruins there and no diverging path to it from the Via Hadriana which passes by along the base of the foothills.

Philoteras must be sought further south.

I think, beyond the native fishing village consisting of only a few huts.

Two kilometres south of this village is a well of extremely bitter water and a ruined hydreuma in the Wadi Safaga… There are, however, no ruins of any kind except the hydreuma and no anchorage.

But ten kilometres south of the mouth of Wadi Safaga is a dhow anchorage at the mouth of the Wadi Guwesis in lat. 26° 33′ ( cf the variant reading given above for Philoteras). Here, there is a ruined village, rather modern-looking, and a road leading to more ruined houses in the Wadi Gasus.

I am inclined to place Philoteras here.

(c) Albus Portus

Albus Portus was certainly Kuser.
The present town presents no ancient remains except the ruins of a Ptolemaic temple, inscribed with the Egyptian name of the town, Duau.

(d) Neehesia.

The identification of Neehesia with Mersa Mubarak is more difficult
There is certainly a small quadrangular ruin at Shuni but the anchorage is very small and there is no water.

The claims of Mersa Mubarak are more obvious, a good well and anchorage : and although there are now no ancient remains, it is the natural port for the ancient gold mine of Umni Rus, only seven kilometres away inland, where Floyer in 1891 counted the ruins of over 300 houses.

(e) Berenice.

Berenice Troglodytica was founded by the same Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.) who renamed Aennum, Philoteras, and cut a canal from the Red Sea to the Bitter Lakes. The site, called by the ‘Ababda Medinat el-Harras, was discovered in 1818 by Belzoni, who had been reading D’Anville.

It has been described by Wellsted, who estimated the number of houses as from 1000 to 1500, by Schweinfurth, and by Goleniseheff. The last named gives a plan of the temple.

The Roman Roads and Stations in the Eastern Desert of Egypt
G W Murray
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology – Vol 11 – 1925


Nothing has changed in the last century.

The scholarly skirmishes still simmer beneath the superficially self-assured Settled Science.

There is scholarly debate on the identification of Quseir el-Qadim; recent arguments associate it with Myos Hormos.

Perhaps the ruins of an earlier Ptolemaic site lay under modern Quseir.

Myos Hormos may be at modern Quseir or at Quseir el-Qadim.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert


Unsurprisingly, the mainstream appears content to accept that a “limited” coastal settlement could be sustained in Roman times when the nearest potable water was about 10 kilometres away.

Quseir el-Qadim (26°06′ N, 34°17′ E), a small port on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea, lies about 8km north of the modern town of Quseir.

The port attracted early archaeological interest due to its location at the end of the Wadi Hammamat, the shortest route in Upper Egypt between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea.

The ruins lie at the head of a small bay on the northern arm of a raised coral reef.

In historical times the sabkha (mud-flats) to the east and south may have been a shallow lagoon. The desert conditions (circa 4mm annual rainfall) and the distance to the nearest potable water (circa 10 km inland at Bir Karim) explain the intermittent and limited settlement in this coastal region.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert


In recent years archaeological activity has focussed upon Berenice in the south of Egypt.

Berenice (Berenike) or Berenice Troglodytica, also known as Baranis, is an ancient seaport of Egypt on the west coast of the Red Sea.

It is situated about 825 km south of Suez and 260 km east of Aswan in Upper Egypt.

It was founded in 275 BC by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BC), who named it after his mother, Berenice I of Egypt.

Troglodytica refers to the aboriginal people of the region, the “Troglodytai” or “cave dwellers”.

The emerald mines of Zabara and Saket are in its neighbourhood.

The harbour is indifferent, but was improved by art.

Berenice stood upon a narrow rim of shore between the hills and the Red Sea.

From the 1st century BC until the 2nd century AD, Berenice was one of the trans-shipping points of trade between India, Arabia, and Upper Egypt.

It was connected to Antinopolis on the River Nile in Lower Egypt by the Via Hadriana in 137.

In 1818, the ruins of Berenice were identified by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, confirming an earlier opinion of D’Anville.


Click here to view the associated Berenike Project video on YouTube.

Berenice Troglodytica

On the site I found, in December 1923, some copper nails, an unusual quantity of broken glass, some coins of Constantins (337 A.D.), and a piece of obsidian.

The Roman Roads and Stations in the Eastern Desert of Egypt
G W Murray
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology – Vol 11 – 1925



However, whether today’s Berenice is the same as the Roman’s Berenice is anyone’s guess.

Especially as there are always archaeological alternatives awaiting academic appreciation.

‘Aydhab was an important medieval port on the west coast of the Red Sea.
The abandoned site of the town is located in the Hala’ib triangle, a territory disputed between Egypt and Sudan.

Possibly established during the Ptolemaic period


This is because in the northern half of the Red Sea above Jiddah, the prevailing wind blows from the north the whole year-round.

Even in the southern half, the wind blows from the north for most of the year.

It is only during a relatively short time between October and March or April that a southerly wind blows, and it blows reliably only as far north as the latitude of Jiddah and, on the African side, ‘Aydhab.

The Jiddah–‘Aydhab latitude — the northern limit of southerly winds — was thus always the limit of sail-powered direct trade bound for Alexandria or Cairo.

But after Roman times, why did the major commercial port of the Red Sea develop on the Arabian, and not on the African or Egyptian, coast?

Only the pilgrimage to Makkah explains that: Islam changed the pattern of the centuries-old India trade by making the Hijaz coast of the Red Sea a destination for the first time.

Queen of the India Trade – William Facey – Saudi Aramco World – Nov/Dec 2005

Perhaps that’s why archaeologists prefer to look on the bright side of life…

Gallery | This entry was posted in Enigmatic Egypt, Geology, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Indian Impacts, Roman Chronology. Bookmark the permalink.

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