(Smithsonian Magazine) If he toured Mounichia harbor today, Xerxes the Great, ruler of the Persian Empire, might scoff at the pleasure yachts and fisherman that can primarily be found on the waters just south of Athens, Greece. But 2,500 years ago, when the protected harbor in Piraeus, a port city on the outskirts of Athens, was a full on naval base bristling with armed sailors and mean-looking triremes? That might have made him think twice about trying to invade Greece.
Archaeologists are learning just how formidable Athens’ naval war machine really was after excavating parts of two of the three militarized harbors built in Piraeus. “We have identified, for the first time, the 5th century BC naval bases of Piraeus—the ship-sheds, the slipways and the harbor fortifications,” Bjørn Lovén, director of the Zea Harbor Project, which led the excavations, tells Philippe Bohstrom at Haaretz.
Lovén says the naval fortifications at one time housed about 400 fast and maneuverable ships called triremes. These vessels were tended to by 80,000 sailors and soldiers.
Advertisement - story continues below