This week: Submerged cities

According to Plato, it was a fabulously wealthy island – larger than Asia Minor and Ancient Libya combined, and situated just beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Its powerful princes conquered much of the eastern Mediterranean, subjecting whole populations to slavery, until an alliance led by the Athenians staged a fightback, managing finally to liberate the occupied lands.

Afterwards, Plato continues, ‘there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.’

More than 10,000 years after these events are supposed to have taken place, we can see that there is little or no historical basis for Plato’s story. But if the Atlantis myth now seems fantastical, one reason for its enduring fascination is that it does at least make sense – for as we know, many real towns and cities have indeed disappeared beneath the waves over the centuries.

This week on The Past, we make a return visit to Apollonia, the busy North African port city founded by the Greeks, which became the capital of the Roman province of Libya Superior, before finally being overtaken by rising sea levels following major earthquakes in the region in about AD 700.

In the new issue of Current World Archaeology magazine, and on the latest edition of The PastCast, our brilliant podcast, Nic Fleming recalls leading the trailblazing underwater archaeological team which first mapped and filmed Apollonia’s extraordinary submerged ruins in 1958, and explains what has changed in recent decades.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have also been diving into the archives to discover more about submerged cities: we reported from Egypt on some recent spectacular discoveries at the sunken port of Thonis-Heracleion; we returned to the Nile delta to hear what the excavation of a ship can tell us about the rivercraft that once caught Herodotus’ eye; and we caught up with developments in the Cyclades, off the Greek island of Delos, where archaeologists are exploring the ruins of a once-busy port, which now lies two metres below the surface of the Aegean sea.

And finally: if all that simply whets your appetite, don’t forget to have a go at our latest themed Quiz, which this week is focused on lost settlements. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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