Naucratis was established on the Canopic branch of the Nile River delta in Egypt by a collection of Greek cities as a trading center and port to Egypt. It was the first permanent Greek colony in Egypt and for a while it was the only one. Archeological findings put the date of origin at the site of Naucratis around 625 BC. Herodotus, in Book II, provides the account of Egyptian Pharaoh Amasis turning the city of Naucratis over to Greeks for residence just after 570 BC.The site thrived into the first century AD, reaching noteworthy levels of wealth. By some historians it has been called the mud brick Manhattan, due to containing stone buildings of considerable size for the time.
Located on the Canopic branch of the Nile River already in the delta, Naucratis was about 40 miles southeast of the sea and the spot of what would become Alexandria just over a century later. When Petrie discovered the site he unearthed a handful of temples, and even one not mentioned directly by Herodotus. “A” is believed to have been a massive storehouse or treasury and marks the southernmost structure in the city. A temple to Hera, Apollo, Aphrodite and Dioscuri existed in the city [E, F, D, G on the drawing]. In 1899 another archaeologist, David Hogarth, discovered what is believed to be Herodotus’ Hellenion. The Hellenion was a joint venture shrine site born of the efforts from several different Greek cities including Chios, Rhodes, Halicarnassus and Mytilene among others (Herodotus).
Link to the West
Historians admit contact between Egypt and Greece from as early as the Mycenaean period, and likely even Minoan. This early contact being a strictly business format. After the Dark Ages, Greece “re-learned” about the wonders and goods from their neighbors to the East, and soon Naucratis was functioning as a major location for the spread of artifacts, goods and culture. The Ionian Greek world and even mainland Greek city-states via the Aegina were now seeing a flow of Egyptian artifacts and the Egyptians the same in reverse.
W.M. Petrie, who found the site originally and began the digging process, says of the inscriptions on pottery found at Naucratis, “the inscriptions have yielded…apparently on firm grounds…the oldest Ionic inscriptions, as well as some in the Corinthian, Melian, and Lesbian Alphabets” (Petrie 1890). There are several examples of an “evolutionary variation” of the original Phoenician alphabet script. The vast amount of pottery found, along with other artifacts, allow historians and archaeologists to paint a clearer picture of the port city as venue for the extensive conglomeration of identities and cultures. We see vessels used for trade of wine and olive oil, which are of the most expected items, but also examples of more artistic pottery. The Egyptians sent grain, linen and papyrus and in turn the Greeks bartered mostly silver, timber, their olive oil and wine. A slightly smaller interesting find reports an Athenian cup left as dedication in one of the many sanctuaries with the name Herodotus inscribed on it, which dates to the time the Historian is known to have visited. Another important find came in the form of a stele found at Naucratis with a decree by Nectanebo I setting out the parameters for the amount of taxes to be paid to Egyptian royalty on everything coming from the “sea of the Greeks.” The stele was discovered in 1899 at Naucratis and excitingly a matching stele was brought up from the sea in 2000 at the site of Heracleion. All of the text on the steles match with exception of the column which designates location of the site.
J. Yoyotte, “An Extraordinary Pair of Twins: The Steles of the Pharaoh Nektanebo I,” in F. Goddio and M. Clauss (eds.), Egypt’s Sunken Treasures (Munich 2006), 316-23.
Herodotus (1920). Godley, A. D., ed. The Histories. London: William Heinemann Ltd.
Petrie, W. M. Flinders (1890). “The Egyptian Bases of Greek History”. The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 11: 271–277. JSTOR 623432.