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Still Waters

2,300-year-old Egyptian fortress discovered

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Still Waters

A 2,300-year-old fortress that protected an ancient port called "Berenike" has been discovered in Egypt on the coast of the Red Sea by a Polish-American archaeological team.

Constructed at a time when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies, a dynasty of pharaohs descended from one of Alexander the Great's generals, the fortifications are sizable.

"A double line of walls protected the western part of the fortress, while a single line sufficed farther to the east and north. Square towers were built at the corners and in strategic places where sections of the walls connected," wrote archaeologists Marek Woźniakand Joanna Rądkowska in an article recently published online in the journal Antiquity.


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Peter B

Thank you! This was an interesting article for me. Sadly, it'd be even more interesting if they'd included a map to show where on the Red Sea the fort was located.

The particularly interesting thing for me, though, was the mention of elephants.

When Ptolemy I founded his kingdom in the decade or so after Alexander's death, he initially had no elephants - the elephants in Alexander's army (originally recruited in India) had been split up between other generals, with some going to Macedonia and others to Asia Minor and Babylonia. But after defeating one of the other Successor generals he captured his enemy's elephants. Around the Successor kingdoms these elephants had all died of old age by about 270-260BC. And because Macedonia and Egypt had no access to India, they couldn't obtain any more elephants. In the case of Macedonia that was the end of elephants. But the Ptolemies in Egypt were able to source other elephants - as the article points out, from Eritrea near Ethiopia.

The Eritrean elephants weren't the big African elephants we see today; they were instead quite a lot smaller, and they were generally outfought by Indian elephants when they met in battle. But they had their uses, particularly against enemies who weren't familiar or comfortable with them.

But the thing is, the Ptolemaic innovation in using these elephants was quickly copied by other North African states: Meroitic Kush, Carthage and Numidia all started adding elephants to their armies within a decade of the Ptolemaic adoption of the African elephant. (An alternative timeline is that the Kushites saw the Ptolemaics' Indian elephants and recruited Eritrean elephants in response, and then the Ptolemaics copied the Kushites once their own Indian elephants died out. Either way, Carthage and Numidia were copiers.)

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