For almost a decade, archaeologists have searched for the Roman city of Neapolis, which was sunk by a tsunami 1,700 years ago.

Recently, the ruins of the lost city were finally located near the cost of Nabeul in Tunisia. In fact, some of the ruins that remained aboveground had been discovered earlier, but the underwater part of Neapolis was more difficult to find. It took archaeologists seven years to succeed in this endeavor.

The tsunami

Thanks to underwater prospecting, the research team were able to confirm that Neapolis was sunk by a tsunami on July 21 in 365 AD. Historians estimate that the tsunami was caused by an earthquake which included two tremors. The strongest of those reached a magnitude of 8.0, which led to catastrophic consequences. Thus, according to the records by Roman historian Ammien Marcellin, this disastrous event also damaged the ancient city of Alexandria in Egypt and the Greek island of Crete.

The history of Neapolis

The city of Neapolis was founded in the 5th century BC by the Greeks of Cyrene and its name translates as “new city”. We don’t have much information about Neapolis as there are very few references to it in the Roman literature. It probably has to do with the fact that the city sided with Carthage during the Third Punic War, which took place in 149–146 BC. During this war, Carthage was trying to set free from the power of the Roman Empire, which, however, resulted in a defeat and loss of independence. Historians believe that after the Punic Wars, Neapolis was punished for its lack of loyalty to the Roman state.

The Roman delicacy

In the archaeological site, which is over 20 hectares big, there were found streets, numerous monuments and around one hundred tanks which were used to make so-called garum, a fermented fish condiment that was a popular delicacy in the ancient world. In fact, the archaeologists believe that apart from being a trade port, Neapolis was once a center of fermented delicacy production and could also have a monopoly over it.

Mounir Fantar, the head of the joint Tunisian-Italian mission that has been trying to find the sunk city since 2010, told AFP:

“This discovery has allowed us to establish with certainty that Neapolis was a major center for the manufacture of garum and salt fish, probably the largest center in the Roman world. Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum.”

The ancient Neapolis may not be as well-known as the lost city of Atlantis, but discoveries like this one bring a piece of the ancient world to us. It is fascinating to see how the mysteries of the past unravel before our eyes, isn’t it?

Image credit: National Heritage Institute Tunisia/University of Sassari