A long-lost Roman city has been found in the waters of northeast Tunisia, along with dozens of ancient fish sauce containers, confirming the old theory that the settlement was swallowed up by a colossal tsunami 1,600 years ago.
A new archaeological project by the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari has sent divers to explore this sunken city. So far they have discovered the remains of streets, monuments, and around 100 tanks used to store garum, a fermented fish sauce sometimes called “Rome’s ketchup”.
“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 centre in the Roman world,” Mounir Fantar, who heads the Tunisian-Italian archaeological mission that made the discovery, told AFP News Agency.
The name of the ancient city, “Neapolis”, means “new city” in Greek. There are a handful of towns called this around the former Roman Empire but this one was near the modern-day coastal town of Nabeul in Tunisia, a short hop over the Mediterranean Sea from what is now Italy.
Fantar and his team had been looking for the port of Neapolis since 2010, convinced that the city’s remains, rumored to have been swallowed by a recorded tsunami in 365 CE, could be found. The remains of the city exist as ruins including houses, an industrial complex, and rather pretty paved mosaics. Thanks to this new discovery, archaeologists can now confirm approximately one-third of the urban area was submerged and remains underwater.
“It’s a major discovery,” Fantar confirmed.
On the morning of July 21, 365 CE, the Eastern Mediterranean was rocked by an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of 8.5M – that’s pretty damn powerful. The epicenter was in Crete, where most of the towns were destroyed, but larger portions of Greece, Cyprus, Sicily, Spain, and North Africa also suffered.
“Many ships were stranded on the dry shore,” wrote the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus. “In another quarter the waves, as if raging against the violence with which they had been driven back, rose, and swelling over the boiling shallows, beat upon the islands and the extended coasts of the mainland, leveling cities and houses wherever they encountered them.”
By the sounds of that, it’s not surprising this coastal city ended up underwater.