Archaeologists in Egypt have found the fortress that protected the Berenike port, on the coast of the Red Sea, which along with other ports on the coast also served as a passage of war elephants for the army of the Ptolemies.

The construction of the fortress was made at the time of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The fortifications are quite large, comprising a double line of walls which protected the western part of the fortress and a single line to the east and north. The corners and the parts where the walls were connected bear square towers.

 A complex measuring approximately 160 m long and 80 m wide is the largest and most fortified part of the Berenike fortress. It consists of three large courtyards and several structures forming an enclosed complex of workshops and stores.

The architecture of the fortress, which is very impressive, has been greatly preserved as it was covered by sand.

A well cut on the rock and several drains and pools found within the gatehouse were used to collect and distribute water drawn from the ground or gathered from rain. Two of the pools, the largest ones, had a capacity of over 17,000 litres. This also indicates the climate at the site was very different than what is the case today.

In an ancient trash dump, at the south side of the north defensive wall, archaeologists unearthed terracotta figurines, coins and a piece of an elephant skull.

The fortifications were probably deemed unnecessary after a while by the city’s administrators, and some of them were dismantled soon after their construction. They were probably constructed in the first place because the Ptolemies were not sure how local people would react to their presence, a common practice of theirs. Archaeologists found no evidence of attack against the city.

Another interesting fact drawn from historical records is that Berenike was part of a chain of ports along the Red Sea coastline from where elephants were brought to Egypt in order to supply the army of the Ptolemies. The animals were probably imported from Eritrea in East Africa.

The town became a significant trade centre after Rome took over Egypt in 30 BC, with commercial relations stretching to Greece and Italy as well as South Arabia, India, the Malay Peninsula, Ethiopia and East Africa.

The discovery was announced last month by a team of Polish-American archaeologists, and the results of the research were published in the journal Antiquity. The team was led by chief directors Steven Sidebotham, professor of ancient history and archaeology at the University of Delaware, and Iwona Zych, the deputy director of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw. Research at the site was carried out with the financial support of the Polish National Science Centre.