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Kouphonisi (Greece): a briefly vibrant Roman harbourage between Crete and Africa
2016-10-20, Coutsinas, Nadia, Guy, Max, Kelly, Amanda
This paper explores the dynamics leading to the establishment of a relatively prosperous Roman settlement on the islet of Kouphonisi in Crete. The settlement was clearly comparatively wealthy, judging from the range of its public buildings (including a bathhouse, theatre, aqueducts and cistern complexes) and the opulent decor of its private residences. What conditions generated such favourable economic circumstances for the inhabitants of this tiny arid islet lying in the Libyan Sea three miles off the southeastern tip of Crete? The location of the islet, which today seems remote and far-removed, is appraised in the context of its seasonal sea currents and favourable winds which facilitated its navigational connectivity with Roman markets operating in the wider Mediterranean. Already in the Hellenistic period, the islet's strategic importance was keenly recognised by the competitive cities of eastern Crete who vied for its control. However, these serendipitous circumstances, and the site's sustainability, were short lived. The settlement's economic boom (born of its strategic position along the wider sailing routes of the Mediterranean) ended abruptly and permanently in the late 4th century AD. Finally, the paper examines the possible nature of the drastic forces which may have been responsible for the settlement's abandonment, thereby signalling the beginning of a process of desertification which persists today.