1123 – Xerxes canal on Dutch school map

Athos op schoolkaart
When walking on a streetmarket in my hometown Haarlem The Netherlands I came across this school map with routes of ancient  historic expeditions. As you can see that the route Xerxes took is visible on the map. As the story goes he wanted to avoid to sail across the mountain itself because of the strong winds. So his men digged a canal at the narrowest and lowest point of the peninsula in 483 BC.

When King Xerxes of Persia set out to invade Greece in 480 BC he dug a massive canal across the Mount Athos peninsula in northern Greece. Greek historian Herodotus described this complex engineering project in graphic detail.


Reinhold Zwerger discribes in his book “Wege am Athos” that he explored this spot in 1970. Probably he used this old French map, a copper engraving from 1791 (he mentiones a French map from 1770).

Xerxes channel map 1791
Mr. Zwerger went to the highest part of the isthmus, near the small brook on the left side, and he measured a height of 17 meters. That ment that Xerxes’ soldiers – he had 120.000 – had to dig a channel of 20 meters deep at that spot, which he believes was very unlikely, because the channel should have been wide enough to prevent the surrounding soil sliding in again and there should room for two ships – was galleys – to pass ! He did not see any evidence of such large enterprize and found it more likely that Xerxes used the Greek/Byzantine technique to pull the ships with robes and roll them over land with bars……… Herodotus tells us a different story in his book: 7.22 – 24.

Panorama xerxes CANAL1
Wim, 13/10

This is what  scientists say about the Xerxes canal:

Herodotus describes how a canal was constructed in northern Greece by King Xerxes in around 480 BC to allow the Persian fleet into the Aegean in advance of its invasion of Greece. If so, this canal must have been a remarkable engineering operation for its time. This paper reports on the results of a non-invasive investigation at the supposed site of the canalon the 2 km wide isthmus of the Mount Athos peninsula. Geophysical. especially seismic survey, topographic survey and analysis of borehole sediments have played complementary roles in demonstrating that Herodotus ‘ account was very probably correct. Article here.

hv 14 november 2014

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