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MAREA: Economy

Mediterranean > Egypt > Cities > Marea

Mareotis was the richest part of the immediate hinterland of Alexandria and critical to its food supply. Staple grains from all over Egypt came to Alexandria by boat through the lake, unloading at the Mareotic harbor of the city. The region itself grew the more perishable crops of vegetables, fruit, and nuts, including olives, figs, dates, and almonds. The lake also provided abundant fish, and animals for meat were raised in the region.

The largest crop, however, was grapes, mostly made into the famous white wine of Mareotis, refered to in ancient authors and documents and credited with good keeping qualities. The wine was exported all over the Mediterranean. More than two dozen wine-production sites have been discovered in the region, sometimes linked to important villas. In recent years, nearly 30 pottery factories have also been found by survey, mainly along the south shore of the lake, and there were large mounds of potsherds in the same area. The production of containers for the wine was thus also a local industry. Sometimes wine factories and pottery kilns are found associated with each other. There is also evidence for the quarrying of limestone from the ridges that run parallel to the coast and for the production of glass.

There is no evidence for ancient irrigation canals in the area; water for agriculture and viticulture must have come from a combination of sources: perhaps a somewhat higher level of rainfall than in modern times (in the 20th cent., it was 40-260 mm per year), storage systems to capture and retain this irregular rainfall, and water-lifting from the lake via mechanical devices. There were also wells; the groundwater toward the east end was fresher because of its proximity to Nile canals. The area in this way supported a much larger population and higher level of production than in modern times.

Mareotis was also a zone of recreation for the Alexandrian elite, as it was in more recent times. In late antiquity it acquired another important economic base with the growth of the sanctuary of St. Menas (Abu Mina) as a pilgrimage site.

Bagnall, Roger, "Marea." Electronic Encyclopædia of the Ancient World. EEAW, Inc., 2002. (Accessed ).