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The Ancient Port Of Adulis


The port of Adulis was one of greatest significance in Antiquity. It is best known for its role in Aksumite trade during the fourth – seventh centuries AD. It is connected to Aksum in Ethiopia by a tortuous mountain route to Qohaito, thence across the plateau to the city itself. However it is also a major port of the Periplus of the Erithraean Sea, a sailors’ hand-book of the first century AD. Not only did it offer a good harbour on the route to India, but it was a source for luxuries such as ivory, tortoise-shell and rhinoceros horn.

The site was first identified by Henry Salt, who visited it in 1810, and noted that the site was still called ‘Azoole’ by the natives. There is little reason to doubt Salt’s identification as it accords well with the Periplus. It lies in a deep bay of exactly the right dimensions (the Gulf of Zula, 200 stades = 33km deep) and at the entrance, near the other shore is a hilly island (Dissei), ‘Oreinê’ of the Periplus. It is about 10 hectares in extent and comprises substantial mounds, some of which have clear indications of walls. 

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