Wrecks & shipfinds of the Mediterranean
2. Antiquity after 480 BC
This section starts with the Greek Classic Period and ends with the collapse of the
Roman Empire in 395 AD. During this period the Mediterranean had a dramatic
increase in shipping, becoming an Autobahn of its day. The shipping volume of the Roman Empire would
not be exceeded until maybe the 17th century AD.
- The Ma'agan Mikhael shipwreck, Israel.
12 m long, dated to 5th century BC, investigated 1985-90 by Elisha Linder, believed to be Phoenician,
displayed in its own museum at the University of Haifa.
- Tektas wreck, Turkey. Greek ship dated to 450-425 BC. Located on
35-42 m depth in 1996, investigated in 1999-2001 by INA.
- Porticello wreck. Found by
fishermen in 1969 on c 35 m depth in the Straits of Messina, Italy. First looted, then investigated
in 1970. Ca 17 m long, may have had a capacity of 30 tons, and dated to c 400 BC. The hull was
constructed with the "mortise-and-tenon" method. Contained c
100 amphoras, lead ingots and bronze stature fragments, including a bearded head, possibly a
philosopher. Photo of "philosopher" courtesy INA. Some objects are
displayed in the Museo
Nazionale, Reggio. Ref: IJNA 2.1 1973 & 27.2 1998 and The Porticello Shipwreck
by C.J. Eiseman.
- Kyrenia ship,
Cyprus. Amphora transport sunk around 306 BC on 30 m depth. This was one of five wrecks located in
1967 by M.L. Katzev, University of Pennsylvania. The hull was recovered and conserved in PEG. The
cargo included almonds and hundreds of amphoras from Rhodes. Under the sediment, a large part of the
hull was preserved. It was ca 12-15 m long with one mast, built with the shell method, edge-joined
planks, and had a lead sheathing. A full scale sailing replica (photo) was constructed in 1985 by
professor Richard Steffy. A reduced scale
replica has been built for the Manchester Museum, UK. Ref: National Geographic, June 1970
and Nov 1974.
Lipari Island, off Sicily, Italy. Large Greek ship loaded with amphoras and
ceramics, dated to ca 300 BC. Scattered remains were located by coral divers on 60 m depth in
1966. Investigations soon started but were interrupted after archaeologists Helmut Schlaeger and Hugo
Graf died in a diving accident, diving on air at between 60 and 70 m depth. The site was looted
before it was investigated again by INA in 1976-78, breathing mixed gas and using safer diving
procedures. The site
is on a steep rocky slope ending at ca 100 m depth. Recovered objects are at Museo di Lipari.
Illustration courtesy Gianfranco Purpura, University of Palermo. Ref IJNA
Marsala Punic ships, Sicily.
from a naval battle in 241 BC, remains of two warships
were found in shallow water in 1969-71, only 70 m from each other. Investigated by Honor Frost. The ships were built
with the shell-first method. Lower parts of the hull, one sternpost and parts of a
ram were found intact. Cannabis was found on the site – possibly used
by the crew. One of the ships is raised, conserved with PEG, and displayed in the
Marsala Regional Archaeological
Museum. About 10 m length remains of the ship, that may have originally been 35 m long and 5 m
wide. According to one claim, which I can't confirm, the ship risks destruction because of
maintenance problems. But when I visited the museum in January 2002, it looked well planned with a
climate control system in the exhibition hall. Ref: Les dossiers d'archéologie, (Editions
Faton, juin 1993), and IJNA 2.1 1973, 3.1.1974, 4.2 1975, 26.1 1997.
deep-sea wreck. In 1999, Nauticos Corp. was searching for a missing Israeli submarine.
Instead they found a Greek shipwreck on c 3000 m depth, c 300 km off Cyprus. The wreck carries 2-3000
amphoras with Greek stamps, and is roughly dated at 200 BC. Ref: New York Times, 27 March
- The wrecks off
France. About 40 m long, loaded with Greek, Greco-Italian and Roman amphoras. Investigated by
Cousteau and Fernand Benoît using scuba divers in 1951-57. The finds were on a slope at 28 - 44 m
depth. First it was believed to be one wreck, but it was confusing for the
excavators, who under ship cargo, located a layer of planking, and under
that planking, even more cargo. It has now been concluded that it's two wrecks on top of each
other, one from c 200 BC and one from c 100 BC. Thus, the first layer of
planking was simply the hull of the upper wreck. Ref: National Geographic, Jan 1954.
- Les Sorres VIII. Large Roman trading ship from 2nd
century BC, in the harbour of Les Sorres, Catalonia, Spain. Discovered in 1965. Among the finds are
two Etruscan helmets.
- Spargi wreck,
Sardinia. From 120-100 BC, may have been 30 m long with a lead sheathed hull partially preserved,
loaded with wine, pottery and furniture. Lies in 15-16 m depth. Excavated by Nino Lamboglia 1958-59.
Looted. Excavated again in the 1970s, when 400 amphoras were recovered. Looted again. The remains are
reburied under sand and now hopefully protected. Among the finds was a bronze helmet with a skull
still inside, so maybe the ship sank in battle. Finds are exhibited at Museo Nino Lamboglia, La
Mahdia wreck, Tunisia, c 100 BC. About 40 m long Roman ship, loaded with ca 70 marble
pillars. Found by sponge diver in 1907 on 39 m depth. First excavated in 1908-13, later by Cousteau
in 1948 and 1954. Still being excavated. Some objects are displayed at the Musée le Bardo in Tunis.
Reconstruction drawing by Olaf Höckmann. Ref: B. M.
Encyclopaedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology.
- Albenga wreck,
Italy. Large, ca 40 m long, Roman cargo ship, about 100-90 BC. Found on 42 m depth, and investigated
in 1950. The ship was probably capable of carrying 10 000 amphoras. Ref: B. M. Encyclopaedia of
Underwater and Maritime Archaeology.
- Sant Jordi 1. Roman merchant ship found near
Mallorca Island. Excavated by Dali Colls 1977-78. Dated to 100-80 BC.
- Antikythera wreck,
Greece, 80-50 BC. This was a Roman ship on its way with antiquities from Pergamon. In 1900 Greek
sponge divers using helmets on 40-55 m depth, found the site as they saw bronze statues, first
thought to be "a heap of dead naked women". Several bronzes were raised then, and additional
diving was made by Cousteau in the '70s. Finds are displayed at the
National Archaeological Museum in
Athens, including bronze sculptures and the most spectacular find, the
Mechanism, an astronomical
instrument. Thanks to the gears with 223 and 53 teeth, it could predict solar and lunar eclipses with great precision
in 18-year cycles. This may be the very instrument constructed by
Archimedes, that is mentioned by Cicero. Ref: Angus Konstam, Atlas versunkener Schiffe (Weltbild, Augsburg 1999)
Madrague de Giens
wreck, France. Ca 75-60 BC, ca 40 m long. At the time of sinking carrying maybe ca 600
amphoras, but capable of carrying thousands. Discovered on 20 m depth in 1967. Investigated 1972-1982
by Patrice Pomey and A. Tchernia, who recovered a wooden piece of the keel. After investigation, the
piece was replaced on the wrecksite, and covered by sand. Thus
preserved for future studies. Ref: B. M. Encyclopaedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology.
- La Fourmigue
wreck C, Golfe-Juan, Alpes Maritimes, France. Roman merchant ship located in 1980 on 60 m
depth. Dated to mid-1st century AD. Among the recovered cargo are the spectacular fittings of a
bronze bed, now (2002) displayed at the Musée d'archéologie, Nice. The reconstruction model is
displayed at the museum. Ref: Archéologie sous-marine – vingt ans de recherche sur les côtes de
- Cap de Mèdes wreck, Porquerolles Island, France. Dated to 1st century BC. A remarkable
find is a large scupper of lead pipes (photo),
leading pump water from the deck. It is exhibited together with cargo of amphoras (photo),
at the Musée d'archéologie d'Antibes, France.
Comacchio wreck, Italy. Found in 1980. The preserved 20 m long segment was raised and brought
to the Comacchio museum, near Ravenna. Dated to the end of the 1st century BC.
- The Actium shipwrecks. In 31 BC the navy of Cleopatra
and Anthony clashed against Octavian off the Greek coast. Hundreds of warships were sunk in a
gigantic sea battle. So far none has been located. But the remains are waiting there someplace.
- The San Rossore wrecks. At
least four, maybe eight, Roman wrecks found in 1998 on land at the old port of Pisa, Italy. Dated to
between 1st century BC and 2nd century AD. Ref: Skyllis 2/2000,
Archaeology May 1999, and
Archaeology July/Aug 1999.
- Kap Artemision wreck (Cape
Artemisium), Greece, appr 0 BC/AD. A two metres long Zeus (or Poseidon?) statue from around 450
BC was found in 1928 and salvaged from 40 m depth, now displayed in the
National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Photo. There were also other statues and wooden
fragments from the wreck.
- Porto Nuovo wreck, Corsica. Located in 1989 on 10-12 m depth. Roman merchant ship loaded
with marble columns. Investigated 1990-95. Among the recovered objects are stonecutter's tools, a
Roman sword sheath, and a Tiberian gold coin minted in Lyon 27 or 28 AD. The wreck is dated to the
30s AD. Ref: Skyllis 2/2000.
- Emperor Caligula's Nemi ships, Italy.
Two ships used around 37-41 AD in the sweetwater Nemi lake. In 1929-32, the ships were found and
salvaged. The largest ship was 70 m long. The ships were destroyed by fire in 1944. A full-scale
replica is under way.
Caligula's giant ship. Building the Rome airport in the 1950s, on the old harbour site of
Ostia, traces of an enormous ship were found: 95 m long and 21 m wide. This is larger than any of the
grain carriers, which traded with Egypt and loaded 1000 tons. This ship may have been the one that
emperor Caligula built for the transport of the obelisque from Egypt, which still stands at St
Peter's Square in Rome. The hull planks were 10 cm thick and the ship may have been capable to load
1300 tons. Ref: J-Y Blot, Archéologie sous-marine (1988). Ancient obelisque transports are
also discussed in IJNA 29.2 2000.
- Port-Vendres II. Roman merchant ship found on 7 m
depth near the French-Spanish border. Excavated by Dali Colls. Thanks to stamped tin ingots of the
cargo, it can be dated to 41-50 AD.
- Kinneret Boat. Sea of
Galilee, Israel. 8 m long fishing boat found in 1986. Dated to 1st century AD. Excavated by Shelley
Wachsmann. Treated with PEG for 14 years before displayed in museum in 2000. Ref. Peter Throckmorton:
Sea Remembers (1987).
- Culip IV, Cadaqués, Catalonia, small merchant ship dated
to 69-89 AD.
- The Herculaneum boats. Two boats,
Herculaneum 1 and
Herculaneum 2, have been found in
in 1982 and in the 1990s, the city that was covered in ashes in 79 AD.
- Merchant ship at Caesarea harbour,
Israel. Dated to 83 AD or later. Roman lead ingots from the cargo have been recovered.
wreck. In 1972 this wreck was found together with the remains of a Roman villa at Monfalcone,
near Trieste, Italy. The preserved 11 m long bottom section was raised, immersed in fresh water
1974-81, and treated with PEG 1981-83. The ship may have originally been sheathed with lead. The ship
is dated to between the first and third centuries AD. It is displayed at the National Archaeological
Museum of Aquileia.
- Cabrera III. Roman
merchant ship found on 20-30 m depth near Mallorca Island. Investigated 1985-86 by Victor Guerrero &
Dali Colls. Dated to 257 AD, thanks to nearly 1000 coins found.
- Giglio Roman wreck.
Roman ship from ca 300 AD in the harbour of Giglio Island, Italy. Found in the 1970s on 35-40 m
depth. First apparently looted but finally excavated in 1984-88. Estimated ship length 15 m, loaded
with African amphoras.
Yassi Ada 4th century ship,
Bodrum (Helicarnassos), Turkey. Roman ship from 4th century AD, length ca 20 m, loaded with ca 1100
amphoras. Discovered on 36-42 m depth in 1958, investigated by the INA in 1967, '69 and '74. Photo of
"phone booth" with telephone used by divers, courtesy INA. Ref:
Archaeology vol 21 no 3 1968, and IJNA 5.2 1976.
Small late-Roman trading ship found on the Skerki Bank west of
Sicily in 1989 on ca 800 m depth. Using an ROV some objects were recovered: amphoras, anchors, wooden
planking, and a coin. The ship is dated to last quarter of the 4th century AD and its original name
is unknown. It was presumably sailing from Carthage to Rome. Documented by the Jason Project and Anna
- Wrecks of Alexandria.
Several wrecks have been located in the waters off Alexandria. In 1997, Jean-Yves Empereur
investigated Greek and Roman wrecks, dated to the 4th-7th centuries AD.
Comment: There are very few Mediterranean wrecks from the two
intervals of roughly 1150-750 BC and
400-900 AD. These gaps correspond to times of very little shipping and trade. First gap: The
Dark Ages after the collapsed early Greek civilisations. Second gap: The
Middle Ages. The shipping volume of Roman times was perhaps not reached
again until the 16th or 17th century AD. This has been demonstrated by Dr A. J. Parker,
Nemi ship photo courtesy Dianae Lacus. Page by Per Åkesson rev