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Ancient Phoenician Shipwreck in Malta

2,700-year-old Phoenician Shipwreck Discovered in Maltese Waters


A group of divers have discovered a Phoenician shipwreck dating back to 700 BC off the coast of Gozo island in Malta, according to a news report in the Times of Malta.  It is a unique and immensely important finding as it is the oldest known shipwreck in the central Mediterranean, it is among the oldest and most complete Phoenician ships ever recovered, and it will serve to shed light on inter-regional trade and exchange in antiquity.

The announcement was made by Malta's Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government, Owen Bonnici, who said the wreck was found in Maltese waters at a depth of 120 metres.

“This discovery is considered to be unique not only here but internationally as well because it is the oldest, or considered to be the oldest shipwreck in the central Mediterranean and it is in a fantastic state of preservation,” Project Co-Director Dr Timmy Gambin told the Times of Malta.

Gozo coast in Malta

The Phoenician shipwreck was found one mile off the coast of Gozo in Malta

To date, researchers from France, the United States, and Malta have recovered 20 lava grinding stones, weighing some 35kg each, and 50 amphorae of seven different types, which suggests the ship had visited different harbours. Based on the cargo, scientists believe the ship was sailing from Sicily to Malta to sell its cargo when it sank.

Amphorae found at the shipwreck

Researchers found 50 amphorae scattered across the sea floor. Image source: screen capture taken from video released by the Times of Malta.

The whole operation, which is being supervised by the Superintendence of National Heritage and explored by GROplan Project, is currently focused on piecing together over 8,000 photographs to create a very high resolution and detailed 3D model of the site. Following this, the results will be published and the international team will be working out how the site can be enjoyed by the general public. It has already been added to the National Inventory of Cultural Property and steps are being taken to protect the site for its future preservation.

One of the project's researchers explained that the shipwreck is a typical Phoenician vessel which would have measured some 50 feet long. 

Phoenician ship carved on the face of a sarcophagus

Phoenician ship carved on the face of a sarcophagus. 2nd century AD. Image source: Wikipedia

The Phoenician civilization, which lasted from 1550 BC to 300 BC, was based in present-day Tyre in Lebanon. They travelled across most of the Mediterranean, not as conquerors but as traders.

The strategic location of the Malta in the Mediterranean made the islands a safe refuge for the Phoenicians during their long sea voyages. By the 7th Century BC the Phoenician presence was part of the identity of the Maltese islands.  They are also widely believed to have set the origins of the Maltese language.

The Phoenician civilization was eventually conquered by the Persians and then by the Greeks.

Featured image: Top Left: Phoenician boat marble mosaic art (contemporary). Remaining images: Screen captures of newly-discovered shipwreck taken from video released by the Times of Malta.

By April Holloway



Charles Bowles's picture

Nathan James, you are so absolutely correct about the Persians and Greeks did not destroy Phoenicia, but did conquer and subjugate the people in their home base which was considered present day Lebanon.   However, I do have some serious doubts about ancient Black Phoenicians who prayed to their “Negroid” image statued supreme Gods such as “Baal” and his son “El” as being ancestors of ancient Carthaginians, based on a “Mythical” story about a princess “Dido” who left her husband in Lebanon to buy a small parcel of land from a Black Berber King, and that small bit of land became ancient Carthaginian empire To me that is like believing in the “Green Man” religion, Zeus who tricked a Phoenician Princess name “Europa” into thinking that he was a bull, then later revealed himself, and the European continent is named after her. So we have these two Black Phoenician Princesses who are involved in two different “Myths”….My belief after doing lots of research is that ancient Carthage had absolutely nothing to do with ancient Phoenician, and I agree with you that they were indeed two different “distinct” groupsof people.  Furthermore, Phoenicia was never a single race, or kingdom of people, and that is why they were probably conquered, due to the fact that they were never a united people, and were all quite different, in regards to race, as well as political ideology. It has been reported that Tyre infrastructure was destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, and that last two groups of people which Tyre shows resemblance are the Romans and the Crusaders, but then, that is a difference between 1000 and 2000 years later...

Charles Bowles

The author did not say the Phoenicians where "destroyed" by the Persians or the Greeks. The exact word used was "conquered." To conquer a people does not imply their destruction. It means to subjugate, which in their home areas is exactly what happened to the Phoenicians. The Carthaginians where descended from Phoenicians, but by the time of their destruction by the Romans, where a distinct people.

The Phoenician civilisation - which had evolved into the Carthaginian civilisation - was not destroyed by the Persians or Greeks, but by the Romans, c.146 BC, after the Third Punic War. (Punic was Latin for Phoenician).

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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