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Serbian coal miners found the remains of a Roman ship that likely supplied an ancient frontier city and military headquarters. Source: Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade

42-Foot Roman Ship Unearthed in Serbian Mine, Part of an Ancient River Fleet!

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The ancient woodwork of a Roman ship, likely part of an ancient river fleet from the 3rd or 4th century AD, has been accidentally uncovered by the Drmno coal miners in Serbia. The hull measures 42 feet (12.8 meters) in length, and the entire site is located near the ancient Roman site of Viminacium, 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) away. Due to this proximity, it is likely that this ancient ship carried supplies along smaller rivers between the Danube and Viminacium, which was also a military frontier and base for the Romans.

This find was nestled within the confines of the Drmno surface coal mine, positioned approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of the bustling city of Belgrade. The vessel's timeworn components lay concealed beneath layers and layers of silt, resting at a depth of approximately 25 feet (8 meters) beneath the surface, reports Sve o Arheologiji.

From 2020 onwards, two ships and three canoes have been found at this site, which archaeologists believe has only been excavated up to 5%! An additional vessel in the vicinity adjacent to the Mlava river has been located too.

Serbian coal miners found the remains of a Roman ship that likely supplied an ancient frontier city and military headquarters. (Arheološki institut / Ustupljene fotografije)

Serbian coal miners found the remains of a Roman ship that likely supplied an ancient frontier city and military headquarters. (Arheološki institut / Ustupljene fotografije)

The Danube and Its Waterways: Linking to Viminacium

The gradual excavation process revealed the vessel's remains ensconced along the mine's vertical wall. This level of preservation happens to be a peculiarity because Viminacium is one of the few ancient cities of the world over which a modern city has not been built.

Miomir Korac, the principal archaeologist leading this project, potentially traces the origins of this vessel to the 3rd or 4th century AD. This chronicle of time coincides with Viminacium’s zenith as the paramount stronghold of the Roman province known as Moesia Superior, a phase in which its dominion extended over the territory and a port was established in proximity to a tributary stemming from the grandeur of the Danube River.

"We may assume that this ship is Roman, but we are unsure of its exact age," Korac told Reuters. "It is likely that the barge was towed from the shore or driven by oars, and in suitable situations the ship could also use the wind to move, using an auxiliary sail," the other archaeologists on the team explained.

With dimensions spanning roughly 65 feet (20 m) in length and 12 feet (3.5 m) in width, the boat showcases a distinctive flat-bottomed design reminiscent of a barge. Expert analysis of its configuration and historical context leads archaeologists to surmise that its primary purpose was the efficient conveyance of goods, facilitating trade and sustenance between the Danube to the settlement.

Mladen Jovicic, who is part of the team working on the newly discovered ship, said moving its 13-meter hull without breaking it would be tough. "Our engineer friends ... will prepare a special structure that will be lifted by a crane, and ... the entire process of gradual conservation will follow," he concluded.

Archaeologists think the flat-bottomed boat once carried cargo along waterways between the Danube and the Roman city of Viminacium. (Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade)

Archaeologists think the flat-bottomed boat once carried cargo along waterways between the Danube and the Roman city of Viminacium. (Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade)

Viminacium: A Strategically Located Roman Settlement

Viminacium, the nearby Roman settlement, was established as a prominent outpost in the Roman Empire's Upper Moesia frontier province after 87 AD. It soon evolved into a bustling hub of commercial activity. It had a prospective population tallying over 45,000 individuals and would emerge to significantly shape the Balkans' regional dynamics.

Its strategic importance is further underscored by the presence of several Roman legions stationed within its confines. This fortified bastion was geared towards raiding adversaries from the north. Regrettably, Viminacium's golden age was interrupted by the relentless Huns, who devastated it in 411.

Fate compelled its reconstruction by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great in the 6th century, the city once again met a somber fate in 582, succumbing to the onslaught of the Avars from the Eurasian steppe, reports Live Science.

The site has been a giving one for archaeologists – intricately adorned tombs, remnants of ancient workshops that worked with gold and silver, and remnants of plazas, fortifications, and other protective walls for the city’s defense have been uncovered. There are also well-preserved baths, a chariot racing track, and a grand amphitheater which could host up to 12,000 spectators. In 2021, the remains of 13 dogs were also uncovered within this amphitheater, hinting at an ancient relationship between humans and animals.

Top image: Serbian coal miners found the remains of a Roman ship that likely supplied an ancient frontier city and military headquarters. Source: Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade

By Sahir Pandey

References

Greenberger, A. 2023. 42-Foot-Long Ancient Roman Ship Uncovered by Miners in Serbia. Available at: https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/ancient-roman-ship-uncovered-miners-serbia-1234676308/

Metcalfe, T. 2023. Ancient Roman boat from empire's frontier unearthed in Serbian coal mine. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/archaeology/romans/ancient-roman-boat-from-empires-frontier-unearthed-in-serbian-coal-mine

Zahid, N. 2023. Ancient Roman Ship Uncovered in Serbia. Available at: https://greekreporter.com/2023/08/04/ancient-roman-ship-serbia/

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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