The Remarkable ‘Sewn’ Roman Shipwreck in Croatia
In 2020, a rare discovery was made in Croatia – a 2,000-year-old wreck of a Roman sewn ship, a type of ship that was literally stitched together using ropes!
Croatia has an already rich archaeological heritage and now, experts have announced the recent discovery of a rare Roman shipwreck. This ancient wooden vessel is providing insights into the development of shipping in the classical world, and it’s being dubbed as Croatia's greatest archeological discovery in the 21st century due to its remarkable preservation.
The ancient boat was unearthed during excavations at the Porta de Mar archaeological site on the Croatian town of Poreč’s waterfront. The town is located in the historic region of Istria, and was established by the Romans, today being famous for its many historic buildings and sites. The discovery was made during an ongoing archaeological mission to investigate the ancient waterfront of the town, which has already revealed many important finds. It was found near an ancient pier and because of changes in the coastline, where it sank became part of the land.
The excavation site where the Roman shipwreck was unearthed. (Grad Poreč)
Roman Shipwreck Preserved in Mud
The boat was found embedded in the mud and many of its original timbers were preserved. An archaeologist who took part in the mission Klaudia Bartolić Sirotić told Croatia Week “it was well preserved because it was at a certain depth in the soil and could not be penetrated by oxygen.” The remains are approximately 16 feet long (5 meters) and 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) wide and originally had a mast and a sail.
Many of the original elements of the vessel remain and “these are primarily the formwork, ribs, and keel” stated Ms. Bartolić Sirotić, reports Archaeology.org. The outline of those parts that have decayed has been preserved in the wet sludge. This has allowed the archaeologists to determine the type of vessel and how it was made. It is a type known as a Roman sewn ship because of the ingenious way it was constructed.
The Roman shipwreck that was found in Poreč, Croatia, showing the sewn design of the vessel. (Grad Poreč)
Ingenious Sewn Ship
This type of ship was stitched together using ropes and wooden nails, known as spots. Bartolic Sirotic told Croatia Week, “every stitch that was made is recorded” in the sludge. The builders of the ship tied ropes together and sewed them through holes, which then had wooden nails inserted in them. Bartolić Sirotić stated that “after that, the ribs, which are connected with this plate by the big wooden nails, are put on,” according to Croatia Week.
These type of ships have been found from earlier periods at other sites in Croatia. Most of them have been found by marine archaeologists and as a result, have been difficult to investigate. In total three vessels of this type have been located on-land in the Balkan nation. Sirotić was quoted as saying that “this specimen from Poreč is one of three boats found on land that are not part of an underwater archaeological survey,” reported by Croatia Daily.
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Master Shipbuilders and Pirates
Experts were excited about the discovery and stated at the time that this “archaeological finding is the biggest in the last 30 years, and is significant because the boat is well preserved and has many elements that are very rarely seen,” according to the Facebook page of Archaeology.In. The researchers were able to date the remains to the 1 st century AD, to the time when Poreč was a Roman colony. Dalmatia was heavily Romanized, but it also retained much of its original Illyrian character and culture.
Another shot of the excavated Roman shipwreck. (Grad Poreč)
This type of vessel was particularly associated with the Northern Adriatic. The tribes who inhabited the Dalmatian coast, collectively known as the Illyrians were famed shipbuilders and notorious pirates in ancient times, before they were conquered by the Romans. The Romans adopted their small oared ships known as Liburnians and used them very successfully in their various wars, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The findings of the research on the sewn ship were presented by the director of the local Poreč Museum at a public event. The archaeologists who took part in the dig also presented their research. The finding added to our knowledge of Roman-era naval technology and shipbuilding and also helping local researchers to reconstruct the waterfront of Poreč during its heyday.
Top image: The Roman shipwreck excavated in Porta de Mar, Poreč in Dalmatia, Croatia, together with one of the archaeologists inspecting the find. Source: Grad Poreč
By Ed Whelan