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Roman shipwreck artifacts found in the Spanish fish shop.     Source: Civil Guard

Illegal Roman Shipwreck Artifacts Found in a Spanish Fish Shop


During a recent routine inspection of a seafood store, Spanish authorities came across a number of important historical artifacts that date to the Roman Empire. They found over a dozen storage containers known as amphorae in the business which were assumed to be Roman shipwreck artifacts. Police are now investigating the incident which is possibly a crime under laws designed to protect Spain’s heritage. The Roman shipwreck artifacts were discovered while officials were inspecting a seafood shop in Santa Pola, in the province of Alicante on the east coast of Spain. This was a routine visit, to ensure that the business is complying with food safety and other regulations. 

Roman Shipwreck Artifacts Included Unique Roman Amphorae

While the officers were examining the shop, they were struck by something unusual. They observed several large jars that looked as if they were used for storage, but they were clearly very old, and the officers thought their presence in the shop was suspicious. CNN quotes the Spanish Civil Guard press release as stating that ‘Officers observed several ceramic amphorae at various points in the facility’. The officers notified the Valencian regional government cultural department and they confiscated what would later be identified as artifacts from a Roman shipwreck.

The Guardian reports that ‘a preliminary examination suggested the ceramic vessels were Roman and could date from the first century AD.’ In total 13 ceramic amphorae were recovered. They were all in good condition if a little worn. The artifacts have now been deposited in the Santa Pola Museum, for safekeeping.

Roman Maritime Trade With Spain Provides Clues

The items date back to a period when Roman merchant vessels crisscrossed the Mediterranean, carrying cargoes such as foodstuffs, luxuries, and manufactured goods. These merchant ships played a crucial role in the Roman economy. The Guardian quotes experts from the Santa Pola Museum as saying that ‘Most of the 13 amphoras would have been used to store and transport oil that was produced in Andalucía and shipped to Rome from Portus Ilicitanus – or what is now the port of Santa Pola.’ The containers that contained oil are of a type known as oleic amphorae. 

It is also possible that the amphorae contained luxury produce being imported into Roman Spain, for the local elite. Some of the containers may once have held the popular garum fish sauce, a delicacy in the Roman World. A statement from the Civil Guards stated that one of the containers ‘could be of significant importance, due to its exclusivity’ according to CNN.

Closeup of one of the amphorae found in the Spanish fish shop. (Civil Guard)

Closeup of one of the amphorae found in the Spanish fish shop. (Civil Guard)

A Roman Limestone Plaque and 18 th Century Anchor Also Found

Also uncovered was a ship’s anchor from the 18 th century and a limestone plaque. The BBC reports that ‘The limestone plaque was inscribed with the word ‘este’, meaning ‘east’ in Spanish’. The origin of these items is unknown as is the identity of the ship that they came from.

It appears that the son of the owner of the fish store found the Roman and the 18 th-century items while out fishing. RT News reports that he ‘thought they would make nice decorations at the family business.’ He brought them home to his dad, and they were in the store for some time.

Roman Shipwreck Artifacts: Crimes Against Spain’s Heritage

After questioning the two men, the Civil Guard concluded that the items may have come from two different shipwrecks. There are countless shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, dating from the Bronze Age. The Guardian quotes an official statement from the Civil Guard that they are ‘now investigating the owner of the establishment and his son as alleged perpetrators of a crime against historical heritage.’

By possessing and not reporting items that might be of historical significance the pair could have committed a serious offence and they may face charges. The BBC quotes a police press statement as saying that, ‘The amphoras could come from the looting of shipwrecks,’ which would be protected as objects of underwater archaeology.’ The locations of the shipwrecks must be established so that they can be protected. Any historical objects remaining on the ships, if found, will be retrieved.

Top image: Roman shipwreck artifacts found in the Spanish fish shop.     Source: Civil Guard

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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