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A Roman shipwreck with amphorae as cargo has been found off the coast of Cyprus.

Into the Drink! Roman Shipwreck Stocked with Amphorae Found Near Cyprus

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A ship that has lain at the bottom of the Eastern Mediterranean for about 2000 years has been found by marine archaeologists according to the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. The Roman shipwreck was found off the coast of Cyprus and it is expected that the discovery can help researchers better understand the economy and society of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Roman Empire.

The wreck was found off Cyprus’ ‘southeast coast, near the popular beach resort of Protaras,’ according to France 24 . This is a well-known tourist resort which is not far from the Cypriot port of Larnaca . According to the In-Cyprus website, ‘it is the first undisturbed Roman shipwreck ever found’ in the waters of the Mediterranean island nation.

Roman trireme on the mosaic in Tunisia

Roman trireme on the mosaic in Tunisia. (Mathiasrex/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Divers Found the Roman Shipwreck

This remarkable discovery was made ‘ by Spyros Spyrou and Andreas Kritiotis, both volunteer divers,’ according to Greek Reporter . They are part of a volunteer marine archaeological research team, connected to the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory (MARELab), which is affiliated with the University of Cyprus.

The divers immediately contacted the relevant authorities. Officials have praised the men for their discovery and for alerting them to the wreck.

A group of professional marine archaeologists and volunteer divers have recorded the shipwreck . Greek Reporter states that ‘this is the first time that an underwater archaeological project has been fully funded by the country’s Ministry of Transport, Communications, and Works’’. The Cypriot government is keen to demonstrate its commitment to preserving the island’s heritage.

The divers found a large number of amphorae on the seafloor around the wreck. This was the sunken ship’s cargo. An amphora is a ‘narrow necked Roman jar designed to hold liquid products including oil and wine,’’ according to France 24 .

Oil and wine were widely traded in the Roman Empire as they were staples of the Roman diet . These clay pots were often mass-produced and they have been found all over the Mediterranean and have often provided invaluable evidence on the history of trade and economic activity.

Amphorae

Amphorae. ( Pixabay License )

These containers are providing clues to the ship and its history. The wreck dates from the Roman Empire, which dominated the Eastern Mediterranean for centuries. This means that it probably dates from at least 58 BC when Cyprus was taken over by the Roman Republic .

Adding to the List of Shipwrecks

The discovery of large numbers of these clay pots indicates that the ship was a merchant vessel used in maritime trade . It is probably the remains of a craft that came from either Syria or Cilicia (in modern Turkey), both rich provinces in the Classical period. The vessel may have been voyaging to a local port when it sank.

2nd/3rd Century AD fresco depicting a Roman merchant vessel

2nd/3rd Century AD fresco depicting a Roman merchant vessel. ( Public Domain )

The latest discovery is only the ancient shipwrecks that has been identified in the waters of the Mediterranean country. This is because the island was on several important maritime trade routes from the Bronze Age right down to the Middle Ages and many vessels have sunk around its waters.

In 2007 a wreck from the 4th century BC, which may be that of a Greek or Phoenician ship , was found off the east coast of Cyprus. This is providing invaluable insights into the construction of ships in the Classical period and into the trade routes of the era.

There is an ongoing investigation into the site on the seabed and more finds could be made. This Roman shipwreck and its cargo can help researchers to better understand trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. It can also help them to understand the role of Cyprus in the economic life of the Roman Empire.

Top image: A Roman shipwreck with amphorae as cargo has been found off the coast of Cyprus. Source: Cyprus Dept. of Antiquities/Spyros A.Spyrou

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Gary Moran's picture

Thanks George

On the contrary, it is not coincidence that the pointed bottom amphorae are exclusively used in boats, as their shape permitted to be wedged between the hull’s frames in the hold, and then a second or even third layer of amphorae to be added, secured between the amphorae of the lower layer. Also, the rounded tip provided a third point of leverage to maneuver the amphorae during loading / unloading, and using small radius design made the whole vessel more robust. Even if the amphorae were laid down horizontally, the next layer could be added in such a way as to make optimum use of space and provide best interlocking effect.

Gary Moran's picture

For all the brilliant and clever things designed and built by the Romans, the aphorae seem to me to fail the test. They can’t stand up on those pointed bottoms, and must have been very awkward to manipulate in spite of the handles. Once opened, what would one do with it? Probably have to empty it into another container, seems a waste. Must have been really awkward to transport too, unless they made some sort of rack with holes to stand them in. 

Only heavily laden merchant ships could be found lain on the sea bed, as it is their cargo that holds them down. For the same reason it is most unlikely that a war ship like a trireme (which obviously is not the ship on the mosaic in Tunisia) will ever be found, as they had no ballast and they disintegrated as a result of battle, running aground, or time, so their only surviving parts are their rams.

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