Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, February 27, 2009

"Column Wreck" Yields Unique Discoveries

The waters of the Mediterranean hold countless treasures from the ancient world.  When most people think about travel in ancient Greece or Rome, they conjure up images of sword and sandal films with their chariots and famous Roman roads.  True, both of those this did exists, but sea travel was the "rapid transit" of the day.  If you had great distance to travel, boarding a ship was your best bet.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're an archaeologist) sea travel was also very dangerous.  Coast Guard safety regulations certainly did not exists and weather prediction was far from an exact science.  Still, intrepid ancients boarded ships and sailed off. Many ended their journey safely, but it's the ships that didn't make it to their destinations that intrigue us today.

A recently published discovery off the coast of Turkey has once again shown us what lies beneath the waves.  This ship, dubbed the "column wreck," contains the remains of a massive marble Doric column.  Such things have been found in the past, but this wreck is different.  Not only has the location of the marble quarry for this column been identified, but the destination of the column has been ascertained as well.  The column was destined for the Temple of Apollo at Claros.  Claros has a history dating back to the seventh century BCE and was prosperous throughout ancient history.  That this column never made it to Claros probably didn't surprise anyone back then.  Sea travel, while it was quick and enabled you to transport large quantities of goods or people, was none the less very dangerous.  That danger was probably never far from the minds of anyone who held stake in maritime commerce, but it's those loses that enrich the archaeological record today.


Read History said...

Interesting about the speed of shipping. I never thought about that as a disadvantage to the Romans because they were late to the shipping trade. I've contemplated the issue of land transportation and how Oxen travelled 2.5 miles per hour. It so long for farmers to get goods to market mass distribution was impossible.