Newly Discovered Roman Shipwrecks Bust Ancient Sailing Theories

Two ancient shipwrecks from Roman times have been discovered in deep water off a western Greek island, a find which challenges the long-held theory that ancient shipmasters, not wanting to risk the open sea, stuck to coastal routes.

The Sacramento Bee reports that Greece’s culture ministry stated the two wrecks, which date to the third century, were discovered earlier in May, when officials were surveying an area where they plan to sink a Greek-Italian gas pipeline. According to the ministry, the wrecks lay between 1.2 and 1.4 kilometers (about 0.7-0.9 miles) deep in the sea, between Corfu and Italy.

The new find is amon the deepest known ancient wrecks in the Mediterranean, aside from a vessel near Cyprus that was discovered in 1999 at 3 kilometers (or 1.8 miles) deep.

Angeliki Simossi, head of Greece’s underwater antiquities department, stated that:

“There are many Roman shipwrecks, but these are in deep waters. They were not sailing close to the coast. The conventional theory was that, as these were small vessels up to 25 meters (80 feet) long, they did not have the capacity to navigate far from the coast, so that if there was a wreck they would be close enough to the coast to save the crew.”

The Boston Globe reports that Brendan Foley, a U.S. archaeologist who was not involved in the project, stated that many wrecks found in deep waters in the past 15 years have forced experts to reconsider the common theory that ancient ships hugged the coast for safety. Foley stated:

“The Ministry of Culture’s latest discoveries are crucial hard data showing the actual patterns of ancient seafaring and commerce.”

Foley, a deep water archaeology expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, stated that wrecks like the two found near Greece, are better to study, because those found in shallow water are often not as well preserved. He further stated in an email that:

“So they contain far more archaeological and historical information than other sites. As a result, the deep sea floor of the Mediterranean is the world’s greatest repository for information about the earliest civilizations.”