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Archaeological Evidence for Warship Design and Combat in the Third Century B.C.

Jeffrey Royal

After a number of successful field seasons, the battle zone for the naval clash between the Romans and Carthaginians in 241 B.C. is becoming increasingly defined. Remains from this naval battle-site detail the events of a Roman fleet conducting a surprise attack on a Carthaginian fleet, defeating it, and bringing an end to the First Punic War in Rome’s favor. This crucial naval engagement launched Rome on a path of Mediterranean conquest and the remains of this battle provide unprecedented evidence for warship construction and fleet operations in the third century B.C. During the 2012 field season an additional three bronze warship rams were discovered, bringing the total to ten from the battle landscape. These rams are consistent in size and configuration, and indicate a consistent class of warship. Ram analysis also provides conclusive evidence for direct ship-to-ship attacks that resulted in the sinking of many warships. This paper examines the structural evidence provided by the rams for the nature of the warships that carried them.  Additional information like external dents in the rams' fins, rams split in half, internal fasteners still intact inside the castings, growths on the rams themselves, corrosion patterns, and associated finds from the seafloor surrounding the rams (like nails and spikes) give additional evidence from which the circumstances of combat and subsequent sinking can be hypothesized.  Details from the 2013 field season will no doubt provide more insights into this process.

Session/Panel Title

The Battle of the Aegates Islands (241 B.C.)

Session/Paper Number

10.2

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