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Helmets from the Sea: Military Finds from the Battle of the Aegates Islands (241 BCE)
September 29, 2019
Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
AIA Society: Milwaukee
Lecturer: Andrew Goldman
On 10 March, 241 BCE, the final naval battle of the First Punic War was fought off western Sicily, where a large Roman fleet engaged an equally large Carthaginian fleet near the Aegates Islands. The ancient historian Polybius tells us how the Romans won a decisive victory and forced the Carthaginians to sue for peace shortly thereafter. Almost 2300 years later, the site of the battle has been located off Levanzo Island (in the modern Egadi Islands group), and its landscape has been carefully surveyed by RPM Nautical Foundation and Sicily’s Soprintendenza del Mare. By the end of 2014, eleven warship rams, eight of helmets and a wide scatter of artifacts had been recorded on the sea floor, at the first maritime battlefield from ancient times which has ever been explored.
This lecture will discuss the ancient battle as we understand it from surviving literary sources like Polybius and will present what the new archaeological finds have revealed about the conflict and its combatants, the early legionaries of Rome and the mercenary forces of Carthage. Fieldwork at this maritime site has not only produced some of the earliest Latin inscriptions and Roman iconographic representations ever discovered, but also a series of helmets of the early Montefortino type, what are arguably the most successful piece of equipment ever developed, in use for nearly 500 years. These mid-3rd century B.C. finds are not only helping us to understand the use and production of Roman armor, but are also permitting us to reexamine the development of the Roman military during its most important, formative years under the Republic. In addition, one of the newly recovered helmets is likely to be of Carthaginian origin, a discovery that is providing new insight into how Rome’s greatest ancient adversary once waged war.
Tusa, S. and J. Royal. 2012. “The landscape of the naval battle of the Egadi Islands,” JRA 25, 7-48.