Abstract: Naval Warfare in the 3rd Century BCE: Warships, Rams, and Tactics


After extensive work through the 2013 field season, the battle zone for the naval clash between the Romans and Carthaginians in 241 BCE is 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, armor types, and fleet operations in the 3rd century BCE.  Additionally, the numerous inscription and iconographic examples provide an exceptional dataset for the investigation of state organization and religion in society.  Addition bronze warship rams continue to be discovered, with the total prior to the 2013 being ten.  These rams are consistent in size and configuration, and indicate a consistent class of warship.  Furthermore, the warships represented at this site assist in the ongoing dialogue with the descriptions of events left to us by Polybius, Philinus, Fabius Pictor, and Diodorus.  Ram analysis also provides conclusive evidence for direct ship-to-ship attacks that resulted in the sinking of many warships.  Building on the finds of last field season, an additional two bronze helmets were discovered in the battle zone.  One helmet may prove to be the first Carthaginian example of this era discovered.  This battle zone is largely delineated by the scatter of ceramics, overwhelmingly intact, across the seafloor.  Over 150 amphoras of both Punic and Greco-Italic types, as well as numerous examples of tableware, were mapped in 2012.  The mapping process has of all artifacts in this expansive site has greatly increased the overall extent of the battle zone.  A new mapping technology was employed during field operations as an experimental approach to surveying areas of rock outcrops typically impenetrable to sonar.  An AUV was deployed equipped with newly-developed photographic recording systems that produced highly-detailed three-dimensional photogrammetric models of the seafloor.  In addition, a sector sonar was used to map large sections of flat seafloor areas in order to document artifacts.  Ongoing analysis of artifacts continues to bring new information about the people and equipment embroiled in this important ancient naval conflict.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Tusa S. and J. Royal, 2012.  “The Landscape of the naval battle at the Egadi Islands (241 B.C.),” Journal of Roman Archaeology 25:  7-48.

Curry, A., 2012.  “The Weapon that Changed History,” Archaeology 65.1:  32-7.

Ancient Warship Archaeology Program:  http://www.rpmnautical.org/awap.html

A brief video on the Egadi project can be viewed on the University of Nottingham website at http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/pressreleases/2013/november/ancient-naval-battle-site-relics-of-war.aspx

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