Evidence of smuggling found on 3rd century Roman ship

Evidence of smuggling found on 3rd century Roman ship

A team of Italian archaeologists has found evidence of smuggling activity on the remains of a Roman ship. The shipwreck dates from 3rd century but it was not until six months ago that the ship could be recovered from a depth of two meters off the coast of Marausa Lido, a beach resort near Tripani (Italy). The cargo ship was wrecked while trying to access the Birgi River, sinking with it everything it carried from North Africa.

In official records, their cargo consisted of assorted vases filled with walnuts, figs, olives, wine, oil, and fish sauce. But historians have now discovered that, in addition to all that, it also contained a large number of unusual pieces of fired clay in a cylindrical shape. According to experts, these tubes were especially valuable to sailors, since smuggled it from North Africa to Rome, where they sold it for high prices.

They are small terracotta tubes with a pointed end that, placed on another tube, forms a serpentine line”Affirms the superintendent of the Sicilian Maritime Office, Sebastiano Tusa. Too highlights the importance of these architectural pieces when constructing the vaults in the buildings. “It was a smuggling activity tolerated in a way, used by sailors to round off their poor wages.”Says Tusa. In North Africa, vaulting tubes cost a quarter of what builders in Rome paid for it. This meant additional income for the sailors.

One of the most relevant experts on Roman architecture and Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Melbourne, Frank Sear, argues that vaults with these fired clay tubes were common in Africa in the 2nd century. He also qualifies: “The pieces were very frequently imported to Sicily and appeared in many places, such as Syracuse, Catania, Marsala and Motya. There are good examples of them in the Roman villa baths in Piazza Armerina”.

The surprising thing is that, after the centuries that have elapsed since the sinking, the contraband cargo that has been recovered, as well as the ceramic vases and bowlsThey were in perfect condition. The old cargo ship was completely covered in a layer of clay and sea grass. This has served as a natural shelter and has preserved most of the ship's wooden structure.

Total, they have recovered more than 700 pieces of wood and both the left and the right side of the hull are practically intact. The Italian authorities think that, “once it rebuilds", be "the most complete roman shipThey have found to date. At the moment it is under restoration in a specialized laboratory in Salerno. The ship is expected to be exhibited in the local museum within two years.

Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was little he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.


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