A second century AD Roman shipwreck with a cargo of 130 amphorae containing wine and possibly also olive oil has been the subject of an underwater archaeological survey off the eastern coast of Cyprus. The survey, the first detailed non-invasive archaeological survey conducted at the site since the ship was found in 2007, was completed at the end of August.
It found that the amphorae, which are now scattered on the seabed, came from south-eastern Asia Minor as well as the north-east Mediterranean region. Some of the jars contained wine from the south coast of France. Other items provide clues about maritime life in Roman times such as storage and cooking items used in the ship’s galley. This survey follows several other underwater archaeological projects, including the discovery of a ‘graveyard’ of Roman ships wrecked near the Italian island of Ventotene in July this year, an underwater project to save remains in the Solent Strait in the UK, as well as exploration of an underwater cave in the Dominican Republic.
The ship was found in shallow waters off the eastern coast of Cyprus at Cape Greco and may have been about to call at the Roman port of Lefkolla on Cyprus although it’s also possible it was trading in shallow water or moving products over a short distance along the coast. Archaeologists are unsure about where the ship was travelling to.
The ship is thought to have sunk during the first two decades of the second century AD. This was a time when Trajan was emperor (98-117 AD) he enlarged Rome’s maritime port, Portus, suggesting that this was an important time for cargo ships transporting goods around the Mediterranean to the large cities of the Roman empire.
Cyprus had been part of the Roman empire since 58 BC and was largely peaceful. However, during 115-117 AD
(around the time that archaeologists believe this ship would have gone down) there was an insurrection of the Jewish community led by Artemion. The Romans under Trajan were able to suppress the uprising only after heavy casualties – 240,000 people are reported to have been massacred by the Jews. The Jewish communities in Cyrene and Egypt also took part in the uprising known as the Kitos Wars.
Future work at the site will involve a full shallow-water survey near Cape Greco with a remote sensing search for other sites that may contain better-conserved objects protected by the sandy seabed further out to sea. The area off Cape Greco is rich in maritime history. It is near to the site where the Macedonian Demetrios Poliorketes defeated Ptolemy of Egypt in a large sea battle in 306 BC. Although almost 100 ships were reported sunk, Ptolemy eventually returned and was successful in taking control of the island. There are many other reports of shipwrecks along this area of the coast.
The underwater archaeological project is sponsored by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, with financial support from the University of Pennsylvania and RPM Nautical Foundation, as well as additional logistical support from the Thetis Foundation.
Photos by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities.