A wealth of ancient military objects recovered from a naval battle site of the First Punic War


The Battle of the Aegates (also known as the Battle of the Egadi Islands) was the last major naval encounter fought between the Mediterranean powers of Carthage and the Roman Republic, in circa 241 BC. And while the Romans were possibly outnumbered by their North African opponents when it came to ships, they secured a decisive victory in the battle, which ultimately led to the end of the First Punic War in that very year itself. And now, after more than 2,200 years, a collaborative effort from Soprintendenza del Mare and Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) – as a part of the Egadi Project 2017, has resulted in the unraveling of the military legacy of this momentous encounter, off the western coast of Sicily.


The underwater excavation project of 2017 was focused on the north-west seabed of the Levanzo Island, a depth of around 260 ft below sea level. The researchers were successful in locating two bronze rostrums (or rostra in plural), in addition to the eleven specimens found earlier. Now for the uninitiated, the rostrum, which later translated to an architectural platform, originally pertained to the warship ram used by the contemporary naval powers in the region. To that end, the archaeologists have recovered 13 such warship rams from the sea-based battle area of the Egadi Islands.


Interesting enough, the Egadi 13 rostrum bears a Punic inscription on its upper sheath, which only makes it the second such warship ram of Carthaginian origin recovered from the area. The Egadi 12 rostrum, on the other hand, exhibits its intricate craftsmanship with ornamental patterns and a sword-handle motif that connects to the central blade of the ram. This arrangement is accompanied by bird-head appendages that embellish segments of both the upper and lower blades.


In addition to rostrums (warship rams), the researchers have also discovered around ten war helmets of the Montefortino type used by the Roman legions. And one of these specimens showcases an incredible motif of a lion’s skin which seems to drape the central cone adorning its peak. Now historically, the famed (and rather notorious) Praetorian Guard members of circa 1st-2nd century AD possibly flaunted their Montefortino helmets with real lions skins perched atop them. However, historians are not aware of any such practice during the earlier Republican period corresponding to the timeframe of the First Punic War.


Researchers of the Egadi Project 2017 have hypothesized that this particular lion-skin relief may have been inspired by a cult of Herakles prevalent in one of the allied Roman cities. In that regard, the mythical hero was often portrayed as wearing a lion’s skin. The other possibility relates to a scenario where the lion skin motif was perceived as an insignia that indicated a rank of authority within the Roman army command structure.


In any case, in spite of such object-based intricacies, the sheer scale of the marine-based ‘battlefield’ is not lost on the archaeologists. As Sebastiano Tusa of the Soprintendenza del Mare commented –

It is an exceptional result from a scientific perspective because it adds more findings with absolutely new characteristics to those already known and recovered that will certainly add new typological, technical, epigraphic and historical data. These latest discoveries add to those made in the past in this stretch of sea between Levanzo and Marettimo and that have allowed us to precisely locate the site where one of the greatest naval battles of antiquity was fought with around 200,000 participants, between the Romans, led by consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus, and the Carthaginians, under the command of Hanno, and which ended in the victory of the first.


Tusa further added –

The site has so far yielded thirteen bronze rostrums of ancient warships, eighteen bronze helmets, hundreds of amphorae and objects of everyday use.


Via: Archaeological News Network / All Images Courtesy Of Egadi Project 2017.