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Mediterranean ship technology in Antiquity

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Julian Whitewright
Affiliation:
University of Southampton, United Kingdom
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution reviews evidence from maritime archaeological sites, especially those dating to the first millennium BC and the first millennium AD, in order to trace the development of ship technology in terms of conception, design and construction. It shows that the main method of ship construction in the Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the fourth century AD was shellbased, with some variations. It suggests that the introduction of a frame-based method and the adoption of lateen sailing rig in Late Antiquity were motivated primarily by economic considerations.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution examine les vestiges des sites archéologiques marins, et particulièrement ceux datant du Ier millénaire av. J.-C. au Ier millénaire ap. J.-C., afin de retracer l’évolution de la construction navale en termes de conception, d’élaboration et de fabrication. Elle montre que la principale méthode de construction des navires en Méditerranée, de la fin de l’Âge du bronze au IVe siècle ap. J.-C., était basée sur la fabrication de l'enveloppe extérieure (ou « coquille ») de la coque, à quelques variations près. Elle suggère que l'apparition d'une méthode basée sur la fabrication d'une charpente et l'adoption de la voile latine dans l'Antiquité tardive furent principalement motivées par des considérations économiques.

The Mediterranean has played, and continues to play, a critical role in the formation of our understanding of the past interaction between people and the sea. Maritime archaeological activity lies at the heart of our understanding of this and it is clear that from the earliest times human activity has taken place along its shorelines and across its waters. In particular, there is a great abundance of well-preserved maritime archaeological sites, especially those dating to the first millennium BC and the first millennium AD. In the period under review here the archaeological and historical narrative of the Mediterranean traces the expansion of Greek colonists into the eastern and western Mediterranean and the voyages of Phoenician traders along the southern coast and ultimately through the Straits of Gibraltar, heading ever westwards in their quest for mineral resources. We learn of naval engagements between fleets of oared warships numbering in the hundreds, upon which the fate of empires rested, and of mythical heroes engaged in all manner of quests ranging far and wide across the wine-dark sea.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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