Monday, March 18, 2019


A unique shipwreck of the sort described by the Greek historian Herodotus, but which was thought to be a myth, now has been found at an Egyptian seaport visited by Antinous.

The ancient wreck was discovered near the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion at the mouth of the Nile River.

Heracleion and its adjacent resort of Canopus in Egypt was the last place where Hadrian and Antinous were happy ... before Antinous died!

The vessel was constructed in a manner described by the 5th Century BC Greek historian, who visited Egypt and observed the construction of an unusual trading vessel. 

Damian Robinson of Oxford University said the hull is the first such ship to be found, proving that Herodotus was writing the truth.

Known as a "baris," the ship had a crescent-shaped hull made from thick planks connected with tenon-ribs fastened with pegs, rather than mortice-and-tenon joints. 

The archaeological evidence has helped scholars to understand the ancient text.

"Herodotus describes the boats as having long internal ribs," Robinson said. 

"Nobody really knew what that meant…. That structure's never been seen archaeologically before. Then we discovered this form of construction on this particular boat and it absolutely is what Herodotus has been saying."

In 450 BC Herodotus witnessed the construction of a baris. He noted how the builders "cut planks two cubits long [around 100cm] and arrange them like bricks."

He added: "On the strong and long tenons [pieces of wood] they insert two-cubit planks. When they have built their ship in this way, they stretch beams over them… They obturate the seams from within with papyrus. There is one rudder, passing through a hole in the keel. The mast is of acacia and the sails of papyrus...."

Robinson said that previous scholars had "made some mistakes" in struggling to interpret the text without archaeological evidence.

"It's one of those enigmatic pieces. Scholars have argued exactly what it means for as long as we've been thinking of boats in this scholarly way," he said.

But the excavation of what has been called Ship 17 has revealed a vast crescent-shaped hull and a previously undocumented type of construction involving thick planks assembled with tenons ... just as Herodotus observed, in describing a slightly smaller vessel.

Originally measuring up to 28 meters long, it is one of the first large-scale ancient Egyptian trading boats ever to have been discovered.

About 70 per cent of the hull has survived, well-preserved in the Nile silts. 

Acacia planks were held together with long tenon-ribs – some almost two meters long ... and fastened with pegs, creating lines of "internal ribs" within the hull. 

It was steered using an axial rudder with two circular openings for the steering oar and a step for a mast towards the center of the vessel.

Robinson said: "Where planks are joined together to form the hull, they are usually joined by mortice and tenon joints which fasten one plank to the next. Here we have a completely unique form of construction, which is not seen anywhere else."

Alexander Belov, whose book on the wreck, "Ship 17: a Baris from Thonis-Heracleion," is published this month, suggests that the wreck's nautical architecture is so close to Herodotus's description, it could have been made in the very shipyard that he visited. 

Word-by-word analysis of his text demonstrates that almost every detail corresponds "exactly to the evidence."

Heracleion and its adjacent resort of Canopus in Egypt vanished in an earthquake and tsunami in ancient times, submerging colossal statues, temples ... ships.

This was the last place where Hadrian and Antinous were happy ... before Antinous died!

Hadrian recreated Canopus at his Villa near Rome. 

Historian Royston Lambert writes: "Hadrian and his circle in late August removed themselves from the Alexandria along the canal to the elegant and relaxed pleasure resort of Canopus with its elegant villas, its vine-threaded arches straddling the water to shade its revellers and its splendid Serapeam." 

In Marguerite Yourcenar's novel "Hadrian's Memoirs," it is at Canopus that Hadrian and Antinous consult a "heka" (Egyptian magic) mistress. She says Hadrian's lifespan could be extended ... through human sacrifice. Hadrian rejects the idea. So Hadrian and Antinous return to Alexandria and Hadrian considers the matter closed. Only later does he learn that Antinous secretly goes back to Canopus. "He paid another visit to the sorceress," Hadrian writes in his memoirs .

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