How to Study Ancient Seafarers? Simple, Recreate Their Ship!


In 48 B.C.E., Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great were locked in desperate combat. The two generals led huge armies against each other in a civil war to decide the fate of the Roman Republic. At Dyrrhachium in what is now Albania, Caesar attacked Pompey’s supply base on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Because of the vagaries of the wind, Caesar sent supply ships to several destinations across the Mediterranean Sea to ensure his own troops could be fed and outfitted in the coming campaign. The reason for all this redundant planning had to do with a problem that has plagued Mediterranean mariners for at least 3,000 years. In the summer, prevailing westerly winds severely hampered the movement of sailing ships loaded with crops and other goods from the east back to Rome.

Sailing on the Ocean of History

An Israeli researcher wanted an answer. So first, he did what any academic might, he studied wind patterns and ancient texts about the weather. And then he did something more unusual. He and a team of experts built a replica of a 5th century B.C. boat and sailed it across part of the Mediterranean to test his theory. The researcher, David Gal, a PhD candidate at the University of Haifa, published the results of his study this summer in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. “We started with a trivial question: How did Roman ships visiting the Levant return to Rome?” Gal said. However, a windward journey was not practical in the kind of ships they used. So how did they accomplish these voyages?

Where the wind Blows

Gal believes these superannuated seafarers took advantage of brief reverses in wind patterns to sail to Rome and other western destinations. In addition, by examining Roman and Greek texts about the weather, he discovered that those breeze cycles are virtually unchanged over the past three millennia. Gal said the sailors’ lives depended on anticipating weather patterns, so they knew when to begin a journey and when to find a safe port. They often waited days before catching the right winds to begin or resume travel.

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Source : Reddit



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