Remnants of the Punic Wars found on seabed off Sicily

Bronze helmets and remains of a ship, including a large ram were found near the Egadi Islands, off Sicily’s coast, by underwater archaeologists. The artefacts are dated to around 241 BC, to the battle during the First Punic War (264-241 BC).

Montefortino helmets found off the Egadi Islands (by Emma Salvo)

At the site of the Battle of the Aegadian Islands, or Egadi Islands, archaeologists applying unmanned submersible vessels found easily identified Montefortino-style helmets, shaped like half of a watermelon with a knob on the top and cheek flaps on the sides. Variations of the helmet, which shape is believed to have spread from central Europe, through Italy and across Western Europe, were worn by Roman soldiers and mercenaries on both sides of the Punic Wars. The highlight of the findings is a bronze Montefortino helmet which might have been a precursor of the lion-themed helmets used by Rome’s Praetorian Guards, which were established more than two centuries after the 241 BC battle, by Gaius Octavius Augustus. Other helmets found at the site bear what appears to be Punic lettering engraved into the crest knob. Archaeologist Jeffrey Royal believes they might have been worn by Greek mercenaries on Carthaginian pay.

Bronze ram of a ship being raised from the sea floor (by Superintendenza del Mare)

Beside the bronze helmets other finds include thousands of amphorae, weapons and ancient rams, originally attached to the boats’ prow at the waterline, that were cast in bronze. Some of the amphorae attest to the trade between the Italian mainland and North Africa through Sicily. The number of bronze battering rams has risen to 13. The researcher state that they were cast to custom-fit the bows of the vessels. Judging from their size archaeologists believe that the ships taking part in the battle were triremes, the principal type of warship in the Roman Navy, with three decks of oarsmen., possibly 170 per ship at the time of the battle. Two of the rams carried Punic inscriptions, however the two are said to be fragments of rams with part of inscription lost and still covered by concretions. The archaeologists believe that the battleships found on the seabed were part of the Roman Navy captured by the Punic fleet during the Battle of Drepanum in 249 BC – they were brought back to Carthage and folded into their fleet.

Lion on the top of a helmet (by Emma Salvo)

The site was initially discovered in 2004 following stories told by Sicilian divers, who have noticed ancient anchors lying on the seabed off the Egadi Islands, to the West of Trapani. Archaeologists applied a remote controlled underwater vessels equipped with a multibeam echosounder. The remains were discovered at the depth of 120 metres. The Battle of the Egadi Islands, or Battle of the Aegates, took place on March 10, 241 BC, and put the end to the first Punic War. According to Greek historian Polybius, the Carthaginian fleet, led by general Hanno, with their ships heavily loaded with grain for the besieged Sicilian colonies, attacked the Roman navy ultimately losing hundreds of vessels and escaping with just a few to Carthage. For this failure he was crucified after his return.

Punic inscription on ship’s ram (by Emma Salvo)

(after Haaretz, Emma Salvo & Superintendenza del Mare)

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