Archives For Greek Shipwrecks

Robert Holland

Robert Holland’s Blue-Water Empire is a phenomenal history of British engagement in the Mediterranean world from 1800 to the present. Holland takes the reader around the entire circumference of the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Malta to the Ionian Islands to Cyprus to Suez and leaves the reader struck by the influence the United Kingdom exerted in places many could not even locate on a map. Instead of focusing explicitly on social, political, military, diplomatic or economic history, Blue-Water Empire masterfully weaves them all together to present a comprehensive account of Great Britain’s strategy (or lack thereof) in colonizing and policing the Mediterranean over the course of three centuries.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how Great Britain’s actions in the Mediterranean continue to echo today. For example, Holland carefully analyzes the trajectory of Cyprus under British rule and the air fields retained by the United Kingdom after her political withdrawal from the island. Those same air fields at Akrotiri and Dhekelia have been used as staging grounds for any action against Syria in 2013 or 2014. Also addressed in the book is the perennial question of how best to deal with the flood of refugees that accompanies unrest in North Africa or the Middle/Near East. Not only has the Arab Spring resulted in the destabilization of the region, but it also has driven refugees to seek asylum in places like Malta and Italy. Tragically, many of those refugees have died en route as their vessels are overcroweded and unseaworthy and subsequently sink.

Overall, Blue-Water Empire will not only entertain the casual reader, but will also inform the curious as to some of the origins of today’s headlines.

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Greek Battleship

Greek Battleship Kilkis Sunk at Anchor
Photo: Wrecksite

On April 6, 1941, the Axis powers launched Operation Marita – an all out invasion of Greece. Two weeks later, on April 23rd, the Luftwaffe dispatched a swarm of Ju-87 dive bombers to strike Greece’s principal naval facilities at Salamis. Caught in port during the raid were the obsolete Greek battleships Limnos and Kilkis. The ships had originally been built for the US Navy in the early 1900s and were sold to Greece in 1914. At the time of the raid, Limnos was merely serving as a floating barracks; however, Kilkis had found more gainful employment as a floating battery to support Greek ground units. The Luftwaffe strike force made quick work of the battleships and by the end of the raid both were resting on the port’s shallow bottom. Following the war, both ships were salvaged for scrap.

Odysseus' and the sirens

CC Image Courtesy of Ken & Nyetta on Flickr

The Mediterranean Sea continues to give up the secrets it harbors from Greek and Roman times. This week, archaeologists working in Turkey discovered the well-preserved remains of 2 Roman-era shipwrecks. Excavations have been ongoing in the area since 1995 and are being performed by Italian archaeologists. The site was once the location of a Roman trading city named Elaiussa Sebaste which was founded in the 2nd century BC. One ship is from the Roman Imperial period and the other from around 500 AD. They both contain cargoes of amphorae and marble. Archaeologists hope that further excavations and study will supply insight into Roman trading patterns between Elaiussa Sebaste, Syria, Egypt and the Anatolian peninsula.

Work on a third wreck, this one from around 350 BC, is likely to assist archaeologists in their understanding of Greek shipbuilding techniques. Dubbed the Mazotos Wreck, the ship was discovered in 2006 and archaeological work began in 2007. This year the team found that approximately 45 feet of planking as well as the ship’s keel have been preserved and are useful for study. The ship was carrying ~1,000 jugs of wine when it sank and the remains of its cargo have helped researchers better understand the trade of ancient Greece.

These are not the only discoveries made this year in ancient Greek and Roman maritime archaeology. Earlier this year, surveyors for a gas pipeline discovered a Roman era wreck that dispelled the belief that Roman trading vessels hugged the shoreline and did not traverse open water. Robert Ballard also discovered two wrecks off the coast of Cyprus. With the continuation of exploration operations on the Antikythera Mechanism wreck, there could be even more revelations to come as the year draws to a close.

More than 100 years ago, Greek skin divers discovered the remains of an ancient shipwreck nearly 200 feet below the surface of the Aegean Sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. For 2 years, divers utilized crude diving gear to recover items from the wreck. Among the items discovered was what appeared to be a random assortment of cogs and gears. Not until 2006 were scientists able to discern that the object was in fact an ancient computer designed for use as a calendar as well as to show the positions of the sun, moon and planets in the sky. The computer, termed the Antikythera Mechanism, could evn predict the timing of eclipses. The device is believed to have been built in the 1st century BC and the video above shows a Lego recreation of the device.

The diving technology of the early 20th century prohibited a full survey of the site and 2 divers were left paralyzed from the bends and another killed during the work. Apart from a few brief dives on the site, it has remained undisturbed until this year. Scientists with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are set to begin surveying the site this week after reaching a deal with the Greek government. Using rebreather gear and self-propelled dive scooters, the scientists will be able to dive deeper and go farther than earlier expeditions and hope to learn more about Greek trade patterns and technology from the expedition.