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What Rome's Arch-Enemies Wore Into Battle

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Jonna Herring
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« on: July 08, 2014, 01:40:55 am »

Paul Rodgers, Contributor

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7/05/2014 @ 2:51PM |5,989 views
What Rome's Arch-Enemies Wore Into Battle
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Naval archaeologists think they’ve found the only example of armor from Carthage to survive the destruction of the city-state by Rome in 146BC.

The helmet, recovered from the site of the Battle of the Egadi Islands, northwest of Sicily, is dramatically different from the Celtic style worn across Europe, popularly known as a Roman helmet.

It appears to have a nose guard, a broad brim protecting the back of the neck from ear to ear, and a high, narrow crest, said Dr Jeff Royal, director of archaeology at the RPM Nautical Foundation in Florida.

Roman helmets, called montefortinos, are easily identified, said Dr Royal from the deck of his foundation’s ship, RV Hercules. “They look like half a watermelon with a knob on top and cheek flaps down the side that tie at the chin.”

MA candidate Aja Rose from East Carolina University works on artifacts. A Roman helmet is in the foreground. (Credit: Egadi Islands Survey Project)

The suspected Carthaginian helmet, heavily encrusted after more than two-millennia under the Mediterranean Sea, is currently undergoing cleaning and conservation that should eventually reveal more details.

The find is the latest in a string of discoveries made with unmanned submersibles that are upsetting our understanding of naval tactics during the Punic Wars, which saw the upstart republic overthrow its North African rival and turn the Mediterranean into a Roman lake.

Dr Royal and his colleague Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the sea, and their team have also discovered that the ships were both smaller and more powerful than previously thought.

Dr Jeff Royal with a recovered ram mounted on a reconstructed bow at the Favignana Museum, Egadi (Credit: Egadi Islands Survey Project)

The evidence comes from 11 bronze battering rams, the main maritime weapon of the day. These were cast to custom fit the bows, thus revealing the dimensions of the timbers used in the keels.

From those measurements, Dr Royal and his team calculate that the ships could not have been more than 28 metres (90ft) long, far less than the 40 metres previously estimated. That throws into question whether they were really triremes, with three decks of oarsmen, as a ship so tall would be unstable.

The weight of the rams, around 125kg (275lbs), indicates that they would have been able to smash in the side of a ship, rather than just poke a small hole in it, as had been thought.

The rams, mounted below the waterline, had three horizontal planes designed to slice into their targets’ timbers. “They’d have cracked in two, spilling all their materiel,” Dr Royal said. The dispersal of amphorae and other goods on the seabed confirms that ships were breaking apart on the surface, rather than sinking intact.

The Battle of the Egadi Islands in 241BC brought the First Punic War to an end after 20 years of fighting.

]The victory came despite Carthage’s traditional naval dominance. Rome had already lost four fleets to foul weather during the campaign.

But under Catulus, they ambushed the Carthaginian fleet led by Hanno as it sailed, heavily loaded with supplies, to relieve the besieged city of Lilybaeum (now called Marsala).

The Roman ships, by contrast, had been stripped of their  masts, sails and other unnecessary equipment to make them more seaworthy in the rough conditions. As a result, they were far more maneuverable and sank or captured half of Carthage’s fleet, leading to a peace treaty.
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