Punic Anchors of Pantelleria ~ Stormy Weather?

Not sure why this isn’t getting more attention, even in the Italian press. Rosella Lorenzi’s piece for Discovery News seems to be the only English coverage … some excerpts:

A key episode of the Punic Wars has emerged from the waters near the small Sicilian island of Pantelleria as archaeologists discovered a cluster of more than 30 ancient anchors.

Found at a depth between 160 and 270 feet in Cala Levante, one of the island’s most scenic spots, the anchors date to more than 2,000 years ago.

According to Leonardo Abelli, an archaeologist from the University of Sassari, the anchors are startling evidence of the Romans’ and Carthaginians’ struggle to conquer the Mediterranean during the First Punic War (264 to 241 B.C.).

“They were deliberately abandoned. The Carthaginian ships were hiding from the Romans and could not waste time trying to retrieve heavy anchors at such depths,” Abelli told Discovery News.

[…]

Following the first conquer in 255 B.C., Rome took control of the island with a fleet of over 300 ships.

“The Carthaginian ships that were stationing near Pantelleria had no other choice than hiding near the northern coast and trying to escape. To do so, they cut the anchors free and left them in the sea. They also abandoned part of their cargo to lighten the ships and gain speed,” Abelli said.

Indeed, Abelli’s team found many jars in clusters of 4-10 pieces near the spectacular Punta Tracino, not far from where the anchors were found.

Two years ago, the same team found 3,500 Punic coins about 68 feet down. Dating between 264 and 241 B.C., the bronze coins featured the same iconography, suggesting that the money served for an institutional payment, possibly to sustain anti-Roman troops.

Carried on a Carthaginian ship headed to Sicily, the money was deliberately left on the bottom of the sea, in relatively low waters, with the hope of recovering it later.

“Near the coins we found a large stone anchor with three holes and a tree trunk. We believe they were signaling the point where the treasure was hidden,” Abelli said.

[…]

For some reason last summer, I neglected to post the item on the coin find, which you can read here: Sunken Treasure Found in the Seas Of Sicily (Discovery News), but here’s an excerpt:

[…] Lying at depth of about 68 feet, the coins most likely represent an episode of the Romans and Carthaginians struggle.

Amazingly, all 3,422 coins feature the same iconography.

On one side, they show Kore/Tanit, the ancient goddess of fertility, whom Carthaginians worshipped on the island around 550 BC.

On the other, the coins display the head of a horse, surrounded by symbols such as stars, letters and a caduceus. A staff often surmounted by two wings and entwined with two snakes, the caduceus was the symbol of Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology.

“Since all coins feature the same iconography, we believe that the money served for an institutional payment. Indeed, ordinary commercial transactions contain different kind of coins,” archaeologist Leonardo Abelli, director of the excavation, told Discovery News.

According to Abelli, the money, carried on a Carthaginian ship headed to Sicily, was destined to an anti-Roman movement.

But something might have gone wrong during the navigation.

“They decided to hide the treasure on the bottom of the sea, in relatively low waters, in the hope to recover it later. Indeed, near the coins we found a large stone anchor,” Abelli said. […]

Despite the good info above, I find the lack of press coverage on this one somewhat infuriating. As far as I can figure, cutting anchors is not what you if you’re faced when an enemy fleet (I might be wrong there) pops up on the horizon, but rather, when a storm blows in. I can’t help but wonder, therefore, given the apparent dating of all this, whether this might not be evidence of the (in)famous storm in the same area as described in Polybius 1.37 which trashed a major part of the Roman fleet in 255 or so. Here’s an excerpt (from Lacus Curtius … with a bit from 1.36 for context):

In the early summer the Romans, having launched three hundred and fifty ships, sent them off under the command of Marcus Aemilius and Servius Fulvius, who proceeded along the coast of Sicily making for Libya.  Encountering the Carthaginian fleet near the Hermaeum they fell on them and easily routed them, capturing one hundred and fourteen ships with their crews.  Then having taken on board at Aspis the lads who remained in Libya they set sail again for Sicily.  They had crossed the strait in safety and were off the territory of Camarina when they were overtaken by so fierce a storm and so terrible a disaster that it is difficult adequately to describe it owing to its surpassing magnitude.  For of their three hundred and sixty-four ships only eighty were saved; the rest either foundered or were dashed by the waves against the rocks and headlands and broken to pieces, covering the shore with corpses and wreckage.  History tells of no greater catastrophe at sea taking place at one time. The blame must be laid not so much on ill-fortune as on the commanders; for the captains had repeatedly urged them not to sail along the outer coast of Sicily, that turned towards the Libyan sea, as it was very rugged and had few safe anchorages: they also warned them that one of the dangerous astral periods was not over and another just approaching (for it was between the rising of Orion and that of Sirius4 that they undertook the voyage).  The commanders, however, paid no attention to a single word they said, they took the outer course and there they were in the open sea thinking to strike terror into some of the cities they passed by the brilliancy of their recent success and thus win them over. But now, all for the sake of such meagre expectations, they exposed themselves to this great disaster, and were obliged to acknowledge their lack of judgement.

… The Carthaginians, of course, would know how to respond to a sudden storm blowing up in the area (i.e. cut anchors); the Romans were still rookies. That said, we have to admit there’s no way to know with any degree of certainty, but it’s an interesting possibility.

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