National Geographic : 1954 Jan
Fish Men Discover a 2,200-year-old Greek Ship Wine was an advance guard of civilization; the geographical development of ancient so ciety coincides exactly with the advance of the wine trade. After the amphorae came tableware, soldiers, artists, and priests. The Greeks were a seagoing people, clever traders, and supreme civilizers. Greek colo nists ranged west as far as Spain, and the Greeks had a thriving maritime commerce in all the Mediterranean lands. Yet all we know about their shipping is a guess and a few caricatures on vases and floor mosaics, which show impossible galleys and sailing vessels, as if their tremendous maritime achievement were a joke. Because of these cartoons, some historians have a poor estimate of the capabilities of Greek ships and believe the vessels were rowed and were incapable of navigating out of sight of land. We know enough about the Grand Congloue ship, however, to demonstrate that it was far too big to be rowed. Wreck Was a "10,000-Jar" Ship At this stage of excavation our opinion is that the Grand Congloue wreck was at least a 10,000-amphora ship. It may prove to be bigger than that. The amphora was the tonnage measure ment of classical vessels. The Greek amphora was a standard container of about 6'/2 gallons for wine, water, oil, grain, olives, dates, resin, dyes, or ores-any liquid or granular product that would flow into and out of a jar. An amphora full of wine weighs nearly 100 pounds. On the first anniversary of our work at Grand Congloue we were on our way in the Calypso to the isles of Greece to retrace the voyage of the ship, while a party of divers continued work at Port Calypso. We sailed southeast to the Strait of Messina and anchored under the rock of Scylla, dreaded by ancient navigators. Then we proceeded to the awesome whirlpool of Charybdis, where we stopped the ship and lowered the automatic electronic flash cameras of our friend Dr. Harold E. Edgerton, of the Massachusetts In stitute of Technology.* From the toe of Italy we crossed the Ionian Sea in one night, a passage that was a great prolonged test of ancient sailors, and began to thread our way through the Aegean Sea. Delos, from which we think Marcus Sestius' argosy came, was believed by the Greeks to have been the birthplace of Apollo. The myth recounts that Zeus found the tiny island float ing in the sea and chained it to the bottom to be the birthplace of his son, Apollo. After that, no one was allowed to be born or to die on the Sacred Isle. Expectant mothers and dying people were transported to the near-by island of Rhenea (Rinia). A hymn to Apollo, which survives from Homeric times, described the isle where no one might enter or depart this world: "But in Delos it is, O Apollo, that thou delightest above all others. For there the long-robed Ionians convene at thy feast, to gether with their gentle wives and their chil dren, eager to please thee with their dancing and singing, their boxing and their appointed games. "Should a stranger cast eyes upon them, much would he marvel at their freedom from age and from death, and with joy would he look upon their men and upon their women, girdled in beauty, and upon their swift ships also, and their abounding riches." For perhaps a thousand years the Greeks, even the Egyptian Ptolemies, lavished on little Delos gifts of shrines, temples, and treas uries to Apollo. Immune at first from the endless wars, the sacred city was a free port, an asylum, a place of pilgrimage, and one of the richest cities in the ancient world. It had no taxes and merely a tithe on agricultural produce. In fact, the city regularly issued free wheat to the popu lation. Delos: Argosy's Probable Home Port Above all, Delos was the most important transit port between the Levant and Greece, with traders of many nationalities living within their own enclave and following their own customs in the commercial part of the town. There was a synagogue at Delos and a Phoenician trading center. Roman traders appeared in this tolerant place in the early 3d century B. C., ad vancing behind the spread of Roman coinage through the Greek world. The Romans were unpopular at first, but, under orders from the Senate, they married native girls, became naturalized, entered the cultural and religious life of Delos, and conformed to Greek law. *For a vivid account and remarkable pictures of weird creatures from these depths, see "Fishing in the Whirlpool of Charybdis," by Paul A. Zahl, NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1953. See also "Burr Prizes Awarded to Dr. Edgerton and I)r. Van Biesbroeck," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1953.