Thursday, June 9, 2011

Roman Fish Transportation

From There I Fixed It, found at

Ahoy, fixers! Sorry for the absence of historicism that occurred last week, I’ll do my darnedest not to let that happen again. One of my favorite aspects of Historical Thursday is being to write about ancient marvels that have only recently been brought to the world’s attention. For this week’s edition we’ll be heading to the Adriatic Sea, where the Roman fish trade is (was) booming.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Roman Fish Transportation

2,000 years ago a Roman ship sank on the Gulf of Trieste, near the Italian town of Grado. Fast forward to 1986 when the ship was found. Cool, a shipwreck. Nothing completely out of the ordinary but it’s not every day we stumble across the rotting hull piloted by the ancient Romans. Fast forward another 25 years and it turns out this ship may have actually been something rather special.

Just a few weeks ago, researchers discovered a small lead pipe drilled into the hull. Understandably, this puzzled them. Why would anyone want to drill a hole into the bottom of their ship, wouldn’t that only let water in? But the Romans have proven to be some pretty smart folk, so they must have had a damn good reason for wanting anything that could compromise the integrity of the ship.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Roman Fish Transportation

The newly-discovered pipe is just a couple inches in diameter and 4 feet long, rising from the outside of the hull into a chamber within the ship. Scientists believe the pipe was attached to some sort of piston or hand-crank to pump water up from the sea. The theory goes that the pipe was fixed to a large tank used to transport live fish. Holding 4 cubic meters of water and up over 400 pounds of fish, the aquarium is a bit larger than the one I smashed while growing up and subsequently blamed the cat for (sorry mom). Fish need oxygenated water to, you know, continue being fish, and it’s estimated that the crank could pump over 200 liters per minutes, completely replacing all of the water in the tank in just 16 minutes.

For hundreds of years we’ve seen records that show the Romans were adept at transporting fish. Without refrigereation it was just always assumed that the fish were dried and/or salted, giving them a short shelf life. And with this massive aquarium on a relatively small ship, it’s assumed that the movement of live fish wasn’t too uncommon.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Roman Fish Transportation

The problem, unfortunately, is that this is the first of its kind to ever be found. While the hypothesis sounds great and really quite plausible, it can’t be proven. Currently, researchers are working on recreating a replica of the ship using only historically accurate parts to prove if any of the above is correct, or we’ve all just been lead on a wild goose chase.

Pictures and Information courtesy of: Nature and io9.

As always, if YOU have an idea for a Historical Thursday, let me know at

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