Ship Sheds of the Ancient Mediterranean

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Classics and Philosophy


In the ancient Mediterranean world, oared warships were regularly hauled out of the water when not in use and kept under cover to protect the hulls from rot and shipworm and the superstructure from the deleterious effects of sun and rain.

Remains of both built ship sheds and rock-cut slipways have been identified at several sites on the Greek mainland and islands, as well as on the coasts of North Africa, France, Sicily, Italy, Turkey and Israel. Finds continue to be made, and within the last few years significant further discoveries have been made at Marseille, Syracuse, Zea in the Peiraeus, Siteia on Crete, and Kition on Cyprus. Completely new complexes have been found at Giardini Naxos on Sicily, on the island of Corfu, and at Loryma in southern Turkey.

Amongst other things, the remains cast light on the naval organization of major states such as Syracuse, Athens and Carthage, whose ship shed complexes, each housing several hundred ships, represent some of the largest and most expensive building projects of the Greco-Roman world. They also provide evidence for some of the practical aspects of naval installations, and for the dimensions of ancient warships. The latter is of especial significance since no certain wrecks of ancient warships survive from the Mediterranean. The extant remains of the sheds at Zea harbour in the Peiraeus were a key element in the design of hypothetical reconstruction of a 170-oared trieres (trireme), Olympias, which has in turn highlighted many remaining uncertainties about the functioning and purpose of the sheds

It is certain both that a great many ship shed sites remain to be identified and that much remains to be explained about them, their superstructures and roofing, and how ships were slipped, housed and launched.

Nevertheless, the discoveries of the last 25 years have greatly expanded our knowledge and allowed the formulation of a host of new questions. The project aims to bring together and interrogate the new material in the light of the latest approaches to the reconstruction of ancient buildings and ancient ships. The resulting volume will analyze the sheds and their particular features, how they were built and roofed, and how ships were hauled up into and launched from them - in other words, how the sheds actually worked. It will also include a detailed catalogue of surviving remains around the Mediterranean, with descriptions, measurements, plans, reconstructions, photographs and full bibliographies.

It is intended that this volume will provide a comprehensive handbook and reference for future researchers and archaeologists who need to identify and understand such buildings wherever they are found.


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