Battle for the Mediterranean

If the ascent of Rome can be ascribed to the actions of a single day, then arguably March 14 241 BC had more influence than any other. On that day Rome decisively seized naval supremacy from Carthage during their initial conflict, the First Punic War. At the beginning of the war, Rome was exposed as a land power with little understanding of seafaring. Building a fleet based on a grounded Carthaginian warship, Rome experienced many growing pains that resulted in the loss of several fleets. That all changed on March 14 241 BC, when Rome was able to catch the main Carthagian fleet unawares in an ambush off the Egadi Islands near Sicily. The decisive naval engagement ended the war at sea and provided the impetus for the final engagement on land. Though two more Punic wars would follow, it was this victory that ultimately spring-boarded Rome into Mediterranean dominance.

For the last seven years the Soprintendenza Del Mare Sebastiano Tusa and RPPM Nautical Foundation director Jeff Royal have been exploring 240 square km around the Egadi Islands to pinpoint the battle site. The results have been impressive and unique in maritime archaeology. Eleven warship rams have been discovered, compared to three found in the entire rest of the Mediterranean. The site is also revealing many other artifacts including helmets, amphoras for transporting food, and ships’ fittings. Tusa and Royal’s discovery has reopened the discourse on ancient naval warfare with the first submerged battle site from Antiquity.

The author conducted 3D scanning and metal sampling in collaboration with the Egadi Islands Survey Project in June 2013. The research is funded by the Explorer’s Club, Historical Metallurgy Society, Honor Frost Foundation, and Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, as well as partnered with Aicon/Breuckmann scanning systems. Eight rams were scanned using a Breuckmann SmartSCAN structured light scanner to create high resolution 3D models. Metal samples were collected for analysis at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton. The metal will be analyzed for elemental composition, lead isotopes, and crystalline structure. 3D models will be used for a finite element analysis (FEA) and reverse engineering for impact testing.