According to classical sources the Battle of the Egadi Islands, Sicily, was fought on 10 March 241 BC between a Carthaginian fleet of around 250 warships and a Roman fleet of about 200 warships.
The Carthaginian fleet was defeated and the Romans disabled or captured about 120 Carthaginian vessels. About 50-60 warships were reportedly sunk during the battle.
The remains of the battle lie in deep water (80-100 metres) with warship rams, armour, ballast stones, fittings and amphora spreading over a remarkable two square kilometres of seabed. The exact recording of these remains is of paramount importance, as only with this contextual information we may begin to reconstruct how the battle was fought and examine how the remains on the seabed relate to the classical accounts of the battle; the position of the rams and associated material on the seabed may reveal something about the naval tactics used during the battle. The archaeological significance of the site is enhanced by the large assemblage of metal warship rams (11 found to date) that have been recovered so far.
The research aim is to reproduce exact scale replicas on the basis of which major questions on warship construction and use can be addressed. The completion of the metal analysis, including a Scanning Electron Microscope and lead isotope analysis, as well as analysis of the rams’ inscriptions through Reflectance Transform Imaging will have interesting consequences for our understanding of ancient rams in general and will shed light on Mediterranean trade and politics during the 3rd century BC.
To date the site has been recorded using high resolution multi-beam and the positions of the finds have been geo-referenced by Remotely Operated Vehicles.
Since 2010, Dr Jon Henderson (UARC, University of Nottingham), in collaboration with a team from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, led by Dr Oscar Pizarro, have been developing an underwater archaeological surveying protocol, which can create accurate, photo-realistic, three-dimensional models of archaeological features on the seabed. This has been used at Egadi in order to create three-dimensional, models of the battle site to a level of resolution never before achieved in maritime archaeology.
In 2012, thanks to the Honor Frost Foundation grant, this work continued and a second cutting edge piece of maritime technology, the MS 1000 Sector Scan Sonar, was deployed to create geometrically accurate sonar plans. A novel methodology was also created for the analysis of the warship rams from Egadi, which include three-dimensional scanning and elemental analysis.
The Egadi Islands Survey Project continues to expand; with on-going research both on site and in the lab, which is re-writing the understanding of ancient warships and naval combat, building upon Honor Frost’s pioneering research on ancient naval tactics and the use of rams.