View Full Version : Roman Merchant Ships
03-12-2002, 10:31 AM
I'm helping my son build a lift model of a Roman corbita. Can anyone tell me how or if the Romans painted their merchant ships? What colors did they use? Did they name them as we do today?
Permit me to add a question. what did the Romans use for antifouling?
John R Smith
03-12-2002, 10:50 AM
03-12-2002, 11:11 AM
errr I wouldnt have thought that they would have painted them at all???
Well "paint" being the wrong word I should think after all ... it appears that due to his somewhat extended absence :D I can seem to say this without fear of Chemist coming along and blowing me out of the water... that the Romans didnt have "paint" as we know it now did they?
Maybe they used some type of pigment dye stuff but paint? Nah... Then again maybe they used the blood from Christians to make a purty red dye for their boats eh?
Well Id personally venture that they rarely painted them simply due to the craft being mainly used for fishing and cartage so painting wouldnt have been a prime necessity would it? Show boats in Rome? maybe... :rolleyes:
I think I'll leave it to better and far wiser minds than mine to search antiquities for the answer to this... ;)
Great pic Donn... but is it Roman? or is it Viking? or is it something altogether more Norse? And would you get a gander at them oars stickin out the back end of that thing!! yeeowww! :eek:
Take it easy
03-12-2002, 11:27 AM
Originally posted by ahp:
Permit me to add a question. what did the Romans use for antifouling?Slaves.
I'd bet the romans oiled or tarred their hulls. They may have use pigment in the oil because they were pretty decorative folks.
Shane...the website said the pic was a Corbita, but I only see one mast, and they're sposed to have 2.
Aren't those "oars" leeboards?
03-12-2002, 11:57 AM
I think I see a wee bit of a spar peeking out about midway down the right side of the sail.
I thought they were steering boards. Now the question arises in my noggin, "Did they have both steering boards and leeboards?"
(coughing up a lung from home today - upper respiratory infection)
03-12-2002, 12:04 PM
According to the good Dr. Luke, they also had figure heads, refer to Acts 28:11.
03-12-2002, 12:51 PM
Could the signs of Castor and pollux on the ship be some sort of ensign as opposed to a figurehead?
Researching Roman shipbuilding is a daunting task. It seems that the Romans used the shipbuilding techniques of the regions they conquered, as much as those developed in Rome. This applied not only to actual building technology, but to fitting and rigging as well. An interesting fact I found is that merchant ships of the Roman Era carried a basket on the masthead to indicate that they were a trader.
I couldn't find much detail on the web, but one name kept cropping up: Lionel Casson. He has apparently written extensively on the subject, including `Greek and Roman shipbuilding: new findings': The American Neptune 45. American Neptune is a quarterly published by the Peabody Essex Museum:
Maybe a trip to the library is in order?
03-12-2002, 02:58 PM
Not sure where you found those names. New American Standard version reads this way:
At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figure head
I'm not a expect in NT Greek by any means, so don't know if figure head could mean something else. Looking at other versions probably would give a good idea.
03-13-2002, 12:43 AM
Well Donn what whould I know of Roman Merchant Ships mate?? Im only a young fella of 45 and I cant quite members back that far :D
Id suspect much the same leeboards stearing thingymabobs maybe even some weird set up for tillers? could be they have a couple of slaves under their holding them together lashed to each other and the wood?? great for fishing tooo I mean bait sittin right there underneath the boat!! :cool:
Take it easy
03-13-2002, 04:19 AM
Certainly the Romans painted (pigmented oils)their ships, indeed it would be rather strange to accept that the Vikings painted theirs (evidence Bayeux tapestry)and the Egyptians painted and otherwise ornately decorated theirs and yet the proud (read arrogant)successors of the Greek empire would not have done so !
Hull colouring is done both to protect, to identify and to proudly display the wealth (success) of those traders - that has not changed to this day. The colours used would have been derived from natural (earthy pigments browns, reds, and yellow ochre (green was supposed to have been unlucky). Brilliant white could not be refined until recent years (this includes cloth for the sails too)
Underseal would have been natural tars. I do not know when sheathing of copper was first used, but i wouldn't put it passed any of these great cultures. Certainly metal straps were used to bind the planks around the hull, and in the event of storm conditions even rope was (temporarily but very tightly) slung around the hull to help prevent the planks from bursting !
The figureheads referred to (the twin brothers) are greek gods. Apparently this was common and similar mythological figurettes.., for the highly superstitous seamen, to carry a god with them was obviously a great comfort - these would be ornately decorated according to vessel's prestige and the owner's purse.)
Paint styles would vary according to the region from whence they came, but there is no reason to suppose that there were not coloured according to their shipping line. Best place to research actual colours and styles are obviously archelogical archives ; 'colour' images depicting these vessels would be found on pottery, in mosiacs, and on ancient charts.
As you be aware the Romans invaded Britain, and there are now a number of museums dedicated to that period of history (a particulary excellent one in the city of York), plus of course the British Museum.
I do not know when shipping / freight taxes were first introduced.., but certainly the Romans did (not unlike our own govenments - they taxed every individual !) this would imply the use of official markings on the hull. Additionally merchant ships would have for and aft marking for loading / trim.
The picture someone kindly sent in, shows a transom view (the vessel is running on the wind) and what you see are the rudders (which would have transverse tillers). There were no lee boards on larger vessels - the reliance on hull shape and backbone timbers to resist leeway continued through 19th Century..
These ships sailed with the wind and currents - (almost like hot air ballons are steered !) which also accounts why so many experienced seamen found watery graves - they simply couldn't sail any more than 60 deg. to the wind without the help of favourable tides, but leeway in a storm might make that 90-120 deg. (with impending doom). I experienced this on a 1911 barque - with some for an' aft sails, so imagine what it was like 2000 years earlier !
Hope that helps,
Ian G Wright
03-13-2002, 08:57 AM
The Romans certainly had, and used, many paint colours. It's unlikely that they would have resisted the temptation to paint their ships. As for antifouling... a mixture of sheep fat and lime rings a bell, though I can't remember why,,,,,,,,,,,
Alan D. Hyde
03-13-2002, 11:21 AM
The Romans used lead quite a lot, and I'd be surprised if it wasn't used in some maritime applications, either as sheet lead or powdered in paint.
These were pretty sophisticated people. They had centrally-heated villas (warmed by hypocausts) supplied with water sometimes brought from long distances away (in lead pipes; they did have some lead-poisoning problems).
Has Tim Severin or someone like him built and sailed any Roman boats?
Twin figure heads? More likely Romulus & Remus to identify them as a ROMAN ship.
03-22-2002, 02:48 AM
Yes, sheep fat and lime -- or perhaps it was wool grease and lime. Tim Severin had a dhow built in Yemen, in the traditional manner, to explore the ancient monsoon trade routes across the Indian Ocean, and that's how they worm-proofed it. I believe he wrote that it stunk unbelievably, but as long as it was renewed when required, it worked quite well.
I imagine that technology is probably even older than the Romans. (Although it's true that sheep get worms...)
03-28-2002, 03:16 AM
I have access to the plans of an actual Punic ship unearthed in Sicily. I will ask about what if any traces of paint were found on the boat.
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