Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds LUCY BLUE: Hello, I’m Dr. Lucy Blue and I’m here with my colleague Julian to talk about the ancient Mediterranean world. DR.
Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: And thinking about the ancient Mediterranean as an area, what is it that has drawn you in and got you looking and researching from the Bronze Age onwards particularly? DR.
Skip to 0 minutes and 22 seconds LUCY BLUE: Well, I guess the Bronze Age is a time when we really start to see connections across, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean, by sea. And then this is really where the connectivity of the world just expands hugely. So you start to see long distance trade for the first time, using ships of course. You start to see the infrastructure that supports that trade in terms of the interface, the harbours. And you start to see the wealth of that trade coming through in terms of the trade of goods and object that would’ve been carried on board those ships. I know you are really fascinated with ships, and particularly rigging and sailing, what brought you into that? Where’s the interest there? DR.
Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: For me, it’s that, I think, in maritime archaeology, we spend a lot of time studying shipbuilding and how the boats and ships are put together but I feel it’s really important that we understand how those boats and ships are used by people on a daily basis and to do that you have to understand the sailing rigs and in the ancient world, we have this wonderful fusion of iconographic evidence, literary evidence, written sources, but also archaeological evidence and by combining all of those things together, we can really get to grips with how people use these ships and boats on a daily basis and get an understanding of the performance of the vessels; how fast people could sail from one place to the next and the types of weather conditions that they would be able to tolerate at sea and we get a much, much more detailed view of that trade then, if we can understand how people lived their lives on the boats and the ships and how they used those boats and the ships every day.
Skip to 1 minute and 57 seconds LUCY BLUE: So how much do you think that feeds into our increased understanding of maritime trade in the period? DR.
Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: I think it’s really important to get this idea of the detailed understanding of the ships. Otherwise, we just have a view of cargoes and trade goods, like we find the belongings on the Uluburun ship and the cargo on that and from later Roman ships and we’re really good at joining up lines between all of these great ports, like Portus and Alexandria and Caesarea on the map, but we also have to be able to focus in on those lines and understand what happens to them on a daily basis.
Skip to 2 minutes and 33 seconds So by doing that we can fill in some of the gaps of what might be happening at sea between some of these ports and understand, yeah, the speeds that you could travel between ports and the conditions and how difficult it is to unload vessels and load vessels and the number of crew that you might need to sail a ship and that then has implications for how we understand the economic set up of these vessels in the ancient world. So I think it’s absolutely critical to be able to pin the ships and the boats and the daily use of them back onto the overarching trade networks that we have. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 5 seconds LUCY BLUE: No, you’re absolutely right because essentially, the sea is the thing that’s connecting these disparate objects and ports and different cultures around and it’s the sea that unites them and brings them together. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 17 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: In the Mediterranean, we have this amazing situation of the huge wealth of evidence that we have, over 1,200 shipwrecks and it seems that there is more connectivity through these ships and boats in the ancient world than at any time until maybe the 19th century or something like that, so it’s a hugely important study. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 35 seconds LUCY BLUE: Absolutely, I mean in the Bronze Age period, we start to really see that kicking off. I think quite often we underestimate how much international trade was being conducted in that period, as illustrated as we’ve seen through the Uluburun shipwreck and also the wealth of trade. It’s not just the objects of every day that are being moved around the system; it’s the wealth, it’s the luxuries, it’s the status symbols. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 59 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: But also, from the end of the Bronze Age onwards, there’s this big increase in the port infrastructure and the harbouring stations, isn’t it? It’s not just about ships and cargoes. DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 6 seconds LUCY BLUE: Absolutely. No, no, you’re absolutely right. This is when we really start to see the landscape, or the coastal landscape, changing to adapt in a way that can facilitate this increased trading capacity and so therefore, you start to see the technological innovations that are connected with being able to safely anchor your vessels and the change in the infrastructure support, so warehousing et cetera, and it just takes off on a massive scale, particularly as you get into the Roman period. Obviously, when you’ve got Roman grain ships and cargoes of amphora… DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 40 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: And is that just those harbour infrastructures and those trading systems? Are they just confined to the Mediterranean or did they begin to start to spill outside the confines of the ancient buildings, the Indian Ocean and - DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 51 seconds LUCY BLUE: Absolutely. No, you’re absolutely right. I mean we are starting to see those connections expanding, so Rome doesn’t stop at the edge of the Mediterranean, Rome extends its empire down the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean and we start to see connections way over, possibly as far as China and the supporting harbour infrastructures, the cargoes, the symbols of that trade. DR.
Skip to 5 minutes and 12 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: So if you had to sum up the ancient Mediterranean as we look at it from a maritime perspective in four to five words, how would you do that? DR.
Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds LUCY BLUE: So I guess connectivity, complexity, scale and wealth of evidence. Is that good enough? DR.
Skip to 5 minutes and 29 seconds JULIAN WHITEWRIGHT: Yeah, I think we’ll accept that and if you want to find out any more about all of these themes, then you can review all of the additional material and articles on the platform.
The classical world
In this video Julian and Lucy discuss how the Mediterranean Sea formed the focus of the development of maritime trade and connectivity from the Late Bronze Age over three thousand years ago through to the era of Greco-Roman expansion.
Images of El Amarna clay tablet and oxhide copper ingot used with kind permission of the British Museum.
If this area is of interest to you then you may be interested in signing up for the University of Southampton/FutureLearn course on Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome
© University of Southampton, 2017