In 1981, during some excavation works on the mainland, near Comacchio, a Roman merchant ship was found, which was wrecked in the then Po Delta between 19 and 12 BC.
Much of the shipment, most likely directed to the Po area through the Po River, has been preserved. The oxygen-free slush of the delta has allowed for the conservation of even easily perishable materials, such as wood, leather, and vegetable fibers.

The many goods recovered from the wreck are now exhibited at the Museo del Delta Antico in Comacchio. The shipment consisted of amphorae of oil and wine from different places in the Mediterranean (complete with trademarks and acronyms referring to the content, year of production, aging, origin, destination, capacity and more), lead ingots from Spanish mines (almost all stamped with the initials of Marco Vipsanio Agrippa, Augustus’s famous general), ropes, clothes, tools, leather objects and footwear. Also included were leaden small temples to be sold to some devoted family and to be hung from the domestic lararium.
Comacchio ship was a modest merchant ship capable of traveling both at sea and along the Po River. Its structure and construction technique, with the wooden planks bound with vegetable fibers without nails, eloquently show the mastery of the builders of the time.
This ship provided the starting point for imagining “HERMES, Messenger of Gods” in the first part of the novel Memories of A Journey To Egypt.
Compared to what is known about the circulation of goods or grain from Egypt or from the province of Asia, Hermes is larger. The examination of a wreck of the time is an irreplaceable experience so as to be able to reconstruct the equipment, from the ropes to the pulleys and anchors, and the thousand other details necessary to revive a Roman merchant ship in a novel.

Photo 1: The model that follows the exact structure of the Comacchio ship.
Photo 2: The construction technique of “sewing” the planking with vegetable fibers and a thickness of tarred oakum.
Photo 3: The model illustrating the state of the hull when discovered.

Photo 4: Plan of the wreck.

Photo 5: Lead ingots bearing the mark of Marco Vipsanio Agrippa.
Photo 6: Lead ingots bearing the mark of Marco Vipsanio Agrippa.

Photos 7-8: Lead small temples, mass-produced by casting the main elements in a mold, then mounted with welding or interlocking points. They reproduce generic examples of a temple on a podium with Ionic columns, with feet in the shape of a lion’s paw. On the walls are reproduced the typical elements of the political propaganda of Augustus: the SIDUS IULIUS, the comet that burst out on Rome on the ides of March 44 BC, the day of Caesar’s death; the trophies of victories in Gaul; and the ibis, the bird symbol of Egypt’s submission to Rome. Inside are depicted Venus, progenitor of the Giulia family—portrayed together with Priapo or with a trophy of arms—and Mercury with a bag of coins (often thought to represent Augustus).

Photo 9: A wooden purse with metal inlays, probably belonging to a crew member.
Photo 10: Amphorae of wine and oil, which were part of the shipment.

Photo 11: Dishes made with “sealed earth” (“terra sigillata”), which were part of the shipment.
Photo 12: One of the leather shoes probably belonging to a crew member.

Behind The Scenes

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