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Mogontiacum (Mainz)


Relief of a ship, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins. Mogontiacum: Roman city, capital of Germania Superior, important military base, modern Mainz.
 
History Photos
 

Mainz Ships

This first-century relief from Mainz-Weisenau is the lower part of the tombstone of a carpenter from the Museum für antike Schifffahrt. It shows how a warship is built. It has a ram and a high afterdeck, not unlike the ships that are shown on the Column of Trajan in Rome. Two catapults are also indicated. One wonders why these ships were ever needed, because in the first century, the Chatti on the other bank of the Rhine did not build ships - so why should the Romans employ ramming ships?
Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier.
Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier (order; review)
Reconstruction of a ship belonging to the Roman fleet of the Rhine, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.

The two most splendid objects in the Museum für antike Schifffahrt are the reconstructions of warships that were excavated in 1981/1982 north of ancient Mogontiacum. This is the reconstruction ("Nachbau 2") of the ship known as Mainz-3, which was built at the end of the third century, and must have played a role in the Alamannic war of Constantius Chlorus (in 292).

Reconstruction of a ship belonging to the Roman fleet of the Rhine, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
The ship was remarkable for its width (about 1:5) wide and has twice seven rowers; it may have served for patrols, although it may also have been used to transport food supplies and weapons. The catapult is very interesting because it has a mechanism to add new new arrows to the barrell automatically. It's the ancient equivalent of rapid fire. Its practical use can only have been limited, but it must have impressed the Alamans.

Reconstruction of a ship belonging to the Roman fleet of the Rhine, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins. The afterdeck, with a small cabin for the captain and the helmsman. The helm is also visible.
Reconstruction of a ship belonging to the Roman fleet of the Rhine, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
This is the helm of the other reconstruction, the Mainz-1 ("Nachbau 1"). It was built with wood that was cut in 376, but the ship was later repaired, with wood from trees that were felled in 385 and in 394. This is confirmed by a bronze coin of Theodosius I, minted after 388, that was placed as an offering between the hull and one of the frames.

Reconstruction of a ship belonging to the Roman fleet of the Rhine, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
The Mainz-1 belongs to a class of ships that is commonly known as Mainz-A, after this vessel, which was the first of this type that was found by archaeologists. It is a narrow galley with many rowers, and has a strong stern to ram other ships. It may have been used to attack the small vessels used by the Alamans, but must also have served as a carrier to transport troops across the river or to threatened positions. If the winds were favorable, the sail could be used.

Reconstruction of a ship belonging to the Roman fleet of the Rhine, Museum für antike Schiffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins. Rowing banks of the Mainz 1 seen from above. Note how the soldiers were protected by their shields.

History Photos
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 21 August 2008
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