Dig uncovers Vandal fleet

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Archaeologists in Sardinia believe they have uncovered the remains of one of the first plundering raids by the Vandals on Italian soil, a precursor of the Sack of Rome in AD455.

Archaeologists in Sardinia believe they have uncovered the remains of one of the first plundering raids by the Vandals on Italian soil, a precursor of the Sack of Rome in AD455.

In preliminary work for a road tunnel at the popular tourist port of Olbia, they have discovered four ancient Roman boats which they believe were sunk by the original Vandals on one of their first plundering raids from across the Mediterranean. Four vessels, varying in length from 54ft to 100ft, have been recovered and at least four more are being unearthed.

While not as completely preserved as the famous Roman boats in Pisa, the wooden relics are precious evidence of the vessels used in the period before the fall of the Roman Empire. "This is like a photo of an act of war, one of the early Vandal smash-and-grab raids along the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy including Sicily and Sardinia," explained the chief archaeologist, Rubens D'Oriano. "The boats are all empty and close to one another, indicating they were destroyed almost simultaneously."

The harbour of Olbia, the ferry stopping-off point for millions of tourists who visit the nearby Costa Smeralda, is one of the most sheltered ports in the Mediterranean so the idea that the boats were sunk by a freak storm is unlikely.

"It seems increasingly credible as we gather material that it is a fleet sunk in a single disaster in the mid 5th-century AD," said Edoardo Riccardi, another expert involved in the dig. Burn marks on one of the vessels support the hypothesis.

No indisputably Vandal relics have been found yet, but Dr D'Oriano says the Vandals had defeated the Romans in North Africa and the craft they used for their pirate raids were of Roman design.

The Vandals, a Germanic tribe, reached the peak of their power in the 400s, sweeping through France and Spain before using Africa as a base for raids on the Italian peninsula. In 455 the troops of chief Gaiseric razed Rome. In a recent construction project near the Trevi Fountain in Rome, archaeologists found the remnants of a house savagely destroyed in this period.

The dig at Olbia, which is expected to last another six months, has also revealed five galleons, dating from AD 1000-1100 when Sardinia, emerging from the Dark Ages, allied with the powerful republic of Pisa.

The excavation of the boats is technically demanding. They must be constantly watered to prevent deterioration, assembled rapidly for photos, then dismantled and placed in huge freshwater tanks at a nearby warehouse.

Comments