Ship Oberstimm 1

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Discovery and state of preservation and dating
Constructional details

Discovery and state of preservation

In 1986 two Roman ships were found in an archaeological trial-trench 50 m west of the Roman fort of Oberstimm near Ingolstadt. The find-spot lies on the former bank of the displaced Brautlach, a small tributary of the Danube. In 1994 both ships were excavated and recovered.

Apart from the damage caused by the mechanical digger in 1986, Ship 1 was preserved to a length of 15 m. The prow and stern are missing, but, judging from the surviving form of the hull, it could only have been slightly longer. Whereas the starboard was completely preserved from the gunwales to the keel, the portside had totally disappeared. The reconstructed ship measures 15×70 m long, 2×70 m wide and 1 m high.


In the case of Ship 1 and 2 from Oberstimm the planking consists of fir, while the keel, keelson, frames and thwarts are of oak. Dendrochronological analyses of the oak resulted in felling dates of A.D. 90 ± 10 and 102 ± 10 years. A further chronological precision is offered by the oak piles rammed into the ground to revet the bank and piercing both ships. They were felled in 118. Thus, both ships belong to the Domitianic-Trajanic period.


Ship 1 was a rowing ship, as proven by the surviving tholes and thwarts. There is evidence of 10 oarsmen to starboard, so that the complete rowing team comprised 20 men. Additionally, it could be sailed, as documented by the surviving remains of the keelson. The slender hull with a length-to-width ratio of roughly 6:1 and the narrow stern and prow indicated that Ship Oberstimm 1 was a military vessel. However, the question must remain open, whether it was employed as a troop-ship, patrol-vessel or a messenger ship between the forts on the Danube.


Constructional details


The in section trapezoidal oak keel measures between 5 cm (below) and 14 cm (above) in width and 10 cm in height. It slopes slightly up towards the prow and stern.



The 4 cm thick, 17 - 26 cm wide planks of firwood have mortise-and-tenon joints at intervals of 25 cm, whereby the wooden pegs holding the tenons are 1 cm in diameter. Of the eight rows of planking in all the 1st and 5th rows are stealers. At their ends they were fastened with iron nails driven vertically into the planks’ narrow sides. Scarfs could not be ascertained on Ship 1. The 7th row of planks consists of a 10 cm thick wale, on which the approx. 20 cm high, externally thickened gunwale-plank sits. The planks’ seams were sealed with caulk, remains of which have been preserved.


The half-frames running from the keel to the gunwales are partly scarfed. While in the case of frames 9, 16, 18 and 20 both pieces form a continuous half-frame, with frames 8 and 10 both frame sections are placed adjacent to one another. All frames are fastened to the planks with roughly 2×5 cm thick wooden pegs.


Interior fittings

Afore the remains of a keelson lay above the frames on the keel. Fragments of two thwarts were still attached to the hull. These were the mast-thwart, which sat immediately aft the mast, as proven by the mast-step in the keelson, and the last thwart. The latter had a round hole in the hull, in which a peg stuck. Both thwarts lie on the wale and are fixed by recesses in the gunwales. For all the other rowers’ benches now missing there were 20 cm long, 4 cm wide and 3 cm deep recesses in the wale, i.e. these thwarts lay deeper than the two surviving benches. The same phenomenon occurs in Ship Oberstimm 2.

The distance between the thwarts is approx. 1 m; 50 cm aft the rowers’ benches are situated the recesses for the thole-pins on the upper side of the gunwales. Wooden pegs on the inside of several frames indicate that originally a stringer was placed here, on which probably lay transverse timbers serving the rowers as foot-stretchers.

Two observations can be connected with the operation of the sail, one being the peg, which doubtless stuck in the hole of the rearmost thwart, the other a 10 by 5 cm large recess in the wale, 80 cm behind this thwart. Perhaps a transverse timber lay in the ship at this point to which the sail-ropes could be attached.

Ship Oberstimm 1 is at present being conserved in the Museum of Ancient Shipping.

Barbara Pferdehirt

Translation by Clive Bridger, Xanten

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