Fiumicino 1

Giulia Boetto

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The Fiumicino 1 wreck was found in 1959 during work on Leonardo da Vinci airport at Fiumicino (Rome) on the site of the ancient harbour basin built in 42 AD by the emperor Claudius. The hull was salvaged in 1961 and, after conservation with a mixture of resins, was exhibited in 1979 in the Museum of the Roman Ships.

Fiumicino 1 is a flat bottomed ship. Her shape and structure resemble those of Fiumicino 2, but she is better preserved in the upper lines of the hull.

The wreck is conserved from sternpost to stem for a length of 13,83 m. The starboard side from the middle body forward is 1,47 m high, while the remaining part and the port side are broken along the knee. The maximum width conserved is of 4,57 m.

The hull remains

The keel

The keel is made of two pieces: the sterngripe and the keel. The former (2,72 m long) is joined to the keel with a hook scarf but this scarf is not fixed by a transversal bolt, as is normal in other Roman ships. The internal step of the scarf is stiffened by three wooden pegs.
The sterngripe (10/12 cm wide and 16 cm high) has asymmetric rabbets to fix the garboard and the ends of the other planks. The connection is made with iron nails.
The keel, a single piece of wood 11,11 m long, starts with a rectangular section (17 cm high, 13 cm wide), it then becomes an overturned trapezium (15 cm high, 12/9 cm wide) and then a square (10,5 cm high, 10 cm wide). The sides are straight and not moulded for connection with the garboards.

The Planking

The ship is single planked and carvel built. Along the starboard side, the garboard is formed by two planks (30 cm wide and respectively 4,5 cm and 3,5 cm thick) and, on the port side, by a single plank (length 12, 51 m, 24 cm wide and 3 cm thick). The assembly with the middle body of the keel is made by mortise-and-tenon joints. Along the starboard side the tenons are fixed by treenails only on the garboard and not on the keel, while on port side the tenons are unpegged. From the internal surface of garboards, transversal iron nails have been driven into the keel. Troncopyramidal holes have been cut to avoid protrusion of the nail heads.

The middle body of the ship has six strakes on both sides, with very wide planks (29-40 cm). The average thickness is 4,4 cm, while in general the length is more than 6 m. These planks are sharpened and connected to the other planks, which are narrower and thinner, by tenon-and-mortise joints and by iron nails driven into the board edges. In this manner it was possible to close the hull shape at the ends of the ship.
The planking is assembled by mortise-and-tenon joints. The distance between pegs fixing tenons is irregular and measures on average 41,5 cm. The tenons (4,3 cm wide, 0,3/0,6 thick, 8/9 cm high) are much smaller than the mortises into which they are inserted (7,4 cm wide, 0,7/1 cm thick and 4,5 cm deep) and both mortises and tenons are highly tapered. The pegs are lightly troncoconical and have been driven from the inside of the hull (internal diameter 1,1/1,3 cm, external 0,7/1,0 cm). The section is polygonal with the characteristic narrowing caused by the movement of the tenons in mortises.

There are also planks with unpegged tenons and planks without any tenons. These ancient repairs have been fixed to the frame only by iron nails, while in the adjacent planks there are the mortises of the precedent joints. The port side garboard and perhaps also the keel have been replaced. This allows us to understand why there are tenons pegged only along the starboard side and transversal nails to strengthen the structure. Moreover, there is a very thin plank, a sort of "stopgap", nailed to frames between port side garboard and the second strake

Perhaps the unpegged tenons of the other planks are indicators of ancient repairs, but this is also a constructional characteristic of this ship. In fact, a "loose" fragment of wale, probably belonging to the ship, has pegged treenails along one border and unpegged tenons along the other. Also, on the external border of the starboard side planks, we have recorded an alternation between pegged and unpegged tenons.

The Frames

The ship now possess 42 frames, rectangular or trapezoidal in section (6/10 cm wide and 7/12 cm high) while the first floor timbers aftward are higher (from a low of 13 to a high of 18 cm). In general, the frames are arranged in the common pattern of floor timbers alternating with half frames though their distance is irregular (on average 19 cm). On the starboard side, the preserved futtocks are not fastened to the floor timbers.

The ship has rectangular limber holes (5 cm wide and 3 cm high), one in a central position along the keel and two in lateral positions along the third strake. Where the half frames are very narrow there is a half limber hole on each element.
The frame is fastened to planking by nails (squared shaft of 1/1,2 side, head diameter 3,8/4,4 cm) driven through pre-inserted treenails (diameter about 1,5 cm). Originally, the tips were clinched on the timbers.

Five floor-timbers are bolted to the keel. A sixth bolt has been driven through the sterngripe. The iron bolts are long nails driven from the outside of the keel passing through the limber holes (head diameter 4/4,5 cm, decreasing shaft diameter from 2,5/2,2 cm to 1,6 cm). Through the floor timber the section becomes squared (sides of 1,2 cm) and the bolts are driven into a pre-inserted treenail, similar to the other links between frame and planking. These bolts were clinched on the floor timbers.

The keelson

The keelson (2,75 m long, from 5 to 10 cm wide and 15 cm high) is no longer in the right position: originally it was further forward and fastened to the frame and the keel by the iron bolts. On the upper surface, there is a very simple mast step with a slide to lower the mast (15 cm long, 5 cm wide and 6 cm deep) and a squared recess to support a stanchion (sides of 5 cm, depth of 3,5 cm).

The Ceiling

Two displaced fragments of internal planks are conserved too. The former is 5,29 m long while the second measures 1,71 m. Moreover, both are 14 cm wide and 3,5 cm thick. The longer one has empty holes probably for iron nails used to fix it to frame. However, no traces of tips of iron nails are present on the upper surface of framing, testimony to the presence of a fixed planking on the bottom of the ship.


The Types of wood

Because of the resin treatments and the dryness and the hardness of wood, it is possible to glean only general information regarding the types of wood used in the structure of the ship. These have been identified as cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), stone pine (Pinus pinea) and oak (Quercus sp.) for the planking, oak (Quercus sp.) for the keel and the keelson and, together with holm (Quercus ilex) for the frame. The holm was used also for tenons and pegs while willow (Salix sp.) was used for the pre-inserted treenails connecting frame to planking.

The Tool marks

Some tool marks have been recorded on Fiumicino 1. A saw has been used to make logs into planking for the external and internal longitudinal woodwork. The use of adzes is evident in the lowering of the external surface of some planks to avoid the protrusion of the nail heads. Also the bottom of starboard garboard has been trimmed by adze to connect it to the rabbet of the sterngripe. The adze was used for the frame, but evidence of the use of a saw is also apparent.

Interpretation of hull remains

These technological observations about the ancient system of construction allow us to advance some hypotheses on:
1. the date of the ship;
2. the principles and methods of construction;
3. the type of ship.


The date of Fiumicino 1 is still uncertain. The result of C14 analysis is imprecise (13050 AD) and very different if compared with the date given by the associated material (IV-V cent. AD). However, the late date of the ship seems confirmed by some structural characteristics: The high spaced mortise-and-tenon joints. Similar characteristics are present on the IV century AD wrecks of the County Hall, Yassi Ada II, Dramont E and on the V cent. AD wreck Dramont F. The shape and size of the mortise-and-tenon joints are similar to those of the Yassi Ada II. The presence of unpegged tenons as in the byzantine Yassi Ada I wreck. The widespread use of iron (nails driven through pre-inserted treenails) to fasten the frame to the planking.

Principles and methods of construction

The Fiumicino 1 appears to be based on the "shell-first" construction principle because of: the general homogeneity of the planking with tenon-and-mortise joints; the weaknesses in the frames with futtocks not fastened to floor timbers and, in general, the absence of connection between these and the keel.
However, we have recorded some particular construction processes. They are: floor timbers bolted to the keel; unpegged tenons; transversal iron nails connecting garboards to keel; looseness of tenons.
Finally, it is possible that the numerous repairs and substitutions -which are probably in part "skeleton-first" construction solutions or processes - are tied to the long life of this river barge, to later interventions on it and to the necessity of strengthening the general structure of the hull.

Type of ship

The analysis of the hull allows us to identify Fiumicino 1 with a particular type of ship. First of all, we are forced to conclude that the original position of the keelson was much further forward, because we found bolts connecting it to the frames and to the keel. In addition, this position is also confirmed by the photographs taken during the excavation. Moreover, the maststep has an internal slide to lower the mast which indicates the position of the prow, while the previous studies wrongly identified the stern of the ship as the stem.

The general structure of the hull, with the curved stern, the elongated stem and the mast which is set forward of the centre of gravity in the fore part of the vessel, lead us believe that Fiumicino 1 could be a caudicaria navis.
The family of the caudicariae naves - towed boats utilised on the Tiber up the city of Rome - is known not only from ancient sources (Sen., De Brev. Vitae, XIII, 4; Varr. and Sall. apud Nonnius s.v.; Isid., Etym. sive Orig., XIX, I, 27), but also from several pictorial representations dating from the II to the IV century AD, such as the Vaticano fresco, the Piazzale delle Corporazioni mosaic, the Museo Nazionale Romano and the Salerno reliefs.
Distinctive elements of the family are: the rounded hull at stern, the elongated stem typical of river barges, the advanced towing mast with cleats, the absence of sails, the tow line fastened to a bollard on the mast and towing posts or a small support at the gunwale, the lateral rudder, the deck and a stern cabin.
In Fiumicino 1, the tow line was fastened to the mast on the centreline between 20% and 40% of the length from the bow, so the boat was then towed parallel to the near bank with minimum use of the steering device. The maststep is indeed very simple and of limited size. It is more similar to a foremast and we do not know if the mast was also used for a spritsail, because dual purpose masts are known of and because of the difficulty of differentiating towing masts and their fittings from masts for sails.
Finally, Fiumicino 1 was towed from the right bank by beats as reported by Procopius (Bell. Goth., V, XXVI), a practice used on the Tiber river till the XIXth century.

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