Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Punic War Rostrum Found Off The Coast of Sicily

"Italian researchers say a rostrum, used by ancient Romans to ram enemy ships, was found off the coast of Sicily.

The rare bronze appendage may have been used in the final naval battle of the First Punic War, ANSA reported Tuesday. The rostrum was recovered about 230 feet below the surface by divers aided by remotely operated vehicles.

Sicily's maritime affairs department department head, Sebastiano Tusa, said the Egadi rostrum confirms his theory that a battle took place northeast of the island of Levanzo between fleets from Rome and Carthage during the Battle of the Egadi in 241 B.C., the Italian news agency said."

It was the ancient custom for Roman senators and victorious generals to give speeches from the captured prows, or bows of enemy ships. The ships would then be drawn up on the beach and destroyed except for the prow.

"When you won a naval victory, you cut off the enemy rostra, brought them home, and mounted them on new ships of your own. The bronze prow was the most costly part of the ship, so bringing home the other guy's rostra meant that you could expand your fleet. After really great victories, you could do some serious bragging by mounting some of the rostra for public display rather than reusing them -- "We beat them so bad we have rostra to spare!" So Duilius mounted six "spare" captured rostra on the face of the forum tribunal after his fleet demolished the Latin fleet at Antium in 338 BC. In 260 BC, C. Duilius Nepos added several more after beating the Carthaginians at Mylae. Julius Caesar's plan to expand what by then was called "the Rostrum" was carried out by Augustus, but Augustus's rostra were decorative fakes -- real bronze showing wealth, but not from enemy ships. (The brick Rostrum seen today is a modern restoration.)

Augustus mounted real rostra from the naval battle of Actium on the front platform of the temple that he built to honor his assassinated uncle, "The Divine Julius (Caesar)", and that was particularly significant for two reasons. First, the Actium rostra were Roman, not foreign: they came from Marc Anthony's fleet. Second, Augustus was proclaiming the dominance and divinity of what was to become the Julio-Claudian dynasty both by putting a temple to his uncle Julius in the forum and by placing trophies on its front. He thus established a new Julio-Claudian Rostrum, and during that dynasty you had to be brave or silly to use the old one. The Flavian Emperors took over after Nero ended the Julio-Claudian line in disgrace, and use of the original Rostrum at the other end of the forum resumed." - Tom Wukitsch, Arlington Learning in Retirement Institute

Our English word rostrum, for the wooden stand used by a public speaker, comes from the Latin word for ship's prow.

For coin collectors in the crowd, the presence of a ship's prow on a coin reverse was used to signify victory, the importance of the grain supply (which was carried from Egypt in ships) or an emperor's care in ensuring an adequate grain supply."

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