In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt and wrote of unusual riverboats on the Nile. Twenty-three lines of his Historia, the ancient world’s first great narrative history, are devoted to the intricate description of the construction of a “baris”.
For centuries, scholars have argued over his account because there was no archaeological evidence that such ships ever existed.
Now, according to an article in The Guardian, a “fabulously preserved” wreck in the waters around the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion has revealed just how accurate the historian was.
“It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realised Herodotus was right,” said Dr Damian Robinson, director of Oxford University’s centre for maritime archaeology, which is publishing the excavation’s findings. “What Herodotus described was what we were looking at.”
In 450 BC Herodotus witnessed the construction of baris. He noted how the builders “cut planks two cubits long [around 100cm] and arrange them like bricks”.
Robinson said that previous scholars had “made some mistakes” in struggling to interpret the text without archaeological evidence. “It’s one of those enigmatic pieces. Scholars have argued exactly what it means for as long as we’ve been thinking of boats in this scholarly way,” he said.
Robinson added: “Herodotus describes the boats as having long internal ribs. Nobody really knew what that meant… That structure’s never been seen archaeologically before. Then we discovered this form of construction on this particular boat and it absolutely is what Herodotus has been saying.”
*Read the article in full at The Guardian