The Levanzo I Wreck, Sicily: a 4th-century AD merchantman in the service of the annona?

The Levanzo I Wreck, Sicily: a 4th-century AD merchantman in the service of the annona?

By Jeffrey G. Royal and Sebastiano Tusa

International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 41, Issue 1 (March 2012)

Abstract: Between 2005 and 2009 a deep-water shipwreck was located, mapped, and partially excavated by a joint team from RPM Nautical Foundation and the office of the Soprintendenza del Mare, Sicily. Located off Levanzo Island, one of the Egadi Islands off north-west Sicily, this wrecked merchantman revealed a mixed cargo of foodstuffs, coarseware, glass, and construction materials. The nature of the wreck-site, its cargo, operational date, and find-location indicate its likely association with the annona service which supplied Rome.

Excerpt: The Levanzo I shipwreck provides insight into a fundamental component of the Roman annona system in the 4th century: individual merchant-ship cargos. The annona was a redistribution system of grain and oil collected as an in-kind tax within provinces and shipped to population centres, primarily the capital(s), and select military posts. As an important measure to avert famine in Rome, the annona was overseen by aediles during the Republic and by a praefectus annonae during emergencies. Augustus later formed the cura annonae and made the praefectus annonae a permanent appointment. The primary resource areas for the annona were North Africa and Egypt. Not only does this wreck-site reflect the types of goods moving from North Africa towards Rome, but the nature of the site also provides evidence for the wider system of Mediterranean trade-routes, and the varied cargoes on merchantmen operating within these networks, and potentially for shipments within the annona, as well as for types of secondary cargoes.

Many, if not most, of the merchantmen plying the Italy-North Africa routes during the 3rd to 4th centuries were in the annona service. Grain and oil were the two primary foodstuffs shipped within the annona system, and were also commodities purchased from private suppliers outside it. Although wine and fish products were often shipped alongside grain and oil they were not goods directly collected as a tax within the annona system; but they were in high demand in the markets of Rome as well as other densely-populated areas of Italy, and were components of military provisions. As such the products shipped in amphoras were often secondary in proportion to the grain cargo carried out of North African regions such as Mauritania, which assuredly was the case for many shipments originating in Africa Proconsularis as well.

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