The Ionian Islands and the ancient sea trade

The position of the Ionian Islands in antiquity was extremely important as they constituted a reception and supply point for the longitudinal crossing of the Mediterranean from its eastern to western coasts. Over the centuries, a multitude of shipwrecks has accumulated in the sea. To date, the inaccessible bottom environment has protected the ancient monuments found in his arms, and most importantly the legacy of courageous sailors, pioneering explorers of the sea’s streets, the element that covers more than two-thirds of the surface of our planet. In the degraded environment of the seabed, shipwrecks recount the history of mankind, but also our timeless coexistence with the elements of nature, of which we forget that we are part and not obedient.

The inhabitants of the islands and their spiritual heritage

Kefalonia and Ithaca during the Mycenaean period (during the Trojan War) appear as part of the Kefalonia kingdom, with the most famous spokesman being (mythical?) Odysseus. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Homer (or any epic writers) were inspired by this part of the world and its inhabitants. The Odyssey together with the Iliad was a study of scholarship and student education, and they are still being studied all over the world, not only as literary but also as teaching texts. Whether it is purely a myth or a distant reality, what matters is not the current position of Ithaca the hostage on the surface of the earth, but the place of the teaching of the epic in the world. Odysseus, like Achilles, is in the soul of every human being,


Achilles is our young, frivolous, vainest self who only looks at the early hours of the East and uses the excess energy at the beginning of his life to make all those mistakes that give him lessons for the world. Odysseus is our mature, settled self, observing the last hours before sunset, and distinguishes what is ultimately important to transmit to the next generation. And Homer is the grandfather telling stories inspiring his grandchildren. Heritage of Homer in the world through the adventures and teachings of Odysseus is fundamental and timeless: he teaches patience in the hardships, the separation of the truly important goals and the perseverance for their achievement. And here,


But let’s start from the beginning and the bases of history by looking at the most important periods during which the Mediterranean sea trade has developed.


Bronze Age

In the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean, the beginning of the Bronze Age is located about 3,000 years ago, when copper (90%) and tin (10%), the most rigid, durable and durable for a wide range of bronze uses, which revolutionized ancient societies, as it was utilized in a variety of applications, primarily in tools and weapons. With the largest quantities of copper coming from Cyprus and those of tin from regions of the wider Middle East, and especially today Afghanistan, copper metallurgy required the development of trade initially between today’s Italy, Greece, Egypt, Palestine and contributed to the bloom of the first cultures of the eastern Mediterranean.


Second Greek Colonization

During the second Greek colonization between the 8th and 6th century BC during which the organized establishment of colonies of ancient Greeks took place in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, where Korinthos, Miletus, Megara, Phocaea were leading, the Ionian sea corridors became the umbilical cord of the new colonies with their Metropolises. The Ionian waters became roads of communication and transport of goods between Greece and Italy up to the western Mediterranean, with ancient ships loaded with seafarers, passengers and products to encompass the Ionian islands. Transport grew as the population grew, shipbuilding advanced, and civilization flourished.


Roman Period

Since the rise of Rome there has been an unprecedented expansion and tension in trade in the Mediterranean waters, from Egypt to Italy and from Syria to Spain (eg wine and works of art from Greece, copper from Cyprus, grain from Africa, tin from Asia). Now, as ever, merchant ships have been stripping trajectories by linking the seaside towns of this closed sea and contributing to the globalization of the then small, well-known world. From now on, the Mediterranean will become a field of continuous commodity trade and communication of ideas on an unprecedented scale, the physical conquest of lands is reversed and through the sea routes a spiritual conquest is made: the diffusion of the products of intellect and technology,



The trip to the sea 

The sea voyage at that time was difficult, demanding and dangerous. But in order to realize the conditions that prevail, one must first know the purposes of the journey, the requirements, the available materials and techniques of construction and the psychological composition of the travelers.




The ancient merchant ships were sailboats and therefore relied on the prevailing winds of the Mediterranean. In the Ionian, these winds are northwest, favoring sailing from west to east, but for the westward route, local winds such as sea breeze from sea to shore should be used. In any case the course they followed would be near the coast where the local winds are stronger and mainly because there are safe anchorages, following the west coasts of Greece to the Strait of Otranto and from there they would cross the Adriatic towards Italy, Sicily and the Western Mediterranean. An example of a trip may be a merchant ship from Corinth, which had established colonies in Sicily with Syracuse known as the ultimate destination. The ship would travel along the coasts of the Corinthian and Patra Gulf through the narrow Kefallinia-Ithaca and Kefallinia-Lefkada, passing the coasts of Epirus and Corfu, crossing the Strait of Otranto, moving along the coast of Lower Italy, eventually catching up in Sicily.


The means of shipping were insignificant compared to today’s circumstances, but the clarity of the mind and the courage of our ancestors should not be underestimated, which, on the basis of archaeological discoveries, has led many times around the world to spectacular reversals of our knowledge of them. Besides, the development of today’s complex technology was based on gradual building upon a first simple, logical, exploratory view of the world. Based on some notable scientific studies by Greek and foreign academic bodies, the sea level a few thousand years ago was not much less than a few meters from the current average sea level (up to about 3 m) and the waters surrounding the islands some significant distance from the coasts is deep (in the order of 100 meters open to Patraikos).



Shipbuilding technology

Today sailing boats are mainly used for recreation and racing, they have sophisticated sailing control systems, new materials and equipment and are much more manageable. In contrast, sailors of the ancient times had commercial vessels with simple equipment (simple woods, flax), usually loaded and with limited maneuverability (initially using square sails with many limitations to the possible angle of incidence of wind). It is very likely that with a sea state as 4 beaufort they had full control of the boat, but above that things were difficult and they had to have the weather “stern”, ie they were necessarily traveling in the direction of the wind. If this cruise was not safe due to land, debris or other obstacles or the wave height was excessive,


The ships of antiquity (from the Beirut to the Roman), and especially the merchant ones, were 15-40 meters long, that is, as long as a present craft designed for day cruises, which for safety reasons can not be removed more than a few nautical miles from coasts. The height, width and configuration of the deck (originally without enclosures) was such that the only weather protection was minimal, so the trips were interrupted during the winter months, depending on the specific climatic conditions each year. Initially and up to the classical times there were no spaces for the crew, except perhaps from a small cabin for the governor and high faces among the passengers, and only on the larger ships.


The construction was empirical, probably by craftsmen, without the presence of plans and standardized procedures that today guarantee some stability in quality, possibly without control by a public authority, without statutory regulations, with raw materials (wood for the skeleton, superstructure and sails, linen for sails, rope, lead and bronze parts) without quality control and stable quality. Each ship was tested directly on the first voyage and not by analysis and experimentation with a natural (or digital) model.



Stops for refueling and repairs

Apart from the stops to protect from the weather, or those at the intermediate merchant stations for the exchange of goods, other cases concerned direct repairs for the ship’s seaworthiness and for refueling:

Parts of the boat (eg, hulls, sails) or dependence (eg rudders, sails) could often be subject to extraordinary damage and required basic repairs to be carried out after an appropriate shelter. In addition, the anchors often cracked at the bottom and had to be abandoned, while portions of the lead coating (for waterproofing and for the treatment of animal organisms responsible for wood chipping) had to be replaced or supplemented after impact, temporary reefing or normal wear and tear.

Although ways of preparing long-term food were known as sun-drying and salt-paste for meat and fish, and many other foods could be transported on board (dried fruits and nuts, bulbs such as onions etc .), drinking water could not be maintained for long periods transported in large quantities.

For all the above reasons, regular approach and mooring near the coast or port in the general rowing of the ship, especially on long voyages, was common.



Types of ancient Greek and Roman ships

The basic designs, materials, methods and procedures of shipbuilding have not changed much for over 3000 years, at least since the 20th century BC. the Thracian civilization until at least the 10th century AD. of Byzantium, with the main difference being the construction of larger, heavier and more complex and equipped ships. The materials remained essentially the same, and the dangers faced by people and shards in the sea.


The first seagoing ships for all purposes (trade and war operations) that were moved to the Aegean Sea were the ships of Thira (2000-1500 BC), vessels of about 37 m, rowing and sailing. The Tricontorus (15th-4th century BC), ie a 30-paddle ship in a plane along the ship and its development Pentecostoros, were used from the Archaic period (750 BC to 479 BC) , but rather similar ships have been before, taking into account the relevant references to Homeric epics. These were flexible, long-range vessels, used for trade, piracy and war operations. The pentathon is credited with the support of the Greek colonization of the Mediterranean and the realization of the first exploratory missions beyond the sea, such as the mythical Argo of the Argonautic Campaign (and she had about fifty paddlers). The ships used during the Trojan War (according to Eratosthenes 1194-1184 BC), like those of the Odysseus and the Kefalines who participated, were probably pentecostors (although they were certainly still using the trocadons as auxiliaries).


Physical development for the warships were those with two-level paddles, the one supernatant of the other, the famous Dipher. Samos pioneered their construction with the ship known as Samaina (6th century BC). The main advantage of this configuration was the increase in power, since the same ship length was twice the power to propel the boat, increasing speed (like placing a larger horsepower in the same engine room of a ship). These vessels were therefore faster and more effective in naval combat and could prevail against the opponent. Later it was devised and constructed the first form of the Trinity (7th-3rd century BC) attributed to the avant-garde of Corinth, followed by the Athenian Trireme (5th century BC) which starred in some of the most important naval battles of the world, those of Artemisios (490 BC) and Salamis (480 BC). Trieris was a rowing warship (170 paddlers distributed in 3 levels, even faster and stronger) and a sailboat with 2 curves and a length of about 40 m. Following were Patriarch (4th century BC), the Macedonian Fourth (4th-3rd century BC) rowing and a sailboat with 2 sails, and the Polyer of the Hellenistic period (4th-2nd century BC). ). Subsequently, the Byzantine Dronon (5th-11th century AD), rowing sailboat and sailboat with 2 sails, 55m long and crew of 300 men. even faster and stronger) and a sailboat with 2 trawls and a length of about 40 m. Following were Patriarch (4th century BC), the Macedonian Fourth (4th-3rd century BC) rowing and a sailboat with 2 sails, and the Polyer of the Hellenistic period (4th-2nd century BC). ). Subsequently, the Byzantine Dronon (5th-11th century AD), rowing sailboat and sailboat with 2 sails, 55m long and crew of 300 men. even faster and stronger) and a sailboat with 2 trawls and a length of about 40 m. Following were Patriarch (4th century BC), the Macedonian Fourth (4th-3rd century BC) rowing and a sailboat with 2 sails, and the Polyer of the Hellenistic period (4th-2nd century BC). ). Subsequently, the Byzantine Dronon (5th-11th century AD), rowing sailboat and sailboat with 2 sails, 55m long and crew of 300 men.


Initially, the typical merchant ship was “Olkas”, a small sailboat with 1-2 sails, large width and small displacement, hollow and deck-free, specially designed to carry a large load (a more conservative 70% the ship located in the Gulf of Kyrenia in Cyprus). Using sail these ships were slowly but capable of carrying large load with a lean crew: the configuration of the sails and navigation and steering requirements needed four people, which is supported by findings in surveyed shipwrecks (for example four dishes , four cups, etc.).

Later merchant ships followed these developments and needs and grew in size, gaining better navigational features, while gradually in the Roman years, the sailboards gave way to “lateen sails” allowing more efficient handling and exploitation of the wind and crew and passenger compartments were added. The merchant ships in antiquity generally were 15-40m long and were capable of carrying a load of 75-400 tons, that is, about 2,000 to 10,000 amphoras or other mixed loads.




Undoubtedly shipwrecks of merchant ships give most historical information through their conserved cargo (containers and other objects from non-biodegradable materials) as opposed to the materials of the ship itself, while shipwrecked wreckages save few parts such as stone anchors and bronze pistons.

Most of a commercial vessel occupied by the charge, which originally was composed mainly of clay pots with flat bottom, in different sizes and shapes, a right nightmare for loading a ship as to achieve stabilization of the load in high wave condition. The charge displacement in the event of rough seas was a major cause of flooding in the vessel, so later developed a peculiar type of transport vessel into the vessel, the known “horned” stirrup (in Greece started manufactured 7th c.), I.e. today stereotyped jars with a pointed lower end, which could be stabilized at the keel of the ship keyed between the gaps of the previous layer, while the lower first layer resting on a substrate possible by brushwood or sand.


The amphoras were the containers of the time, usually standardized according to the type of product and the region of origin where the workshop was located. Wine, olive oil, olives, dried fruits, cereals, pulses, etc. were probably transported in fine-grained amphorae with a narrow mouth, and dry in piths with a wide orifice to facilitate transfusion. The orifices were sealed with cork, wax or other materials. The shape of amphoras and the remains of their contents give information on the origin, destination and intermediate stops of the ship, but also help in dating based on the construction works and the study of the organic matter that can be traced therein.


In addition to edible goods, the ships transported metal rods or ingots (copper, tin, etc.) and colored glass, construction materials (column vertebrae, column capitals, etc.), while millstones, wafers, sarcophagi, statues, various ornaments or precious objects , and many other items.


Some of the amphorae and other vases that were transported contained supplies and supplies for the crew as well as information from the Odyssey, and accessories or supplies for necessary repairs of the ship itself during the voyage. Even smaller items of crew, passengers or part of goods were stored in larger vessels, such as in piths (the wells known as “jars”), which had a wide mouth and were used practically as cabinets and cabinets.



Gateway to the bottom

After all the effort to build, mount and launch, manning and loading the ship, the time of departure was coming. The destination was designated, the stops were the supply of the necessary supplies. And the ship left for the unknown and gloomy ocean, the one that mythology identified with the Horizon of sunrise and sunset, the stars, the constellations, and the boundaries of the Lower World.


Many ships are believed to have been shipwrecked due to shifting their cargo in hectic weather that led to water inflow from the lower ones in relation to the bow and stern of the boat, perhaps in conjunction with overloading it with a heavier than safe load. Others simply stuck in unfamiliar reefs as generalized mapping was not an easy task with the middle of the season.


The ships were at risk of damage to the rudders or sails, due to an anchor failure due to the loss or roll of the anchor. Just as today, if a ship remained unmanageable either on the open sea or in coastal waters, its existence was claimed by the seabed. Other reasons for the wreck were the failure of waterproofing the hull leading to water influx and, of course, piracy. Also the crew did not have much space, and of course at least initially not allowed to light a fire on the wooden board, due to fire risk (later possibly ceramic plates used for making fireproof safe area). Undoubtedly the fire risk coexisted, making the trip more an adventure and less a safe move.



Shipwrecks at the seabed of Kefalonia and Ithaca 

After centuries of undemanding trade and uncertain travel, many shipwrecks have accumulated in the Ionian Sea, a key point for Mediterranean shipping, a crossroads north and south, east and west. Around Kefalonia and Ithaca, the most common traffic corridors were generally located along the eastern coasts from Fiskardo to Skala, while due to its location and orientation, the Kefallinia-Ithaca channel was a major move. On the contrary, there are few shipwrecks along the west coast of Kefalonia as they probably were not a particularly useful route, with steep shores and exposed to northern and western times waters to prevent attack for protection and approach for disembarkation, perhaps because of the deep depth that has not allowed easy wreckage to date. It is noteworthy that the presence of the sanctuary of Poseidon in Vatsa Paliki (southwest Kefalonia), installed in the last point protected by the waves and winds of the island and at the threshold of the wild sea that opens to the west, seems to have a special symbolic value and perhaps it was a last station of pilgrimage and worship to the gods.


The most widespread wrecks are undoubtedly those of the Roman period, and specifically of the imperial Rome, due to the flowering of trade within the confines of the empire’s unified commercial space. These of the Classical and Hellenistic period are rarer, while the most rare and important are those of the Early Helladic and Mycenaean period, which reveal historical information about unknown seasons with limited presence and spread of man.


According to indications and reports, the ancient shipwrecks around our islands may approach 20 in number, while examples of localized and investigated are:

  1. Wreck of Early Helladic period (2.750 – 2.000 BC) in the Gayana area. It was investigated in 2000, sampled (almost 3 intact hydrides), and is considered very important because of its early dating.
  2. Tomb shelter of the Macedonian period (4th – 3rd century BC) in the area of ​​Piso Aetos, Ithaca.
  3. Shipwreck of statues of Hellenistic years (3-2th century BC), in Akrotiri area Xi. It was researched in 1980, while the total finds concerned 3 marble column bases, 2 marble capitals and 6 marble statues.
  4. Shipwreck Roman period (1st cent. BC – 1st century AD.), The open Fiskardo.
  5. Wreck of the Roman period (1st century BC – 2nd century AD), open to the Daskalio islet.
  6. Shipwreck Roman period (1st cent. BC – 2nd century AD.), In the Antisamos beach area.



Ancient as well as all historical wrecks, they are a chapter of human history, a sample of the local cultural heritage of the Mediterranean and a national attraction for divers – visitors to the seabed. They support the origins and the historical path of the peoples who survived and flourished in this region of the world. They need the study, protection and emblem, respectively, of the land monuments, otherwise their existence on the seabed of our seas is not effectively exploited.


But they will always be monuments to the people of the sea of ​​all time, monuments of anxiety and effort, bravery and mood, laughter and survival. Monuments of turbulent coexistence of man and nature ..




Telemachus Bitter

3 star CMAS scuba divers


Argostoli, 2017




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Article to be published – Ancient shipwrecks around Kefalonia and Ithaca


Good evening,

An article is attached for publication on historical events related to our site, specifically about the  ancient shipwrecks around Kefalonia and Ithaca .

Suggested images are also attached to accompany the text.


Attached Images:

  1. Trireme Olympia (Photo Tel. 2018)
  2. The Siren Vase (Stamnos) British Museum
  3. 17th BC Ferry Boat (Geralis NME)