Ship Losses and the Growth of Roman Harbour Infrastructure


  • Damian Robinson University of Oxford
  • Candace M. Rice Brown University
  • Katia Schörle Université Côte d’Azur



Gaul, Italy, harbour infrastructure, maritime archaeology, Roman economic history, shipwrecks


This study analyses regional trajectories in Mediterranean coastal developments between ca. 200 bc and ad 200, the time of a peak in maritime activities as recorded archaeologically through shipwreck evidence. The aim is to test the proposition that the development of harbour infrastructure should be followed by a decline in shipwrecks around coastal areas. The inference is that, economically speaking, investing in harbours would result in faster and safer transshipment areas and enable regions to cope better with intensifying trade, while the high costs of harbour infrastructure would be offset by a reduction in the loss of ships, and hence loss of capital. In reality, however, the relationship between shipwreck data and local harbour infrastructure in the ancient Mediterranean is far more complex. Here we discuss two coastal regions: central Tyrrhenian Italy and southern France. We suggest the realization of a need for the substantial development of infrastructure in order to cope with intensifying trade is a phenomenon that predates the Roman Imperial period.

Author Biographies

Damian Robinson, University of Oxford

Damian Robinson is the Director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology and Associate Professor of Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford. He works in collaboration with the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine on the excavation and publication of the shipwrecks and sunken cities of Aboukir Bay and Alexandria, Egypt.

Candace M. Rice, Brown University

Candace M. Rice is Assistant Professor of Archaeology and Classics at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University. Her research and publications concentrate on Roman maritime trade and shipwrecks, Mediterranean ports, Roman merchants and trading communities, Roman villas and Roman economic development. She is also Co-Director of the Upper Sabina Tiberina Project, focused on the excavation of a late republican to mid-imperial villa in the Sabina, Italy.

Katia Schörle, Université Côte d’Azur

Katia Schörle is Assistant Professor of Archaeology and History of the Ancient World at the Université Côte d’Azur. Her research focuses on the economy of the Roman world, maritime archaeology, long-distance trade, the Roman military and merchant networks. Her archaeological experience ranges from maritime excavations to land-based surveys and excavations in Italy (Rome), North Africa, France and Spain. She currently co-directs several archaeological projects in Croatia as well as in Tunisia as part of the European Union Horizon H2020 (Sfax-Forward).





How to Cite

Robinson, D., Rice, C. M., & Schörle, K. (2020). Ship Losses and the Growth of Roman Harbour Infrastructure. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 33(1), 102–125.