2,500 Years Ago, Herodotus Wrote About a Mystery Ship, Now Experts Have Found It 

One of the most mysterious boats from the ancient world was described some 2,500 years ago by Greek Historian Herodotus.

The boat, which was never seen by archaeologists was thought to be a myth.

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But now, more than 2,500 years after Herodotus mentioned the weird ship in 23 lines of his “Historia”, experts have found the boat.

The vessel, known as a baris, was seen by Herodotus after his travels to Egypt around 450 B.C.

A shipwreck at the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion. Image Credit: Christoph Gerigk@Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.
A shipwreck at the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion. Image Credit: A shipwreck at the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion. Image Credit: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

Herodotus is often referred to as “The Father of History”, a title first conferred on him by the first-century BC Roman orator Cicero.

Herodotus described the boat as a long barge that had one rudder which passes through an opening in the keel, a mast constructed of acacia wood, and sails that were crafted from papyrus.

But despite the accurate description penned down by the Greek historian, never have archaeologists found evidence the boat actually existed

However, everything changed when in the year 2000, divers discovered the remnants of the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion.

Before the foundation of Alexandria in 331 B.C., the city of Thonis-Heracleion was one of the greatest port cities on Earth. It welcomed ships coming from all over the Mediterranean.

With an intricate set of canals, surrounding a massive temple to the ancient Egyptian God Amun-Gereb, the city is thought to have greatly resembled Venice.

A modern treasure-trove of ancient shipwrecks

According to underwater archeologists, Thonis-Heracleion is home to more than 70 shipwrecks dating back from around the eight to the second century B.C.

But one of those boats was unlike any other.

As diving expeditions explored the sunken treasures of Thonis-Heracleion, underwater experts found that one of those boats matched the description written down by Herodotus of the enigmatic ancient Egyptian baris.

“Herodotus describes the boats as having long internal ribs. Nobody really knew what that meant,” Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, told The Guardian. “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.”

In ‘the Histories’ Herodotus explains that the builders of the baris used to ‘cut plants two cubits long and form them like bricks.”

The Greek Historian added that “On the strong and long tenons [pieces of wood] they insert two-cubit planks. When they have built their ship in this way, they stretch beams over them… They obturate [block up] the seams from within with papyrus.”

The ship in question is known by experts as ‘ship 17’.

Experts say the boat originally measures 28 meters in length and had a crescent-shaped hull, 70 percent of which has survived to date.

The boat was found to be made of acacia wood, held together by long wooden ribs, or tenons, just as Herodotus described it in ‘the Histories.’

Archaeologist and shipwreck specialist Alexander Belov has been analyzing and studying the ancient shipwrecks at Thonis-Heracleion together with Franck Goddio, the man who discovered the sunken city and its underwater treasures in 2000.

In a new book titled “Ship 17: a baris from Thonis-Heracleion” (Oxford University’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology, 2018), Belov wrote an in-depth analysis of the vessel.

The sunken baris can be placed within the ancient boat-building traditions of Egypt and the Mediterranean region explains Live Science.

Later, after these barges began to fall apart, they were probably re-used and incorporated into other maritime infrastructure at the port city, the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology reported in a statement.