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Book Review, NRJ 60.2

May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Sveti Pavao Shipwreck: A 16th Century Venetian Merchantman from Mljet, Croatia

Carlo Beltrame, Sauro Gelichi and Igor Miholjek

Many people forget (or never knew) that much of the eastern coastline of the Adriatic Sea was territory of the Republic of Venice until well into the eighteenth century. As a result, the waters off the coast of Croatia and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Montenegro and Albania are likely to be the final resting places of many Venetian ships, wrecked while trading within the Adriatic or voyaging from elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

During the past twenty years, in particular, archaeologists have been searching these waters in the expectation of locating wrecks of Venetian ships. This book about the Sveti Pavao shipwreck is a preliminary report on six years of work on the site by members of a joint Croatian-Italian project that has been excavating and conserving objects from what is almost certainly a sixteenth-century Venetian merchant vessel, one of a number of such craft located in the same general area over the past thirty years.

The wreck is quite deep (about 40 meters (130 feet) below the surface) and also quite concentrated. Because the team had very limited funding, it took a somewhat innovative approach to recording the site by making extensive use of photogrammetry. This both substantially cut the amount of time divers had to spend on the bottom recording data, since they could use photographs rather than manual measurements, and also opened up interesting possibilities for interpretation, because the imagery could be manipulated both to uncover information that might have been missed during a visual scan and to generate three-dimensional representations of the wreck and site.

This particular preliminary report concentrates primarily on objects that have been recovered and undergone initial conservation. There is much cargo—mainly high-end luxurious metallic and ceramic vessels—coinage, and animal remains that may represent livestock transported as cargo or for consumption by crew and passengers. There is also an impressive array of mid-sixteenth–century ordnance, most of which are breech-loaders. It is interesting to note that the barrels of the breech-loaders are bronze, while the breech chambers are iron; an interesting detail for researchers.

 The remains of the hull are very limited. Nevertheless, photogrammetry and subsequent three-dimensional modeling proved very useful in interpreting the remains for archaeologists and, especially, for public display (since the team had decided to leave the hull elements in situ rather than raise them for conservation and display).

This preliminary report provides a fascinating insight into elements of sixteenth-century Venetian trade and the ships that conducted it. We can only look forward to more information as research funding permits.

  • Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014
  • 8-1/4” x 11-3/4”, softcover, vii + 180 pages
  • Photographs, diagrams, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $70.00
  • ISBN: 9781782977063
  • Distributed in the United States by Casemate Academic, Havertown, Pennsylvania

Reviewed by David Djanogli, Chippenham, Wiltshire

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