Museum of Ancient Seafaring (Mainz, Germany)

The Museum of Ancient Seafaring (German: Museum für Antike Schifffahrt) in Mainz opened in 1994 in the former 19th century repair shop of the Hessian Ludwig Railway, near the Mainz Roman theatre, as a branch of the Romano-Germanic Central Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum). The exhibits include the wooden remains of five Roman military ships from the 4th century AD together with full-scale replicas, many reliefs with representations of ships, model reconstructions as well as a gallery dedicated to the history of shipbuilding and construction techniques.

Coordinates: 49° 59′ 38.75″ N, 8° 16′ 49.51″ E

After the establishment of the military castrum (fort) of Mogontiacum (modern Mainz) in 13–12 BC, ships of the Classis Germanica (the Roman fleet in Germania Superior and Germania Inferior) became stationed at its harbor. Mogontiacum soon became the capital of the Roman province of Germania Superior and an important naval base of the Roman fleet on the river Rhine. In November 1981, as workmen dug the foundation of an extension of the Hilton Hotel in Mainz, the remains of at least 10 military wooden ships dating from the last days of the Roman Empire were discovered still in situ on their gravel beds. These survived more than 1,500 years only because they were buried under 7 metres of clay and sand, which kept them away from the destructive effects of oxidation. The ships, all made of German oak, were waterlogged but otherwise fairly well preserved.

The area seemed to have been a part of the ancient harbor where old ships were abandoned by the Romans around AD 400 when their empire had grown weak and they could no longer maintain their garrison at Mogontiacum.

The wrecks were cautiously dismantled, documented, and, in 1992, brought to the Museum of Ancient Seafaring for further preservation and study. They were dated by the use of dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and were termed Mainz 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and generally referred to as the Mainzer Römerschiffe, the Mainz Roman ships. They were identified as military vessels that belonged to the Roman flotilla in Germania, the Classis Germanica. The vessels could be classified into two types, namely small troop transporters (Mainz type A – Mainz 1, 2, 4, 5) termed navis lusoria and a multinational patrol vessel called navis actuaria (Mainz type B – Mainz 3). A little later, the remains of two flat-bottomed ships of type Zwammerdam came to light close to the findspot.

The museum has a workshop, where visitors have the opportunity to watch the staff working on the production of antique ship models. A further section of the exhibition is devoted to the explanation of Roman ship construction.


Mainz Type A

The replica of a Roman military troop transporter ship (navis lusoria), Type Mainz A (based on wreck 1 and wreck 5) dating to the 4th century AD. This vessel was 21,6 m long, 2,79 m wide and roughly 1 m high.
Slim, flat-bottomed hulls with flaring sides are characteristics of the Mainz A Type vessel. They were very narrow, fast rowing boats with a row of oars on either side. She had a crew of 30 oarsmen.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 1. Dendrochronological analyses of wreck 1 date her to 385 AD. She was used until around AD 400 as a bronze coin struck in the years 388-392 under Emperor Theodosius I was found between the hull and frame 2. The preserved hull with a length of almost 8.3m consists consisting of seven rows of planks up to the gunwale on the port.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 2. Like all ships discovered in Mainz, Wreck 2 was constructed of oak. She was constructed in the beginning of the 4th century AD and represents a flat-bottomed vessel with flaring sides. It comprises the rear section and part of the midship section of an open plank boat. Her original dimensions were at least 16 me in length, approx. 3 m in width and approx. 1 m in height.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 4. Only the five uppermost port rows of planking aft survived. Its dendrochronolgical examination revealed only she was constructed at the end of the 3rd century AD. This boat was originally larger and heavier than the other three troop transporters.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 5. Originally 18 m long, only the front 9 m long section from the bows to just aft the mast-frame was able to be recovered. According to the dendrochronological analyses the oaks employed in the building were felled in AD 390.
The full scale replica of a Roman military troop transporter ship (navis lusoria).

Mainz Type b

Full scale replica of a transport ship used by the Roman navy (navis actuaria), Type Mainz B. As opposed to reconstruction Mainz A, which represents a troop transporter, reconstruction 2 is a patrol vessel used for border control on the Rhine.
Type Mainz B is a more compact vessel that could also be propelled by oars and had a much better power sail than type Mainz A. The technical reconstruction of the ship is based on the archaeological results of the investigation into wreck 3.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 3. She was a flat-bottom ship with curved, flaring sides and a sharp stern. The dendrochronological analysis of the oak dated the ship from the end of the 3rd century AD.

Mainz Type Zwammerdam

1:10 model of a flat-bottomed ship with ramp-like sloping ends of the Zwammerdam type. These ships have often been recorded north of the Alps and could measure up to 40 m long, as documented by the ships Zwammerdam 4 and Mainz 6. They were used for transporting heavy loads on rivers.
The remains of the pram of the Mainz Wreck 6. During house-building in early 1982, some 500 m south of the site of the late Roman ships, the remains of two prams were discovered. Analysis of the wood revealed a felling date of AD 81. Her original dimensions were of approx. 40 m long and 5 m wide.

models of other ship types

1:10 model of the Ships of Fiumicino that came to light during the construction of the Leonardo Da Vinci international airport on the site of the ancient harbour basin built in 42 AD by the emperor Claudius. The goods that arrived at the seaport of Portus were unloaded and then transported by smaller inland navigation vessels along the Tiber to the city of Rome. These type of ships are also known from several pictorial representations dating from the 2nd to the 4th century AD such as the Vatican fresco and the Piazzale delle Corporazioni mosaic in Ostia.
1:10 model of a Roman ship as shown on Trajan’s Column.
1:10 models Roman ships.
1:10 models Roman ships, 1: cargo ship based on the London-Blackfriars wreck dated to about 150 AD, 3: model based on the Oceanus mosaic fom Bad Kreuznach.
1:10 model reconstruction of a quadrireme (four-banked gallery) according to a graffito from Alba Fucens in Italy. The vessel, dated to the mid-1st century AD, carried 200 oarsmen with two oarsmen operating each oar. The oars were arranged in two rows of 25 per side.
1:10 model reconstructions of Roman ships, 5: Dromon of the Byzantine navy (10-12th centuries AD), left: Bireme of the Neumagen Type (AD 220 / 230).

reliefs with representation of ships

Tombstone from Mainz-Weisenau depicting a warship from the 1st century AD (original at the Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe, Direktion Landesarchäologie, Mainz).
Relief depicting soldiers on a ship of the Neumagen type (original in the National Museum in Naples), 1st century BC / 1st century AD.
Relief of a Mediterranean cargo ship, 1st – 3rd century AD.
Tombstone of the ship owner (naukleros) and sailor Aurelius Theogeiton from Arados in Syria, early 3rd century AD.
He seems to have been one of those ship owners who navigated their vessels by themselves between the Eastern Mediterranean and Italy.
Relief of a marble coffin depicting a crewship raising the sails of two cargo ships in front of a harbour (original in Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam), 3rd century AD.
Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, Mainz.
Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, Mainz.
Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, Mainz.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am – 8:00 pm. The admission is free.