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Recent Discoveries

The Grande Passe 1 shipwreck, 2nd century BC, Hyères, France

New data on its cargo, nautical equipment and wooden remains
Alex Sabastia
p. 161-165


L’épave Grande Passe 1 se trouve à 45 m de profondeur au large de l’île de Porquerolles, à Hyères (Var), sur la côte méditerranéenne française. Elle a été découverte en 1975 et de nouvelles campagnes de terrain en 2017 et 2018 ont mis au jour une partie de la coque (quille, bordé et membrure) et trois ancres en fer en bon état de conservation. Quelques amphores gréco-italiques, qui faisaient partie de la cargaison, sont datables du iie s. av. J.-C. Cet article propose une première analyse de l’épave.

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Texte intégral

The work carried out on the shipwreck received the scientific and financial support of the Centre Camille Jullian (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS), the French Ministry of Culture and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Arkaeos, the Iero Diving Centre and the National Park of Port-Cros also provided great support. M. Sadania (DRASSM, French Ministry of Culture) provided scientific support and advice for the anchor studies.

Fig. 1: Geographic location of the wreck

Fig. 1: Geographic location of the wreck

(drawing A. Sabastia, AMU/CCJ)

1The Grande Passe 1 shipwreck lays 45 m deep off the coast of Porquerolles Island, in the Hyères archipelago, southern France (fig. 1), a region where many ancient wrecks have been discovered (Long 2004). The Grande Passe 1 wreck has been known since 1975, when two local divers reported an area of 100 m² ­covered with amphora shards to the French Department of subaquatic and submarine archaeological research (DRASSM). Since its discovery, the site has been heavily ­visited, and some of the looters’ equipment can still be seen on the bottom. The site was gradually forgotten by looters and had never been evaluated by archaeologists until its rediscovery in 2016 during a survey conducted by Bernard Pasqualini (Iero Diving Centre, Hyères). Because of its potential, it was decided to conduct a documentation campaign in 2017, and then an excavation in 2018.

2The wreck lies on a sandy bottom, seasonally covered by algae. The site measures 10 m long and 5 m wide. This includes the excavated remains of the wreck, the anchors and some cargo fragments (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Plan of the site

Fig. 2: Plan of the site

(drawing A. Sabastia, AMU/CCJ)

1. The cargo

3Although the site has been looted, the excavation brought to light a few Graeco-Italic amphorae (one complete, two necks and some shards), dating the wreck to the 2nd century BC. We presume these are part of the cargo and not the ship’s own equipment, even if we cannot establish the cargo’s size. Effectively, the ship can be linked to a great number of wrecks with similar cargo discovered on the maritime route going from the Italian peninsula towards the coast of Gaul off the eastern side of Corsica (Cibecchini 2008, 2015). Most of the ships were around 20 m long, with a maximum cargo of about 30 tons (Cibecchini 2008).

4A few other artefacts could be linked to crew equipment: a lid, pieces of cooking ware (lopas), Campanian A ware of the type Lamboglia 36/Morel 1310 (Morel 1981, pl. 11‑13) and a catillus of a manual millstone in basalt. A few pieces of imbrices and tegulae might belong to the hearth.

2. Anchors

5The wreck revealed two types of anchor: iron anchors in a good state of preservation, and a wooden anchor with lead stock.

6The lead stock (Anchor B), belonging to a wooden anchor, which has not been preserved, measures 134 cm in length with a 7 x 24 cm cross section. The box for the shank is rectangular with rounded edges, 21 cm long and 17 cm wide. We can estimate its weight to be around 150 kg.

7The three iron anchors each had a removable stock (Kapitan 1984, p. 34). The best preserved (Anchor A) measures 231 cm from crown to its extremity (fig. 3). The arms are 68 cm long and at their furthest are separated from each other by 88 cm, forming a clear V shape. Iron concretions obscure the crown, which does not seem to have a tripping ring. The arm tips are not visible. The shank section is rectangular at its lower extremity (10 cm wide, 17 cm thick), becomes rounded for most of its 117 cm length, and then becomes rectangular again at its upper extremity. The ring is partly preserved, with the remaining part measuring 28 cm in length. The 110 cm long arched stock is preserved under the shank.

Fig. 3: Anchor A, the best preserved on the site

Fig. 3: Anchor A, the best preserved on the site

(photograph T. Seguin)

8Two other anchor pieces are visible on the site. The lower part of an iron anchor (Anchor C) is preserved. The distance between the arm tips is 115 cm, and the arms are 80 cm long, longer than Anchor A. The shank section is rectangular, measuring 8 cm wide and 7 cm thick.

9The third example (Anchor D) is the upper part of an anchor with the head, the ring (6-7 cm diameter), and the stock. The stock is lightly arched and measures 123 cm in length. Its rectangular section is 12 cm wide and 8 cm thick.

10V-shaped anchors are characteristic of the Republican period, as shown by Kapitän (1984, p. 42‑43), but only a few comparisons are possible especially in this good state of preservation. From the Cannonier-du-Sud shipwreck (2nd century BC), only the mould of the lower part of an iron anchor has been preserved: it is exhibited in the Musée des docks romains in Marseilles (Benoit 1958, p. 25). That anchor’s shank is slightly different, with two different sections and two protrusions on its sides, maybe to improve strength. These can also be seen on the Pompeii anchor (Ucelli 1950, p. 239), but not on anchors disco­vered in a maritime context, mainly because of oxidation.

3. The hull

11A part of the hull was excavated and studied in 2018. The trench, located near Anchor A, brought to light a part of the hull in a fair state of preservation. Much of the structure has disappeared, but a part of the keel and its post, nine planks and seven pieces of frame could be studied (fig. 2). Each piece was meas­ured in situ, the documentation being completed by photography and sampling (wood, pitch). Each piece has been ­sampled but the wood identification has not yet been conducted.

3.1. Keel and transitional timber

12A 2.8 m-long part of the longitudinal axis of the ship was excavated. The keel and a transitional timber are partly preserved. The pieces are assembled together by a hook scarf (25 cm in length), locked by a wooden key that is not preserved (fig. 4). The transitional timber is broken on its western part, arched and measures 97 cm in length. Its section is 13 cm wide and 15 cm high.

Fig. 4: The scarf between the keel (left) and the post (right): the garboard in the foreground

Fig. 4: The scarf between the keel (left) and the post (right): the garboard in the foreground

(photograph L. Damelet, CNRS/CCJ)

13The keel is also 13 cm wide and 15 cm high in section. The top face is rabbeted (4.5 cm wide and high) in order for the garboard to be assembled onto the keel. The two rabbets are only 3.5 cm distant from each other. The profile of the keel gives the bottom of the hull a clear wineglass shape.

3.2. Planking

14Nine pieces of planking are preserved. Planks P1 to P5 are preserved to the south of the remains, while P6 to P9 are pieces of garboard still connected to the keel. The planks are 12 to 16 cm in width and 3.5 cm thick. The garboards are thicker and, judging by plank P7, narrower (10 cm). The carved garboards give the hull a wineglass section.

15Planks are assembled to each other by pegged tenon-and­mortise joints. The pegs are 1.1 cm in diameter (internal face). On the keel, tenons are 4 cm wide and spaced on average at 18 cm. Copper nails are driven from outside the hull into the keel to reinforce the assemblages.

3.3. Frames

16Six frames are preserved in place, and a seventh (F102) has been moved. None of them are preserved on the top of the keel, thus it is impossible to determine if there were floor timbers.

17The frames are 5.5 to 9 cm wide and 4 to 9 cm high. They are attached to the planking by treenails, sometimes reinforced by copper nails. F104 is attached to the planking by only one treenail. Nails are driven from outside the hull, and clenched on the top of the frames. Unlike the Kyrenia shipwreck (4th century BC, Steffy 1985, p. 84), they are clenched only once, not twice. A few nails were discovered around the ship remains. The best preserved is 11 cm long and its head is 1.5 cm in diameter.

4. Discussion

18Grande Passe 1 was carrying Graeco-Italic amphorae from the Italian peninsula to a northwestern Mediterranean harbour (Massalia ?). After passing the eastern coast of Corsica, it sank in the Hyères archipelago. This route is well known from a large number of shipwrecks, some found at great depths (Cibecchini 2008; Cibecchini, Capelli 2013).

19The latest campaigns brought to light elements from the crew’s equipment. The Campanian ware, the millstone and the cookware show that the galley was in this part of the ship. The tegulae and imbrices might belong to the hearth.

  • 1  As a comparison, the hearth is located in the forepart of the ship in the Caska 2 shipwreck (Boett (...)

20The hull remains are from one extremity of the ship, perhaps the prow, as shown by the anchors and the hearth1. The hull probably had a wineglass section, a typical shape for a hull bottom in the Hellenistic and Romano-Republican periods (Pomey 2004). The carved garboards and the frame size help to visualise the conception and construction of this shell-first vessel (Pomey, Rieth 2005, p. 29–31).

21The gear of the Grande Passe 1 ship includes anchors of different types and sizes. This was also the case on the Dramont D (1st century BC, Joncheray 1975, p. 13–16) where three iron anchors and a lead stock were found, as well on the Grand Rouveau shipwreck (1st century BC, Corsi-Sciallano, Liou 1985, p. 65) where one iron anchor and two lead stocks were found.

22It was quite usual for ships to carry several anchors (Gianfrotta, Pomey 1981, p. 297–309). The heavier were used for mooring and, in case of loss, could be replaced by the others. In case of bad weather, several anchors could be useful to secure the ship. The small anchors could also be used for manoeuvres in an area where using the sail could be risky (harbours, small bays etc.).

  • 2  Among other details, the size of the anchors provides an indication regarding the size of the ship (...)

23The Grande Passe 1 anchors might indicate the size of the ship. By analogy with the Cap de l’Esterel shipwreck (2nd‑1st century BC, Pomey, Guibal 2001), where iron anchors and a 140 cm lead stock were excavated, we can estimate that the Grande Passe 1 ship might be at least 15 m long2.

5. Conclusion

24Despite the poor condition of the archaeological material, especially the hull, the Grande Passe 1 shipwreck displays an interesting set of anchors. Anchor A, one of the best-preserved examples of its kind for this period, has only a few parallels. The anchors, their number and dimensions, as well as the dimension of the architectural pieces excavated are consistent with a 15 m-long vessel, but the data is not sufficiently complete to define precisely the original dimensions of the ship.

25Future campaigns will focus on the keel and its original length, as well as on the general characteristics of the architecture (planking, frames, and assemblages). New elements from the stern area or the crew kitchen could help to define the date of the sinking as well as the maritime route and the origin of the ship.

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Beltrame C.
2002 Vita di bordo in età romana, Roma, Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato.

Boetto G.
2016 “Recherches d’archéologie navale en adriatique orientale,” CRAI, p. 1401–1422.

Boetto G., Radić Rossi I.
2017 “Ancient ships from the bay of Caska (Island of Pag, Croatia),” in J. Litwin (ed.), Baltic and Beyond, Change and continuity in shipbuilding, Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology (ISBSA 14), Gdansk 2015, Gdansk, National Maritime Museum, p. 279–288.

Boetto G., Radić Rossi I., Marlier S., Brusić Z. (eds)
2012 “L’épave de Pakoštane, Croatie (fin ive – début ve siècle apr. J.-C.): résultats d’un projet de recherche franco-croate,” Archaeonautica 17, p. 105–152.

Benoit F.
1958 “Nouvelles épaves de Provence,” Gallia 16, p. 5–39.

Cibecchini F.
2008 “Tonnellaggi e rotte in età republicana: il contributo dei relitti del Mediterraneo Occidentale,” in J. Pérez Ballester, G. Pascual Berlanga (eds), Comercio, redistribución y fondeaderos: la navegación a Vela en el Mediterráneo, Actas de la V jornadas internacionales de arqueología subacuàtica, Gandía 2006, València, Departament de prehistòria i d’arqueologia de la Universitat de València, p. 483–499.

Cibecchini F.
2015 “Les épaves antiques à grande profondeur en Corse,” Bulletin de la Société des Sciences Historiques et Naturelles de la Corse 748–749, p. 7–23.

Cibecchini F., Capelli C.
2013 “Nuovi dati archeologici e archeometrici sulle anfore greco-italiche: i relitti di III secolo del Mediterraneo occidentale e la possibilità di una nuova classificazione,” in F. Olmer (ed.), Itinéraires des vins romains en Gaule, iiie – ier siècles avant J.-C. Confrontation de faciès, Actes du Colloque, Lattes 2007, Lattes, CNRS Éditions, p. 423–451.

Corsi-Sciallano M., Liou B.
1985 Les épaves de Tarraconaise à chargement d’amphores Dressel 2‑4, Paris, CNRS Éditions, Archaeonautica 5.

Dangréaux B., François S., Guibal F., Wicha S., Gentric G.
2012 “L’épave de la Tour Fondue (Presqu’île de Giens, Var), Un bâtiment de cabotage dans la seconde moitié du iiie s. av. J.-C.,” Cahiers d’Archéologie Subaquatique 19, p. 5–36.

Gianfrotta P. A., Pomey P.
1981 Archeologia subacquea: storia, techniche, scoperte e relitti, Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori.

Joncheray J.-P.
1975 “Étude de l’épave Dramont D : IV, les objets métalliques,” Cahiers d’archéologie subaquatique 4, p. 5–18.

Kapitän G.
1984 “Ancient Anchors – Technology and Classification,” IJNA 13.1, p. 33–44.

Long L.
2004 “Épaves et sites submergés de la région d’Hyères de la préhistoire à l’époque moderne,” Scientific Report of Port-Cros national Park 18, p. 47–96.

Morel J.-P.
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Pomey P.
2004 “La structure du navire de la Madrague de Giens et le type hellénistique,” Ligures, Rivista di Archeologia, Storia, Arte e Cultura Ligure 2, p. 370–373.

Pomey P., Guibal F.
2001 “Dendrochronologie et dendromorphologie des épaves antiques de Méditerranée (Bouches-du-Rhône et Var),” Gallia Information 1988‑1999 : l’archéologie des régions : PACA, Département des Recherches archéologiques subaquatiques et sous-marines, Paris, CNRS Éditions (CD-Rom).

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Steffy J. R.
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Ucelli G.
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1  As a comparison, the hearth is located in the forepart of the ship in the Caska 2 shipwreck (Boetto 2016, p. 1409; Boetto, Radić Rossi 2017, p. 285). The shipwreck of Pakoštane (Croatia, 4th-5th century AD) also shows this type of galley remains (Boetto et al. 2012, p. 111‑112). For others examples, see Beltrame 2002, p. 60‑65.

2  Among other details, the size of the anchors provides an indication regarding the size of the ship, even if we cannot be as precise in our estimate as other scholars might claim (Tour Fondue, 3rd century BC, Dangréaux et al. 2012, p. 21).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Geographic location of the wreck
Crédits (drawing A. Sabastia, AMU/CCJ)
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k
Titre Fig. 2: Plan of the site
Crédits (drawing A. Sabastia, AMU/CCJ)
Fichier image/jpeg, 283k
Titre Fig. 3: Anchor A, the best preserved on the site
Crédits (photograph T. Seguin)
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,1M
Titre Fig. 4: The scarf between the keel (left) and the post (right): the garboard in the foreground
Crédits (photograph L. Damelet, CNRS/CCJ)
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,8M
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Alex Sabastia, « The Grande Passe 1 shipwreck, 2nd century BC, Hyères, France »Archaeonautica [En ligne], 21 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 20 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Alex Sabastia

Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives, Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, INRAP, Centre Camille Jullian

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