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AccueilNuméros21Ship ConstructionThe hopper barges of Marseilles

Résumés

Les fouilles archéologiques de la place Jules-Verne à Marseille, en 1993, ont révélé les vestiges de trois bateaux antiques tout à fait similaires (JV 3, 4 et 5) abandonnés près du rivage vers l’an 100 apr. J.-C. Ces épaves présentent une cavité rectangulaire au centre de la carène au niveau du fond. Cette caractéristique a rendu leur interprétation difficile. Néanmoins, les sources médiévales ont permis de les rapprocher des gabarres à vase conçues pour évacuer les vases du port et les déverser au large en ouvrant la trappe de fond.

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Texte intégral

1The three shipwrecks Jules-Verne 3, 4 and 5 (JV3, JV4 and JV5) were first presented a few months after their discovery by Patrice Pomey during the Tropis V symposium of 1993 in Nafplio (Pomey 1999). Twenty-five years later, we have an opportunity to present what has happened since this discovery: preservation, study and exhibition.

1. Discovery: a reminder

2These three shipwrecks were discovered in 1993 during excavations of the Place Jules-Verne, next to Marseilles town hall. The overall archaeological dig was led by Antoinette Hesnard but shipwreck excavations were directed by Patrice Pomey, both of whom were members of the CNRS – Centre Camille Jullian. For details of these discoveries and excavations, one should refer to the numerous articles they have written (Hesnard 1995, 1999, 2004a, 2004b; Hesnard, Pasqualini 1993; Hesnard et al. 2001; Pomey 1993, 1995, 1999, 2005; Pomey, Hesnard 1994), about which we can only provide a short summary here.

3The shipwrecks belonged to a harbour context. JV5 had been abandoned at the end of the 1st century AD in front of a warehouse circa 15 m from the shoreline. This shore was constituted by a beach running to the west of the mouth of a small stream, and by a quay connected to a dolia warehouse, east of this stream. Ships JV3 and JV4 were loaded with stones and deliberately sunk at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, circa 8 and 16 m from the quay in order to provide foundations for a wharf (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Hopper barges; general (harbour) and detailed (Place Jules-Verne) contexts

Fig. 1: Hopper barges; general (harbour) and detailed (Place Jules-Verne) contexts

(drawing X. Corré)

4Their states of preservation varied: JV3 was best preserved in length, JV4 was preserved only in its forward third, and JV5, the most deteriorated, represented almost half a ship. Characteristics of these three shipwrecks defined them as sister ships, 16 m long and 5 m wide.

5The three hulls had the particularity of a central and rectangular cavity (2.60 x 0.50 m). Framed lengthwise by two stringers and crosswise by two floor timbers: these cavities interrupted the keels. In spite of its bad state of preservation, JV5 featured wooden planks carefully disposed and angled with the rectangular cavity, thus creating a well that was wider in its upper part.

2. Conservation

6During the 1980s, the museums of Marseilles, in response to agreements between the French State and the city regarding archaeological artefacts discovered in Marseilles, developed a determined policy, unusual at the time, of financial, human and technical engagement in the entire post­excavation process (conservation, study, scientific publication, exhibition catalogues etc.) (Morel et al. 2004). The archaeological material from Place Jules-Verne was obviously concerned. However, given that there were nine shipwrecks in this excavation, muni­cipal funding was insufficient, and the Roman shipwrecks could not be treated and restored in Grenoble, unlike the two Archaic Greek examples (JV7 and JV9) and the small prow of a rowboat from the 3rd century AD (JV8). The solution was then to apply a slow drying process for JV3 and JV4, which had been disassembled, wrapped in polyurethane tarpaulins, sprayed with fungicide and stored in a stable atmosphere in a dark room of the Marseille History Museum (Area 54), awaiting new funding for restoration (Morel-Deledalle 1999, p. 43). JV5 was too badly preserved for this long process to be applied and it could not be saved after excavation.

3. Interpretation

  • 1  For Marseille, it is usual to distinguish a Greek Period, from the city’s foundation (600 BC) to J (...)

7The lack of similar boats known for the ancient Mediterranean forced the researchers to guess what kind of boats they were dealing with. The central well, associated with the strength of the frames and the numerous traces of impacts, led Patrice Pomey to conclude that he had excavated harbour service barges. Providing a more detailed interpretation was tricky but appeared to be possible when considering two other discoveries made during these excavations: inland, archaeologists revealed signs of Roman1 dredging which had caused the disappearance of stratigraphic layers of the Hellenistic period; at sea, a wooden crank wheel from a “gear” was found next to these shipwrecks. It seemed then possible to link these three boats to dredging activity, and their noticeable originality naturally led Patrice Pomey, followed by Antoinette Hesnard, to identify them as very specific boats: dredgers.

8Inspired by a picture of the port of Marseille in the 16th century showing a boat fitted with a gantry bearing a large vertical wheel, Patrice Pomey very cautiously hypothesised that JV3, JV4 and JV5 could be identified as bucket-chain dredgers (Hesnard, Pasqualini 1993, p. 33; Pomey 1993, p. 60, 1995, p. 468‑469, 1999, p. 323; Pomey, Hesnard 1994, p. 113). The crank wheel could have belonged to the drive mechanism of the bucket-wheel, with the chain running across the well of the hull.

9For her part, Antoinette Hesnard presented in 1998 a model, made by Denis Delpalillo and then exhibited in the Roman Docks Museum in Marseille, of a dredger fitted with two vertical squirrel-cage wheels and two lateral dipper arms, known in Marseilles from 1682. One year later, she suggested two possibilities (Hesnard 1999, p. 48‑49): the dredger of 1682 and a dredger with a bucket-chain also drawn in 17th century.

10In order to solve the puzzle of these boats, comparisons seemed a good option, especially after the promising material provided by the comparative study of the port of Marseille in antiquity and the Middle Ages conducted by Antoinette Hesnard, Philippe Bernardi and Christian Maurel for a symposium in 1999 (Hesnard et al. 2001). Within this context, Pomey and Hesnard gave us the opportunity to explore this track in a doctoral thesis begun in 2001 (Corré 2009).

4. Medieval archives (13th–16th century)

  • 2  Most of these are held in the Communal Archives of Marseille (ACM) or in the Departmental Archives (...)
  • 3  Sometimes historians rely on and copy short abstracts provided with inventories of archives withou (...)

11If medieval sources on Marseille are too poor in iconography to have provided immediate data for comparisons, written archives are in contrast numerous enough to provide information. We could target, for example, 197 texts dealing with maintenance of the port between 1229 and 1500.2 Written in cursive script, in Latin or medieval Provencal, these sources needed meticulous inventorying, verification,3 transcription and translation, which could not be done for immediate post-excavation exploitation.

12Two main facts emerged from this study, which was successfully defended in 2009 but is still unpublished except for a short synthesis of the principal ideas in Corré 2013.

  • 4  ACM, BB13, f° 131 v; AD13, 381 E 406, f° 15‑20.

13First, there were numerous attempts in the Middle Ages to build dredgers in Marseille. The first mention of a municipal order for building a dredger appears in 1324 with a harbour maintenance contract for ten years, in which is also mentioned the “usual place” where dredged materials are dumped, namely “Saint Lambert’s Bay”4 nowadays Baie des Catalans.

  • 5  AD13, B 1936, f° 82; ACM, BB 14, f° 61‑62 and 88‑90.

14It should be noted that, according to Régine Pernoud, who published many medieval texts about the port of Marseille, a bucket-wheel was used in 1300‑1301 and in 1323 (Pernoud 1949, p. 285, note 3). Nevertheless, the references she gave mention only harbour dredging and prisoners assigned to this activity:5 a bucket-wheel is thus her extrapolation. A dredging machine is however definitely mentioned many times, in 1333 or 1340, but it is never specified that it is a bucket-wheel (Corré 2009, PJ V.13-V.16).

  • 6  ACM, CC 464, p° 61, p° 73, p° 77, p° 80, p° 87: Corré 2009, PJ IV.3, IV.6, IV.9, IV.10, IV.13.

15Perhaps this idea came from texts of 1408 related to important restoration work, financed by Pope Benedict XIII, of the towers based in the water at the entrance of the port.6 These sources indeed mention a machine removing water from a watertight cofferdam in order to conduct dry masonry work offshore.

  • 7  ACM, CC 464, p° 76 (June) and p° 88 (August): Corré 2009, PJ IV.8, IV.14.

16It must also be noted that, during this work, the city commissioned a machine fitted with iron pincers to remove stones from the seabed, especially in front of the cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure.7

  • 8  AD13, 355 E 68, f° 111 r-v: Corré 2009, PJ V.18.
  • 9  AD13, 391 E 69, f° 24‑25: Corré 2009, PJ V.23. What exactly were these gaffas and how were they us (...)
  • 10  AD13, 351 E 771, f° 193r-196r: Corré 2009, PJ V.21; AD13, 351 E 369, f° 100v-101r: Corré 2009, PJ (...)
  • 11  ACM, BB 32, f° 178‑180; ACM, BB 33, f° 15v; AD13, 381 E 146, f° 245 r-v: Corré 2009, PJ V. 24 to 2 (...)

17Other experiments with harbour machinery followed. In 1414, a Genoese is requested to build and test a machine to dig out the port and reach a depth of 18 palms (4.5 m)8 at the entrance and along its northern shore. In 1466 (or 1467), a document related to the dredging of the harbour contracted between the city and a private company describes the design brief ordered by the city and indicates that digging must be done by a gaffa.9 Older documents, in 1447 and 1455, already mention such gaffas and link them to dredgers.10 In 1481, 1485 and 1488, new city deliberations deal with building dredgers but unfortunately they do not provide new details about this.11

18Considering that this set of more or less successful attempts relates only to the Late Middle Ages, it would seem wise to consider that ancient dredgers will have differed from more modern examples, which appear to be the result of this long list of experimentations.

  • 12  ACM, AA 1, f° 94v.
  • 13  ACM, BB 17, f° 130r.
  • 14  ACM, BB 19, f° 77‑78.
  • 15  ACM, BB 33A, f° 6 (May 21) and 8 r-v (July 9)

19Secondly, a boat associated with harbour dredging appears often in these texts and ought to be considered: the caupol, pl. caupols. Already mentioned in 1253 in the city laws and related to dredged material,12 a caupol is engaged in dredging in 1333:13 it gets specific carpenters in 134014 and is the topic of city deliberations in 1446 regulating the standard amount of the sludge “caupolées” and brought out of the port.15

20Just these few references attest that in medieval Marseille boats called caupols were used to collect material dredged by man or machines and then to carry and dump it outside the port.

  • 16  ACM, HH 576, p° 77, 1509; ACM, HH 576, October 4, 1510; ACM, HH 577, May 20, 1514.

21Municipal archives also hold many receipts from the beginning of the 16th century mentioning swing doors in the bottom of barges used for dredging the port.16 We are very likely dealing here with the earlier caupols and such swing doors in the hull bottom could fully explain the existence of specific carpenters mentioned in 1340.

22We shall find that such barges are known elsewhere. In Genoa, the painting by Dioniso di Martino showing the dredging of the port of Mandraccio in 1575 displays the use of boats loaded with hand-dredged material (figs 2-3) and, not far away, in Livorno, according to B. Crescentio Romano (1607, p. 544–545), there were hopper barges used at the very beginning of the 16th century.

Fig. 2: Dionisio di Martino, Escavazione del fondo marino del Mandraccio nel 1575, second half of the 16th century

Fig. 2: Dionisio di Martino, Escavazione del fondo marino del Mandraccio nel 1575, second half of the 16th century

(N.I.M.N. 3513, courtesy of Galata Museo del Mare-MuMA, Genoa)

Fig. 3: Barges loading hand-dredged material, detail from Dionisio di Martino, Escavazione del fondo marino del Mandraccio nel 1575, second half of the 16th century

Fig. 3: Barges loading hand-dredged material, detail from Dionisio di Martino, Escavazione del fondo marino del Mandraccio nel 1575, second half of the 16th century

(N.I.M.N. 3513, courtesy Galata Museo del Mare-MuMA, Genoa)

5. Digging the south shore of the Old Port (1668–1674)

23After Mazarin’s death in 1661 and following Colbert’s advice, Louis XVI wanted to develop maritime trade with the eastern Mediterranean and wished consequently to exploit the port of Marseilles, which he considered underused. He assigned the two following tasks to Nicolas Arnoul: to build new city walls incorporating the port to increase the size of the town (achieved in 1666); and to dredge the south shore of this port to obtain a greater length of quays (Corré 2012).

24This port extension began in 1668 and finished in 1674: the existing correspondence between Nicolas Arnoul and Colbert provides much information and detail, (Rambert 1931, p. 4, 18–19, 20bis, 22, 30, 32–33, 36–37, 39). Thus, it is possible to know, for example, that the remuneration of the dredging company depended on the number of caupols of a regulated capacity exiting the port for offshore dumping, and this implied a careful control of loading, movement and unloading of the caupols to avoid fraud. For this reason, a man standing on Le Pharo ­peninsula was in charge of the count and verification of the dumping in the Baie des Catalans.

25In 2004 and 2005, Luc Long, curator and archaeologist with the DRASSM (Département des Recherches Archéologiques Subaquatiques et Sous-Marines) recorded an underwater dumping ground in this bay, revealing a remarkable strati­graphy with modern material in the upper layers and medieval and ancient remains below (Long et al. 2006; Long 2007). It seems therefore, as written in 1324, that there was a genuine and long tradition of dredging the port of Marseille and dumping the material in the same location which could well date back to Antiquity.

26Identifying JV3, JV4 and JV5 as hopper barges was thus tempting (Corré 2009, p. 211), but this needed to be proven, and new observations of these shipwrecks with this hypothesis in mind were necessary.

6. Marseille History Museum renovations (2010–2013)

27Following renovation of the Marseilles History Museum, the event Marseille-Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture had a decisive effect in that it provided funding to restore the JV3 and JV4 shipwrecks, and once their fragments had been removed from their polyurethane tarpaulins in 2011, the satisfaction was double. The wood of the shipwrecks was not only relatively well preserved despite almost 20 years of storage but it also led to new observations. There were indeed two vertical cuts on one of the lateral stringers of the cavity of JV3 and they displayed remains of metal fittings (fig. 4), which according Patrice Pomey very probably bore hinges to open and close the bottom flap. Furthermore, a review of the so-called crank revealed that it could not be a gear wheel because of its asymmetry and the evidence of nails between its teeth. It should rather be identified as the vertical base of a horizontal drum made of wooden laths nailed to a couple of such bases and intended to wind the chain of the bottom flap (Pomey 2014; Corré 2016, 2018). Consequently, it is possible to affirm that these boats had a bottom door and should now be identified as hopper barges otherwise called maries-salopes. The two ships were restored (Bernard-Maugiron 2016) and, since summer 2013, have been exhibited in the museum, next to the ‘drum base’, as it is now known to be, and a model built in the Centre Camille Jullian by Robert Roman following the reconstitution suggested by Patrice Pomey (fig. 5).

Fig. 4: View of one of the two vertical cuts probably made to bear the hinges of a bottom flap

Fig. 4: View of one of the two vertical cuts probably made to bear the hinges of a bottom flap

(photograph X. Corré)

Fig. 5: Model of a Roman hopper barge

Fig. 5: Model of a Roman hopper barge

(modelling R. Roman, photograph L. Damelet CNRS, CCJ)

7. Conclusion and perspectives

28In the case of the three shipwrecks of Place Jules-Verne, an analysis of medieval and modern sources brought new and decisive evidence for a closer reading and reinterpretation of the shipwrecks. On a broader level this approach raises the question of the use of these hopper barges. When one considers that the inhabitants of Marseille in the Middle Ages looked to higher authority in order to finance port maintenance, and that digging works were so expensive that they were only conducted when extraordinary funding was available, as in 1408 from Pope Benedict XIII or in ­1668–1674 from King Louis XIV, one might reflect upon the refurbishment work of the whole north shore of the Old Port in the 1st century AD when Marseilles was part of the Roman Empire. The use of a cofferdam to pump out the end (the ‘horn’) of the Lacydon Calanque, and the building of a masonry quay around 80 AD (Guéry 1992, p. 113–114), when at the same period a hopper barge is abandoned along the north shore of the port, conjures up the image of a wide-ranging project that was probably impossible for the ancient city of Marseilles to finance on its own, given that it had been divested of its treasure by Julius Caesar one century before. One can easily imagine that the works looked like Genoa’s Mandraccio harbour in 1575: an enclosed area kept dry by a cofferdam, dug by manual labour (as on Trajan’s column, with legionaries carrying baskets full of excavated material?) and emptied of its material thanks to a flotilla of hopper barges like JV3, JV4 and JV5, employed in round-trip voyages, loading at the cofferdam and dumping in the Baie des Catalans.

Acknowledgments

29
The author expresses his warmest thanks to P. Pomey and M. Morel-Deledalle for their help to this article. We also thank Philippe Rigaut for sharing important information on the medieval sources.

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Bibliographie

Archives

ACM: Archives Communales de Marseille

AD13: Archives Départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône

References

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Notes

1  For Marseille, it is usual to distinguish a Greek Period, from the city’s foundation (600 BC) to Julius Caesar’s siege of the town (49 BC), and a Roman Period, from this siege to the end of antiquity.

2  Most of these are held in the Communal Archives of Marseille (ACM) or in the Departmental Archives (AD13) of the Bouches-du-Rhône. In our thesis, 27 texts written between 1229 and 1753 and related to port maintenance are given as supporting documents. In the following notes, they are indicated with the abbreviation PJ (pièces justificatives).

3  Sometimes historians rely on and copy short abstracts provided with inventories of archives without checking the sources. These abstracts may include misleading simplifications, extrapolations or errors and thus the information relayed by historians is corrupted but becomes written history (cf. infra about the bucket-chain dredger).

4  ACM, BB13, f° 131 v; AD13, 381 E 406, f° 15‑20.

5  AD13, B 1936, f° 82; ACM, BB 14, f° 61‑62 and 88‑90.

6  ACM, CC 464, p° 61, p° 73, p° 77, p° 80, p° 87: Corré 2009, PJ IV.3, IV.6, IV.9, IV.10, IV.13.

7  ACM, CC 464, p° 76 (June) and p° 88 (August): Corré 2009, PJ IV.8, IV.14.

8  AD13, 355 E 68, f° 111 r-v: Corré 2009, PJ V.18.

9  AD13, 391 E 69, f° 24‑25: Corré 2009, PJ V.23. What exactly were these gaffas and how were they used to dig the seabed? It would be interesting to reconstruct such a harbour machine based on the different documents of the 15th century preserved in the archives.

10  AD13, 351 E 771, f° 193r-196r: Corré 2009, PJ V.21; AD13, 351 E 369, f° 100v-101r: Corré 2009, PJ V.22.

11  ACM, BB 32, f° 178‑180; ACM, BB 33, f° 15v; AD13, 381 E 146, f° 245 r-v: Corré 2009, PJ V. 24 to 26.

12  ACM, AA 1, f° 94v.

13  ACM, BB 17, f° 130r.

14  ACM, BB 19, f° 77‑78.

15  ACM, BB 33A, f° 6 (May 21) and 8 r-v (July 9)

16  ACM, HH 576, p° 77, 1509; ACM, HH 576, October 4, 1510; ACM, HH 577, May 20, 1514.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Hopper barges; general (harbour) and detailed (Place Jules-Verne) contexts
Crédits (drawing X. Corré)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archaeonautica/docannexe/image/2014/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 850k
Titre Fig. 2: Dionisio di Martino, Escavazione del fondo marino del Mandraccio nel 1575, second half of the 16th century
Crédits (N.I.M.N. 3513, courtesy of Galata Museo del Mare-MuMA, Genoa)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archaeonautica/docannexe/image/2014/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,9M
Titre Fig. 3: Barges loading hand-dredged material, detail from Dionisio di Martino, Escavazione del fondo marino del Mandraccio nel 1575, second half of the 16th century
Crédits (N.I.M.N. 3513, courtesy Galata Museo del Mare-MuMA, Genoa)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archaeonautica/docannexe/image/2014/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 675k
Titre Fig. 4: View of one of the two vertical cuts probably made to bear the hinges of a bottom flap
Crédits (photograph X. Corré)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archaeonautica/docannexe/image/2014/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,0M
Titre Fig. 5: Model of a Roman hopper barge
Crédits (modelling R. Roman, photograph L. Damelet CNRS, CCJ)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archaeonautica/docannexe/image/2014/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,7M
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Xavier Corré, « The hopper barges of Marseilles »Archaeonautica, 21 | 2021, 83-88.

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Xavier Corré, « The hopper barges of Marseilles »Archaeonautica [En ligne], 21 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 18 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/archaeonautica/2014 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/archaeonautica.2014

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Auteur

Xavier Corré

Musée d’Histoire de Marseille / Musée des Docks Romains

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