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Harbour and River Boats of Ancient Rome

Author(s): Lionel Casson

Source: The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 55, No. 1/2, Parts 1 and 2 (1965), pp. 31-39
Published by: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
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From the moment Rome's port city of Ostia was founded, boats of all kinds were needed
to take care of the traffic about the Tiber's mouth and up-river to the capital. As the centuries
passed, and both Rome and Ostia grew, the number and variety of such boats increased apace.
Ancient writers and, more important, inscriptions give the names of many of these craft
and of the men who specialized in operating the particular types. We hear of codicarii,
lenuncularii, scapharii and so on. What were their boats like? What special service did each
The attempt to answer these questions has already produced a long bibliography. Yet,
despite all that has been written on the subject, many key questions are still unanswered. For a
long while those who took up the topic worked only or largely with written evidence, a
procedure that necessarily limited the results to be obtained.' Gradually the pictures of boats
preserved on reliefs and frescoes came to be introduced as evidence, and two recent investigators have succeeded in clearing much ground and in making important new contributions.2
But none of the many who have worked over the material thought to start with what is, after
all, fundamental to the problem: a consideration of the practical context, of precisely what
were the conditions and requirements at Ostia and on the Tiber at given periods and what, as a
consequence, were the types of boats needed to fit these.

Let us begin by taking a brief look at what Rome imported, to gain some idea of the
magnitude of the service these boats were called upon to perform.
The chief item, outstripping all others by a wide margin, was grain. Its import in
quantity began in the early second century B.C., and by Nero's day reached an annual figure of
perhaps half a million tons. The standard vessels employed by the government as carriers

had a capacity of 50,000 modii (Dig. L, 5, 3) or 340 tons; since grain travelled in sacks of a
to make a load for one man (see pl. II, 2), when any such ship entered port there were
some 7,500 or so sacks to be unloaded and sent up the Tiber-and grain ships arrived in
fleets and not singly.3
Next in importance were wine and oil. During Republican times anything better than
vin ordinaire had to come from Campania, and gourmets went further and insisted on exotic
vintages from overseas (Pliny, NH XIV, 95); oil too, though direct evidence happens to be
lacking, must have been imported to a certain extent. Under the Empire both commodities all
but flooded in. They arrived packed in large-sized amphorae holding roughly from 20 to 30
litres; each jar with its contents weighed up to one hundred pounds or more-stevedores
handled them one at a time (see pl. II, 3), and vessels of merely average tonnage carried
2,000 to 3,000 such jars in their holds.4
Two more items well up on the list were the bulkiest of all-timber and building stone.

Timber appeared on the scene as early as 192 B.C., when the city erected near the Tiber
'The following abbreviations have been used:
Frank = T. Frank, An Economic Survey of Ancient
Rome, vol. v (Baltimore, 1940); Le Gall J. Le

2 F. Miltner used a relief on a sarcophagus from

Ostia in ' Schiffsdarstellungen auf einem Relief',

Mitteilungen des Vereines klassischer Philologen in

iII (1926), 72-84. Le Gall (2I6-231) was the

Gall, Le Tibre, fleuve de Rome, dans l'antiquite Wien

1953); Meiggs = R. Meiggs, Roman Ostia (Oxford,

first to present a picture based on a thorough-going

1960); Waltzing = J. P. Waltzing, g?tude historique

sur les corporations professionelles chez les romains,

review of all the evidence, both written and pictorial,

literature can be found in Waltzing 69-76. M. Bottigelli, ' Ricerche epigrafiche sulla marineria nell'Italia

with references, of the trade in grain, and L. Casson,

The Ancient Mariners (New York, I959), 236-8, 26i

vol. ii (Louvain, I896).

A survey of the subject with references to the older

romana ', Epigraphica IV (1942), 69-87, esp. 77-87,

for the most part paraphrases Waltzing. Waltzing

and the writers he refers to (69-76) used chiefly
written evidence, as did Frank 246-8, published in
1940, and E. de Ruggiero and S. Accame in de

and his results were brought up-to-date and improved

upon by Meiggs (289-298).
3 See Meiggs 28 and Frank I39-140 for discussion,

for the grain fleet.

4 See Frank 220-I for discussion, with references,
of the trade in wine and oil, and F. Benoit, L'epave du

Grand Congloue a' Marseille (Supplement 'a Gallia

xiv, Paris, I96I), 46 for the weight of wine jars, I63
for the capacity of wine-ships.
Ruggiero's Dizionario epigrafico, s.v. lenuncularius,
written after 1946.

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facilities for merchants in the trade (Livy xxxv, 4I, iO), and building stone a century and a half

later, when Augustus started the fashion of using marble in place of the local tufa and travertine.
The swaying, gyrating poles of pine and fir and the ponderous loads of Luna marble that
scared the wits out of pedestrians in Rome (Juvenal III, 254-8) had all come up by way of the
river, and the barges assigned to such duty had to include some capacious enough to float
elephantine chunks of stone weighing dozens of tons.5
Heavy sacks and jars, unwieldy poles, ponderous blocks-such cheap and bulky merchandise arriving in huge volume demanded, over and above an ample and specialized pool of
labour, an ample and specialized fleet of service craft.

Until the inauguration, in the middle of the first century A.D., of Claudius' great harbour
of Portus, there was nothing better than an open roadstead at the mouth of the Tiber.6 By the
time of Augustus, when the flow of traffic reached massive proportions, Ostia had long lines of
quays and ample warehousing space,7 but absolutely no protection against wind and waves.8
Oared merchantmnen or craft shallow enough to navigate the Tiber found this no drawback;
they simply continued on their way to Rome,9 the former propelled by their oars and the latter
propelled, as river craft were to be until the coming of steam, by teams of men or beasts
trudging along a towpath on the bank hauling on a towline.10 But larger, seagoing freighters
had to take their chances. Some, willing to run the risk, lay off shore and unloaded into
lighters,11 but more preferred to put in at the well-protected harbour of Puteoli and send the
cargoes along in coastal vessels small enough either to make the trip up the Tiber or to be
unloaded in a minimum of time at the river's mouth ;12 these last need not have been particu-

larly small, but could have run perhaps as big as 200 tons in burden (see n. iO).

Under such conditions what type of service craft were needed? The prime need was for
lighters, small barges, driven by oar or sail or both, which could quickly unload and reload the
big merchantmen standing in the open roads.13 The cargoes they handled they either delivered
to the docks and warehouses at Ostia, or, by having themselves towed upstream, delivered to

Rome. We know the name for these lighters: in Greek they are called MTrnPETIKai aKacai
(Strabo v, 3, 5, p. 232) and in Latin very likely lenunculi auxiliarii (see below).14 Since few
pictures of boats of this age have come down to us, we cannot be sure of what these lighters

5Trajan's column, for example, required I8 cubes

of Parian marble each weighing 50 tons (Frank 222).
Of two cargoes of building stone that came to grief off
the east coast of Sicily and have been investigated by

assumed (e.g., 78 tons, Meiggs 5i, n. 3; 20-25 tons,

divers, one consisted of I5 blocks totalling I72 tons,

Mnemosyne xvii (I964), I-40, esp. I3-14 and 20. In

of which the biggest single piece weighed 40, and the

other of 39 blocks totalling 350 tons, of which the

Frank 237, n. 45), but fair-sized freighters very

likely of 200 tons burden; see H. T. Wallinga,

' Nautika I: The Unit of Capacity for Ancient Ships',

later ages, right up to the early igth century, the

standard and preferred size was 300 rubbia = ca.

I90 tons, which accords nicely with Wallinga's suggested figure; see G. B. Rasi, Sul Tevere e sua
navigazione da Fiumicino a Roma (Rome, I827), 64, n.
Father Jeremiah Donovan in his Rome, Ancient and
Modern iII (Rome, I843), IOI9 reports I90 tons as the
upper figure for boats that could navigate the Tiber
up to ioo miles from the mouth. Meiggs (292-3 and
487) takes Pliny, NH XXXVI, 70 to mean that the great
7Meiggs I24 (warehouse of the Pre-Sullan period);
126 and I32 (warehouses of the Julio-Claudian
ship which brought over the Vatican obelisk disperiod).
charged its cargo at Rome. The ship was a Brobding8 The mouth of the Tiber was an area where wind
nagian merchantman which could not possibly have
and waves had to be reckoned with: in A.D. 62 a bad
gotten up the river. Indeed, Pliny's words (' alia ex
storm was able to sink even vessels sheltered within
hoc cura navium quae Tiberi subvehant ') imply that
Claudius' harbour (Tac., Ann. xv, i8, 3).
special barges had to be prepared for taking obelisks
9 Dock facilities for traffic coming up the Tiber had
up the Tiber. The Lateran obelisk, to be sure, was
carried right up to a point just three miles south of
been available at Rome since at least 193 B.C.; see
Rome, but that was only because it left Alexandria on
E. Nash, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome
(London, i96i-62), s.v. Emporium.
a specially built galley manned by 300 rowers (Am.
Marc. XVII, 4, 13-I4).
10 Dion. Hal. III, 44,3: ai PV OiV vTTIKCYTrO V15E 6TrTjiKal
11 Dion. Hal., l.c. (n. 6).
TroT' av oi5aat -xrC~JX Kai TCOV 6XK&8CoV at ,UXpi TPICXIo1012 Cf. Meiggs 50, 56-7.
4p6pcV EC&yOVC31 ... Kal p?Xpl T-S PT rIUS Eip?EC1 Kai ~apacI

single biggest piece weighed 28k; see G. Kapitain,

' Schiffsfrachten antiker Baugesteine und Architekturteile vor den Kusten Ostsiziliens ', Klio xxxix
(I96I), 276-3I8, especially 284, 290.
6 Strabo v, 3, 5 (23I): TrapaK1vUivcos. 6ppldovTat
pETiCOpa ?v TrX ca6cXc -r vauyAtpta. Cf. Dion. Hal.
III, 44, 3; Dio Cassius LX, II, 2.

napENK6PEval KOPI'OVTai, which I take to mean that oared

13 Strabo V, 3, 5 (232) distinctly emphasizes the
large number of lighters available: j T-c7,v OTrTIPETIKCOV

ships of any size rowed themselves up to Rome and that

sailing merchantmen up to ' three-thousanders ' got
towed up. These merchantmen were not little coast-

cxamp)ov E1TTopia.

14 Cf., e.g. Waltzing 74 and n. 4, Le Gall 223.

ing vessels of 78 tons burden or less as is commonly

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Photographts by courtesy of (I) Fototeca Unione, Romze, (2) Otello Testaguzza. Copyright reser?ved.

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* . , . . ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~ .:) -Il.

I ~~~~~~~~Isw ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(see pp. 3I, 36-38).
Phaotographas by (I) Gi.ra7Jda, (2) Antderson, (3) thze authlor. Copyrighzt reservd.

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Photographs by (i) the author by permission of the Soprinendenza delle AntiqNita', Rome, (2) Alinari,from a cast in
the Museo della Civilta, Romrte. Copyright reserved.

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Photographs by the authtor, (x )from a cast in the Miiseo della Civilta, RomJe, (2) by permiissionl of the Soprinwtendenza

delle Antiquit, Ostia. Copyright reserted.

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COSTA (see pp. 37 f.).

Photographzs (I) by thle aulthor, (2) after Ville del Bre)ta iwlile vedu(te di Vwincenz*o Coronelli e Gianfrancesco Costa,
E:dizionzi ' II Polifilo ' (MIilanZ, I960), pl. xxxr. Copyrightt reserved.

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looked like; but, given the stubborn conservativeness of boatmen and sailors, there is every
reason to believe they were little different from their counterparts of the next century (see
In addition to such barges, there was also in use a special type of boat designed specifically

for going up the Tiber, the navis codicaria;l15 the curious name is partly responsible for the

mention of the craft in literature.16 In effect, the naves codicariae were a special form of lighter,
one used for trans-shipment up-river, and, since their only way of getting up the river was by
being hauled, they must have been particularly fitted for this. The evidence concerning these
boats all stems from a later period, so I shall leave further discussion for the next section.
Lastly there would be tugboats. A sailing ship, totally dependent on wind from the
proper direction, has a very limited mobility. In narrow quarters in particular, where there is
ever-present danger of collision, it has to have help-and, until the age of steam, the only help
available was a sturdy skiff manned by well-muscled oarsmen. At Ostia, such skiffs would
haul bigger vessels to as close to land as possible and smaller ones right up to a quay-or, if

these were to make the voyage up-river, to the point where the towing teams were waiting.
Perhaps they even pitched in to haul lighters when foul winds or heavy weather made the
going too hard for these clumsy craft to handle with their own oars and sails. Again, since
evidence for this period is lacking, we must leave further discussion of such tugs for the next

It was Claudius who decided that the Empire's capital had put up with inadequate
harbour facilities long enough. In A.D. 42 he embarked on the ambitious project of creating,
two miles up the coast from Ostia, Portus, a mammoth man-made port.'7 Thanks to excavation
sparked by remains that came to light accidentally during the construction of Rome's new
international airport at Fiumicino, we now have a good idea of what Claudius' harbour looked
like.18 Two arms encircled a basin about 900,000 square metres in extent. The right arm ran
more or less along the land and provided a long series of dock facilities and warehouses. The
left consisted of two parts: the first segment was a spit of land that extended from the coast
parallel to the right arm; the second was a great masonry breakwater running off at rightangles from the end of the spit toward the outer end of the right arm; this stopped short of the

tip of the right arm to form an entrance of just over 2zo metres.19 Theoretically, once insid
the spacious basin embraced by these arms, a vessel was safe; experience revealed that this
was not the case.20 So Trajan added an inner harbour behind, a completely sheltered octagonal
15 Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae I3.4: 'naves ... quae

20, 3; Pliny, NH xvi, 2oi-z). Suetonius and Dio

ex antiqua consuetudine commeatus per Tiberim

subvehunt codicariae vocantur.'
1" E.g. in a passage from Varro preserved in

(11. cc., n. 17) assert that the breakwater bore Ostia's

famous lighthouse and that the whole stood by itself,
a sort of island of masonry which, set between the

Nonius Marcellus (ed. Lindsay vol. iII, 858).

two arms of the harbour, formed two entrances.

Pliny, on the other hand, reports that the ship was
sunk to aid in making part of the left arm of the
harbour. On the whole problem, see Meiggs' discussion, I54-7. Excavation supports Pliny's description: the breakwater runs from where it leaves the

Le Gall's remarks (230-I) on the possible original

nature of the codicariae are marred by a number of
errors. He concludes that they could not have been a
form of raft at first because rafts never develop into
boats; this is not so-compare, e.g., the history of
Egyptian reed rafts (L. Casson, Illustrated History of
Ships and Boats, New York, I964, 12, 15, 17-I8) or

the origin of the sampan and junk (J. Hornell, Water

Transport, Cambridge, 1946, 89-go). His suggestion

that they may have been originally of sewn planks

and that this primitive type went out of use at the
latest during the second century B.C. is most unlikely; in the second century B.C. Pacuvius was able
to refer to a boat made of sewn planks as something

that belonged to the dim mythical past; see L.

Casson,' Sewn Boats', CR LXXVII (I963), 257-9.

17 Suetonius, Claud. 20, 3; Dio Cassius LX, I

18 0. Testaguzza, 'The Port of Rome', Archae-

ology xvii (I964), 173-9. There is an excellent

discussion of both Claudius' and Trajan's port in
Meiggs 149-171; it is a pity the results of the new
excavations came out only after his book had gone to
19 The great ship that had brought over the
Vatican obelisk (see n. I0 above) was sunk and used
as a caisson for part of the breakwater (Suet., Claud.

spit without a gap to the entrance; 300 metres before

the entrance it swells out into a mighty mass of concrete one hundred metres long which must have been
the foundation for the lighthouse. Yet Suetonius and
Dio may also be right: perhaps the harbour was
originally built with entrances on either side of the
lighthouse, and the one nearest the left arm for some
reason was very shortly afterwards filled in, making
the breakwater the continuous line that is visible
20 See n. 8, above. Two hundred boats bearing
1-5.for Rome were sunk in Claudius' harbour
(another hundred burned alongside the docks at
Rome). Frank (240, n. 51) is wrong in suggesting
that the boats were caught in the open waters between
Portus and Ostia. Tacitus distinctly states that they
were caught in the harbour, probably nestling side by
side in a pack in the middle of the basin as they waited
for the towing teams that were to haul them up-river
(see below).

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basin lined with quays and warehouses. A canal was dug to connect it directly with the Tiber.
Rome finally had the harbour facilities she deserved.
One effect was to start the demoting of Puteoli from a great entrepot to a provincial port,
for all seagoing vessels could now safely put in at Rome's new harbour.22 A second was to
introduce important changes in the services required from small boats.
No big sailing vessels travelled about within the new harbour under their own power;
this was beyond the capabilities of big sailing vessels with their highly limited mobility. Nor
did very many of them unload in the middle of the basins, for Claudius' harbour and particularly Trajan's furnished ample quays to which ships could be moored ;23 during times of peak
traffic these quays must have looked like, e.g., New York's South Street a century ago when its
seaward side was one solid line of jutting bowsprits. The only way to get a big sailing ship
safely into harbour and moored up to a dock is to tow it. Before the creation of the new
harbours, the service boat most in demand had been the lighter, to unload vessels that were
standing in the open roadstead; now there was no longer an open roadstead, and a big fleet
of lighters was no longer a prime requisite. What were needed, and in large numbers, were
tugboats to pick up every big sailing vessel as it entered Claudius' basin and tow it to a
berth at a dock.
The inscriptions which provide us with the names of the various types of small boats in
use all belong to the second century A.D. or later. They therefore reflect the conditions just
described. The boats mentioned fall roughly into three classes: (i) lenunculi; (2) codicariae;

(3) lintres and scaphae. The last category need not detain us: these were the myriad skiffs,

punts, dories, dinghies and what not that have been found in all harbours at all times until
the coming of the powerboat.24 Let us turn, then, to the first two categories.
Inscriptions reveal that there were five guilds or corporations of lenuncularii at Ostia.25

Two were the lenuncularii pleromarii auxiliarii 26 and the lenuncularii tabularii auxiliarii.27
Probably the lenuncularii trajectus Luculli 28 made up a third. This last is clearly a ferry
service, and perhaps the two missing to make up the five came from the other ferry services
we know existed in the area.29
The term lenuncularii auxiliarii by itself is understandable enough; these are the operators
of the second century A.D. equivalents of Strabo's JTrflpaTIKaI cYkapi.30 But what is the
distinction between those identified as pleromarii and those as tabularii? The explanations
offered have been many, and no two have agreed.31 Yet there is little reason for such divergence of opinion. The inscriptional evidence taken into consideration with the harbour's
requirements, as I have sketched them, provides an unmistakeable clue.
The inscriptions reveal that the guild of lenuncularii tabularii auxiliarii was far more
important than its sister the lenuncularii pleromarii auxiliarii: in A.D. J52, for example, its

membership numbered I25, in I92 it numbered 258, in 2I3 it was up to about 290; the

guild's patrons included Roman senators.32 These boatmen clearly must have performed a
service much in demand. As we have just seen, once the imperial harbours came into use, the
prime service needed was the moving of new arrivals through the harbour to berths alongside
the quays. In a large, busy, and well-run port, arrivals and departures could not have been
21 The standard work on Trajan's harbour is G.
Lugli and G. Filibeck, II Porto di Roma imperiale e
l'agro portuense (Rome, 1935). For a convenient
summary see Meiggs I62-171.
22 See Ch. Dubois, Pouzzoles antique (Bibl. des

ecoles fran9aises d'Athenes et de Rome 98, Paris,


23 The well-known Torlonia reliefs (Meiggs, pl.

xx and xxvi)-both Severan in date-show how ships
were unloaded at Portus-lying up to a dock, nose to.

XIV, 425 = ILS 6170 ; ' corpus traiectus Rusticelii'

CIL XIV, 431, 4553-6, 5327; cf. Meiggs 297.

3 See p. 32 above and n. 14.
31 The older literature is conveniently reviewed in
Waltzing 73-6. Le Gall (224) suggests that the
lenuncularii pleromarii used full-scale boats equipped
with oars and sail and the tabularii smaller and simpler
oar-propelled barges; what he suggests for the
former would better suit the codicarii (see below).

F. Miltner, P-W, RE xxi, I (I95I), col. 233, S.V.

pleromarius, suggested that the pleromarii were police

24 For details see the discussion in Le Gall 2I6-22I.
officials of a sort, charged with the care and super25 'quinque corpor(a) lenunculariorum Ost(ien-

sium)', CIL xIv, 352 = ILS6I49 (A.D. 25I); cf. 170 =

ILS 1433 (A.D. 247 or 248) and 4144 = ILS 6173

(A.D. 147).

26 CIL XIV, 252 = ILS 6176 (A.D. 200), 253, and

CIL xiv, suppl. i, p. 614.

27 See n. 32 below.
28 CIL XIV, 409 (cf. Meiggs 559), 5320, 5380.
29 'corpus traiectus togatensium ', CIL XIV, 403 =

ILS 4213 ; ' corpus traiectus marmorariorum ', CIL

vision of the lenunculi.

32 Le Gall 224, Meiggs 296. We have no less than
five registers of this guild: CIL XIV, 250 = ILS 6174
(A.D. 152, complete); 4567 and 4568 (shortly after

152, both fragmentary); 251 = ILS 6I75 (192,

complete); H. Bloch, ' Ostia: Iscrizioni rinvenute tra

il 1930 e il 1939' (NSA Serie viii, VI (I953), 239-

306), no. 42 (pp. 278-282). CIL XIV, 341 = ILS 6144

is a dedication to one of the patrons.

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left to chance. Any ship that came in had to be cleared: it had to present its ship's papers,33
be acknowledged by the harbourmaster, be assessed the appropriate port fees, and, most
immediately, be assigned and conducted to a berth. The term lenuncularii tabularii has given
rise to a whole series of conjectures but none carry much conviction.34 Now, in the period with
which we are concerned, the second and third centuries A.D., the word tabularius occurs most

commonly as a substantive meaning ' accountant', 'auditor', 'checking or recording

clerk '.3 Why could not the lenuncularii tabularii be boat operators charged with such duties?
Men who would race out to meet every newcomer, check its papers in a preliminary way
sufficient to establish in which general part of the harbour it ought to go, assign it a provisional
berth, and take it in tow?
I have added the words 'and take it in tow' even though there is no demonstrable
connection between the lenuncularii tabularii and towing operations and, indeed, even though
large sailing vessels had ship's boats trailing astern 36 which, manned by sailors from the
regular complement, were presumably available to do the hauling. However, we happen to
know that the harbour had its own special boats for the job. The evidence is a plaque from a
tomb on the Isola Sacra, the burial ground for Portus, which shows, as such plaques do, an
occupation of the deceased. It portrays him at the helm of a craft that is surely to be identified
as an ancient tugboat (pl. I, I).37 We see three oarsmen straining hard as they row a sturdy
dory from the end of which a stout taut line runs outward and upward, a line that can only be a
cable made fast to the prow of a lofty ship under tow. The dory has two special features. The
first is a single oversize steering oar mounted on the sternpost instead of the customary pair of
oars mounted on the quarters; this apparatus gave the steersman the leverage he needed to
direct a clumsy tow. The second is a mast stepped so far up in the bows that it could only have
carried some form of fore-and-aft sail,38 a versatile type that allows maximum mobility; this
little tug, then, was equipped to sail out to meet a tow with a wind blowing from almost any
quarter-the rowers' energies were to be conserved for the hard pull back. Why could not the
operator of this craft have been a lenuncularius tabularius? The lenuncularii tabularii were
necessarily the first to sail out to meet newcomers; why not assume that they discharged two
key duties at once, that they not only checked in the arriving vessels but also warped them
into their berths? If we do not make this assumption we must perforce conclude that there

existed a separate guild of tugboatmen which, despite its manifest importance, disappeared
without trace. Indeed, assigning the two jobs to the same boatmen was a natural expedient: it
relieved the harbour of maintaining two fleets of boats for what could easily be done by one,
and it reduced the danger of error that can occur when instructions have to be transmitted.
The corporation of lenuncularii pleromarii auxiliarii was small and insignificant in

comparison. In A.D. ZOO, for example, it had but I6 members and the patrons were of modest
social standing.39 It follows that these men were the owners of lighters which, now that there
were ample quays for a freighter to nose up to, had little to do; perhaps they serviced what
vessels continued to use Ostia's open roadstead. The name offers no difficulty. The term
-rMlpcoxua signifies that which 'fills out' a ship: in a man-of-war its crew of rowers and mar
in a merchantman its cargo.40 The lenuncularii pleromarii operated vessels which were
corpus dei mattoni scolpiti Ostiensi ', Bullettino della
33 W. Schwahn, ' Schiffspapiere ', Rheinisches
Museumfiur Philologie LXXXI (1932), 39-44, deals with Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma LxxVI

the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in Greece. For an

example of a cargo manifest (third century B.C.)
found among the Greek papyri from Egypt see L.

(1956-58), I83-204, esp. I89-I90.

38 The ancient world knew at least two varieties of

fore-and-aft rig, the sprit-rig and the lateen; see

L. Casson, o.c. (n. 33), 2I9 and 'The Sails of the

Casson, The Ancient Mariners (New York, 1959), 177,

258. Rome's elaborate organization for collecting the

portorium could not have functioned without such
things as ship's papers.
3 See, e.g., Waltzing 75-6. Le Gall, since he considered the lenuncularii tabularii operators of lighters
(224; cf. n. 3I above), suggested that the name came
from the flattish appearance of their boats.
35 cf. P-W, RE iv A, cols. 1975-198I, S.V. tabularius.

36 References in C. Torr, Ancient Ships (Cam-

bridge, I894), 103-4.

37 I suggested this identification first in The

Ancient Mariners (see n. 33), 225 and pl. Isb. It has

since been seconded by Meiggs (298). The tomb is
Hadrianic in date; see M. Squarciapino, 'Piccolo

Ancient Mariner', Archaeology VII (1954), 214-19.

From the position of the mast, it is practically certain
that the rig this tug carried was the sprit-rig, a highly
useful type that has found favour in all ages and many
places; see L. Casson, o.c. (n. I6), 56, I83, I89, I90.
Le Gall (222-3), not recognizing the nature of the
craft and apparently unaware that the ancients knew
fore-and-aft sails, mistook the nature and function of
the mast. Meiggs (298) suggests that it may have
been a towing mast, but its location in the very bows
of the boat rules that out (see below and n. 52).

39 Meiggs 297.
40 Suidas s.v. TTA'Icoipa; cf. Miltner. I.c. (n. 31).

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' filled out 'with loads from incoming freighters. When the harbour of Claudius was excavated
in I958 the remains of three flat-bottomed barges were found (pl. I, 2).41 In size-the two
larger were between i8 and I9 metres long and between 5 and 6 wide-and shape these suit
perfectly the requirements of a lighter; I would suggest that they are the craft of the
lenunculariipleromarii. A relief on the Louvre's famous statue of Father Tiber shows a group
of shallow-draft barge-like boats, one of which is being towed up the river (pl. II, i).42 They
are not codicariae, the special craft for Tiber transport, for, as we shall see in a moment, they
are totally different in shape and equipment.43 They too could very well be lighters of the
lenunculariipleromarii. The relief gives proof, if proof is needed, that the lighters carried loads
up-river as well as to the docks of Ostia and Portus.
The mention of towing brings us to the next and probably most important type of service
craft mentioned in the inscriptions, the (naves) codicariae.
Of the identification of these vessels there is no doubt: they were the boats specially
designed to carry supplies up the Tiber.44 One group worked between Ostia and Rome and a
separate group between Rome and points further up the river, a natural division that reflects
the different conditions and nature of service involved.45
The codicarii, the men who owned and operated these boats, formed one of the most
important corporations of the harbour.46 Their fleet numbered at least 300 craft, and very
likely more than that.47 Unquestionably, all sorts of boats carried merchandise up and down
the river including, as we have just seen, ordinary lighters, but the codicariae were something
special. All indications point in this direction-the curious name, the notices in ancient
authors, the important and separate corporation that the owners of codicariae maintained.
What were these special boats like? The first to identify a navis codicaria was B. Nogara
in his publication of a well-known fresco in the Vatican (pl. II, 2).48 The painting shows a
harbour craft that is no barge but definitely a boat, fully decked and with a hold below;
a navis and not a lenunculus. It has a number of distinctive features: a rounded hull, a stem
and prow of very special shape, and a mast placed not amidships but forward of amidships.
It is shown in the picture being loaded with sacks of grain by stevedores who work under the
eyes of the owner and a government inspector. Since the fresco was found on an Ostian tomb,
clearly the vessel was one of the harbour craft involved with transhipment of this most
essential of Rome's imports. Since the tomb whose wall it decorated belonged to a guild, the
guild had to be either that of the operators of such boats, the codicarii, or that of the stevedores
who loaded them, the saccarii.49 And, since the central figure in the painting, distinguished by
having his name written in over his head, was the boat's owner, Nogara naturally and rightfully
concluded that we are dealing here with a guild of codicarii and that the craft represented was
one of the special type they used. This identification has never been questioned; indeed,
subsequent finds have confirmed it,50 and Giuseppe Cozzo put the matter beyond doubt by
identifying the mast-a bare pole with no sign of yard, sail, or the lines needed for handling
these-as the special type used in towing.5'
In hauling a boat up a river by a towline, the line is generally not made fast to the hull
proper but is led to a mast which is set forward of the centre of gravity, i.e., in the forepart of
41 See Testaguzza, o.c. (n. i8), I79 and figs. 4, 5.

The barges date from the late imperial period.

42 See Le Gall, Recherches sur le culte du Tibre

(Paris, I953), I5-I9 and pl. Iv-v. He dates (22) the

"I The 300 vessels which Tacitus reports lost to

storm and fire while bearing grain to Rome (see nn. 8
and 20) must have been codicariae. Tacitus does not
call them lenunculi or the like, but naves (sc.

statue at the earliest after A.D. 75, and very likely



long scull set on the sternpost. The codicariae, as will

appear shortly, were true boats of fair size.
44 See n. I5 above, and cf. Le Gall 226-23I.
4 The inscriptions record codicari naviculari

Biblioteca Vaticana e nei Musei Pontifici (Milan, I907),

'3 The relief shows smallish barges steered by a

infernates (CIL xiv, I3I = ILS 687) and codicari

nav(iculari) infra pontem S(ublicium?) (CIL XIV, I85).

Waltzing's suggestion (7I) of a division between the
codicarii serving ships from the Adriatic (the ' upper '
sea) and ships from the Tyrrhenian (the ' lower ' sea)
is unnecessary.
46 Meiggs 293-4, 3I2; theirs is one of the few
guilds which js attested right through to the end of
the fourth century.

48 Le Nozze Aldobrandine, i paesaggi con scene dell'

Odissea e le altre pitture murali antiche conservate nella

63-5, Vi-2; fig. 4 on p. 65 shows the picture before

restoration and pl. XLVI after restoration. Nogara

dates the fresco second century A.D., at the latest


49 Cf., e.g., Frank 250, Meiggs 332.

50 Miltner, o.c. (n. 2), 75-6; Casson, o.c. (n. 33),

xix and pl. I4b; Le Gall 230, Meiggs 294.

51 G. Cozzo, II luogo primitivo di Roma (Rome,
I935), I36.

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the vessel (pl. III, 2 ; V, 2).52 This serves to keep the line clear of the water and from rubbing
along the bank. Since codicariae were used particularly for being hauled up the Tiber, their
masts would presumably be so placed, and the one in the Vatican fresco indeed is.
The next to take up the subject was Joel Le Gall, who brought in additional evidence,
pointing out two similar craft that must also be codicariae, one on a mosaic in the so-called
Piazzale delle Corporazioni at Ostia (pl. II, 3) and the other carved on a cippus found near
the Ponte Rotto at Rome and now in the Museo delle Terme (pl. III, i). The two revealed
still another feature of at least some codicariae : each mast is fitted with a series of cleats to
enable the crew to climb it. Le Gall, though erring in the interpretation of the cleats,
recognized that the masts were for use in towing.53
As it happens, Le Gall had collected but half the evidence that was available. Besides the
three he cited, there are four more representations of boats that can be identified with certainty
as codicariae.54 One is carved on a sarcophagus from Ostia that is now in the Ny-Carlsberg
Glyptothek 55 (pl. IV, i). Two others are on an almost identical pair of sculptured brick
reliefs that decorated a tomb on the Isola Sacra (pl. IV, 2).56 And the fourth is on a relief,

provenience unknown, in the Cathedral of Salerno (pl. v, i).57 All have the distinctive

rounded hull and the distinctive stem and prow; the last three have the distinctive climbing
cleats going up the mast. With this much evidence at our disposal we are in a position to
draw a complete and accurate picture of these humble but all-important craft.
To begin with, the mast need not be merely a towing mast. As the relief on the sarcophagus shows, it could also carry sail. Since it was stepped in the forward part of the vessel,
the sail had to be of the fore-and-aft variety, the only kind able to be hung on a mast in such
a position; in this particular case it is that eminently useful type, the spritsail.58 In other
words, codicariae were equipped to travel under their own power as well as be towed. This
reinforces the impression gained from the appearance of these boats: they are not barges,
they are clearly of a design and size fitted for coastal work and not merely for traversing the
course of a river. On the sarcophagus, the codicaria is shown at the mouth of Claudius'
harbour, beating through heavy seas against a foul wind.59 Inscriptions attest codicariae at
Salonae in Jugoslavia, Merobriga on the Portuguese coast, the Isle of Giglio off the Italian
coast-all points where there are no rivers; there is no reason to doubt their presence
there. 60
Secondly, as the Salerno relief reveals, the mast could be unstepped and lowered. In the
Vatican fresco, the codicaria is being loaded for the journey up-river, so the mast, since it will
shortly be in use, is left standing. In the Salerno relief, where the boat is shown in the process
of unloading, the mast has been lowered since it is no longer of any use; the vessel will drift

52 The Avignon relief shows a boat being hauled

upstream probably on the Durance, cf. Heron de

Villefosse in Bulletin archedologique du Comite des

travaux historiques et scientifiques (1912), 96. See

P. Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel du XJXe
siecle, s.v. ' halage ': ' le halage d'un bateau se fait
ordinairement en le tirant avec une corde fixee au mat
place dans son axe, en avant du centre de gravite '
cf. n. 64 below. Le Gall, in Revue arche'ologique xxii
(I944), 42-3, presents calculations to prove that, in
view of the physical forces involved, this is the only
possible place for a towing mast. In a relief of a boat
being hauled along the Moselle no mast is now

visible, but it very likely was originally painted in;

see H. Dragendorff and E. Kruger, Das Grabmal von

Igel (Trier, I924), 46-9, esp. 49 and pl. 16, 3.
63 Le Gall 226-23 i and pl. xxxi and xxxii; cf.
Meiggs 294-6 and pl. xxv a and b. The mosaic dates
ca. A.D. 200; see G. Becatti, Scavi di Ostia, IV:
Mosaici e pavimenti marmorei (Rome, I 96 I), 74. The
cippus dates either A.D. 284 or some 75 years later;
cf. Le Gall 228 f.: he cogently suggests that the line
which appears to lead forward to a small stick in the
bows is actually a towing line leading off on a long

slant to the shore. For Le Gall's view of the cleats,

see n. 62 below.
" Meiggs (294, n. 4) mentions a hull pictured on a

dedication put up by 'the salt workers of the right

bank ' and, on the basis of its crescent shape, suggests
that it may be of a codicaria. The relief no doubt
shows one of the river-craft that handled salt cargoes,
but whether a codicaria or not is hard to tell without
some indication of the rig.
65 The sarcophagus dates about the beginning of
the third century A.D. The identification of the boat
on the relief was first made by Miltner (o.c., n. 2).
56 M. Squarciapino, o.c. (n. 37), I93-4 and pl. vi,
I-2. The tomb dates from the time of Trajan or
Hadrian. The bar running upward from near the end
of the steering oar is the tiller bar, which socketed
into the tip of the steering oar. The rounded object
beneath it may possibly be a capstan: cf. pl. v, i.
57 The relief was reported by E. Assman in Jahrbuch des K. deutschen archdologischen Instituts Iv
(I889), I03-4 and discussed by F. Gilli in 'Zum
salernitaner Schiffsrelief', ibid. v (I890), I80-5.
Nobody to my knowledge has identified the boat as a
58 See the references in n. 38 above.
69 L. Casson, o.c. (n. 33), 2I9-222; id., 'A Sea
Drama in Stone', The American Neptune xv (I955),

60 As, e.g., Le Gall (227) does.

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with the current downstream, just as the Tiber boats of later ages did.6' That the mast could
be unstepped explains the presence of the climbing cleats, a unique feature found so far only
on codicariae. Large-sized ancient vessels were equipped with a ladder set permanently abaft
the mast; since the mast of a codicaria was removable, no such ladder was possible and
presumably the standing rigging, i.e. the supporting lines that ran to the gunwales, was too
light to take a man's weight-hence the cleats to enable the crew to get aloft.62
A third distinctive and key feature is the capstan placed on the afterdeck of two of these
codicariae (pl. II, 3 ; v, i). The explanations offered so far for this piece of equipment have
been totally unsatisfactory. It has been suggested 63 that the capstan was for the anchor, and
that on small boats the anchor must have been stored at the stern; the suggestion overlooks
the fact that anchors on small boats hardly need capstans; much larger vessels than
codicariae are shown without them. Le Gall (230) sought to explain it as a mechanism to
help in the handling of the twin steering oars. The same objection applies: why such a
mechanism on these boats, when we have pictures of helmsmen steering far larger vessels
and never with the aid of a capstan ? It would be far more natural to seek an explanation for
this special equipment in the special service these craft were designed for, to be towed
Towing by teams of men or animals was not something known only to the ancient world.
It was carried on right up to the introduction of steam tugs and, in some areas, even after.
If, on the very reasonable assumption that methods could not have changed drastically, we use
the evidence of later ages, we quickly find an explanation for these capstans placed on the
afterdeck. The standard way of rigging the towline in, e.g., the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries was not to tie it to the mast itself but to the stern of the boat: it was led over a block
(pulley) near the tip of the mast, carried down and aft to the stern and made fast there (see
pl. V, 2).64 On small boats, if the line for any reason had to be hauled in, this could be done
by hand; on large craft the mechanical power provided by a capstan would be of great help.
Moreover, the usages of later ages show still another reason for a capstan. To have a team
pull the towline was not the only way boats have been hauled upstream. Another method
was to make one end of the towline fast to a fixed point on land, a stout tree for example, and
then propel the vessel forward by having the crew wind up the other, shipboard, end on a
capstan.65 This system was used by large boats which were too much for teams of pullers to
handle. At all events, there is ample evidence from the practice of later ages to explain the
presence and position of the capstans on these codicariae. Almost certainly, the vessels so
equipped were the largest of their class, big enough to need mechanical power as well as
muscle to move them.
A last point to be discussed is the nature of the teams that did the hauling. Le Gall
asserts categorically that, until the later Roman Empire, the hauling was done only by men,
61 e.g., in the aquarelles of Ettore Roesler-Franz;
cf. A. Munioz, Roma Sparita (Rome, I931-36), serie I
fasc. iII, no. Xi.

62 For ladders on the masts of Mediterranean craft,

see L. Casson, o.c. (n. i6), 4I. Le Gall (228) concluded that the presence of cleats proved the mast
was a towing mast, arguing that, with such projections to get in the way, a mast could not possibly have
carried a yard and sail. One look at, e.g., Piranesi's
view of the Ripa Grande (see n. 64 below) would have
enlightened him: the cleats were used, in later times
as in ancient, whenever the absence of a ladder or of
standing rigging left the crew no way to get aloft.

'13 Gilli, o.c. (n. 57), I84.

64 This view of the Brenta was done by Costa in

1747 (Le Delizie del Fiume Brenta i, no. 40, 'Palazzo

del N. H. Pisani ' [alla Mira] ). For the towing rig,
cf. Dizionario di marina medievale e moderno (Reale

Accademia d'Italia: Dizionari di Arti e Mestieri, i,

Rome, 1931), s.v. alaggio: ' Nei fiumi l'alaggio si fa

con una corda (alzaia) legata a poppa e che passa a
prua per una puleggia attaccata al capo di un albero
di giusta altezza, affinche l'alzaia non tocchi nel acqua
o non sfreghi contro terra '. In Piranesi's well-known
view of the Ripa Grande (Vedute di Roma, No. 51 =
A. Hind, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (London, I922),

pL. xvii) the large vessel in the foreground, by an

interesting coincidence, has a capstan on the after-

deck and a series of cleats up its mast; the latter is a

pole so short and heavy that, despite the big lateen
sail it carries, it stands unsupported by any standing
rigging. It is the vessel's aftermast, but the foremast,
which would have been the one to carry the towline,
must have had cleats as well. The capstan was no
doubt used to aid in raising sail as well as in working
the end of the towline.
65 Cf. P. Larousse, l.c. (n. 52): ' le halage a points
fixes s'opere en faisant mouvoir des treuils au moyen
de machines placees sur le bateau, de maniere 'a
enrouler une corde attachee a un point fixe. On peut
avoir des points fixes etablis d'espace en espace et qui
forment autant de stations; mais cela exige que,
pendant que le bateau parcourt une station, la
corde destinee 'a lui faire parcourir la station suivante
soit portee en avant et d6roulee '. A model in the
Rhein-Museum at Koblenz of an eighteenth-century

ferry used between Koin and the opposite shore has

the towline led to a windlass at the stem. A print by

Charles-Claude Bachelier (mid-nineteenth century)
of the chateau at Amboise shows a barge with a
powerful windlass at the stern ; the massive towing
mast is unstepped, since the barge is moored.

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never by beasts, no matter what size of boat was involved. His reasoning is based purely on an
argumentum ex silentio, and a particularly feeble one to boot.66 Moreover, Procopius (History
of the Wars v, 26, IO-I3) provides incontrovertible proof that, in his day at least, teams of oxen
were used; Le Gall must consequently assume that the traditional use of manpower was at
some time abandoned and a new system introduced.67 This is overcomplicated and unnecessary. Barges and smaller codicariae would be hauled by men, exactly as was done on the
Tiber until shortly after i8oo, when the humaneness of Cardinal Alessandro Lante finally
got rid of the practice.68 But, also exactly as was done on the Tiber until the introduction of
steam tugs about I825, larger vessels-up to perhaps 200 tons (see n. io)-would be hauled by
animal-power.69 And the very largest were perhaps hauled by the muscle of their own crews
turning capstans.

Let us summarize our findings. So long as the port of Ostia had nothing more than an
open roadstead, the prime requisites were lighters, either for unloading at the local quays or
for towing upstream to Rome, and codicariae, the special boats designed particularly for the
haul up the river; some tugs were also needed. After the creation of the imperial harbours,
the craft primarily needed were tugs and codicariae, and lighters took second place. The tugs
were sturdy skiffs pulled by rowers, and, since they were a natural choice to check in all
arriving ships, are very likely the craft whose operators are called in the inscriptions lenuncularii
tabularii auxiliarii. The ordinary lighters, shallow-draft barges which could function about
the quays of the port or be towed up-river by teams of men or beasts, are the craft whose
operators are called in the inscriptions lenuncularii pleromarii auxiliarii. The codicariae, the
special craft for hauling up the Tiber, were true boats, not barges; they carried an effective
spread of sail and were able to be used for coastal as well as harbour and river work. As
special equipment, they carried a mast which, stepped on the foredeck, served to take a tow
rope; it could be unstepped when not needed. The heavier types were also fitted with
capstans aft to help in the towing.

New York University.

66 Le Gall 257. There is but one certain reference to accepts (296) Le Gall's view, proceed to base con-

the Tiber's helciarii, as the men who did the hauling

were called, namely Martial iv, 64, 22, where allusion
is made to the rhythmic chant they uttered as they

trudged along. Perhaps Ovid in Tristia Iv, I, 7-8,

which also alludes to the hauliers' song, was thinking

of the Tiber. Teams of oxen, of course, do not produce any characteristic noise a poet would care to
mention. The three reliefs preserved that portray

towing scenes all picture small boats (pl. ii, i ; iII, 2 ;

n. 52 above) that could easily be hauled by human


67 Le Gall 325-6. Both Le Gall and Meiggs, who

clusions about shortage of slave labour on this flimsy

68 See G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storicoecclesiastica xxxvii (Venice, I 846), I i 8.
69 In the seventh century A.D. the water buffalo was
introduced into Italy and replaced oxen on the towpaths. M. Pensuti, II Tevere nei ricordi della sua
navigazione attraverso i secoli (Rome, 1925), 140,
supplies some figures for the size of the teams:
for boats of 38 tons, 8 bufali; of 95 tons, Io; of 140
tons, I2.

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