Wreck of Chiessi

The wreck of Chiessi was identified in October 1967, at 500 m. from the coast, on a depth of about 50 m. This is the wreck of a cargo ship. The intervention of the divers of the T. Tesei club of Portoferraio and the seizures, carried out on several occasions by the Guardia di Finanza, have allowed the recovery of a considerable part of the cargo and prevented the total looting of the field. Nonetheless, the site, which at the time of its discovery was impressive, so much so as to suggest the presence of over 3000 amphorae or a “cathedral” of amphorae, currently appears devastated.

The load was made up of amphorae of Hispanic production, present in five different shapes (Pelichet, Beltran, Vindonissa, Dressel, amphora with horizontal grooves), all dating from the last decades of the 1st century AD and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. The SAEMIAMES stamp, referring to the manufacturer, and present on a Dressel 20 amphora, also refers to Spain, and in particular from the Baetica region, to Las Huertas de Rio. The amphorae were arranged in three layers for a length of 22-25 m and a width of 12 m; in the midst of them, bundles of Erica Scoparia were found, evidently destined to avoid the damage caused by possible collisions. Oil, dry fish, fish sauces and wine were the products transported inside the amphorae, some of which were recovered still full and closed with small caps.

Very scarce the furnishings on board, made up of fine ceramic from the table of Hispanic and South-Gallic production; in this regard, it should also be noted that, given the scarcity of materials that survived the sacking of the ship, it is difficult to distinguish between the ceramic used on board and that of any cargo transported. Among the remains of the ship and of the equipment on board, the presence of two lead plates of a tank is remarkable, decorated with a bear hunting scene, a lead pipe and two bronze bearings that were part of the collection system and evacuation of bilge waters.

It is possible to observe various artifacts found with the wreck at the Civic Archaeological Museum of Linguella Portoferraio

From the structure of the hull, of which some wooden elements were brought to the surface, numerous copper nails were recovered, some of which retain the wooden dowel where they were riveted.

A large bronze “bread” weighing 83,600 kg was also recovered. The homogeneity and the type of cargo therefore indicate southern Spain as the area of ​​origin of the ship. It is likely that his destination was not Elba, but a port on the mainland, perhaps Ostia. The wreck , dated to the last quarter of the 1st cent. A.D., however, testifies to the importance of Elba as a stop along a long-distance route, and in particular underlines the role of the western part of the island in the delicate Corsica-Elba crossing.

Le Pélichet from the wreck of Chiessi

The Pélichet of the Chiessi wreck belong to the later variant of the form identified by
Beltran Lloris. They were accompanied by lids, of a simple disc-shaped shape with a grip in the center.
The clay, generally very fine and homogeneous, varies from greenish-gray to pinkish-beige. All the amphorae have a characteristic white-cream or greenish engubbing and inside they retain abundant traces of the resin coating. The beginning of the production of the form, widespread mainly in the western Mediterranean basin from the first century to the middle of the second century AD, is set at the end of the Augustan age on the basis of materials found in the well-dated contexts of Mainz and Vindonissa. The manufacturing centers, the same ones that also produced the Beltran and Dressel amphorae, are to be found in Betica, Puerto Real and Algeciras. The shape was intended for the transport of fish sauces: a further confirmation of this use is represented by the Pélichet of Chiessi which still have fish spines and vertebrae inside in large quantities.

Beltran-shaped amphorae

Four amphorae were then recovered, two of which are fragmentary, identifiable with the Beltran shape. Very similar in structure to the Pélichet form and produced in roughly the same centers, it too was intended for the transport of garum and similar sauces. The Beltran II B of Chiessi , made of a rather homogeneous clay varying in color from pinkish beige to greenish gray, have evident traces of the resin coating inside . Especially on the basis of the documentation relating to Spain, it is inferred that the production of this form began in the Tiberian-Claudian age and continued throughout the 2nd century AD. The findings of Ostia confirm this dating.

The Dressel de wreck of Chiessi

The cargo also included a group of Dressel 20-shaped amphorae, made of a greyish and rather friable clay, belonging to the type that can be framed chronologically in the Flavian period or in the first decades of the 2nd century AD. One of these amphorae, currently preserved in the Civic Museum of Marciana, has the SAENIAMES stamp on a handle, in letters raised in a rectangular cartouche. In addition to these three forms, well known and attested throughout the western Mediterranean basin, six amphorae referable to the form Vindonissa, Haltern, Camulodunum also come from the Chiessi wreck. They are characterized by a mouth with a high flared lip, an ovoid belly with a small full tip clearly separated from the body and enlarged ribbon handles with a deep longitudinal groove in the center. The clay varies from pink to reddish and is quite fine. The type has been the subject of extensive discussions and only recently has it come to a more precise definition, even if a complete analytical study is still missing. It is a form, widespread in the first century AD, probably produced in southern Spain where abundant finds are reported; its content is still uncertain, perhaps garum or oil or olives. The association of this form, in the Chiessi wreck, with others of undoubted Hispanic production can constitute a new attestation of the origin of the type from Spain. The form is also present in Lunì and Pompeii.

Finally, there are two amphorae characterized by a mouth with a slightly oblique band lip, a rather elongated ovoid body with dense and slight horizontal grooves, conical tip and thickened ribbon handles with deep central external groove. The exceptional homogeneity of the complex would suggest an amphora of Hispanic production, but the absolute isolation of the type and, in addition to this, the lack of stamps or inscriptions in the two specimens, do not allow a more precise classification. In this regard, the discovery, in the stretch of sea in front of Gerona, of an amphora with “acanaladuras multiples” and structural characteristics quite similar to those of the Elban specimens, which would seem to confirm the Hispanic origin of the form, is noted.

Among the scarce table pottery recovered, we recall a fragment pertaining to a cup, of southern Gallic production, probably in the Dragendorff shape, which preserves on the internal background, in letters raised in rectangular cartouche, the MOM stamp, attested in the late Julio-Claudian age and in the early Flavian age. In addition to this fragment, the SAENIAMES stamp on the Dressel loop is of particular interest, referring to a Betica factory, in the region of Hispalis, in Las Huertas del Rio where numerous fragments of amphorae with stamps belonging to the same family. It seems certain that the numerous SAEN stamps derive from a personal name, evidently the trader; a place name to which this abbreviation can be referred to is missing in Betica, while in two inscriptions, one from Betica and the other from Tarraconese, a Q. Saenius Cresces is mentioned and in a third from Cadiz a Saenia is mentioned. There are other amphorae with SAEN stamps in Rome, in Provence and along the Rhone, in Vienne. The activity of the factory must be located, for Callender and Beltran, between the end of the 1st century AD. and the first half of the 2nd century AD, in a period between 80 and 140 AD.
The most probable chronology of the Chiessi wreck will therefore be the last quarter of the 1st century AD.


Shooting at the wreck of Chiessi (1967) and Sant’Andrea (1972)