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ISAW Papers 7.17 (2014)

RAM3D Web Portal

William Murray

In November, 1980, the first authentic large-scale warship ram was pulled from the sea near Haifa, Israel ([Casson and Steffy 1991]). Since the discovery of the so-called Athlit ram (named from its findspot), an increasing number of these artifacts have been discovered in various contexts (for a list dated to 2011, see [Murray 2012, 49-50]). Thanks to the recent discovery of the battle zone where Rome and Carthage waged the last naval battle of the First Punic War (241 BCE), we have added 12 new rams to our collection (see [Tusa and Royal, 2012, 12-25] for a discussion of seven of these weapons). At present (September 2013), the number of authentic weapons has risen to 16—and represent rams that are either completely or partially preserved.

Despite their ubiquitous presence in antiquity throughout the Mediterranean, and the roles they play in our major historical texts, our knowledge of warships that carried these weapons is appallingly poor. Except for these rams, no securely identifiable part of an ancient warship survives in multiple numbers from antiquity. The rams are not only important for their uniqueness, but also for their ability to help us address such questions as: 1) What were the physical sizes and approximate weights of different kinds of warships? 2) What forces were generated during ancient naval battles when one ship purposefully collided with another? 3) What were important regional and chronological differences in warship design? 4) Were different technologies utilized in the production of these rams, and if so, why? Once we better understand these authentic rams, we might then use them to explain differences in ram iconography in sculpture, on coins and seals, and in paintings, graffiti and mosaics. We might even generalize from their physical properties to simulate collisions and battle maneuvers on computer through a process called Finite Element Analysis.

Because these authentic weapons now allow us to study REAL rams and not representations of rams, they essentially represent a new artifact class. This demands the development of a vocabulary to describe their intricacies, not only in English, but in the languages represented by all those who study these weapons. And since these new rams hold the key to answering (or at least addressing) many questions that are important to ancient naval historians and naval architects, I am developing a web portal called RAM3D at the University of South Florida to assist researchers with the study of these weapons. The goal is to make the site a repository for different kinds of graphic evidence such as detailed study photos, 3D models of authentic rams, and useful comparanda, like large-scale 3D representations (in stone sculpture) of warships and their bow structures. We also plan to include on this site a detailed descriptive vocabulary with equivalent terms in English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian and in any other language whose researchers care to advise us. The on-line nature of the database will allow for this list to expand as new artifacts are found, and new terms are developed to describe them.

Warships were built in many different shapes and sizes in order to fulfill different roles in the fleets they populated. Although the authentic rams we possess seem to come from smaller classes of warship, we can use these rams to help us make sense of evidence for other, larger rams. This evidence comes to us from a number of reverse engineered weapons (currently 8), which I call “virtual rams” because they exist in 3D form solely on computer. These computer rams were developed from sockets or complex holes in a retaining wall that once held the back ends of authentic rams used in the Battle of Actium (31 BCE). The sockets can still be seen at Nikopolis in western Greece on a Victory Monument built by Augustus to commemorate his defeat of Antony and Cleopatra in a great naval battle fought nearby. The rams were large, if we may judge from their sockets, whose details allow for the recovery of the rams shapes. Since the process involved in creating these rams is a complex one that has yet to be fully explained in print, we envision the web portal as a place where we can demonstrate the methodology used to create these weapons, and explore how best to present our results in a traditional 2D print format.

In conclusion, we hope that the RAM3D portal will serve as a useful node where researchers can share and exchange various kinds of information with one another and thus promote the study of ancient Mediterranean warships. Like others who attended the 2013 LAWDI workshop, I am now seeking the necessary resources that will allow for the development and maintenance of this site. As we move forward, I expect to draw on my connections with the LAWDI community so that we may code our site in ways that will most efficiently link its vocabularies and site references to others studying the ancient world. The web portal, currently hosted at the University of South Florida, can be found at the following URL:

Works Cited

Casson, Lionel and J. Richard Steffy, eds. 1991. The Athlit Ram. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

Murray, William M. 2012. The Age of Titans. The Rise and Fall of the Great Hellenistic Navies. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Tusa, Sebastiano, and Jeffrey Royal. 2012. “The landscape of the naval battle at the Egadi Islands (241 B.C.).” Journal of Roman Archaeology (2012), pp. 7-48.