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miércoles 22 noviembre 2017



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Roman presence

The discovery of an important Roman port in Irun, formerly Oiasso, has widened our understanding of Basque maritime history. All available information suggests that the Roman settlement of Oiasso was founded because of its strategic site and the mineral deposits in the area; the area stands in a natural corridor skirting the coast across the Pyrenees mountains, and several kilometres of Roman mines have been found in the vicinity. From here the Romans extracted silver, copper and iron ore. Our first information on the Roman settlement dates from the end of the first century BC, when a period of dynamic growth began. This reached its height from the Flavian period on and, especially at the end of the first century AD. It was during this boom period that the quays, dry docks, piers and stores were built that would turn it into a major regional port. Oiasso continued to be very active until at least the end of the second century AD. The port at Oiasso formed part of the empire's great maritime infrastructure; it stood half-way between the ports of Burdigala (Bordeaux) and Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium (Santander), along the axis of the Bay of Biscay.

It is difficult to imagine an important port without ships or shipyards.
The founders of the city would certainly have brought master
shipbuilders, including master carpenters, as they did at Nantes,
where Mediterranean-type galleys were ordered to be built by Julius
Caesar to fight the Veneti along what is now known as the Breton
coast. It is reasonable to assume that any shipyards at Oiasso would
have employed local labour, like the crews of their ships.
It is difficult to imagine an important port without ships or shipyards. The founders of the city would certainly have brought master shipbuilders, including master carpenters, as they did at Nantes, where Mediterranean-type galleys were ordered to be built by Julius Caesar to fight the Veneti along what is now known as the Breton coast. It is reasonable to assume that any shipyards at Oiasso would have employed local labour, like the crews of their ships. © José Lopez

The clinker technique of building hulls is very likely to have
originated with dugout canoes. Although in principle limited by the
size of the log, these could be widened by adding overlapping
planks to the sides. While this technique was technologically different
to the tongue and groove system, it shared the notion of preparing
the hull by starting with the planking. This conceptual similarity
might have led to the clinker-building of Roman-style ships along
these coasts.
The clinker technique of building hulls is very likely to have originated with dugout canoes. Although in principle limited by the size of the log, these could be widened by adding overlapping planks to the sides. While this technique was technologically different to the tongue and groove system, it shared the notion of preparing the hull by starting with the planking. This conceptual similarity might have led to the clinker-building of Roman-style ships along these coasts. © José Lopez

Diagram showing the hypothetical development of the Roman
shipbuilding technique into the Atlantic clinker work technique.
The thick planks used in the Roman ships were secured to those
already fitted without support on a preliminary frame, to form a hull
as more planks were added. These were joined together using tongues
inserted in grooves distributed along the edges, requiring
painstaking carpentry work to obtain a perfect fit. Finally the entire
structure was bolstered with internal pieces.
Diagram showing the hypothetical development of the Roman shipbuilding technique into the Atlantic clinker work technique. The thick planks used in the Roman ships were secured to those already fitted without support on a preliminary frame, to form a hull as more planks were added. These were joined together using tongues inserted in grooves distributed along the edges, requiring painstaking carpentry work to obtain a perfect fit. Finally the entire structure was bolstered with internal pieces. © José Lopez
Remains of the quay infrastructure at the Roman port of
Oiasso.
Remains of the quay infrastructure at the Roman port of Oiasso. © José Lopez

Hammer found in the Roman port of Oiasso. Given its similarity
with other pieces found in London and Ostia, it was probably
used in shipbuilding.
Hammer found in the Roman port of Oiasso. Given its similarity with other pieces found in London and Ostia, it was probably used in shipbuilding. © José Lopez
The archaeological digs conducted by Arkeolan at the large
mine in Arditurri (Arditurri 20) in Oiartzun in 2008 unearthed
important testimonies of Roman mining, including tools for working
the lode to obtain silver ore. The galleries were dug using the torrefaction
method, which consisted of burning large quantities of
wood next to the rock face to soften it up, thus making it easier to
dig away. Roman miners used oil lamps when working underground;
because they were made of clay, they often broke and the
shards were left inside the mines. The lamp in the picture depicts a
rowing vessel, with a high stern. The bow section has disappeared
and with it any indication of whether it was a warship (the vessels
in the Roman navy had a metal ram, or rostrum, which they used to
batter enemy ships). Mertxe Urteaga.
The archaeological digs conducted by Arkeolan at the large mine in Arditurri (Arditurri 20) in Oiartzun in 2008 unearthed important testimonies of Roman mining, including tools for working the lode to obtain silver ore. The galleries were dug using the torrefaction method, which consisted of burning large quantities of wood next to the rock face to soften it up, thus making it easier to dig away. Roman miners used oil lamps when working underground; because they were made of clay, they often broke and the shards were left inside the mines. The lamp in the picture depicts a rowing vessel, with a high stern. The bow section has disappeared and with it any indication of whether it was a warship (the vessels in the Roman navy had a metal ram, or rostrum, which they used to batter enemy ships). Mertxe Urteaga. © José Lopez

The Atlantic context of the Western empire, with the Roman
ports of Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium (Santander), Oiasso (Irun),
Burdigala (Bordeaux), Gesoriacum (Boulogne-sur-mer), home of
Rome's Atlantic fleet, Condevicnum or Portus Namnetum (Nantes)
and Londinium (London)
The Atlantic context of the Western empire, with the Roman ports of Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium (Santander), Oiasso (Irun), Burdigala (Bordeaux), Gesoriacum (Boulogne-sur-mer), home of Rome's Atlantic fleet, Condevicnum or Portus Namnetum (Nantes) and Londinium (London). © José Lopez
Roman merchant ship. One essential feature was the way Roman
vessels of Mediterranean origin were adapted to the particular characteristics
of the Bay of Biscay, very probably leading to a new type
of ship. Along these coasts, the Romans encountered different sailing
conditions to those they were accustomed, with features such as tides,
Atlantic waves, sand bars and prevailing winds. At the same
ti-me, local building materials and techniques were also different,
fostering a symbiosis that was to mark the beginning of an evolutionary
step in shipbuilding techniques.
Roman merchant ship. One essential feature was the way Roman vessels of Mediterranean origin were adapted to the particular characteristics of the Bay of Biscay, very probably leading to a new type of ship. Along these coasts, the Romans encountered different sailing conditions to those they were accustomed, with features such as tides, Atlantic waves, sand bars and prevailing winds. At the same ti-me, local building materials and techniques were also different, fostering a symbiosis that was to mark the beginning of an evolutionary step in shipbuilding techniques. © José Lopez

These ships are reconstructions of another type of Atlantic vessel
found in excavations on the River Thames in England.
These ships are reconstructions of another type of Atlantic vessel found in excavations on the River Thames in England. © José Lopez
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