A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
While the Roman Empire drew much strength from its powerful navy, very little is known about its sailors. A remarkable discovery in Monte di Procida near Naples should change that.
Archaeologists under the direction of Paola Miniero of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Napoli have excavated two first-fourth-century A.D. columbaria (underground chambers with burial urns in niches), containing the remains of about seventy Roman sailors, as well as inscriptions that tell us about their lives. One inscription, from the first century A.D., is dedicated to a Tiberius Claudius Phoebus by Lucio Vibius Valens, a naval officer and Tiberius' heir. It describes Valens as a "foreigner from the East," who was assigned to the trireme Virtus, and as a low-ranking sailor (manipularius) had to serve fourteen years in the navy.
As the excavations at Monte di Procida wind down this summer, officials are planning to dig a tunnel beneath the street to open the columbaria to the general public.