A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Six-foot waves propelled by a small weather system over the Mediterranean rock the research vessel Princess Duda, anchored at the entrance to Aboukir Bay, as divers prepare for another foray into the deep. Falling overboard one by one, they submerge, meeting at the anchor line for a group descent. Near the seabed some 40 feet below, the waters are quiet. Waterlogged timbers--the center section of Napoleon's 120-gun warship L'Orient--lie among a scatter of bronze cannon, twisted and torn; gold, silver, and copper coins minted in Malta, Venice, Spain, France, Portugal, and the Ottoman Empire; cooking pots and silverware; bits of clothing; human bones; and a heap of lead type from a shipboard printing press. The strong scent of gunpowder permeates the site; you can smell the battle. The ship's 35-foot-long rudder, emblazoned with the words Dauphin Royal, L'Orient's original name, lies on its side 200 feet from the wreckage. Anchors of Napoleon's ships Guerrier, Conquérant, Spartiate, Aquillon, Peuple Souverain, and Franklin are scattered about the site.
Here, 15 miles east of Alexandria, an international team under the direction of French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio is exploring ships sunk at one of the most decisive battles in maritime history, the Battle of the Nile, or more accurately, the Battle of Aboukir. Waged on the night of August 1-2, 1798, the engagement pitted Britain's finest, under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, against a French fleet led by Admiral François Paul Brueys d'Aigailliers; its outcome ended forever Napoleon's dream of conquering Egypt and the east.
Angela M.H. Schuster is a senior editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.