A Roman depiction of a war ship equipped with two catapults?
By Ronald Bockius
Tropis VI: 6th International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity (1996)
Introduction: In the area of a Roman necropolis situated on the territory of the city of Mainz, district of Mainz-Weisenau, the archaeological service of Rheinland- Pfalz under the supervision of G. Rupprecht excavated some years ago the fragment of an ancient tombstone. The site of the Roman cemetery has been well known for a long time. In the beginning, it belonged to a Roman camp of the early principate where legionaries as well as auxiliary troops were located. Nearby this fortification, a Roman settlement (canabae) developed. The necropolis, in which tombstones of Roman soldiers and civilians have been found, accompanies an ancient road to a second camp for two legions nearly four kilometres away in the present city of Mainz.
Only the base of the limestone monument is preserved. Its front had been ornamented with a flat relief surrounded by a frame of profiles. The fragment was part of a tomb stele with a square section of nearly 88 by 35 centimetres. Its preserved height is 95 centimetres. The lateral surfaces and the backside of the stone are roughly smoothed. On the front side the monument shows two items, above a level (libella), below the side view of a war ship with a ram of older fashion and a subsidiary ram. On the fore ship and on the poop, a unique type of rail is visible, probably with bollards on it or behind it. The vessel seems to be decked amidships. Its covered architecture and the mouldings of the stem and sternpost ornaments indicate a not too small ship of Mediterranean style, obviously without outriggers.
The inscription for the deceased must have been depicted on the broken off upper part of the tombstone. However, the person initially buried beneath the monument could be interpreted as a workman since the libella shown on Roman tombstones is an abundant attribute of this profession. Further, the level as an instrument of precision can also symbolize exacting activities of the deceased in general. Although it may be interesting to consider the various possibilities of explanations for the combination of handicraft or specialized skills and warship, the lost inscription leaves too many questions unanswered.