The Glass Flask of the Byzantine Shipwreck at Bozburun, Turkey

Amphoras in reconstruction of Byzantine era ship
Amphoras in reconstruction of Byzantine era ship | Source

In 1995, Fred Hocker began excavation on a shipwreck in Bozburun, Turkey. The 9th century Byzantine wreck had previously been identified by George Bass during a 1973 Institute of Nautical Archaeology survey of Turkish waters. However, other sites had taken precedence and were excavated prior to Bozburun. After all, common artifacts such as coins, personal possessions, and objects of value had been removed prior to the ship’s sinking. Still, the site proved to tell an interesting tale of the ship’s final moments, and a recovered glass flask and goblets revealed a social context to the often no-nonsense view of medieval trade.

The Wreck

A sudden, strong shift in the wind as the ship neared harbor prevented the approach and made sailing impossible. Anchors were dropped in an effort to wait out the storm, but they did not hold. The stern of the ship was forced against the cliffs by waves and began to take on water. As a last-ditch effort, the crew jettisoned cargo to lighten the ship, but the effort was futile. The crew gathered their remaining personal effects and valuables and escaped to shore. The cargo and the ship were lost.

A markerBozburun, Turkey -
Bozburun/Muğla Province, Turkey
[get directions]

Namesake location of the Byzantine wreck.

The Remains

One of the few remaining objects on the ship, other than a large collection of amphoras, was a glass flask. The small glass flask has a bulb about the size of a softball with a much narrower, fluted neck, stemming about three inches from the top. The yellow-glazed flask is made from very thin glass, as thin as a light bulb, and was carefully mold-blown then twisted to create an interesting spiral appearance. The flask was found aft and to the port of the galley, far to the stern of the ship. Three small, fine, glass goblets were also found within two meters of the flask. The goblets, made of blue-green glass and of the lamp vessel type, along with the flask were likely part of a small glassware set.

The glass flask was located smashed in the stern during the 1997 season. In 1996 one of the glass goblets had been found and two more would be found in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Glass fares very well submerged and the immersion process had very little impact on it. Conservator Jane Pannell Haldane was able to largely reconstruct the glass flask and return it to much of its former splendor. Haldane served as conservator for 1996-1997 working on amphoras during the summer and glass during the winter.

Glass flasks of this type were very uncommon on sea-faring vessels. Very few shipwrecks in the Mediterranean have possessed glassware with the exception of the 11th-century Serçe Liman ship carrying fine glass as cargo. Instead, glass flasks of this type were often seen in Roman and Byzantine worlds in non-maritime contexts. Glassware of this type would be too fragile to be used while sailing, though it is possible that rather than being used in a typical serving manor, the flask could have held a particularly valuable seasoning or a medical ointment useful for treating sailors.

The most likely explanation for this rare piece of glassware is that it was one of the few remaining personal possessions on board. Since the flask was not found in the serving galley and is quite delicate compared to normal sea-faring wares, it is much more likely to be a personal effect of a crew member or passenger. A captain or merchant could have found great use for the flask and goblets during special occasions at port, or it could have been a gift. Byzantine and 9th-century trade in general is often seen from a very utilitarian perspective. Finding an object that serves no practical purpose on a sailing journey is a revealing and refreshing change to prior beliefs.

Bibliography

Hocker, F. M. (1998). Bozburun Byzantine Shipwreck Excavation: The Final Campaign 1998. The INA Quarterly, 25(4), 3-13.

Hocker, F. M. (2005). Sampling a Byzantine Vintage: Bozburun, Turkey. In G. F. Bass (Ed.), Beneath the Seven Seas (pp. 100-105). London: Thames & Hudson.

Hocker, F. M. (2007). Bozburun: Report to the Turkish Ministry of Culture, General Directorate of Monuments and Museums, on the 1996 Season Retrieved 1 October, 2009

Hocker, F. M., & Scafuri, M. P. (1996). The Bozburun Byzantine Shipwreck Excavation: 1996 Campaign. The INA Quarterly, 23(4), 3-9.

Hocker, F. M., Yamini, S. W., & Yamini, G. O. (1998). The Byzantine Shipwreck at Bozburun, Turkey: The 1997 Field Season. The INA Quarterly, 25(2), 12-17.

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Comments 21 comments

Jeremey profile image

Jeremey 6 years ago from Arizona

Interesting piece of history here! Always been fascinated with what our waters hold!


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks Jeremey! I was fortunate enough to get to take an entire class on the subject!


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination LoganG. Please share in the Hubnuggets forum what it feels like to be a Hubnuggets nominee! http://hubpages.com/forum/topic/61041#post1353838 As you have voted, make sure you promote your hub to your family and friends. Even non hubbers can vote! Enjoy!


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks ripplemaker! Heading over to the forum, now!


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

Interesting LoganG. This really is a hub nugget - in the sense that it's a little piece of information in a field that I don't really know much about that gives me just enough of a taste to whet my appetite. Thanks!


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks so much, kimh! I'm glad you enjoyed it!


Avamum profile image

Avamum 6 years ago from Canada

How fascinating! If only glass could talk....perhaps a gift to a sailor from a loved one? Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination - you get my vote!


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Avamum, I guess we'll never know for sure, but it is fun to imagine! Thank you so much for the kind words and vote.


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

We've passed the Sea of Marmara in Turkey into the Black Sea on early years of 2000. The country have lots of artifacts to offer, courtesy of Greek civilization. BTW, congratulations on your HubNugget nomination. ;)


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks for the congratulations, travel_man! I would sure love to go to Turkey to see some of the artifacts in person. Maybe I could even discover some myself!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

I think this is a well written interesting hub on a piece of history that I didn't know much about. Congrats on your nomination.


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks Pamela! I really appreciate the kind remarks.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Thanks for sharing a piece of history. Wow, you took a whole class on it. You must know tons about it. Congrats on the nomination and good luck.


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks elayne!! The class was on the slightly broader topic of Underwater Archaeology, but it was quite fascinating!


Tammy L profile image

Tammy L 6 years ago from Jacksonville, Texas

Voted UP and awesome! Actually it was more interesting than awesome but there's not a button for interesting. Congratulations on your Hubnuggets win!


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks so much, TammyL! Glad you liked it!


Johnny Parker profile image

Johnny Parker 6 years ago from Birkenhead, Wirral, North West England

Amazing to think they had such technological sophistication.

Good article. Well done on the Hubnugget!


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you Johnny Paker! I agree, it really is amazing.


A. F. Stewart 6 years ago

A fascinating peek at the past.


LoganG profile image

LoganG 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks A. F. Stewart! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Glass-Jewelry profile image

Glass-Jewelry 4 years ago from Presezzo, Italy

As regards the flask found, I find surprising that this decorative technique which consists in creating a spiral pattern, with volutes large enough to create a movement light and air, is still used by many glass blowers in Murano - Venice, such as my friends Ballarin Brothers who are using only borosilicate tubes with different diameters to achieve not only hollow containers but also goblets and centerpiece of a unique refinement, elegantly decorated in gold leaf. And I think I can confirm that the flask found in the wreck is not an object of daily use, but it belonged to a wealthy origins passenger, perhaps used to hold beverages, given the large size, rather than oils or ointments. Thank you for your interesting article LoganG!

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