In addition to a Roman Warship, a reconstructed Roman Cargo ship is on display at a harbor near Ephesus.
These ships could carry all types of cargo including grain (for example from Alexandria Egypt to Rome), wine, olive oil, and other foodstuffs. According to an ancient source the larger grain ships could be up to 180 ft. + [55 m.] long. The trip from Roman to Alexandria‚ with the prevailing wind, took about two weeks while the return journey, with a full load, had to travel in a counter-clockwise direction from Alexandria to Rome (because they could not sail directly into the prevailing northwesterly wind) took close to two months! It is said that Alexandria supplied Rome with 1,700 such shiploads each year.
Another view of the modern reconstruction of a Roman cargo ship that plied the Mediterranean Sea during the first centuries A.D. The bow of the boat is on the right, and at the stern note the steering oar.
The Apostle Paul traveled on such a ship as he was being taken to Rome. It is said that there were 276 people on board—along with all the cargo (Acts 27:18, 37).
Acts 27:1 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us . . . 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days . . . . (NIV)
At Sinope there is a wonderful museum and one of its highlights is a sarcophagus that has a sailing ship and its “dinghy” engraved in bas relief. On the large ship note the steering oars at the stern, the billowing main sail, and what looks like a jib near the bow of the boat. Even the guy-lines are visible in the image. Compare this representation with the reconstructed ship above.
Could the “dinghy” be the “lifeboat” that was cut away from the main ship, just before it crashed on to the island of Malta?
30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. (Acts 27:30-32; NIV)
On the other hand, the small vessel, with a sail(!), may not be in tow (note its own billowing sail), but rather another sailboat that is being depicted as being in the distance—and thus is smaller than the nearer vessel.