Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta — Part 4

In the book of Acts we read that after spending fourteen days in a storm at sea, at midnight

Acts 27:27  . . . the sailors sensed they were approaching land.  28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

What is a “sounding?”  A “sounding” is where sailors lower weights into the water and let them sink to the bottom to measure the depth of the water.

Ancient Sounding Weights from the Mediterranean Coast of Israel. On display in the museum near the archaeological site of Tel Dor, Israel.

Sounding weights served to measure the depth of the water and to check the type of sediment at the sea bottom. This was done in order to identify anchoring areas as well as fishing grounds. Their upper part is perforated for the attachment of a sounding line, and on the bottom is a cavity (tallow cup), smeared with grease, for sampling the sea bottom.


found it was ninety feet deep”

28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep.

Note that Gatt found his Isis – Sarapis anchor stock in about 118 feet of water—which fits reasonably well with the Acts 27:28 passage, as do the location of the anchor stocks and artifacts found by Scicluna (on the map above = “Ancient Anchors + Artifacts).”

Acts 27:38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

This would also have been the are where some (much) of the cargo was tossed into the sea to lighten the ship—but not the actual place of the shipwreck.

The TWO Ships that Paul Traveled On

A model of a Roman Merchant Ship of the first century A.D. that is on display in the Malta Maritime Museum.

Roman Cargo ships were rounded vessels with a forward-leaning fore–post, a high stern and a high bent stern post that was often decorated in the form of a swan’s neck.  To view a large, but less than full, modern reconstruction of such a coastal cargo ship see Here.

It should be remembered that on his way from Caesarea to Rome Paul traveled on two ships.

The first was a “coastal vessel:”

Acts 27:2 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.

This was evidently a NOT a large Alexandrian Grain ship, but rather a smaller vessel (like the model above) that carried goods from port to port stopping at many ports along the way.  Note that Paul’s vessel stopped at Sidon before proceeding to Myra (port Andriace).

It was there at Myra/Andriace that the party boarded a second ship—a much larger “Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy” (Acts 27:6)—the one that carried grain PLUS 276 passengers and was headed straight to Italy!  Some of the Alexandrian Grain Ships were at least 180 feet long and could carry tons of cargo: wheat, oil, wine, grinders, statues, etc.!  This is the type that was shipwrecked on Malta.

Although many ancient shipwrecks have been discovered, I don’t think the remains of an Alexandrian Grain Ship has been found.  All the discovered wrecks are vessels that plied the ports along the coastlines and the various islands.

2 responses to “Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta — Part 4

  1. Great photos and post! Thank you!

  2. What a fantastic series of posts, Carl. Thanks for putting this together. I LOVE the map of Malta and the spots you’ve noted.

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