Category Archives: Museums

Ship Names — Paul’s Shipwreck—Part 3

In two previous posts I shared some images and thoughts on anchor stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum—here and here.  The final anchor stock that I want to mention is one that actually has Isis—the name of an Egyptian Deity—inscribed on it.

The name “Isis” is clearly visible on the left side of this anchor stock.

This is a detail of the name Isis, that appears in high relief, on this anchor stock.

Isis, an Egyptian deity, was a name (among others) commonly used for ships during the Roman Era.  There was a very famous ship called Isis that is mentioned by the ancient author Lucian that was about 180 feet long, 45 feet wide (beam), and 45 feet deep—I am not saying that this is an anchor stock from that ship, but it is interesting that the name appears here.

In his book Πλοἶον ἢ Εὐχαί (“The Ship, or The Wishes”) the sophist Lucian described the Isis when he saw it in Athens’ seaport Piraeus:

I say, though, what a size that ship was! 180 feet long, the man said, and something over a quarter of that in width; and from deck to keel, the maximum depth, through the hold, 44 feet. And then the height of the mast, with its huge yard; and what a forestay it takes to hold it! And the lofty stern with its gradual curve, and its gilded beak, balanced at the other end by the long rising sweep of the prow, and the figures of her name-goddess, Isis, on either side. As to the other ornamental details, the paintings and the scarlet topsail, I was more struck by the anchors, and the capstans and windlasses, and the stern cabins. The crew was like a small army. And they were saying she carried as much corn as would feed every soul in Attica for a year. And all depends for its safety on one little old atomy of a man, who controls that great rudder with a mere broomstick of a tiller!

(Wikipedia Isis (ship)

Please note that from Malta Paul sailed to Rome on:

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.
[Two Greek Deities]

In addition, I found another inscribed anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio, this time with the name Hera on it.

An anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio (Italy) with the name Hera on it.

Hera was believed to be the wife of the chief deity ZeusReggio is located in southern Italy, on the coast facing Sicily.  Reggio is considered to be ancient Rhegium.

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island [=Malta]. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli.

Detail of the name “Hera”—in reverse order—on the anchor stock.

To view images of items on display in the Malta Maritime Museum check here.


The Largest Anchor Stock — Paul’s Shipwreck—Part 2

In my earlier post, I wrote of the 11 Anchor Stocks that are currently in storage at the Malta Maritime Museum—and I described how they worked.

Among the 11 is the largest ancient anchor stock ever to be discovered!

View of the largest anchor stock ever found from the ancient world. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This anchor stock weighs over 5,500 lbs [2,500 kg.] and is 13 ft. 6 in. long [4.1 m.].  A careful look at the left end of the anchor shows that it was not solid metal, but had a metal shell that encased a wood “soul.” (see below for what is an “anchor stock”)

Note the size of the Anchor Stock in comparison with the woman in the picture!

Gordon Franz (see below) quotes the Museum Archaeological Report that this “enormous Roman anchor stock [was] found lying on the seabed 120 feet below the surface 300 yards off Qawra Point….” [CR=near Salina Bay]. It is dated from “the second half of the second century BC to the middle of the first century AD.” It “… most likely came from an Alexandrian grain ship” [CR: like the one Paul was being transported on? Acts 27:6, 27–29].  It should be remembered that the large “Alexandrian” grain ships could be 180 feet long! — Paul traveled on two Alexandrian grain ships (Acts 27:6; 28:11)

It was discovered near Salina Bay, on the NE coast of Malta.  This is near two of the bays that are “traditional” candidates for the site of the shipwreck of Paul (Acts 27—28:10).

A modern reconstruction of an anchor (with an “Anchor Stock”—right side of image) from the Roman Period.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta: Anchor Stocks—Part 1

Recently I was able to spend a few days on the Island of Malta where Paul was shipwrecked and then spent 3 months on the island before being transported to Rome for trial (Acts 28:1, 11).  One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to the Malta Maritime Museum.

View looking northeast at the exterior of the Malta Maritime Museum.

The museum is housed in the former Royal Naval Bakery that was built in the 1840. The bakery supplied naval personnel of the British Mediterranean Fleet. The main part of the collection (97%+) includes boats, models of ships, anchors, amphorae, cannons, etc.  But I had come to see the Roman Anchors that figure so prominently in the discussion of where exactly Paul’s ship ran aground and was broken up (see Franz below for a discussion).

Acts 27:29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 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.

Acts 27:40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.

After spending over an hour looking at interesting, but not too relevant displays, I had not found the anchors that I was looking for.  So I asked the attendants at the entrance about these anchors.  Well, it turned out that the display of the ancient anchors was in transition and they were collected in a rather small corridor near the entrance to the museum. The plan being executed will eventually display these precious artifacts in a wonderful display. However, when I was at the museum, they were not on “public” display so please, cut the museum a bit of slack for how the anchor stocks look in these pictures! But I had traveled 4,000+ miles and was thrilled just to be able to see these anchors—and they were kind enough to allow me to take pictures (without flash of course).

Temporary “home” for the Roman Anchor Stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum.

In this temporary “home” 11 Anchor Stocks were collected.  Ok, so what is an anchor stock?

A modern reconstruction of an anchor from the Roman Period.

In the above (from the Museum) all the parts of this “ancient anchor” are modern except the lead “Stock.”

The “Flukes” are the parts of the anchor, usually wooden and sometimes tipped with copper, that dig into the bottom of the sea. At the top of the wooden shank (right) a rope connects the anchor to the ship. The “stock” is made out of lead and often has a wood core,. It helps the anchor to sink and helps to position the anchor so that the “flukes” dig into the sea bottom.

This is a reconstruction of a typical anchor from the Roman Period. All the parts of this “ancient anchor” are modern except the lead “Stock.”

Ok, are any of these Anchor Stocks from Paul’s wrecked ship?  See the following blog posts.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

The “Farmer’s Sarcophagus” An Alternative Interpretation

In a earlier post I presented what I called a “Farmer’s Sarcophaus” that is located in the courtyard of the Antalya (Turkey) Archaeological Museum. (see end of this post for a new possible interpretation).

“Farmer’s Sarcophagus”?  Is it possible that this is an élite person who had the honor, using oxen, to plow the outline of the pomerium for an about-to-be estabished city?

At the time I wrote:

I have seen a lot of sarcophagi in our travels but never one with this theme on it!  Note the farmer plowing with two oxen and two roundels with (evidently) a husband and wife in each of them.  . . .  It is almost refreshing to see such a mundane and common activity represented on a sarcophagus—but it is surprising, for how did a FARMER afford having a stone sarcophagus made??

But in my readings about two months ago, I came across the concept of the pomerium.  What in the world is that?  Well . . .

The pomerium is the name given to the sacred boundary of an ancient Roman city founded with the help of omens.  It consisted of a wall and/or the sacred strip of land between the wall and the city’s outermost building: when a Roman colony was founded a simple ploughed forrow would encircle it n order to define the pomeriium.  Withing the enclosed pricincts, burials were forbidden. (conveniently Blue Guide, p. 88).

Evidently the walls of the city were established on the outer limit of the pomerium and no structures (theoretically) could be built on the pomerium.  In Rome the pomerium defined the limits of the city and there were prohibitions for armed troops to enter the city beyond this “barrior.”

My Musings: Given that sarcophagi were for the elite of society, it now seems more logical to me that what we have on this sarcophagus is an image of an elite “owner” who proudly was the person who was entrusted, with the oxen, to plow the pomerium for an about-to-be established city.

See Here for several reliefs of the plowing of the pomerium.

Alta Macadam, Blue Guide: Rome. Eleventh edition.  London, 2016.

Hercules Farnese of Perge and . . . .


Hercules Farnese From the Baths at Perge
Second Century A.D. — Antalya Museum

A beautiful second century A.D. statue of Hercules was found in the baths of Perge.  The Boston Museum of Fine Arts returned the top portion of the statue to Turkey in September 2011.  Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erogan personally brought the important portion to Turkey himself.  Portions of over 60 such statues are known and are called the “Hercules Farnese” (named after a famous Italian collection now housed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum).  This is a Roman copy of a bronze original.  Note the positioning of the head, arms, and legs, and especially the body muscles.  The skin of conquered Nemean Lion flows down on his left side as it tumbles to the ground.

Below is THE Hercules Farnese that is displayed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Below is a five (5) in. high image of a “Hercules Farnese” found at Pergamum and displayed in the museum in Bergama.


A Bronze Five (5!) Inch High “statue” of Hercules
From Pergamum — In the Museum at Bergama

Heracles was the son of the god Zeus and a mortal Alcmene. Although originally a mortal, he eventually attained divine status and was widely worshiped throughout Greece. As punishment for killing six of his children he had to perform 12 “labors” (= very difficult tasks). The first of which was to kill the Nemean Lion. He wrestled with the lion, strangled it, and subsequently used its pelt as a cloak. (Nemea is a site in the Peloponnese region of Greece).

Crucified Man from Jerusalem

It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals.  In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child.

This is a replica of a right heel bone of a 28 year old man who was crucified in Jerusalem prior to its in AD 70. This replica is presented in the Israel Museum.

A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone of the man.  A piece of wood was placed on each side of the heel prior to the pounding of the nail to affix the person to a cross.

The skeletal remains of the man with the nail in his heel bone were found in this ossuary that was discovered north of Jerusalem.

Clearly visible is the Hebrew writing of the name “Yehohanan son of Hagkol.”  Note the two clear lines.  Above and to the right of the name “Yehohanan,” in the first line, is another faint inscription (click on image to enlarge to view inscription).

A diagram in the Israel Museum.

The above picture represents a scholarly reconstruction of how Yehohanan son of Hagkal was crucified.  Note how his arms are tied to the cross—no nails were found in his hands or wrists.  In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth’s hands were nailed to the cross—Thomas wanted to see the “mark of the nails in his hands” (John 20:25).

Revision — In a PBS program on Jesus, (aired 4 April 2017) the heel bone with nail were taken out of a small storage box located in a huge warehouse.  Thus, it does not appear that the original comment (deleted) regarding its “location” was correct.

For a convenient description of this find see pp 318–22 in Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem between 29 and 31 (Taylor, 556; Jesus was tried before this same Pilate in AD 30 or 33).

Obverse of a bronze perutah, minted in Jerusalem, by Pontius Pilate
Note the “augur’s staff” called a lituus — the coin is inscribed
Click Image to Enlarge

The above is a sample of one of the two types of coins.

Bronze perutah minted in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate

The inscription on this coin reads “of Tiberius Caesar.”  This type of coin features a lituus on the obverse side of the coin.

The lituus was a wooden staff (or wand) with a curled end, made of a branch of either ash or hazel … The lituus was held in the right hand of the augures and was the augures’ identifying emblem.  (Taylor 559-59)

The lituus was used by augurs who were priests that interpreted the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds (size of flock, noises made, direction of flight, etc.).

[The lituus] was also raised to the sky when they invoked the god and made predictions.   It was used to mark out regions of the heavens when assessing the placement of sacred space on earth (Taylor 559).

Taylor continues, that these two types of coins (only one is covered in this post) honor priests

who were representatives of Roman religion in the two imperial cult temples of Caesarea Maritime and in Sebaste, located in the province he [Pilate] governed (565).

And she concludes:

In using exclusively Roman cultic items in his coinage designed for a province largely composed of Jews and Samaritans, Pilate was promoting Roman religion, manifested largely in the imperial cult, in an environment in which there were strong sensitivities (565).

Thus it is evident that the person who condemned Jesus to death was active in promoting the Imperial Cult via the coins that he issued and the Tiberieum that he built at Caesarea!

In light of the above, imagine what was going through Pilate’s mind when he heard the words:

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 555–563.


It should be noted that coins from cities/areas outside of Judea — with images of deities or emperors on them — circulated in Judah.  See Mark 12:13-17 and parallels.