Friday, June 10, 2011

Booty: What Rome Has Done for You, A Fish Story

The bit in Monty Python’s Life of Brian about “What have the Romans ever done for us?” rings true to this day. Aqueducts and republics, taxation with representation and welfare, the list of good things goes on and on. Of course one could argue that war on a global scale, the concept of a “one world nation” and systematic genocide may also have come down to us from these Latinate heroes, but that may just be the bitter spawn of many a conquered (and enslaved) nation mewling like a two year old. If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on it’s that the Romans tended to mechanical genius.

That’s why it should not be in any way surprising that they may have overcome the hassle of transporting fish, which tend to spoil rather quickly, by simply putting fish tanks in merchant vessels. As this article from io9 indicates, a Roman shipwreck found 25 years ago with an incongruous lead pipe in its hull seems to have finally answered the technical question “How did they do that?”

Evidently the lead pipe allowed for the movement of water from the sea into the vessel and then out again. This would have made it possible for a fish tank containing four cubic meters of water to have the kind of oxygen exchange necessary to sustain live fish on any length of voyage. Pumps could have been utilized to keep the water circulating and plenty of energy to do just that would have been available in the form of slave labor.

The ship in question, which is a mere 54 feet long, would probably have been dominated by its ingenious aquarium. It must be imagined that, if the theory is correct, certain merchant vessels were designated for this purpose. Writers in Ancient Rome did mention moving live fish by boat. As the article notes, Pliny the Elder wrote of a school of parrotfish being brought from the Black Sea to Naples for release into the Mediterranean in the hope that they would multiply there. And there’s another Roman innovation: introduction of invasive species populations.

The article does mention that the researchers may be dismissing more obvious uses for the pipe – such as pumping bilge water or cleaning the ship – and the actual fish tank has not been found, but the idea is intriguing. And not all together impossible, given the things that the Romans have done for civilization. Click over to the article if you’d like to enjoy that bit from the always delightful Pythons, which someone generously added to the comments. 

Finally, many thanks to long time member of the Brethren Dwight for the link to this article!

Header: Roman shipwreck via NatGeo


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Yes, but aside from all that, what have the Romans ever done for us?...

Like the t-shirt says, "Slavery: It gets sh*t done!"

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Yeah, sh*t like bloody revolutions, for instance.

Timmy! said...

"People should know when they're conquered."

Blue Flamingo said...

Damn Romans, getting credit for everything!

Seriously, how simple and smart - why not?

Always learning something new on Triple P!


Pauline said...

Ahoy Blue Flamingo and thankee! Seriously; fresh fish is good fish.

And, on another note: "Would you, Timmy? Would I?"

Dwight said...

Glad to be of service, Cap'n!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Dwight and thankee indeed!