Ancient Roman Sunken Ship Held World's Oldest Fish Tank?

This Sunken Roman Boat May Have Held the World's First Aquarium


Mankind has always had a love affair with the ocean. We tend to gravitate towards waterways and we mastered sea travel thousands of years before we ever inventing the first car. Even considering all that, historians were shocked to discover that there may have been fish tanks as far back as the year 150.

And I don’t mean that a couple of Romans made a jar, filled it with water, and threw a few fish into it. No, I mean an actual oxygenated fish tank that would keep fish alive indefinitely.

Ancient Jewish Roman Mosaic


This discovery came when archaeologists uncovered a shipwreck of an ancient Roman vessel off the coast of Italy. The boat carried approximately 600 amphora (Roman pots) filled with fish like sardines and mackerel, leading archaeologists to believe that it was a trading or fishing vessel. The weirdest thing about it, though, is that there was a hollow lead pipe (shown below) that protruded out of the bottom of the boat.

This Lead Pipe was Possibly Used as part of an Oxygenated Fish Tank


Now, for those of you who never took Boating 101, having a hole in the hull of your boat is generally a bad idea. This left archaeologists befuddled as to why on Earth the Romans would ever intentionally include a hollow pipe in the design. Based on all the fish-filled amphora, they figured that it was part of a pump system that the Romans used to maintain an onboard fish tank. Based on the size of the ship, engineers estimate that they could have kept a tank large enough to fill 250 cubic feet with 440 pounds of live fish.

Roman Tile Mosaic of a Fish


You know, it’s all kind of funny, because for centuries historians have been thinking that an ancient Roman scientists by the name of Pliny the Elder was a complete liar. He claimed that he was able to transport live Patrolfish from the Black Sea to the coast of Naples. Modern day historians thought that this would have been an impossible task for the Romans, as they had not demonstrated a mastery of an oxygenated aquarium. The evidence isn’t bulletproof, but some of these historians may find themselves eating crow after the discovery of what could be planet Earth’s oldest aquarium.


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