Egadi 1 Ram & Egadi 3 Ram, Bronze, dated to 241 BCE
RPM Nautical Foundation
These are, in fact, ancient bronze rams—discovered in 2008 (and another in 2010) on the seabed off the coast of Sicily—which would have been fitted to the front of a ship (see reconstruction below) and used to ram into the sides of enemy ships. What makes them particularly fascinating is that archaeologists have been able to date them precisely, using both state-of-the-art carbon dating and detailed accounts by the historian Polybius, to a specific battle: the naval battle of March 10 of 241 BCE between the Romans and Carthaginians, during the First Punic War.
The First Punic War was an explosive conflict between the nascent power of Rome and Carthage, an ancient civilisation based in modern Tunisia and a significant presence in the Mediterranean, over the island of Sicily. ("Punic" comes from the Latin name for the Carthaginians, Punici.) It marked the first of three major conflicts between the two powers which would define the third century BCE and proved to be a major turning point in the development of Rome's naval and military strength, and the beginnings of the spread of Roman control throughout the Mediterranean.
What's fascinating about the rams discovered is that we have examples of both Roman and Carthaginian rams – giving us a rare picture of both sides of the war. The left-hand ram above (Egadi 1) bears a Latin inscription, whereas the right (Egadi 3) has an inscription in Punic, the language of the Carthaginians. The problem is that we have very little evidence for pre-Roman Carthage – in spite of how powerful it was as a presence in the Mediterranean before the Punic Wars – because, after its conquest by the Romans at the end of the Third Punic War (146 BCE), the city was completely destroyed, razed to the ground and (so the story goes) sown over with salt to prevent its ever being settled again. However much truth there may be to this myth, this pair of rams provides evocative evidence of the reality of the Punic Wars – on both sides of the conflict.