About the Data

Current version: V.0.9.1

The findings are the result of six months of research conducted in Venice’s archives and libraries, and principally in the State Archives, Archivio di Stato di Venezia. At present, only part of the collected data has been analyzed and put online. Be sure to check us again for new updates.

The historical context:

The first stage of the project covers the years 1474 – 1550. This period, stretching between the beginning of Venice’s control of Cyprus and the mid sixteenth century, is marked by significant changes in international maritime commerce in the Eastern Mediterranean. The rise of Ottoman power led to the conquest of the territories of the Mamluk sultanate (1516-1517), and the loss of Venetian territories in the Peloponnese to the Turks in three open conflicts (1463-1479, 1499-1503 and 1537-1540). To compensate for territorial losses in the Levant, Venice developed Cyprus to a bustling transhipment centre, and succeeded in mandating a hegemonic position in the maritime trade of the eastern Mediterranean. On the backdrop of these political and economical events, ships continued to cross the seas all year round and in every condition. Between the late 1540s and the beginning of the War of Cyprus (1570-71), Venetian maritime trade in the eastern Mediterranean reached unprecedented dimensions. As far as shipwrecks are concerned, this last phase of Venice’s maritime prosperity remains to be integrated into the present project at a later stage. Early Modern Shipwrecks highlights the intertwining relationship between global historical events and the individual narratives of ships that sailed in eastern Mediterranean waters.

The sources:

The research is largely based on archival sources collected in Venetian archives and libraries. Venetian sources contain an impressive number of reports on shipwrecks in this region.

Primary unpublished sources:

The correspondence between state magistracies and representatives, merchants, agents, and captains, as well as numerous descriptions of travellers, contain rich information on developments in the Republic’s overseas territories in the east and the surrounding areas. When a ship was wrecked, the news reached Venice quickly, owing to the commercial and political importance of such an event. Insurance claims, judicial disputes, and notarial acts sometimes followed, and can complement the information on the ship as a commercial enterprise, and on the cause of shipwreck.

The sources can be roughly divided into two categories. The first consist of official documents issued by state institutions: probably the most substantial source would be the decrees of the Venetian senate related to maritime affairs. The papers of other government bodies (collegio, consiglio di dieci, etc.) are also being examined. The second category consists of documents of non-official character, such as commercial letters, private family papers, wills, contracts, and notarial acts.

Primary published sources:

Non-official records, such as diaries, contemporary chronicles and merchant letters, are more descriptive in nature. The diaries of Marino Sanudo (1496-1533) and Girolamo Priuli, (1494-1512) include many indications of shipwrecks. Other published sources with relevance to the present study are the commercial letters of the Venetian merchant Michele da Lezze (1497-1514); the reports of a special ambassador to the sultan of Egypt between 1489 and 1490; and the Annales published under the name of Domenico Malipiero (currently attributed to Pietro Dolfin) (1457-1500).[1]

The data that has been collected so far could be cross-checked in the future with non-Venetian sources, such as the descriptions of pilgrims and other travellers on board merchant and pilgrim ships around the same period. Collaborative work with other historians and marine archaeologists would be most welcomed.

The database:

The data is classified and searchable according to the date, ship’s name, flag, type, capacity, and cause of shipwreck. More information, such as cargo details, attempts at salvage, the ship’s background, and the causes of shipwreck, is displayed in the pop-up window. The transcriptions of the relevant sections of the original sources (mostly in the Venetian dialect and partly in Latin) are also available.

The supposed positions of the wrecks were not always easy to reconstruct with accuracy, and the pointers on the map should not be mistaken for the exact position of a wreck, but are used for marking the general area. In certain cases the position is relatively easy to identify, as, for example, at the entrance to a certain port, or near a promontory, riff or some other conspicuous element. In such cases a better precision can be achieved. The position of other wrecks proved to be more difficult to determine. In such cases only the region and an estimation of the general area in nautical miles have been indicated. It is assumed that as the research continues a greater precision, concerning the position of several wrecks, would be achieved.

Dating is better documented in the sources. The exact date, and in several cases also the hour, were reconstructed.

Ship’s position and dating:

The position of a wreck will play a key role in any attempt to determine its identity. Taking into consideration that some parts of the Levantine coasts, and in particular the entrance to principal ports, have undergone considerable changes since the Renaissance, a careful assessment of the wreck location and accessibility based on historical maps and textual portolans is in progress.

Future research directions:

Early Modern Shipwrecks is in a preliminary stage of development. It is hoped that the availability of this data online will open before marine archaeologists, researchers and students wider opportunities to match archaeological finds with historical data.

The data included in Early Modern Shipwrecks should be treated as threads leading to new discoveries. It is assumed, for example, that more information could be discovered on important shipwrecks, such as the galley Brazzana that shipwrecked with the treasures of Catherina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, or the shipwreck of the merchant galley Magna on its way to Alexandria, with dozens of Jewish immigrants and some Venetian colonial officials.

The extension of the geographical scope to cover also other areas in the Mediterranean should also be taken into consideration. During our research work in 2015, information on several shipwrecks that took place in other areas has been discovered. Early Modern Shipwrecks could be extended in the future to include Croatian, Greek, and Italian waters along the routes to the Levant.

From a chronological perspective, the quantity of primary sources to cover the second half of the Sixteenth century is exponential in comparison with the period covered by phase I of this project. Several cases of shipwrecks contains also the cargo books, freight rates, the expenses incurred during the voyage, the ship’s itinerary, contracts and insurance policies. Such materials enable the reconstruction of the ship’s biography with greater precision. As for the major part of the Fifteenth century, the primary sources are more limited and less informative. Important shipwrecks can, however, be traced into official documents of state institutions, as well as in a few narrative sources, particularly the Morosini and Malipiero chronicles.

The project welcomes collaborations with marine archaeologists currently working on the excavation of shipwrecks dated to this period, the mapping of shipwrecks, historical maps or visualization tools for marine data. Early Modern Shipwrecks is at its very first stages. We would be happy to hear your feedback, as we continue to fine tune our findings, clear up uncertainties, fix bugs and correct errors. contact us.

[1] Marino Sanuto, I Diarii di Marino Sanuto: (MCCCCXVI-MDXXXIII), dall'autografo Marciano ital. cl. VII codd. CDXIX-CDLXXVII, Rinaldo Fulin, Federico Stefani, Nicolò Barozzi, Guglielmo Berchet, Marco Allegri, eds (Venezia, 1879-1903); Girolamo Priuli, I diarii (1494-1512), Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, Arturo Segre Roberto Cessi, eds, 4 vols (Città di Castello, 1912-38); Rossi, Franco, ed., Ambasciata straordinaria al sultano d'Egitto (1489-1490) (Venezia, 1988); Braudel, Fernand & Tenenti, Alberto, ‘Michiel da Lezze, marchand vénitien (1497-1514)’, In Wirtschaft, Geschichte und Wirtschaftsgeschichte: Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Friedrich Lütge. Edited by Wilhelm Abel, Knut Borchardt, Hermann Kellenbenz, Wolfgang Zorn (Stuttgart, 1966), pp. 38-73; Domenico Malipiero [attributed to Piero Dolfin], ‘Annali veneti dall'anno 1457 al 1500 del senatore Domenico Malipiero’, ordinati e abbreviati dal senatore Francesco Longo, con prefazione e annotazioni di Agostino Sagredo, Archivio storico italiano, Tomo VII, parte prima (Firenze, 1843), 1-1138.