Thursday, March 31, 2022

News: Peiresc's Lost Cargo: Recovered!

        April 20, 1629 was not a good day for the French polymath and research-sponsor Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc.  His merchant ship Ambassadrice – a type of small ship known as a polacca – returning from Egypt and carrying miscellaneous antiquities which Pieresc’s agents had obtained there, had inconveniently sunk near Marsamuscetto Harbor in Malta on its return voyage to Marseille, after incurring heavy damage in a storm.  

         Peiresc’s agents, Théophile Minuti and Jacque-Auguste de Thou, wrote to Peiresc that they had managed to recover some items from the shipwreck, including a small box which held an assortment of small relics, coins, and medals, and a vellum codex (which turned out to be a Coptic lectionary) that had survived fairly intact, thanks to the several layers of envelopes in which it had been packaged.  But these were merely souvenirs compared to the other valuable Egyptian antiquities that the ship had been carrying. 

          The disaster of the sinking of the Ambassadrice was greatly regretted at the time – but soon forgotten.  It was not until recently that interest in excavating the remains of the Ambassadrice gained momentum, when Barry  Clifford – the American responsible for the recovery of the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah – was recruited by the government of Malta to explore the wreckage of the Ambassadrice.  What Clifford’s diving expedition found is unique in the history of marine salvage:  inside the remains of several trunks, still sitting on the hull of the wreck, were six large slabs of spermaceti wax (so called because it is extracted from sperm whales).  Apparently someone in Peiresc’s agents’ employ had prepared his materials within the wax as a safeguard against just the thing that had befallen the Ambassadrice. 

          When specialists in the salvage operation carefully heated and removed the wax, they found several items were embedded within, including the manuscripts that Peiresc’s agents had obtained in Egypt 400 years ago.  They are:

           Eight Coptic texts of the Gospels, two of which are in jeweled bindings

          An early Greek-Bohairic lectionary, prefaced by a glossary of rare Bohairic words.

          A Sefer Torah scroll, 

          A hitherto-unknown composition by Dioscorus (bishop of Alexandria during the Council of Ephesus in the 400s), interspersed with supplemental comments by Balatro Aibreán.

           A hitherto-unknown composition by Peter Mongus of Alexandria (late 400s), with many Scripture-citations, and

          An incomplete parchment copy of Breviarium by Liberatus of Carthage (500s). 

    The sixth slab contained four ornate ivory diptychs, with the hinges removed, all carved with scenes from the life of St. Anthony.  With them were numerous Egyptian and North African coins from different eras, a silver aspergillum, a gold and silver buckle inlaid with lapis lazuli, and several amulets and rings.

          The texts recovered from the Ambassadrice are scheduled to be published soon in a yet-untitled open-access book from Brill Academic Publishers, and the other items will be the subject of a series of forthcoming articles in Biblische Zeitschrift.  In addition to an undisclosed payment for his supervision of the underwater salvage operation, Barry Clifford was awarded the Medal for Service to the Republic of Malta.   Addition information about the salvage of the Ambassadrice can be found in Maltese news-articles here and here

Happy April Fools Day 2022!



Daniel Buck said...

I see you didn't provide a link to Balatro Aibreán. That's because it's a made up name combining Latin and Irish to convey the idea of April Fool. Good one James, you never disappoint!

James Snapp Jr said...

Daniel Buck, Good find, Watson! Also, if you highlight the blank lines after the end of the post, the greetings for today should appear!

Conan said...

Fooled me!

James Snapp Jr said...

Daniel Buck,
No, "Ambasadrice" is a made-up name; "polacca" is a real term for the type of ship that sunk in 1629 - see