Waiting for the Winds

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Seafaring in the Mediterranean 2,400 years ago was no easy feat, especially facing summer’s westerly winds – but ancient Roman sailors kept sailing east and trade with the Levant region went on, the Washington Post reported.

Researchers have long wondered how.

To solve this mystery, researcher David Gal and his colleagues built an exact replica of a fifth-century BCE ship and in 2018 used it to travel from Israel to Cyprus.

Gal said in his study the 74-hour journey helped researchers better understand the challenges ancient sailors faced.

The researchers then studied ancient and modern records about wind and waves around the Mediterranean, including collecting data points from 7,000 different locations. The results showed that those breeze cycles have not changed in the past three millennia.

Gal suggested that the ancient sailors would locate short breezes blowing to the west, which allowed them to sail toward Rome for a brief period. Once those winds stalled, they had to anchor and wait.

He added that the study offers new details about the complexities of sailing in the days of yore and the knowledge that many sailors had to have before taking to the seas.

“Coastal sailing was difficult and dangerous,” Gal said. “You might sit for 10 days waiting for a favorable breeze. It took tremendous expertise to do what they did back then.”

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