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The Belgammel Ram

ref. : en.770.2013 | 4 May 2013 | by Francis Leveque
bronze | IIIe century BC
Libye ( Libye )
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The Belgammel Ram was found by a group of three British service sports divers off the coast of Libya at the mouth of a valley called Waddi Belgammel, near Tobruk, in 1964. Using a rubber dinghy and rope they dragged it 25 metres to the surface. It was brought home to the UK as a souvenir but when the divers discovered that it was a rare antiquity, the ram was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Ken Oliver is the only surviving member of that group of three and the effective owner. He decided in 2007 that is should be returned to a museum in Libya. With the help of the British Society for Libyan Studies this was arranged in 2010. During the intervening period Dr Nic Flemming invited experts to undertake scientific investigations prior to its return to Libya in the National Museum in Tripoli in May 2010.


65 cm long, 20 kg

The fragments of wood inside the ram show signs of fire, and we now know that parts of the bronze had been heated to a high temperature since it was cast which caused the crystal structure to change. The ship may have caught fire and the ram fell into the sea.

Dr Chris Hunt and Annita Antoniadou of Queen’s University Belfast used radiocarbon dating of burnt wood found inside the ram to date it to 329-203 BC. This date is consistent with the decorative style of the tridents and bird motive on the top of the ram, which were revealed in detail by laser-scanned images taken by archaeologist Dr Jon Adams of the University of Southampton.

After analysis, the alloy has average percentage composition Cu = 86.9, Sn = 6.3, Pb = 6.6, and Zn = < 0.10. These results indicate the likelihood that the Belgammel Ram was cast in one piece and cooled as a single object. The isotope characterisation of the lead component found in the bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) can be used as a fingerprint to reveal the origin of the lead ore used in making the metal alloy. The result shows that the lead component of the metal could have come from a district of Attica in Greece called Lavrion.


The shape of bronze can not be identified as the main spur held under water in front of the bow. Indeed, it is attached to a curvature incompatible with attachment at the end of the keel. Therefore L. Basch attributed it to a merchant ship, the curvature of the bow seemed to match.

The Belgammel Ram is probably a Hellenistic or Roman “proembolion” placed above the rostrum. As to assign a small military vessel or tesseraria, or even a merchant ship equipped militarily, it seems a bit risky.


Bibliography :

  • L. Basch, Le musée imaginaire de la marine antique (MIMA), Institut hellénique pour la préservation de la tradition nautique, Athènes , 1987, p.407-408, n° 866-867
  • M.G. Pridemore, The form, function, and interrelationships of naval rams: a study of naval rams from antiquity, Texas A & M University , 1996
  • J.R. Adams, A. Antoniadou, C.O. Hunt, P. Bennett, I.W. Croudace, R.N. Taylor, R.B. Pearce, G.P. Earl, N.C. Flemming, J. Moggeridge, T. Whiteside, K. Oliver, A.J. Parker, The Belgammel Ram, a Hellenistic-Roman Bronze Proembolion Found off the Coast of Libya : test analysis of function, date and metallurgy, with a digital reference archive, in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, vol. 42, Academic Press , Londres , 2013