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					2. General topic two: Quali-quantitative description of catches, trade and trends in
marine animal populations

2.1. Catches
2.2. Food trade
2.3. Extinctions and extirpations

Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen, University of Southern Denmark

 Studying the early faunal history of the Black Sea (until c. AD 1200): quantitative
                               and qualitative aspects

This presentation will be divided into two parts. The first is a methodological discussion
of approaches to the study of human impact on marine resources in the period before the
appearance of the first quantitative historical data, focusing particularly on the
epistemological distinction between the aims of HMAP (History of Marine Animal
Populations) and CoML (Census of Marine Life), and its implications. The second part of
the paper is a case study of the Black Sea, a survey of the rich array of information source
available for the early history (c. 6000 BC – AD 1200) of this marine environment, and a
critical examination of their reliability and representativity.

Textual evidence for fishing and fish stocks

          The earliest literary reference to the Pontic fish trade is found in a fragment of
the comic poet Hermippos, shortly after 440 BC, where salt fish and mackerel, atrichos
and skombros are mentioned among the things that are brought to Athens from the
Hellespont, that is, presumably coming from the Black Sea.

          A century later, a forensic speech by Demosthenes Against Lakritos (Or. 35)
deals with the loss of a ship‟s cargo in the northern Black Sea. We are told that the ship
was on an eastbound coasting voyage along the southern Crimea to Theodosia as the first
leg of its return journey to Athens from the important Black Sea emporium at
Pantikapaion, modern Kerch, at the entrance to the sea of Azov. According to Lakritos,
who was acting as middleman for the owners of the ship, the cargo included “salt fish and
Koan wine”; according to the deposition given by one of the crew members, the cargo
included “twelve or eleven jars of salt fish” (tarichos). The significance of the jars will
become apparent later in this paper.

           The maritime trade between the Aegean and the Black Sea was important to
both sides. The city of Athens had long been unable to feed its own population and was
heavily dependent on the import of grain, primarily wheat and barley. This was exported
by the Greek colonies on the Black Sea, of which Pantikapaion was one. The colonies on
the north shore were dependent on the maritime trade for their supply of olive oil and first
quality wine. Olives would not grow in the northern Pontic region, and while wine – then
as today - was produced in the Crimea, it was not up to the standard of Aegean wine, a
point that is also made in Demosthenes‟ speech. So the early fish processing and fish
trade in the Black Sea needs to be seen within the context of the wider eastern
Mediterranean flow of commodities between south and north. The Pontic sea trade was
not without dangers, however; in a recently discovered epitaph of the third century BC,
the poet Poseidippos laments the death of his drowned friend … and warns his readers
not to “be eager to sail the Euxine”.

           Fishing and fish exports were thus important to the Greek settlements on the
northern Black Sea not only in basic economic terms, but because they enabled the
colonies to import the ingredients of civilized Hellenic life that they themselves were
unable to produce locally. This importance is reflected in the attempts of civic authorities
tried to protect and regulate the maritime staple trade, and in the prominent location of
the fish-processing establishments in relation to the cities, often within the city itself
where the plant would presumably also be more easily defended against raiders. There is
no substance, however, to the claim that the city of Chersonesos, modern Sevastopol,
actually erected a specialised market for merchants dealing in fish-sources; this
assumption rests on a misinterpretation of the relevant building inscription. What is
claimed as a specialised garos market is in fact a general food market or macellum.
           Fishing and fish processing in the Black Sea is also mentioned in a number of
later textual sources, among these the Nature of Animals by Aelian who describes tunny-
fishing at the entrance to the Thracian Bosporos, the Natural History of Pliny the Elder,
the Deipnosophistai or “philosophers‟ dinner” by Athenaios and in the Halieutika or
manual of fishing by Oppian. From an HMAP viewpoint, however, these sources share
two problematic qualities. The first is that it is not always possible to fix the information
given by these authors in time. Only Athenaios gives source references from time to time,
but all draw heavily on the writings of earlier naturalists, philosophers and topographers.
The second problem is the almost complete lack of quantitative information. At best, fish
stocks are described as “large”, “enormous”, “numerous”, “rich” or the like. Apart from
the “eleven or twelve jars” of fish mention in the speech against Lakritos, the classical
sources for the Black Sea contain no quantitative data.

           Despite the absence of chronological and quantitative data, there is still a mass
of qualitative information in the ancient literary sources, which, if properly combined,
will yield new insights of interest to HMAP. One way forward would be to establish a
database of ancient literary references to individual fish species. For instance, if the
database includes all the sightings of a specific fish that could be tied down
geographically, it is possible to generate a tentative distribution map to be compared with
distribution map for later periods. It is also possible to identify fish species that often
appear together or conversely never appear in combination, species that appear in the
early sources but are absent from the later, or vice versa. If the base includes information
on catch methods, the base would also shed light on the development of ancient fishing

           If one were to produce such a database, however, it should not be a purely
Black Sea project but include the Mediterranean as well. Working with D‟Arcy
Thompson‟s Glossary of Greek Fishes as a starting point and using modern word search
software, one could start by producing a database of all ancient Greek references to fish
species, then go on to search the Latin and eventually also Arabic and Byzantine sources.
The result would be a historical research tool of great value to HMAP researchers and to
students of marine environmental history in general.
           For later periods, administrative records such as tax returns provide time series
for sea fishing, but such series are absent from the ancient record. The reason for this is
that in classical antiquity, sea fishing – unlike freshwater fishing and fishing in harbours –
was not regulated, nor taxed, by the authorities. It may seem remarkable that a regime
that went out of its way to tax even urine, as we know from the celebrated anecdote about
Vespasian, did not place a duty or vectigal on fishing, but there it is. The same applied to
its successor state, the Byzantine Empire; in Dölger‟s survey of Byzantine financial
administration we search in vain for references to a tax on sea fishing. No financial
archives of the Kievan rus’ have been preserved, so it is only with the foundation of
Genoese colonies in the Crimea and on the Thracian Bosporos that we can hope for
financial or administrative sources to illuminate the quatities of fish caught in or exported
from the Black Sea. These archives are now being studies by Ruthy Gertwagen as part of
the HMAP Black Sea subproject.

           Turning from the fish themselves to the more general history of the marine
environment, we are somewhat better informed. Salinity, an important parameter for the
development and composition of fish population, can be traced with some confidence.
Starting from the baseline figure of 0 at the moment of the Bosporan transgression,
salinity gradually increased, reaching 1.1 per cent in the upper levels around 3500 YBP,
and 1.4 percent by the early third century AD, 1700 YBP. Today it is 1.7 per cent, still
much lower than most of the world‟s oceans. Then as now, there was a marked difference
between the upper stratum and the anoxic lower levels that form the bulk of the Black
Sea‟s water mass, but since these support no marine animals, they are irrelevant to the
question at issue. The transition to a saline environment meant that freshwater species
were forced out, except for those who were able to adapt to a brackish water regime or
migrate into the estuaries of the major rivers. (Some Black Sea species may have arrived
from the Atlantic via the Baltic-Black Sea threshold during a period of higher sea levels).
Within the last three thousand years, however, the historical period proper, all new
species arrived by way of the Thracian Bosporus. This makes the Black Sea of interest to
Mediterranean marine ecology as ell, since a species which can be documented in the
Black Sea by a given time must previously have been present in the Aegean.
   As far as variations in ambient temperature and weather are concerned, we have some
   scattered textual evidence for unusual weather conditions in the Black Sea area. In the
   third century BC (this is being studied by Vladimir Stolba for the DNRFCBSS) there
   seems to have been an agricultural crisis in the Crimea. Around 540, in the reign of the
   emperor Justinian, a sequence of unusually cold summers was registered at
   Constantinople, and during the abortive Arab siege of the city in the seventh century,
   many of the attackers froze to death during an exceptionally cold winter that the
   Christian defenders interpreted as evidence of divine protection but may have been
   due to volcanic dust in the atmosphere. These snips and bits of information can be
   correlated with systematic data series from other regions, the closest being Egypt,
   where we are very well informed about annual climatic variations thanks to the data
   from the Nilometer at Cairo. These variations depend on variations in the winter
   rainfall of equatorial Africa, which in turn in are linked to El Nino-type phenomena
   that would equally affect the Black Sea region. Varved cores taken from the Greenland
   ice cap provide comparable information on a global scale that includes documentation
   of major volcanic events as ash layers in the ice varves.

           From the Mediterranean world in general, a significant number of scenes
showing fish, fishing, fishing boats or the fish trade have been preserved, ranging from
the frescoes of Thera via the polychrome mosaics of Rome to early medieval manuscript
illustrations showing fishing scenes from the New Testament. If we confine ourselves to
the Black Sea region, however, the number is disappointingly small. This does not
necessarily mean that in the Black Sea there was less interest in fish or fishing, rather that
certain categories of visual art such as mosaics are only rarely found in the Pontic area.

           In any case, one should be warned against taking pictures as snapshots of real
life in the sea. The Pompeiian mosaic showing a wide variety of sea fish in incredible
pictorial detail is found in all standard accounts of ancient fishing as well as on the
HMAP-Med and Black Sea homepage. It is a wonderful piece of mosaic art, but it is not a
comprehensive survey of creatures that lived in the sea. First, it is a mosaic made of stone
pieces typically 7 by 7 millimetres each. Picture to yourself what it is like to make an
image from squares this size, and you will understand why shrimp rarely figure in marine
mosaics! The other point is the extreme detail of the fish depicted. Did the mosaic artist
go snorkeling with a sketch pad and an underwater ballpoint pen? Obviously not; these
are fish that he has seen among the fishermen‟s catches or, more likely, in the fish
market. In that case, the mosaic is not a survey of fish species as such, but a survey of
commercial species; and this may in itself be an important piece of information.

          Returning to the Pontic area, we have a wall painting (graffiti? check) of a
fishing boat with a net, found in Nymphaion, mode Geroevka south of Kerch, and from
Kerch itself, a somewhat eroded funeral relief.

          Fishing hooks, net weights and sinkers have been found at a number of places
in the Black Sea region. Just as finds of net weights are indirect evidence for the use of
nets, so finds of large stocks of fish hooks, several hundred in one location is evidence for
line fishing on a commercial scale and with multiple hook lines, possibly long lines.
Contrary to the assertions of T.W. Gallant, multiple hook lines were well known in
antiquity and described by Oppian in his Halieutika c. AD 170. And as our colleagues
working in the Gulf of Maine will tell us, long lines with multiple hooks can be a
devastatingly efficient fishing technique.

          Of course, for the purposes of CoML, we would like to know not only how fish
were caught but which fish were caught. The fishing gear provides some indications of
the types and size of fish for which they are intended. The most crucial information in
this respect is of course the size of net meshes, but nets, being made of organic materials,
have generally not been preserved on land. A net found in Egypt was reported to have a
mesh size of 19 mm square. No nets are so far cumented from the Pontic region but
organic materials would be preserved in the anoxic levels of the sea. Using a remote
controlled underwater robot, Bob Ballard has located a boat with part of its rigging intact
and there is a good chance that the in coming years, an ancient fish net can be brought out
of the Black Sea.

          The most striking archaeological evidence for ancient Black Sea fishing are the
fixed processing installations: tanks for producing garum and tarichos. These are
documented from a number of places along the northern BS shore, and useful
comparative evidence for their construction and operation is provided by similar
installations from Spain and North Africa, which have been studied by Athena Tradakas
and others. Many of these cisterns, however, were excavated twenty, thirty or even sixty
years ago, and an up-to-date critical reassessment of the evidence is long overdue. The
brief survey of Kadeev was excellent for its time, but it was written nearly four decades
ago, yet is still quoted in scientific publications. Among the questions that need to be
asked is the relation between tank size and productive capacity, where the estimates of
the excavators seem somewhat optimistic; the service life of a cistern, the production
cycle and the number of batches processed per year. In the cooler climate of the Crimea,
the fermentation process obviously tasks longer than in Baetica, Lusitania or North
Africa, so direct comparisons in terms of cubic metres may be misleading. Indeed, if
fishing for garum production was a seasonal occupation liked to specific species of
migrating fish, then it is possible that in the Crimea, only one production cycle was
completed per year.

          Also, one may be permitted to ask if all cisterns so identified were fish salting
cisterns? Cisterns served a number of purposes, including conservation of drinking water.
Because many of the Crimean excavation sites have been covered over – unlike the
factories in Spain and Morocco – it is impossible to make a first-hand re-examination of
the evidence, and the photographic documentation if not always of the first order.

          On the other hand, it also needs to be remembered that fish salting could take
place without cisterns, for example in wooden tubs, which would not be preserved; so our
ignorance of the exact number of processing tanks goes both ways.

          A peculiar and perplexing, not to say exasperating, feature of ancient Black
Sea fish processing is the complete lack of archaeological evidence for transport of the
finished product. While amphorae from the Western Mediterranean and Atlantic garum
production centres are recorded in large numbers – on some sites running into thousands
of fragments – and the wine trade from the Aegean into the Black Sea is similarly
documented by finds of wine amphorae, practically no amphora finds that can be linked
to the export of garum and other processed fish from the Black Sea (Lund and Gabrielsen
2004). Various suggestions have been put forward to account for the absence of
amphorae finds. One is that fish sauce was transported in re-used wine amphorae, which
is certainly feasible but has few parallels in ancient economic history. Another is that
Black Sea garum was exported in wooden barrels or vats while tarichos was exported in
bundles or baskets. There are parallels for the first procedure from the garum factories on
the coast of northern Gaul, which exported their products in wooden containers; and for
the second from modern-day Iceland where salt fish, that is, tarichos, was shipped in
bundles. But it is contradicted by our seaman from Halikarnassos, who explicitly states
that the tarichos taken on board in Kerch was packaged in kerameia, that is to say,
pottery containers. The absence of identifiable shipping containers for Pontic fish
products is, at present, the most perplexing problem facing students of Black Sea fishing;
it is also the main obstacle to a quantitative assessment of the evolution of the Black Sea
fishing industry over time, which in turn is crucial to the question of anthropogenic
impact on Black Sea marine life.

          The development of fish processing is a key element in the equation. As long
as fish consumption was limited by the transport range of fresh fish, it is doubtful, in
general terms, that man‟s harvesting from the sea had any significant impact on oceanic
marine life, given ancient population levels. Fishing in estuaries and enclosed waters
were an exception; it is also possible that supplying large population centres such as
Rome might overstress the regenerative capacity of marine ecosystems. Athena Tradakas‟
work in progress on the Tyrrhenian Sea might point in this direction, but a counter-
example is Istanbul, a major fish-eating population centre for nearly two millennia that so
far has failed to exhaust the fish resources of the Thracian Bosporus.

          With the introduction of fish processing, however, the balance between
populations on sea and land is disrupted. There is no longer any natural limit to the
exploitation of marine resources; this limit is technical, defined by the technology of
fishing, fish processing and transport. On these key aspects, terrestrial archaeology has a
great deal of information to provide.
          But what we really want to study are marine populations. How much help is
terrestrial archaeology for that purpose? Some archaeological sites in the northern Black
Sea region have yielded dated, stratified deposits of identifiable fish remains. Working
from this type of material, Natasha Ivanova published a paper in Offa (1994) attempting
to trace the variation in fish stocks in the Dineper estuary over time and relate a possible
decline in size of the invididual fish to human harvesting, i.e. overfishing. For its time,
Ivanova‟s paper represented a major advance, not least in the context of Russian and
Ukrainian scholarship, where it was generally assumed that the composition of Black Sea
fish stocks in antiquity was the same as today.

          This remarkable hypothesis rests on a magisterial statement by the doyen of
Russian Black Sea archaeology, professor A.L. Schcheglov. Such a static picture is a
priori highly unlikely bordering on the absurd, considering that salinity has increased by
at least 25% since antiquity, that more than a hundred new species have arrived, not to
speak of recent eutrophication of the northwestern shelf waters due to nutrients from the
Danube delta. It is also contraducted by the well-documented decline of a major Black
Sea species, Acipenser guldenstadtii .

          Ivanova‟s study thus served an important purpose in refuting an established
piece of Russian Orthodoxy (though a few scholars still cling to the Schcheglov
hypothesis, e.g. Stolba (2004)). As far as species composition is concerned and the link
between human harvesting and decline in size or numbers of different species, the results
are, alas, far less clear. The total statistical material is not large, and furthermore there
will have been some pre-sorting of the fish, meaning that commercial species will be
over-represented – species of no commercial value being dumped at sea or when sorting
the catch on the shore. Fishing methods may have changed over time. e.g. as garum
production increased in importance, smaller net meshes would have been used in order to
catch hamsi and other smaller species that were suitable for making garum but not
tarichos. Variations in fish deposits may thus reflect changes in terrestrial consumption
patterns rather than changes in the marine environment.
          The most serious problem in estimating marine populations from terrestrial
archaeological deposits is, however, the difficulty of identifying fish remains. Minute fish
bones and scales are easily overlooked, even by the most conscientious archaeologist.
Recent work by Inge Enghoff shows that unless all excavated material is sieved very
carefully, small fish bones are often overlooked. These figures are taken from a medieval
freshwater fishing site in Denmark. Using the conventional method of visual inspection
and hand sorting, two fish bones were found in a cubic metre of earth. By sieving the
material through a standard 3mm mesh, a type often used on excavation sites, we get
more than a thousand bones and a quite different picture. Now herring appears to be
dominant and bream plays no role to speak of. But if we run the same material through a
finer mesh, we get a quite different picture again: in fact the most important fish was not
herring at all, but smelt. In other words: what you sieve is what you get. On older
excavations in the Black Sea region, the material either was not sieved at all or sieved on
a coarse mesh. This means that the picture we have of fish species composition provided
by archaeoichtyological studies of fish remains from excavated terrestrial sites may be
less reliable than we tend to think. The best results would clearly be obtained from
“virgin” material, i.e. studies of a fish dump that has not previously been excavated and
where the material could be sieved and analysed to the highest standards. Identifying,
excavating and analysing a suitable fish dump in the northern Back Sea area is a
challenge for future scholars, but not possible within the time frame of the HMAP
          The Black Sea, however, offers an alternative approach. Because of the anoxic
conditions in the lower levels, organic materials, including fish remains, are preserved.
The deposits on the seabed are varved, meaning that inclusions of organic material within
the core can be precisely dated. To assess the potential of seabed deposits as sources for
the faunal history of the Black Sea, a pilot study of core samples held by the Middle East
Technical University was undertaken by Inge Enghoff in the spring of this year. Though
the core samples in question were originally taken by British Petroleum for a different
purpose and preservation conditions were less than ideal, it was possible to identify
remains of different fish species and date these by varv counting. Clearly, seabed cores
from the anoxic sections of the BS hold a great deal of potential qualitative information
about the species found in the BS at different periods of time; by DNA analysis the
relation of BS stocks to those in other oceans could be established. For this purpose,
however, “virgin” samples will need to be taken from the seabed, kept moist or frozen
and if they are to be used for DNA sampling, handled in a sterile environment.

           Because of the short span of the Black Sea‟s history as a saltwater ocean, the
preservation of organic materials at great depth in its anoxic layers, and because it is
linked to only one other ocean, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea offers a unique
opportunity for HMAP and CoML to write the history of one of the world‟s major bodies
of water. The opportunity not been exploited so far, but there is still time to do so.

Fabrizio Serena and Cecilia Mancusi (ARPAT - Area MARE, Livorno, Italy).

     Threatened species of the Mediterranean Sea. The case of Elasmobranchs:
     assessment of their status and international actions for their conservation.

Selachians are widely recognized to be under threat due to overexploitation. In this study
we report the IUCN Red List assessment and the exploitation status of the three main
Mediterranean protected species, the basking shark Cetorhinus maximus, the Devil ray
Mobula mobular and The Great white shark Carcharodon carcharias. The Conventions
and the Agreements dealings with nature conservation and in particular with the
protection of Selachians are summarized. Sharks and Ray fishery problems are outlined
and the international Plans of Action for the Conservation of Selachians (in particular
IPOA-Sharks) are briefly described. Some details of the Italian Action Plan and of other
Italian initiative aimed at the conservation of these group of fishes in the Mediterranean
Sea (MEDLEM project, FAO Field Identification Guide) are presented. Key infomation
needs which could be provided by an historical approach to extend this analysis to other
species are also reported.
Andrea Ballock, Laboratoire de l‟évolution et de l‟adaptation moléculaire, Ecole
Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Concarneau, France

    The Scarus of the Ancients1: the history of Sparisoma cretense in the first
The Mediterranean parrotfish, Sparisoma cretense, was a favoured food item during the
Graeco-Roman period. Widespread in the Aegean and the Dodecanese it was transfered
to the Tyrrhenien Sea in the first century AD. Its remains are known from a 6th Century
site in the Sinai, but its distribution throughout the mediaeval and post-mediaeval periods
is unclear. It is likely that overfishing during these periods contributed to its decline.
Largely absent from the Aegen today it is increasingly present in the Adriatic. Historical
records provide much praise for the Scarus, but apart from a few anecdotal reports we
know little of how it was captured. Quantitative descriptions of its capture were not
made until after the end of the 19th Century, but qualitative details can be gleaned from
archaeological and historical data. Understanding the biology of this species will help us
to interpret existing information about the history of this unusual marine animal.

    Food and Feeding ..................................................................................................................13
    Distribution ...........................................................................................................................15
    Transplantation of live fish ...................................................................................................16
    Fishing for Scarus .................................................................................................................19
    Scarus as a favoured food item .............................................................................................20
    Scarus as a remedy ................................................................................................................21
    Conclusion ............................................................................................................................23
    References ......................................................................... Error! Bookmark not defined.13

In antiquity, Sparisoma cretense was known as Skaros or Scarus cretensis. It was highly

esteemed as a table fish among the Greeks and fished in great quantities in the Aegean

and off the coasts of Asia Minor. Before the Christian era, however, it was not found in

the Mediterranean west of Sicily; Macrobius notes (Saturnalia 3.10) that the Romans did

 This title is borrowed from the Rev. W. Houghton who corresponded with the English naturalist Richard
Owen on the subject of rumination in fishes and published their discussion in the Intellectual Observer in
not even have a name for it -- Scarus is merely a Latin transcription of the Greek Skaros.

Oppian describes it using the words  (iv. 40),  (iv.88) and 

(iv.113) and Marcellus Sidetes calls it  'like a flower' (Thompson, 1974).

According to Nicander of Thyatira (cp. Athenaeus 7, 113), there were two kinds of

Scarus, one with many diverse colours named  and the other named  of a

dull grey tint. This is particularly interesting given the sexual dichromatism that adult

parrotfish exhibit. In most parrotfish of the family Scaridae, the males are distinctively

coloured and the females are drab blue or grey. In Sparisoma cretense, the opposite is

true (Gonzalez et al., 1994). The female of Sparisoma cretense is a brightly coloured,

mostly red fish with distinctive yellow markings, while the male is a uniform grey-

coloured fish.

           Food and Feeding
The Scarus was well known for its habit of chewing its food and was the only fish

believed to do so (Aristotle Historia Animalium 8.2). As a result, it was called 'the

ruminant'  (Aristotle Historia Animalium, 632b I0; De Partibus Animalium 675 a

4; Pliny ix.29.62; Ovid Hal. 119; Athenaeus 319 e; Aelian i.2, ii.54; Oppian H. i. 135).

Nonetheless, none of these or later authors (eg. St. Basil and St. Ambrose) go so far as to

refer to the Scarus as a 'Sea Cow'. The Italian ichthyologist, Grifinni in his Ittiologia

Italiana (1903) reaffirms the habit of rumination " erbivoro e rumina l'alimento", but

Thompson (1947) suggests that it seems more likely that the Scarus only chews up its

tough food with its great teeth. Thompson goes on to specify that the Scarus feeds on

seaweed such as ' ' (Aristotle H A. 591 a 5) and has large flat teeth, unlike

those of any other fish (H A. 505 a 28; P A. 662 a 5, 675 a 1; see also Lacépède Histoire
des Poissons viii p. 90), referring in particular to a passage from the elder Pliny (xi.162) -

piscium omnibus serrati (dentes) praeter scarum; huic uni aquatilium plani.

           Morphological basis of rumination
Norman (1947) was mistaken when he suggested that „the sliding movements of the

pharyngeals when engaged in crushing pieces of weed‟ led classical authors to affirm that

thos fish „chews the cud‟. Although the pharyngeal bones of parrotfish do undergo sliding

movements (Board, 1956; Gobalet, 1989; Bullock & Monod, 1997), it is not possible to

see these bones when observing a feeding fish. The pharyngeal bones are buried deep in

the pharynx (Monod et al, 1994) and are not visible unless one dissects the fish (which

presumably Aristotle would have done). Nonetheless there does seem to be a

morphological basis that may explain the ancients' reference to chewing in the Scarus. As

in all species of parrotfish, the jaws of Sparisoma cretense are equipped with numerous

teeth in the upper and lower jaws that form serrated cutting edges that occlude against

one another (Board, 1976; Monod et al., 1994). In contrast, unlike other species of

parrotfish, the Scarus has a very large, compound adductor muscle inserting on both the

internal and external surfaces of the lower jaw. This muscle serves to pull the mandible

forward and backward (Bullock & Monod, 1997), allowing the teeth to act as a sawing

device and a distinct, to and fro movement is visible while the fish is eating. It seems

likely that this movement of the mouth, that is clearly visible to any observer, is what

sparked the idea of „chewing‟ rather than the movement of the pharyngeal bones (which

are in the pharynx and not visible).
Sparisoma cretense is an eastern mediterranean fish (Fig. 1). It was abundant in Crete and

in the Cyclades. According to Pliny (ix. 62) it is very abundant in the Carpathian sea

between Crete and Rhodes but never goes of its own accord beyond Cape Lectum in the

Troad. Quintilian notes (6.10.24) its absence from the mare nostrum and Aristotle (HN

9.37) comments on its absence from the lagoon of Pyrrha in Lesbos. D'Arcy Thompson

(1947 p. 240) suggests that this was the case for many sea fish and likely due to the

brackish waters of the lagoon. Bekker-Neilsen (personal correspondence) suggests that

the high salinity of Pyrrha lagoon would have been a deterrant to many species of fish.

Several other Roman authors report that it is only found rarely in Italian waters when it

has been brought in with thunder storms. The Roman agricultural writer Columella

(8.16), writing around the mid-first century AD, likewise notes that Scarus/Sparisoma

cretense is absent from the western seas. He reports the Scarus as being common in the

Asian and Greek littoral, frequent in Sicilian waters, but never being taken in the northern

Tyrrhenian (Ligusticum) and only rarely in the Iberian mediterranean (Ibericum mare).

Nonetheless, Lucian (De Hist. Conscr. c. 28) reports that they are large and fine in
auretania, referring to the Mediterranian coast of North Africa.

Figure 1. Map of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea showing the distribution of the Scarus
before the first century. Literary and archaeological sources are indicated. Fished widely
in the Aegean and in the Dodecanese, it was abundant in the Carpathian Sea. Its remains
are known from Iron Age and Minoan deposits at Kommos and from an early Byzantine
site in the Sinai. It is not known from around Corsica and Sardenia. Its presence on the
Egyptian coast and in the Levant have yet to be confirmed.

Transplantation of live fish
Before Columella, there had been attempts to bring live specimens of the Scarus from

Greece to Italy and keep them in fish-ponds there, but it had proven impossible to keep

the fish alive for any length of time. The reason for this is clearly that their fishponds

were too shallow for the purpose. Columella (8.17.4) recommends a depth of seven feet
(c. 2.1 metres) for a fish enclosure in the sea, and nine feet (c. 2.65 metres) for an onshore

fishpond. Preserved structures vary from 1.5-3 metres in depth (Higginbotham, 1997). In

its natural environment, however, Sparisoma cretense lives at considerably greater

depths, typically between 5 and 15 metres (Fig. 2).

About the same time, however, a renewed attempt was made to introduce Sparisoma

cretense to the western Mediterranan. During the reign of the emperor Claudius, the fish

was introduced to the Tyrrhenian sea by his admiral, Optatus. Transported from the

Carpathian Sea in large quantities in vessels specially equipped with vivaria, the fish

were liberated into the open sea between the mouth of the Tiber and the Campanian

coast. The transfer took place around AD 50, and the information is found both in the

Natural History of the Elder Pliny (HN, 9.29) and in the Saturnalia of Macrobius (3.10).

We have no information about the exact location of where the fish were obtained,

whether they were purchased and at what cost, nor how many fish were involved. In his

book entitled the History of Fishing, Thomazi says that Optatus had a large quantity of

scarus captured, that they were placed in boats with reservoirs that had been invented by

Ionian seamen and returned to the sea at Ostia (Thomazi, 1947). From his reading of the

pertinent texts in their original context, Bekker-Neilsen (personal correspondence)

suggests that Optatus most likely

             depth in metres
                                     Recommended   Villa of Tiberius   Casa di Meleagro   S. cretense




Figure 2. Histogram showing the depth of fishponds in the open sea as recommended by
Columella, that of two Roman fishponds that are still preserved today, and the depth at
which the Scarus is frequently found.

purchased the fish from Greek fishermen. The technical details of the ships are not

described but presumably they were a larger variant of fishing boats with built-in fish

wells, exemplified by the wreck known as “Fiumicino 5” excavated in 1959 in the port of

Claudius at Ostia near Rome. Fiumicino 5 has not been satisfactorily dated but is most

likely to be from the period AD 50-120 (Bekker-Neilsen, personal correspondence).

We are also in the dark as to why the Emperor Claudius would command such an

endeavour. A sickly, physically weak individual, Claudius was marked by a severe

childhood illness (possibly cerebral palsy) an affliction that stayed with him into his adult

years. Claudius possibly ate the Scarus because of its invigorating virtues (see below) and
sought to ensure his own personal supply. Nonetheless, Claudius was one of the few

Roman Emperors who took an interest in the environment. Columella apparently

complains about the exhastive fishing activities in the Tyrrhennien, saying that the

fishermen didn‟t leave the fish sufficient time to reach maturity (Thomazi, 1947, p.200), a

sentiment that is taken up by satyrical writers of the time (eg. Juvenal Satire V). It is

possible that Claudius endeavoured to appease growing social concern about the lack of

fresh fish.

In any case a total ban on Scarus fishing was imposed in the Tyrrhenian Sea for a five-

year period following the event, to protect the stock. The project was successful; by the

late 60‟s or early 70‟s, the Scarus was frequently encountered off the Tyrrhenian coast,

flourishing particularly well along the Sicilian coasts.

              Fishing for Scarus
This ban on Scarus fishing gives us some information of the way in which Scarus was

captured, for it specifies that whoever was to catch a Scarus, regardless of the way in

which it was captured, was obliged to release it immediately. While it is possible that

Sparisoma cretense was caught with any or all of the fishing techniques that were

available at the time (see Beeker-Neilsen, 2002), it seems most likely that some sort of

net was used most successfully. Many of the ancient authors refer to its capture with, and

in particular of its ingenuity for escaping from, a net or weel (Aelian i.2, i.4; Oppian H.

iv. 59-64,78, 100; Ovid Hal.15). If a fish were taken in a net, others would come rushing

after the captured fish (Thomazi, 1947, p.197). Fishermen thus towed a live fish with a

lead sinker behind the boat (Oppian H. iv.78, 100) and a net behind that. When sufficient
fish were so attracted, the „live bait‟ was released into the net and the other fish promptly

followed. The technique is illustrated the Dictionary of Antiquities of Daremberg and

Saglio (Thomazi, 1947, fig. 65) and was apparently still used by Greek fishermen in the

early 20th Century (Apostolides, 1907, p.45). A similar technique was in use in the

western Mediterranean during the 13th and 14th centuries to capture another fish, the grey

mullet (A. Trakadas, personal correspondence).

According to Aelian (xii.42) coriander was used as a bait with much success. It is not

known how the coriander was employed, whether it was used fresh or dried, to bait a line

or placed in a basket that was subsequently weighted with lead and sunk to the sea

bottom. Neither is it known where this tradition arose. While this plant is thought to have

originated in Asia, D‟Orbigny (1867) reports that it grows spontaneously throughout the

mediterranean basin.

           Scarus as a favoured food item
Regardless of how it was captured, when the ban on Scarus fishing in Italian waters was

lifted, it became one of the most highly appreciated fish in Rome, where it was served

with its intestines (Thomazi, 1947 p.208) as was the tradition in Crete (Belon p.239).

Gellius (vi. 16) and Petronius (ap. Macrobius Sat. xix.33) even preferred the Scarus from


At the time when the Scarus was still virtually unknown in Italy, it was already

considered a great delicacy. According to Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 320c),

Archestratus praised it (fr. 13, 41) at Chalecedon, Byzantium and Ephesus, and as
recounted by and Ennius (Varia 34.44; Hedyphaegetica fr. 529), the Persians considered

Scarus an exquisite dish (see Radcliffe, 1926 p.161). The poet Martial (Epigrams,

13.84.), who tasted Scarus towards the end of the first century AD, did not like the taste

of the flesh and considered only the entrails to be edible. His was clearly a minority view,

although Philotimus (ap. Galen vi. 718) agreed that the flesh be tough „ό'

others found it light and flaky (Athenaeus, VIII, 51). According to the elder Pliny, writing

before AD 79, the Scarus was in his time “a fish of the first rank” (HN 9.29.) and very

expensive (HN 32.151.).

           Scarus as a remedy
The description of natural remedies was a subdiscipline of medical writing and fish

formed an important part of the pharmacopeia of ancient physicians. Celsus provides

numerous plant remedies and treatments for various ailments, but fish do not figure in

specific remedies, rather they are indicated as the first food to be taken after treatment

(eg. De Medicina 4.5, 3.22). Few fish are specifically cited by name and the Scarus does

not appear to be mentioned. According to Thompson (1947, p. 241) the gall of Scarus is

said by Aelian (xiv. 2) to be good for jaundice and liver complaint. This reference to the

gall bladder of Scarus is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the consumption of fish

gall bladder can cause acute renal failure (eg. Xuan et al., 2003) so its use as a remedy

must have been a dicy enterprise, to say the least. Secondly, while the gall bladder of

several fish species was, nonetheless, used in the treatment of various aliments, none of

the numerous remedies derived from aquatic animals presented by the elder Pliny (HN,

book 12) mention the Scarus. Finally, the Scarus, like all parrotfish, has neither a stomach

nor a gall bladder (Al-Hussaini, 1947; Gohar & Latif, 1956). This fish does have a pair of
unusual sac-like structures in the pharynx, called pharyngeal sacs (Sagemehl, 1885;

Bullock & Monod, 1997) which can be removed from the fish without killing it by

carefully lifting the operculum and cutting away the opercular membrane, which may

explain the reference to skilled fishermen in the citation from Aelian. It may be that these

pharyngeal sacs are what is being referred to as the gall of the Scarus.

In his account of the use of fish species in ancient medicine Nonnius (1665) suggests that,

although authors often disagreed on the wholesomeness of different fish, Galen, Diphilus

the Siphnian and Xenocrates all agree as to the virtues of the Scarus (Radcliffe, 1926,

p.162). Nonnius is likely to have read what remains of Galen‟s work, but the information

he attributes to Diphilus and to Xenocrates most likely comes from Athenaeus. Diphilius

says the flesh of Scarus is easily digestible and good for stomach disorders but warns that

“the fresh ones are less popular than the others, because they hunt the sea-hares and feed

on them, owing to which their entrails are apt to cause cholera morbus” (Athenaeus, VIII,


Cholera morbus is an ancient medical term that was used well into the nineteenth century

for describing diverse forms of gastero-enteritis or dyssentry, undoubtedly caused by a

variety of alimentary intoxications (similar to the reactions seen in some people today

when they eat certain seafood) as well as by aemobic infection as we know today. The

sea-hare or maris lepus was considered to be extremely toxic (Aelian, xvi. 19, Pliny NH,

9.72; 72.24) and could cause death if medicine was not administered. Pliny provides

several remedies for poisoning from the sea-hare (NH, 32.3) but also describes the use of
sea-hare in remedies for a variety of aliments such as afflictions of the eyes (72.24), gout

(72.36 ), intestinal hernia (72.33), and scrofula (72.28).

Sea hares are small marine gastropod molluscs of the suborder Anaspidea. Several

species are found in the Mediterranean, most of which belong to the family Alyspiidae.

Indeed it is a species of this family, Aplysia depilans Gmelin, 1791, that is attributed to

the maris lepus of the ancients. Cuvier suggests that the choice of this genus for the sea-

hare is unfortunate since Pliny uses the name Aplysia to describe another marine

invertebrate, a species of sponge. Cuvier also contests the poisonous nature of the sea-

hare. While many species of Aplysia produce an acrid and noisesome ink-like secretion

when disturbed, they are not in themselves poisonous to touch. In fact, a number of

lactonized dihydroxy fatty acids produced in the skin of Aplysia depilans are toxic to

fishes (Jha & Zi-rong, 2004), but not to man. Nonetheless, this small mollusc may be

poisonous when eaten because it feeds on a variety of algae and may harbour toxic

substances derived from these plants. The consumption of the sea-hare was thus a risky

business and it is said to be at the origin of a number of intriguing poisoning events

during the first centuries of the Christian era (Cilliers & Retief, 2000).

The Scarus was clearly a luxury food item in the first centuries. Numerous literary

sources attest to its status and its high price.

Its absence from the pictorial record remains unexplained. While we may not expect it to

appear on pottery (Bekker-Neilsen, 2002), given its distinctive coloration, its absence
from frescoes and mosaics is curious. A thorough examination of mosaics for the

presence of this fish, in its different life stages, may be warranted.

Archaeological remains of the Scarus are also lacking. Although Sparisoma cretense is

found in Iron Age and Minoan deposits at Kommos (Rose, 1995), it does not appear

again until the early byzantine period. This may be because archaeological deposits

dating from the 3rd or 4th centuries on-wards are themselves lacking.

A decline in its consumption in the late Roman period may be related to intensive fishing

activity which we know depleted fish stocks in the Tyrrhenien. Decline in its

consumption throughout the middle ages may also have been related to the association of

the Scarus with alimentary intoxications. In any case, by the time of Lacépède esteem for

this fish had become no greater than that for any other fish.

While economic interest in the Scarus continued, albeit in a minor way, into the 20th

century, it is not widely fished today. Given its use as a food fish in the past, it may be a

potential species for renewed interest in the future. The biology of Sparisoma cretense

and its potential for exploitation by pisciculture may be an interesting avenue for future



I extend my thanks to Athena Trakados and Tønne Bekker-Neilsen.
Sabine Florence Fabijanec, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Zagreb, Croatia.

                   AT THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES.

The Eastern Adriatic coast is 2.488 km long from Istria to Albania, with in total 66

inhabited islands, 659 uninhabited islands, 496 rocks at sea and 82 shelves above the sea

level. This coast is primarily abrupt, intersected with many gulfs and bays, and protected

by a series of islands from the island of Lošinj to Dubrovnik, while the bottom is more

abrupt than flat. Such configuration of the ground contributes to the existence of an

abundant and diversified fauna. This results in the fact that in the Middle Ages fishing

was a very developed activity on the whole of the Dalmatian territory since 995. At the

time which interests us, Dalmatia is controlled by the Signoria but, compared to other

economic sectors, fishing is out of its direct control, so all the communes have fishing

like one of the bases of the production.


In the Adriatic, the most frequent benches are those of sardines, mackerels and tunas. For

fish of the flat funds, most representatives are the whitings and picarels. Fishing can be

only temporary and seasonal, thus is very fluctuating and unstable. Living positions, the

ways and the extent of the field of displacement of these fish remain still unknown. The

mass of sardines, for example, always fluctuates, and their colonies migrate according to

not yet controlled circuits.
In Zadar, the most fertile bays are those of Molaščica (in exploitation of 1440 to 1501) in

Molat and of Sakarun and Telašćica in Dugi otok, famous for their production of small

fish with blue flesh. Thus, fishermen of surrounding agglomerations meet them to fish in

these two zones. This kind of blue flesh fish requires moving away from the coast up to

15 to 18 nautical miles, and even, during summer nights, requires being away from the

coast for nearly twenty days. Sixteen small societies represent a capacity of 200 nets with

traction. The island of Iž alone has nine of them. By taking into account the production of

the handle of Novigrad and the islands of Rab and Pag, it was possible to fish until nearly

30.000 tuna pounds per year.

As for the district of Šibenik with its forty islands, a testimony of 1487 states that there

are zones “rich in fish”, which contain shells, dogs-teeth, stripped mullet, bugs, red-

scorpion fish, red mullet, see bass, black gobys, gilthead breams, common sea-breams,

squids, mackerel, picarels, annular breams and tuna.

On the island of Rab and the islands which are attached to him, the places of fishing are

much diversified, that is for fish, shells, molluscs and crabs. Marine grasses, the shelves

and the hollows generally shelter common pandoras, black breams and scorpion fishes.

At same the coast, along the headlands, the dogs-teeth is established, a specialty of the

fisheries of Rab. The populations of conger eels and octopuses are hidden deep sea. In the

sandy and muddy splits of Lopar, Supetar and Kampor, there are benches of stripped

mule, of European see low and of gilthead bream. Bays of all the islands are appropriate

for fishing of all species of picarels. In the zones more slings and sand spreaders there are

common hakes, whitings and blue whitings.

Among the techniques of fishing, the trawl net (tracta) is a net with traction of twenty-

five steps long at a cost of eight pounds. These nets often have two owners or more -

parcenevoli - who take part proportionally in the distribution of fish caught with their net.

The single owners also exist, like the fisherman Nicolas Frančić, who in 1573 buys eight

nets at the cost of 52 pounds. These nets, intended for sardines, require the use of

approximately three boats of four sailors per net. Apart from tracta, there are still two

techniques: the rete (first mentioned in 1540), net in suspension adapted to fishing with

tuna on all the broad one of the coasts, with which the fishermen catch fish that they

frightened as a preliminary, and the parangal (with a testimony of it in 1556).

On the island of Rab, the first net for tuna of Saint George is mentioned at the end of

sixteenth century in the municipal Statute. The net was posed at sea at a distance of 40

measures with an opening towards the North-West; it was long 70 m and located at 8 m

of depth above the sandy and muddy ground. The tuna benches arrived from the low

Cape of the island of Dolina or the channel of Barbat by the North-West. A point of

observation was high on the top of the small island of Saint George. When the net was

tightened by arrival of tunas, all the port of Rab was closed. Fishing took place only

during the season of autumn.

In the waters of Zadar old techniques of fishing are practised such as that of “roasting”

(svaržale, sparžiti). In this system, one burns a section of blackcurrant branch in calm

weather of sea without the moon. This section is gashed with the axe on a part in form of

a torch, carried then on the shoulders by the fisherman along the coast crossing from rock

to rock. The fish is attracted and plugged by the light and gets caught. When the use of
the blowtorch is introduced, the section is soaked in the gasoline for better burning. The

expression of “roasting” was also employed for gashed blackcurrant or the dry vine

ignited on a fitted latticework on basis out of iron placed close to the poop of the boat and

reinforced with the bar by two iron bars at the time of the fish fishing with blue flesh. At

the end of sixteenth century, the first fish closing vats appear and they portioned part of

the sea for the breeding of fish. The first vat found in the sources of Rab goes back to

1577, property of a certain Zacharie Benedetti with the agreement of the count and

captain of this town.

Finally, the patrician of the island of Hvar, Petar Hektorović, wrote the text «Of fishing

and conversations of fishing» – written in old čakavien literary language from Dalmatia –

in which he describes three days spent together with two fishermen in the waters of Stari

Grad on the island Hvar, during the summer of 1555. He gives an account of a standard

technique of fishing which comprises similarities with what had already been mentioned.

Certain boats are more specifically attached to fishing. On the island of Rab, for example,

the zaupo (copulo, zepula, zolla) is name for a boat of various sizes, dug in a tree trunk,

which can support the weight of eight people, and used for the needs for the inshore

fishing of the local and insular population.


The clearest illustrations of the organizations of fishing can be located in the insular

areas. Examples relate to in particular to the island of Rab – locality which had one of the

first confraternities of fishermen, “fraternitas piscatoris”, at the beginning of fourteenth

century –, as well as the islands of the district of Zadar. In the sixteenth century, the
fishing companies function mainly on the same principles as the other forms of

commercial regrouping. Bailiffs or owners themselves – as well lay as ecclesiastical –

maritime territories (islands, bays and zones of coast considered as private property)

provide the fishermen with the ship, the fishing tackle, with fishing rights in their water,

and sometimes salt necessary later for the brine. In the major part of the cases, the

fisherman, as a socius tractans has the duty to sell in exchange a part of his fish to the

socius stans, for a price already agreed in the contract. The fish share granted varies

between the totality of the fishing or only a certain percentage of the production,

generally half. Moreover, the fisherman is expected to cover the expenses of the ship. He

generally hands on the product of his fishing to the investor on a daily basis. The

landowners can join merchants in parallel. The latter are also sometimes owners of ship,

in which case they contribute to the later transport of fish collected for their export. Thus

in 1529, Marin, a merchant of Šibenik, associates with the patrician Frano Cernota from

Rab. The latter provides him with the net and all the other instruments necessary for

fishing for shells and other marine species. He also provides salt. Marin gives his ship for

export in the Marches. It will in kind give to Cernota part of its profit. In the same time,

Cernota joins several fishermen and sells already fished salted mackerels. On his part,

Marin buys salted fish in Istria and will sell the whole in the Marches.

The situation is similar in territorial waters of Zadar. The fishermen gather together and

then with the merchants for the sale of their fishing on the market of Zadar (fresh), then

on the markets of Venice and Italy (generaly in the brine state).

As time goes by and as some conflicts arise, the fishermen do not remain less exposed to

the irregularities of the commune. They have to undergo the consequences of the political
climate about it: they are engaged in the galley for the Republic and must take part in the

fight against Uscocks. This pressure has as a consequence the drop of the number of nets

to draft from 60 to 18. However the commune continues to require them those 200 annual

sardine barrels in spite of the drop of the production. To be able to satisfy this

requirement, the fishermen are obliged to sell at half price, which represents, according to

the handwritten report of their complaint, a loss of 6.000 ducats. In 1537, the Venetian

government must again intervene in favour of the fishermen against the auction sale of

the 200 barrels. The administration of Zadar obliges the fishermen then to direct the 200

barrels to the city under penalty of a fine of 25 pounds. However until now, the fishermen

sold their fish on the spot and the commune came to seek its share. With this new decree,

the fishermen are obliged to come into town with all their goods, in order to maintain the

contacts with the salesmen on the spot what causes additional expenses. For this reason,

one of the consequences is that the fishermen must throw towards the end of May half of

fish over the board because of the fall of the traffic fishmonger. Moreover, the obligation

to have a storage place downtown involved the need for negotiating loans with guarantee

from the Jews, whose fishermen consider the interests exorbitant. The last consequence

of these new rules lies in the price of fish. The fishermen also work at a loss: they sell ten

sardine heads for a penny, whereas 1.000 sardines were worth twenty pounds. They thus

lose the three quarters of the sale value.


The decrees of the Statutes clearly organize the progress of the fish sale. In Korčula, the

fisher brings his fish in the market and he must sell it to every purchaser who arrives. If
the fresh or salted fish that he wanted to sell on the island whereas he was fished

elsewhere, the fisherman was to pay to the bailiff a tenth of the goods or its value in

currency, in the name of the tax, while in Hvar, it was forbidden to the population going

ahead of the boats to acquire fish before the unloading, because, if not, the payment of the

tax would have been avoided. In Skradin, as soon as the fishermen return from fishery,

they must leave their equipment in the deposit of the city, while in Split, they were to sell

fish as of their return and only in fish shops; moreover, they have to stay while they are

selling them – probably to be sure that the sale would be quick and the fish still fresh.

Almost in all the communal prohibitions it is stipulated not to sell fish before the total

unloading of the fishery product of the boat, because it is expected that the salesmen will

initially pay the tax for the right to hold a stand. In Šibenik, the sale of fish is organized

on bank under palate, or in butchery; in Trogir, the fish is sold on the port or in the

market; in Skradin, the fish market was to be far away from the coast; only the Statute of

Hvar stresses prohibition to wear some bonnet on the head. The Statute of Split insists

that the fish is fresh, day even, except the day of Lent, when the fishermen are

exceptionally authorized to sell it the next morning.

With regard to the prices, only small numbers of Statutes indicates some values, while in

Korčula, it is forbidden to make competition by applying a lower price of the

merchandise, especially in the fish shops. The most expensive fish are the tuna and the

ray in Rijeka, and the cuttlefish in Split. According to the Statute of Rijeka, the price of

fish with their scales is less expensive during Lent: from Easter until the Carnival, each

pound is worth three bechi, and during Lent, two pennies. In 1561, the prices of these fish

in Rab are distributed at a rate of 27 pennies per moggia of mackerel, 22 pennies per a
thousand of picarel; as for fish of better quality, it is sold for six pounds the hundred


According to all the Statutes, and as a testimony of the continuity of the tradition, the

fishermen had to give the most beautiful parts of catches to various representatives of the

communal authority.


Bulletins of the customs taxes of export, contraliterre, represent the principal source for

the study of the market of fish export. We have contraliterre for Split throughout the

sixteenth century and some bulletins for Šibenik and Trogir.

a) In Split

In Split, the majority of fish is marketed already salted (pesci saladi). In the sixteenth

century, principal measurement used is the barrel, but we have also cavi, small casks,

sacheti and miara, without counting the sale in bulk (a refuso), that represents a good part

of the exports: in 1503, fish is exported in Molla, in Abruzzi and the Marches; in 1511,

fish a refuso is transported for Venice; in 1515, ships containing this loading move

towards the Marches and Fermo. The registers generally specify that there are dry fish

(seccho). We unfortunately do not have any reliable system of equivalence, but if we

refer to the years 1581-82, we see that this traffic can show great variations: nearly

10.000 fish can be exported in only one year.

Throughout the century, 25 voyages on the whole were accomplished. The market share

of Venice accounts for 20%, followed on behalf by the Marches and sottovento equally,
with 16% of the market of export. This starting number is very weak, even more so as

there is no trace of this trade for the years 1504, 1528 and 1529, neither in the register of

1557-1560. It would be thus a rather marginal traffic.

We also can observed the traffic of needles (agui, belone acus) – which is evident only

for the years 1503 to 1530 with five barrels transported towards Apulia in 1503-1504 and

three barrels going to Syracuse in 1530 – and traffic of horse mackerel (suri) – which

export relates only to the year 1511 and the Eighties. In the year 1583, the merchant

Antonio di Garzani specifies, when he exports horse marckerel, it is twelve barrels

containing in all 26.400 fish, which means a rate of 1 barrel = 2.200 fish. If one made the

total of the 46 barrels exported in 1583, on the basis of this provisional equivalence, we

would obtain a total of 101.200 fish.

Mackerels (scombri, scussi) are exported in three containers: barrels, bags and miara, in

the direction of Abruzzi, Naples and Apulia. The exports of tuna (tonina) appear until the

Thirties to Apulia (Trani, Otranto).

Finally, sardines (sardelle) are the subject of the greatest traffic, in many directions. Alas,

the containers are almost quite as various: the barrel, the small cask, the caratelo and the

miara. To a great extent dispatched sardines are already salted. Except during the years

1503 and 1511, the annual average reaches the 450 barrels.

Since we are unable to consider volume sent in each direction, we can at least know the

various destinations, assuming the extent of this traffic. The fish are exported to Istria

(Piran), Dalmatia (Hvar, Šibenik and Zadar), the Eastern Italian coast (Apulia – Termoli,

the Marches – Lanciano, Romania – Ravenna), Cyprus (Nicosia), Candie and the

Venetian colonies in Egea (Monemvasie and Zante), the cities of the Croatian coast
(Bakar, Senj, Karlobag, Krk and Rab). As we progress in time, the quoted ports are

increasingly rare, to be reduced to those of Apulia, in Piran and sottovento in the years


b) In Šibenik and Trogir

In the years 1441-1442, in Šibenik, the fish are exported fresh, dried, salted or with the

gelatine. The quantities are not very abundant and misrepresentative of the aggregate

output. Mackerel and scad are most exported from April till September and less during

the winter. The main directions of exportations are the Anconitan‟s Marches and Abruzzi,

thus most quantities of salted fish were transported toward the Croatian coast (Senj,

Rijeka) and to present day Montenegro (Kotor).

In the sixteenth century (1576-1577), the appearance of new techniques of fishing and the

political pressure resulting from the Ottoman conquest increase the importance of the

production of fish and its export from the Dalmatian zones. A new tax on the sale of fish

is even introduced. The main direction of exports is the other coast of the Adriatic,

indicated under the term of sottovento. From Trogir, 30% of exports go to the Venetian

Republic area – Chioggia, Friul, Portugrauano, and also to the island of Corfu, and 70%

to the Anconitan Marches.
Alfons Garrido Escobar, Social Marine Fishery Study Group, Girona University, Spain.

  Evolution of fishery technologies and uses of territory: a long term point of view.
  Evolution of fishery technologies and uses of territory: a long term point of view.

Through the times, Catalan fishermen had been forced to adapt their behaviour to different
environment conditions to assure their subsistence and their social reproduction. We define
fishing as refuge-activity which increase when the context is on crisis and it is abandoned
when situation improve. In this paper two very similar historical conjunctures occurred in
15th and 17th centuries are compared and analyzed to observe the reaction of the economic
sector in terms of techno-ecological changes and social organization. It is demonstrated that
fishermen reacted to crisis increasing the fishing effort, introducing new and more
productive technologies and establishing a new legislations to manage the activity.

Catalonia is a territory located in the extreme Northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, with 31.900
km2 of territorial extension 550 Km of the Mediterranean coast. Through the Catalan
history the fishing activities have had great importance to the subsistence of their inhabitants
and it have been playing many different roles as an strategic sector. Its evolution was affected
and altered in the long term by a set of demographic, technological, political and social
changes. So fishing turned gradually from a pure few developed subsistence occupation into
an industrial one which is dominated actually by the commercial capital and the capitalist
ideology (Alegret, 1999). We want to focus our research on the denominating Ancien Regim -
a long historical period which extends from the Middle Age until the end of 18th century –
and on a region in the north of Catalonia called Empordà. This paper points out the most
important factors which motivated the main transformations in fisheries activities during
that historical period and identifies the consequences that this evolution could have in the
territory, the ecosystem and the social and cultural environments.
In the Empordà, where to fish was done near the coast, at small scale and within parameters
of households exploitation (Mateo, 1999), coastal villagers conceived this extractive activity
as an adaptive strategy to the continuous changes that took place around to the immediate
context. Using many historical sources, we analyse how fishermen adapted their behaviour to
each change in the ecological, social or economic environment which more directly affected
them and the strategies used to assure their living and social reproduction. Perhaps, to fish is
the most sensible employment of historical conjunctures, so the periods of crisis are the best
observatory from which the social scientists can observe and understand the historical
fishermen’s behaviour. Also we want to examine briefly its effects on the ecosystem, such as
biodiversity and the abundance of target species.

So our aim in this paper is to compare two very similar conjunctures which took place
between the 14th and 18th centuries and observe how we can establish similar guidelines of
behaviour of this sector in terms of stimuli and responses for a similar historical context.
The first example turns around the crisis of subsistence that happened in Catalonia from
1330 to 1430; the second coincides with the period of wars, plagues and bad harvests that
knocked down the Empordà between 1650 and 1700. The study of both periods suggests
the hypothesis that fishermen reacted to the depressive conjunctures of their immediate
surroundings intensifying the fishing effort, introducing new and more productive gears and
fishing systems, in spite of the reluctance of the sector. This pattern of behaviour lead us to
define fishing as a "refuge-activity" that was adopted in hard times and abandoned when the
economic situation improved.

During the medieval and modern centuries, the Empordà’s littoral landscape consisted in the
alternation of high cliffs, small rocky beaches and extensive alluvial planes with extensive
marshes and lagoons. During all the Antiquity and the early medieval period people
exploited the resources of those marshes and they make the most the environment
conditions: hunting, cattle farming, harvest fruits and fishing. But those amphibian spaces
did not contain stable population until the Late Middle Age (Bolós, 1999; Soldevila, 1999)

Tank to the process of feudalization carried out in Catalonia we can perceive the weight of
fishing activities during the Early Middle Ages. As occurred in all of the European continent
(Mollat, 1983) many monasteries and other political institutions obtained from the 10th
century a set feudal rights on the maritime resources which appeared in the documentation
under the sentence “…cum ipso mare, cum suos portos et suas piscstorias.” Thus, at the end of 13th
century all the emporitarian coast was under some form of feudalization. Although we don’t
have quantitative evidences, a lot of notices about exchanges, lawsuits and conflicts about it
possession drive us to think that fishery already generated important incomes for its owners,
which would be paid also in different ways. (Collet, 1985).

Until the end of the Middle Age Catalan fishing maintained as a low level activity, maybe
because of medieval agricultural expansion restrained it practice and fish as food was not
appreciated by population yet. However, from the middle of the 14th century and on the
framework of the late medieval crisis, an intensification of fishing effort and the fish
consumption is observed in major part of Europe. After a vigorous demographic growth in
all the continent, from 1330 a set of natural catastrophes, bad harvests, famine and plagues
took place everywhere and the European population felt between a third and a half part of
them. These data coincide with the initial period of deep disorders on the catalan rural
country and a new demographic crisis. Since 1333, known as “lo mal any primer” (the first bad
year), a set of facts that affected negatively the subsistence of the country through the
following decades. As a consequence, the agrarian landscape was deserted and many families
immigrated to the cities, specially those located in the littoral, where inhabitants could find
better life conditions (Vilar, 1964; Batlle, 1988)

Which consequences could have this historical conjuncture on the fishing activities? Some
indicators show how the fishing sector reacted to the medieval crisis intensifying the total
fishing effort, increasing the number of fishermen and introducing new technologies to
improve the productivity of the fishing units. But at the same time, to put in order the uses
of territory and to establish the new fishing grounds many legislations were promulgated in
order to avoid conflicts among fishermen and to assure the marine food supply specially.

In terms of technological development, we can assume that productivity obtained by fishing
craft during the Middle Ages was low. However, sources emphasize, although indirectly, the
abundance of fish and other marine animals near the coast and the easiness to catch them.
From a very well-known relation of fishing gears and species, we can define Catalan fisheries
until this period as a terrestrial fishing: all activities were done from the shore or in a short
distance of the coastal line.

The history of the medieval fishing equipments in Catalonia has not even been written but
surely it would be lengthy to explain at all. So we only point out now the main characteristics
and how they changed in that period. Along the century 14th, in different sources – p.e. post-
mortem inventories - historians found references related to beach seines (xàvega and bolitx),
longlines (palangre) , a sort of traps (nanses) , dolphin nets (dofineres) and harpoons
(fitores). The increase in number of beach seines observed can be explained by a social
function that it carried out inside the community, specially among poor people: these nets
need a large number of workers to tug on its ropes who received a part of the total catch by
the “share system”. Historically in the Mediterranean people used that way of living when
they didn’t have economic alternatives to subsist, this is the reason because it was known as
“l’art dels pobres” –“poor people craft”. We can observer a similar behaviour in the kind of
fishery with light called “a l’encesa”. This social and techno-ecological complex organization
started at the same time, when units also increased. Nets like xàvega or bolitx also supplied
bait (small sardine, for example) to longline fishermen who were dedicated to hunt bluefin
tuna and atlantic bonito. Perhaps, beach seines, longlines and traps were the most ancient
fishing gears on Catalonian coast.

But a new fishing net called tonayra was introduced in the Empordà, probably in the middle
of the 14th century. We suggest that tonaires appeared as a consequence of abundance of
tuna in the Catalan sea and due to his greater productivity than other nets used, in a moment
that a major fish production was required. By the moment people don’t know well how
tonayra was exactly; some people confuse it with Italian “tonnara,” or with other kind of beach
net. Surely tonayres historically called more than one kind of net, but in many places of
Catalonia it meant a small drift net designed to catch meanly bluefin tuna. It needed only two
fishermen to operate, but thank to legal documentation we know that, at least, the tonayra
had two kind of uses: an individual use and a cooperative use, in which fishermen joined the
nets in a large net called “cinta” and shared out the benefits proportionally
The use of that type of tonayra increased quickly in the Mediterranean, but in a parallel way it
began a strong competition for the best fishing grounds against beach seines and longlines.
Finally it was necessary to set up different legislations to organize the space, the times of
fishing and the relationships among people. Four decrees have been still found and analysed:
Barcelona, 1399; Calonge, 1400; Roses, 1410; Blanes, 1410. Those legislations show us just
how fishing grew up in the Late Middle Ages and they have been interpreted as a
institutional answer to a crisis, a changing situation which need to be managed to avoid the
lost of control. So the use of the beach seines determined the spaces, moments and distances
that the rest of fishing gears would be used at the same time. This system wants, in one
hand, to avoid damages in gears and to optimize the use of space as a vital resource, on the
other hand to prevent that a fisherman o group of fishermen took control of the most
productive grounds against the community interests. Also served to make difficult the
entrance of foreign fishermen inside the municipal beaches to fish.

Other notices from Sant Feliu de Guíxols or Calonge represent a good qualitative indicators
of abundance of tuna in the north of the Catalan sea and the easiness to catch them bluefin
tuna, swordfish or bonito. The importance of tuna during all the Middle Ages can be also
observe in the commercial sources. Local authorities worked hard to assure the supplying of
tuna on the local markets under severe penalties and to forbidding the exportation of tuna
before to satisfy the local demand. In other places similar mechanisms were established,
specially during periods of meat abstinence

Modern period
After the medieval crisis, references to fish as a main economic activity of coastal inhabitants
decrease notably during the 16th century, but it didn’t disappeared. Some changes occurred
during the modern period relating to the abundance of tuna and its fishing. It perceives that
the presence of bluefin tuna begin to be rare in the Catalan sea, and the use of tonayra
decreased too. A few almadraves were installed in the Catalonian coast but they never had
economic relevance on the regional fishing production, and many of those tuna traps finally
After tuna, Catalan fishermen began to fish Sardine and Anchovy with growing intensity.
Contemporary witness talk about the abundance of small pelagic fish in the Catalan Sea
which was fished by a numerous fishing villages during the season called “ de passa”. We
observe that the dependence on it fishery increased around the coast during the 16th and 17th
centuries and people began to invest in it. Many indicators prove the growth of that kind of
fishery, as for example the abundance of conflicts with Catholic Church caused by fishermen
who work all the days, also on Sunday without observing the perceptive dominical rest.
Furthermore, the abundance of total catches allowed Catalonia to be specialized in salat fish
production to export which grew throughout the 18th century.

So, those changes has also a technological explanation. The most important technological
innovation introduced in Catalonia during the modern period was the net called Sardinal. It
was a drift net coming from the Mediterranean French coast and it was destined specifically
to fish Sardine and other small pelagic fish. First references of its use dated back to the
middle of the 16th century, but its presence only was general until the end of that century, for
example in Palamós, Roses or Tarragona. Different historical sources show us the speed that
this new fishing gear was adopted and dominated by Catalan fishermen due to the great
productivity regarding other systems used. Also it allowed the possibility to establish
companies to share the investment to exploiting it. Many peasants even sold his lands for to
buy those nets and to became fishermen. In summarize, sardinal had a great and quick
success in the Empordà. For that reason, at the first moment, some collectives were against
sardinal arguing that it exerted a strong competence against other traditional gears, or also
they could not buy that net – it was really expensive (Costa, 1995. Recasens, 1997) But they
didn’t stopped the extension of the sardinal, which dominated from then the Catalan fishing

Furthermore, the use of sardinal net promoted the spread of longlines, called palangre. We
know that palangre existed since the 14th century and possibly before, but this expansion
ever had been hindered by tow main reasons: in the one hand, the piracy and the risk of
captivity, and the other hand the great cost and low economic profitability of it because
palangre need bait to fish. So in Catalonia, longline never was an specific fishery, but it ever
was a fishery combined with others. In his historical dictionary, Sañez Reguart explained
how fishermen began to use simultaneously sardinal and palangre (Sáñez Reguart, 1791);
Salvador Riera also talked about the combination of traps, sardinals and longlines (Lleonart
et. al., 1988). The introduction and promotion by catalan fishermen of palangre is also
noticed into several European region, like Provença or Galicia.

The expansion of sardinal coincides soon after with a new bad conjuncture in the Empordà.
Since 1640 Catalonia had not a period of prosperity until the decade of 1720. New plagues,
wars, military occupations and bad harvest affected the landscape and its population as it
happened during medieval crisis. Thanks to the creation of parish registers we can see how
the number of fishermen increase during this critical period. In Palamós, a small village in
Empordà centre, the number of fishermen increased to 30 percent of male active population
at the end of the 17th century but decreased slowly to less than 4 percent at the end of the
18th. Similar trend can be observed in a lot of villages of the area (Trijueque, 2002. Boadas,

Which other consequences had the 17th century in the world of fishing? That period
coincided with a process of a gradual entrance to the deep sea and the intensification of
exploitation of marine resources. At least until the Middle Ages, the activity had been made
from the beach, near the coastal line or on mash and lagoons. Until then fishing was of small
size. But many different factors favoured that fishermen had no choice but to go deep into
the sea to harvest it. Among them we would focus on the introduction of sardinal, as we
have said before, and the specialization in the small pelagic fishery, the search of new fishing
grounds and its enlargement, the expansion of longlines and, specially, the increase of food
demand due to the Spanish demographic growth. We can say that the 17th century helped to
build the basis to the growth of Catalan fishing that was carry out throughout the 18th and
the 19th centuries (Martínez Shaw, 1988)

The new fishing paradigm obligated to search new methods of fishing grounds management.
In the Empordà, authorities together with local fishermen discussed and promulgated a lot
of regulations at the same time of the expansion of the activity. This set of regulations
included for the first time chapters to manage the use and access to the common maritime
fishing grounds. Thus, they attempted to put in order an activity that had gone into a
conflictuals dynamic, meanly because of the saturation. At least we know the examples of
villages of Sant Feliu de Guíxols, 1691; Tossa de Mar, 1693 and Begur, 1715, but surely there
many more historical examples to be worked.

At the same time the activity was also organized institutionally. New fishermen guilds, called
“confraries”, appeared in the main coastal places, or the existing strengthened with the
promulgation of new rules (Garrido, 2006). Those guilds had religion functions in order to
solve different aspects of material and moral assistance, and it creation was stimulated under
Catholic Contrarreforma guidelines. But some of these had also used in terms of fishing
management and they had a political relevance in the village governments. In Catalonia
fishermen guild did not have the relevance as other Spanish maritime region, like Galicia or
the Basc Country where had a largest historical tradition, but it’s sure that they had likewise
many influence on the management of fishing commons grounds. The Naval Administration
even used them to organized the sector under the new recruitment system called Matrícula
de Mar – inspirited in the French system – from the middle of 18th century.

It is clear that fishing became a strategic economic asset for many villages and they needed to
defend their basic resources against other communities that were also expanding for the
same reasons. Appropriation of territory and it resources required exact territorial
delimitation, political and juridical legitimacy and coercion power over the fishermen. Creus
Cape and the regulations book of Cadaqués – we think that it is unique in the Mediterranean
Sea – is a good observatory to study this dynamic between 1542 and 1793. The year 1690
coincided with a maximum of fishing units in the area, so local authorities stated a range of
measures to obtain a largest part of the more profitable fishing grounds against nearby
communities, even using violence or obligating to go to certain strategic grounds. At the
moment, a research project is in course to analyze the reasons of those conflicts with better
details, but we are still discovering the relevance of fishing for the subsistence of many
communities and the means to assure this, even murders.

Fishing began to decease in relative terms in the rural economy of the Northeast of
Catalonia since the first quarter of 18th century, but at the same time the use of a new
trawling system, called “bou”, gradually increased in the Catalan Sea and all of the
Mediterranean Sea soon after. The technique of bou was the final result of the evolution of
the “tartana” and “gànguil”, both technologies appeared in 16th century in the coast of
Catalonia and Valencia. The main technical characteristics of the bou are well-known for the
historiography (Sáñez Ruguart, 1791. Fernández et al., 1980. Soler, 2002) but non its
evolution in other territories and all the changes which caused on the Mediterranean fishing
sector. The system of royal licences which regulated the use of it was not sufficient to satisfy
all the demand. So Catalan trawls expanded to other Spanish regions, to Andalucia and

We are aware of this paper it is only an brief interpretation of the evolution of fishing
activity in Catalonia. We must say that nowadays the situation of the Catalan historiography
of fishing don’t allow to go further on. Fishing is the least kwon rural activity, and we have
wanted to offer a particular pattern of behaviour and the reasons to explain it. So we believe
that, at least, two task are needed from here: to prove and improve this theoretical model
with more and better local researches and in the other hand to compare this particular
example with the history of other Mediterranean regions to take out and more general
conclusions. We hope that this example could be useful to better understand the history of
fishing in our Mediterranean Sea.

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