An iron trident dating to the 3rd or 4th century A.D. has been discovered in the ancient Aegean coastal resort town of Assos in northwestern Turkey. It was unearthed by archaeologists excavating the Nymphaion, an ornate fountain on the east of the ancient city’s center. The trident was found among pieces of the Nymphaion’s collapsed vault, and was instantly recognized as the business end of a hand-held fishing harpoon from its size and distinctive shape.
“This is the first time we find such materials in Assos, because tools made of iron are the materials decaying most rapidly in ancient cities,” [Nurettin Arslan, humanities and social sciences professor at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University,] said. However, this trident found in this structure is an important example in that it was found almost completely intact.
“Although we know that such tools were widely used in ancient times, we can say that it is an important work since the examples that have survived so far are very rare. As far as we know, it is said or we see in descriptions that such tools were used in ancient times to catch big fish at sea in small boats by lighting them with a torch at night,” he added.
Assos was founded in the 7th century B.C. by Greek colonists from the island of Lesbos. It prospered thanks to its prime location as the only deep natural harbor for 50 miles on the Biga Peninsula which made it a plum prize for the Lydian Kingdom, the Persian Empire, the Athenian Confederacy and several local rulers, including the fascinating former slave/philosopher king Hermias, to vie over for centuries. Alexander claimed it in 334 B.C. Rome took over in 133 B.C. The harbor kept on going strong through the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, finally falling into disuse only in the 18th century.
Making their living from the sea for thousands of years, Assos’ fisherman likely had access to harpoons like this that was were produced locally. The iron’s origin cannot be pinpointed, but archaeological remains of iron slag and iron working have been found in Assos, so it’s entirely possible that it was made in town.
The trident is in excellent condition, but it is caked with dirt and oxidization materials. Restorers are working to clean and conserve it to ensure its long-term stability by applying a protective coating that will prevent contact with air and further corrosion.