Shipwreck Thwarted Napoleon's Advance

Napoleon Death: Arsenic Poisoning Ruled Out

A tactfully sunken ship might have blocked Napoleon from entering a Middle Eastern port on his quest to conquer the British Empire in Egypt and India, and sent the future emperor retreating back to France.

A new study of the ship's excavated cargo will help marine archaeologists analyze the role of sunken ship and reconstruct the 61-day battle between the British and Napoleon's army at the entry to the Israeli city Akko, known then as Acre, more than 200 years ago.

Over the past 40 years, notable marine archaeologists have examined the wreck, yet no one has come to any agreement as to why the 30-meter-long ship entered the shallow waters of the harbor.

"The origin of the wreck and its place in the maritime history of Akko remain a mystery," said Debbie Cvikel from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Department Of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa. "One of the possibilities is that She was scuttled by [Royal Navy officer] Sidney Smith in 1799, in order to block the harbor against Napoleon Bonaparte."

A map drawn by a British soldier in 1799 depicts the British navy in combat with Napoleon's ships. In the illustration, a symbol of a sunken ship marks the exact location of the wreck.

Cvikel and colleagues have found the wreck well-preserved, including lead shots and cannon balls [image]. The angle and precise spot of one cannon ball lodged into the bottom of the hull appears to have been shot on purpose.

Further research on this shipwreck could also shed light on a so-far unstudied chapter in the maritime history of the city of Akko at the end of the 18th century.

From the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s, Akko was considered the key to the East and became a battleground between European powers. Fleets from the shores of Europe and the Levant area in the Middle East reached the harbor where ships were sunk in it and in its surroundings.

"At this stage, I believe we have more than one wreck in Akko harbor," Cvikel told LiveScience.

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Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science,, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.