Russian 66-cannon vessel at the Battle of Tchesme (1770)

In 1780, during the War of Independence of the United States, France and Great Britain once again confronted each other. In order to protect her merchant fleet, Catherine the Great, the empress of Russia, launched three fleets as part of the Ligue of Neutrals, the first legal declaration of the freedom of the seas.
The Slava Rossii (Pride of Russia) was separated from the rest of the fleet during inclement wheather on the Mediterranean, and sank south of the Island of Levant following a navigational error. The ship was armed with 66 cannons, and was built in 1774 at Arkhangelsk by Gunion and Portnov, two Russian master builders.

The shipwreck was discovered in 1957, and was subject of two excavation campaigns in 1980 and 1981. Beside a large section of the hull, it has rendered important archeological items: on one hand, a large range of weapons, from light arms (rifles, pistols, swords, daggers) to heavy artillery (mortars, "unicorns", cannons and their accouterments). Also found were innumerable objects that exemplify daily life and work on board:

· on-board dishes: porcelain and faience dishes, pewter plates, a saltcellar, and spoons
· personal objects: thimbles, cufflinks, stockings, candle extinguishers, dice, perfume flasks

The shipwreck has also given up a remarkable series of portable icons (80) made of a copper alloy: diptychs, triptychs, portable altars, some of them decorated in cloisonné enamel. These icons give a moving testimonial to the piety of the Russian sailors, and to the influence of the "old faith".

Excavation : Max Guérout / Groupe de recherche en Archéologie Navale (GRAN)

Photos : GRAN and Philippe Foliot, CNRS/CCJ