The Pepper Wreck

A Portuguese Indiaman at the Mouth of the Tagus River

978-1-58544-390-1 Cloth
6 x 9 x 0 in
304 pp. 30 b&w photos., 50 line drawings., 10 maps., 46 tables.
Pub Date: 03/21/2005


  • Cloth $60.00 s
In 1606, a Portuguese ship, Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, put into Lisbon laden with peppercorns, porcelain, and other products from Cochin. A large vessel for the time, the merchantman displaced twelve hundred tons and carried three to four masts. The ship foundered during a storm in a northern channel of the Tagus River. Within hours the currents and the storm had torn it asunder and spread its precious cargo along the shores of the estuary.

The Pepper Wreck tells the story of the ship’s excavation by crews working in cold water and fast currents between 1997 and 2000, four centuries after Nossa Senhora dos Mártires went down.

Author Filipe Vieira de Castro discusses the nautical history of Iberia, with special attention to shipbuilding and the development of the nau, a type of round ship used by the Portuguese on routes to the East. He also considers life aboard the ships, describing a typical menu, musing on the incidence of disease, and distinguishing the privileges of the different social classes and the perquisites the more privileged enjoyed.

Turning to the excavation of the ship, Castro describes the site, the shifting laws governing archaeology in the region, and the fast currents that limited divers to working during ebb tides. The objects found with the wreck, from pottery to astrolabes, contribute substantially to knowledge of early modern shipbuilding techniques.

Valuable to historians of seafaring and of Iberia and to those interested in Portuguese trade with the East Indies, this carefully wrought and generously illustrated volume is a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists.

Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series

Published by Texas A&M University Press