Dating and Origin of the wreck

1 - Archaeological data

The major part of data related to the dating of the wreck was first based on the study of eight coins and three account tokens found on the site.

- Click here to see the currencies -

- Milanese lira
- French crown
- French crown
- Milanese teston
- Cornuto from the Casale Montferrat marquisate
- Aquile from the Kingdom of Sicily

  - Florin from the Republic of Florence
- Parpaïole from the Duchy of Savoy
- Nuremberg account tokens
- Nuremberg account tokens
- Nuremberg account tokens
- Quarto from the Duchy of Savoy.

Nuremberg account token Milanese Lira Left : French crown
Right : Dauphiné crown

The chart no1 indicates the periods of coin minting, and helps determine what archaeologists call the "terminus post quem", i.e. the date when a given type of money was minted for the first time, before which the wreck could not have occurred, be it in this case, the year 1503, as shown by the first minting date of the parpaïole and the quarto.

  This date is also confirmed by the study of a majolica goblet probably made in Montelupo, Tuscany, the edge of which bears an ornamentation that is similar to that of another goblet that bears in its centre the arms of Pope Julius II, and dated 1509.

Left :

The majolica dish of Montelupo

Archaeonautica #9, p.127, pic.79
  Left to right :

Pitcher with polychromatic incised decoration and two genoan majolica pitchers. The right hand pitcher is decorated with the coat of arms of the Fregoso family.

Archaeonautica #9, p.127, pic.80

The finding on the site of many peach pits enabled us to date the ship's sinking around the end of summer, which is the season when varieties of peaches of that period used to ripen.

Chart #1

Origin of the ship
Archaeological data must be examined with great caution: one has to make a distinction between the ship's structure and its fixed armaments, as these are characteristic of where it was built. Likewise, the following features must be handled separately: freight and ballast, portable/movable equipment, and crew's and passengers' personal belongings, which are of different origins.

Analysis of the wood in which the ship was built
The ship was built following a Mediterranean method.
The various species of wood used are: deciduous oak, beech, walnut, elm, poplar, Alepian pine, sea pine, umbrella pine, and Scotch fir.
By superimposing the geographical areas where these species usually grow, we have tried to find the zones where the ship was most likely to have been built thus in the zones containing the largest number of species. As a result, Genoa seems to be the relevant place, before Barcelona.

- Click here to see the geographical distribution map of various species of wood -

Ballast analysis
The ship's ballast was made up of various sizes of river pebbles, dispatched in its several holds. These pebbles were analysed by the University of Nancy's Laboratoire de géologie sédimentaire et structurale [laboratory of sedimentary and structural geology], which came to the following conclusions: on the basis that the studied pebbles form a characteristic sample, and that they originate from a single source, without any added elements, one can assume that the ballast was taken from a beach off the Genoa gulf, between Savona in the West, and Livorno in the East.

Personal belongings, portable equipment
A map was drawn, with the various objects whose origins had been successfully identified. They all seem to come from approximately the same geographical zone, encompassed in a kind of triangle made up of Madrid on one side (four once weights from Castile), Nuremberg (account tokens) and Palermo on the other side (Ferdinand of Aragon's aquile). Two other items have to be added, which have not been located: a majolique boccale (jar) bearing the arms of the Fregoso family, and a piece of arquebus knife butt bearing the same heraldic ornamentation, engraved on the knife. Interestingly enough, several Genoa doges came from the Fregoso family, which explains why its coat of arms* is associated with the town's arms, a red cross on a white background. [* “D'argent au chef enté en ondes de sable puisse être surmonté des armes de la ville : croix rouge sur fond blanc”, “silver blazon, with upper part divided horizontally by sandy waves associated ...”].

- Click here to see the map of the origins of identified objects -

2 - Historical data
By comparing several printed or handwritten documents with the archaeological data, we have succeeded in identifying the wreck found in Villefranche.
After Honorat de Valbelles who refers in Histoire journalière to the wreck of a Genoese vessel in the Villefranche harbour in 1516, Abbey Pietro Gioffredo in his Storia delle Alpi marittime, published in 1839, quotes Ludovic Revelli's evidence :

Vers midi, le 15 septembre 1516, lendemain de la fête de la Sainte Croix, 19e jour depuis la nouvelle lune d'août, il y eut une horrible tempête, destruction d'une grande quantité d'arbres et naufrages divers dans le port d'Hercule [Villefranche]. Cette tempête faisait s'écrouler les toits, les maisons, les tours et les églises emportant les portes et les tuiles, déracinant dans la région de Nice les arbres de toutes les espèces et faisant d'autres choses encore étonnantes à dire ; et elle dura seulement l'espace d'une demie heure
[“On 15 September, around midday, on the day after the Sainte-Croix celebration, the 19th day after the August new moon, there occurred a terrible storm, which destroyed many trees and brought about the wreck of several ships in the Hercules (Villefranche) harbour. This tempest destroyed roofs, houses, towers and churches, unearthing trees of all species in the Nice area and doing even more surprising things; but it lasted for only a half hour…”].

Among the other vessels and ships wrecked in those seas, a Genoese ship was lost; the things it contained having been partly recovered by the inhabitants of Nice, letters were written on 8 October by Ottaviano Fregoso “ gouverneur et aux syndics de Nice pour leur restitutio” [“ the governor and to the Nice syndics to get these things back.”].

Antonio de Beatis, in his Voyage du Cardinal d'Aragon, printed and published in 1893, reported on 30 November 1517

"A un mille de Nice se trouve Villefranche, également à M. de Savoie, qui compte peu de maisons mais un beau et fameux port, où les navires sont en toute sécurité, et si profond que les bateaux peuvent s'approcher tout contre la montagne, si gros qu'ils soient. Pourtant il y a deux ans une grosse nave de Génois qui allait en course, très bien équipée en artillerie, avec plus de trois cents hommes, a sombré dans ledit port avec tous lesdits hommes, et on voit encore la hune du grand mât qui sort de l'eau de deux cannes environ...".
[“At a distance of one mile from Nice is Villefranche, and M. de Savoie, which has only few houses but a nice and famous harbour, where ships are safe, and which is so wide that boats can come close to the mountain, even as big as they are. Nevertheless, two years ago, a large Genoese vessel that was going along its course, very well fitted with artillery, with more than three hundred men, sank in the aforesaid harbour with all the aforementioned men, and now, the top of the mainmast can still be seen two canes (approx. 4 meters) above the water…”].

Finally, a handwritten document from Genoa's Archivio di Stato, which is a deliberation of the Conseil des Anciens dating back to 20 September 1516, refers to
La récupération de la nave Lomellina et de l'artillerie coulées par un très fort coup de vent dans le port de Villefranche”.
[“The recovery of the Lomellina, wrecked due to a very strong wind in the Villefranche harbour”]

The chart no2 compares the archaeological data with the given details of these texts.

-- Valbelle Gioffredo De Beatis Archaeological data
Date September 1516 15 September 1516
at midday
1515 ( ?)   After 1503 at the end of the summer
Origin Genovés Genovesi Genuesi   Genoa : potteries, ballast, wood
Type Nau Nave Nave grosso   Gros navire rond ayant les caractéristiques des navi génoises
Freight Equipment - - Very well fitted with artillery   Heavy artillery and field gun carriage wheels
Crew - - 300 men   -
Losses 100 men - All   Human bones
Locatin of sinking Villefranche Portus Herculis Villafrancha dentro dicto porte   In Villefranche roadstead
Name referred to - Ottaviano Fregoso -   Goblet and arquebus knife butt bearing the arms of the Fregoso family
Circumstances - - Capsized under sails, top of mainmast visible above the water.   Ship sank at 18 metres, laying at 50° on starboard side, meaning top of mainmast is visible above the water.
Chart #2

It helps us identify the Villefranche wreck as almost certainly that of the Lomellina.

© Max Guérout