||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (May 2009)|
Ancient divers were used in ancient cultures to reclaim sunken valuables, and to help aid military campaigns. Some of these goals were accomplished through the use of remotely operated underwater tools, but for the most part the accomplishments of these tasks was left to ancient divers.
Equipment and dangers
There was no scuba equipment in ancient times so all diving was free diving, with the exception of some references to reeds and leather breathing bladders which would not be able to contain much air, meaning that a diver usually had only one breath to do what he/she needed to do before coming back to the surface for more air. The divers faced the same problems as divers today, such as decompression sickness and blacking out during a breath hold. Because of these dangers, diving in antiquity could be quite deadly but profitable.
Diving for Produce
Diving for sponges was common in antiquity and still exists today. Sponges weren't the only valuable harvest to be found on the sea floor, the harvesting of red coral was also quite popular. A variety of valuable shells or fish could be harvested in this way creating a demand for divers to harvest the treasures of the sea, which also include the sunken riches of other seafarers.
Divers and salvage
The Mediterranean had large amounts of sea base trade. As a result, there were many shipwrecks and many owners of ships were not content with surrendering their property to the sea, which meant that divers were often hired to salvage whatever they could. There were other tools that could be used without the aid of divers, such as salvage grapnels, but compared to the divers they weren't as precise or delicate. They consisted of a solid piece of lead with nails that acted like hooks. A diver could swim down to the wreck and choose the most valuable pieces to salvage, so in this way they could be more precise. These salvage divers faced many dangers on the job, and as a result laws like Lex Rhodia were created, which set a large percentage of the salvaged goods as payment for divers, in wrecks deeper than 50 feet, divers received one third of the salvage and wrecks deeper than 90 feet they received half.
Divers in warfare
Divers were also used in warfare. Defenses against sea vessels were often created, such as underwater barricades aimed at sinking enemy ships. As the barricades were hidden under the water, the military would often use divers to scout out the sea bed when ships were approaching an enemy harbor. Once these barricades were found it was divers who were used to disassemble them, if possible. Divers were incredibly useful during times of war - divers were used to get past enemy blockades to relay messages as well as supplies to allies or troops that were cut off by the blockade. On top of all that these ancient frogmen were used as saboteurs, drilling holes in enemy hulls, cutting ships rigging and mooring.
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- Galili, Ehud; Rosen, Baruch (2008). "Ancient Remotely-Operated Instruments Recovered Under Water off the Israeli Coast". International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (Nautical Archaeology Society) 37 (2): 283–94. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2008.00187.x.
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- Thucydides (431 BCE). History of the Peloponnesian War.