Friday, 1 April 2011

The wreck of the Gottfried and sunken Egyptian treasure

This painting shows the dramatic sinking of the Gottfried in a severe storm in 1822. Onboard was a fabulous hoard of Ancient Egyptian antiquities. 

Now, this treasure trove, thought to consist of 4,000-year-old stone sarcophagi, mummies, steles and reliefs, now lies on the seabed in the murky waters of the River Elbe in Germany.

This hugely valuable cargo was being sent from Egypt to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia (1770 – 1840) for his private collection. It was this collection which later formed the basis Egyptian Museum of Berlin.

The two-masted Gottfried sank in a severe north-westerly storm on the night of 12th March 1822 in the mouth of River Elbe, where it meets the North Sea, somewhere near the town of Cuxhaven. Attempts to located the wreck have so far been unsuccessful, the last being in in 1998.

The treasures had been collected by the Prussian soldier, explorer and archaeologist Heinrich Menu von Minutoli (1772-1846)*. The expedition, paid for by the Egyptian government, lasted from 1820 until August 1821. Minutoli's collection of antiquities had been purchased by the Prussian king for 22,000 talers**.

It is thought that the largest part of the collection (97 crates) was loaded onto the Gottfried at the northern Italian port of Trieste and was to be unloaded in Hamburg. A smaller part (20 boxes) was sent to Prussia by land.

* Minutoli, by the way, was married to Wolfradine von Schulenburg, who was also an Egyptologist.

** A taler (or thaler or talir) was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. 

If you have any other information about this wreck I would be fascinated to here it. 

Heinrich Menu von Minutoli


  1. Hi Paul

    Fascinating post on a wreck I have not heard of before. Just a thought but perhaps the ship did not sink in the location reported and am wondering what the evidence of that location is?


  2. Hello, Tim.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Pinpointing the location of the wreck must be a problem, although I would have thought the River Elbe must have been extensively surveyed over the years. I think the Hamburg Museum have also been involved in the search for wreck at some stage.

    I would also be keen to find out what the modern value a taler would be.

    Best wishes,



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