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Ancient Ships: The Ships of Antiquity

Ancient Ships in art history: The Ceremonial Uses of Ships in ancient Egypt and Egyptian art

ceremonial boat in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian Wall panel Showing funeral shrine on a boat
Relief in a tomb showing Egyptian ceremonial shrine carried on a river boat Circa 1500 BCE. 

During one of the greatest archeological finds in Egyptian History, in 1922 Howard Carter found similar  shrines and boat  models in Tutankhamen’s tomb. The symbols on the side of the Shrine shown on this relief sculpture are the same as were used in the Burial shrines of Tutankhamen. This indicates the Iconography was probably a standard convention used in Egyptian Art and funerary decorum during this historical time frame ancient Egypt.

Panel from the Egyptian book of the dead
Illustration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead with funerary shrine and ceremonial ship taking the deceased to the afterlife. Papyrus  credited to the 18th Dynasty 1550 -1307 BCE

Moon Barque From the tomb of Tutankhamun Egyptian Art: Wall painting from the tomb of Menna Middle Egyptian Period
Solar Boat Pectorals from the Tutankhamen Tomb

Early in Egyptian history the ship was embraced symbolically and in allegory in union with the cycle of the sun as a natural reflection of the cycle of life.   This concept in their mythology can be paraphrased "As the sun is the spirit of the day as a man’s spirit is the light of his life. " In Egyptian art the sun was shown as carried through the sky on a solar barque, and mans spirit was shown to travel the afterlife in a spiritual barque. This remained a theme in funerary art for thousands of years and was often expressed universally in cultures related to seafaring.

Egytian history of ceremonial boats
Wall paintings showing ships and boats from the tomb of Menna.

Menna was an Egyptian noble who lived in the 18th Dynasty either during the reign of Tuthmosis IV or that of his successor, Amenophis III.  Akhenaten was Co-regent with Amenophis III and his successor. This was approximately 1350BCE.  

Egyptian history : Ceremonial Barque made fo electrum and gold
Barque of Ahotep

  See Timelines of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

"Ark of the Covenant”

Was the Ark of the Covenant an archetype of the Egyptian Ceremonial Funerary Shrines depicted in Egyptian art?

Attempting to put Biblical accounts of the Ark into a larger historical context has proven to be a tremendous stimulus for research and comparative   analysis. The desire to determine the likely appearance of the Ark of the Covenant lead me to attempt to determine the basis for and nature of the major cultural achievements of the Hebrews from the time of the Exodus from ancient Egypt, circa 1220 BCE, until the Assyrian Captivity of the Hebrews in 586 BCE.

One aspect of the Ark that became evident when examining its scriptural descriptions was the Ark was itself an archetype of a portable ceremonial shrine.  The basic concept was a desert going transport vehicle modeled after the portable shrines Egyptians used in ceremony and ritual.  For a more detailed description see the iconography of the “Ark Of The Covenant” .   It can be argued that the installation of the Ark of the Covenant to the first temple in Jerusalem was considered one of the pinnacle events in the history of the Ark and the coming of age of the Hebrew culture as a political power in the eastern Mediterranean. The central government responsible for this achievement was that of Solomon.

One area of interest, which is key to the story of Solomon, was the fact that he was credited with having employed a large Naval force. In addition to Solomon’s NavySolomon's Navy traded with Egypt  he is credited with being a shrewd diplomat having alliances to the Sheba, Egypt  and Phoenicia 

All of theses cultures were  known to have had extensive seafaring capabilities.  Sheba  alone at this time in history was credited with having over 400 ships in their fleet of trading vessels.

Solomon is also credited with having been successful in diplomacy and trade with the majority of his neighbors. A prime example of this diplomacy was mentioned in 1 Kings Chapter 5.  Which relates his alliance with the ruler of Tyre, which was the chief seaport of the Phoenicians at that time. It was these key alliances in trade, diplomacy and the ability to keep the peace that lead to the apparent success of his administration. Other trade alliances credited to Solomon were, Chittim, Ophir and Tarshish. Add to this list of countries from which Solomon took wives he can truly be said to be an international figure.

Israel was located at the crossroads of the Levant. The historic records from Egyptian history and other contemporary cultures before and leading up to the time of Solomon show this geographic region to have been a very volatile area and was usually governed as a vassal state of one of the more prominent powers in the Region.  It is apparent from these records that the region had fallen into political turmoil after the onset of invasions by the Sea Peoples against Egypt in 1250 BCE. The early invasions exploits of Merneptah 1224-1210 BCE    against the Sea Peoples are recorded at Karnak. The later invasions were repulsed during the rule of Rameses III and recorded at Mendinet Habu in graphic detail.

Egypt’s influence, political and military dominance was not asserted again until the Palestinian campaign of Shishak 1 following the reign of Solomon in 941 BCE.  This was the same historic time frame in which the Hebrews Colonized the Levant according to the Biblical account.  See Timelines and Events.

The concept that Solomon had and maintained a naval force is key to understanding the success of his administration. Without understanding the extent to which sea trade effected the economy of the Eastern Mediterranean nations it would be difficult to understand much at all about the diplomacy of this historic time frame.

One of the most interesting stories that suggests the extent of travel and trade that occurred in the prehistoric era is the Milesian Myth of the Irish. This myth is considered to be legend and falls outside of the classification of history but the story line intimates the extent to which travel, trade and colonization may have occurred in the ancient world.  One account of this story attributes Milesius to be the brother in law of Solomon. This would be the case if both were married to the daughters of the same Egyptian Pharaoh, considering each had Egyptian wives.

By this account travel and trade occurred between the British Isles, the Spanish Coast, the Mediterranean Island Nations, the Northern Black Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean coasts to Egypt as early as 1700BCE.  The Irish Milesians are not to be confused with the Miletian Greeks from Lydia. It is tempting to indulge in conjecture that although we do no have a reliable written record to verify this extensive travel did indeed occur.

Navigation was accomplished not in the open ocean but primarily by short hops along and within view of coastlines.  For merchant ships powered by sail a daily sailing effort would have covered fro 50 to 75 miles under good conditions. Travel and extended trade may have been more prevalent than conservative estimates suggest. The best archeology confirming the extent of travel and trading patterns are the Uluburun Bronze Age Shipwreck  and shipwreck at Cape Gelidonya on the Turkish coast. Both cargos contain Egyptian art which suggests trading patterns that covered a wide territory including the Aegean Island Nations, parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Written records verify trading patterns of the Egyptians included travel through the Red Sea to sub-Saharan Africa as far a Somalia, along the western coast as early 2450BCE. The fact that trade was conducted south makes it easy to speculate that similar length journeys would have been made into Mediterranean basin. The most adventuresome of estimates suggest that the Negroid features found on sculptures in Messo-America are due to the fact Africans did indeed arrive by sea in the western hemisphere as early as 1700BCE.

Considering the fact that the history of the Levant indicates that it was generally void of strong civil government from the time of the Exodus until the time of Solomon, the ability of his administration to maintain the peace, conduct adequate diplomacy for trade and to guarantee the safety of his kingdom was nothing less than a formidable task. Solomon according to Biblical accounts had strong diplomatic and trading relationships with Hiram the ruler of the city state of Tyre in Phoenicia, the foremost seafaring nation in the Eastern Mediterranean. These relationships were beneficial to Israel to the extent that this foreign king assisted Solomon in the creation of a naval force. This piqued my curiosity as to the likely appearance and structure of the naval forces of Solomon and to find out what seafaring technologies were available at the time to put a naval force to sea.

This file is an overview of the iconography of ships, naval technologies and developments in antiquity leading up to and encompassing the time of Solomon Circa 1000BCE. The ships and boating illustrated here are my findings from the Internet.  This material will be incorporated into a larger work called ”Discovering the Historic Solomon” which will highlight the various crafts and technologies in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where they were developed and how they may have been applied in the Levant by the early Hebrew Culture. These files constitute an overview of the Iconography of the ship from the earliest recorded history and a display of the modern models and illustrations of ancient ships.

As a result of creating this file I have concluded that probably no other technology in the history of man has been more important to the spread of civilization, culture and trade in the world than that of the ship.

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