Ancient Ships: The Ships of Antiquity
Ancient Ships in art history: Egyptian Galleons in ancient Egypt
and Egyptian art
Egyptian seafaring ships from the 5th Dynasty 2458-2446
ship is typical of the vessels used during the reign of Pharaoh
Sahure over 4500 years ago in Egyptian history. During this
time Egypt's expanding interests in trade goods such as ebony, incense
such as Myrrh and frankincense, gold, copper and other useful metals
inspired the ancient Egyptians to build suitable ships for navigation
of the open sea. They traded with Lebanon for cedar and traveled
the length of the Red Sea to the Kingdom of Punt, which is modern
day Ethiopia and Somalia for ebony, ivory and aromatic resins. Ship
builders of that era did not use pegs (treenails) or metal fasteners,
but relied on rope to keep their ships assembled. Planks and
the superstructure were tightly tied and bound together.
Historical records and Egyptian art show that Pharaoh Sahure
the second king of the 5th Dynasty established an ancient
Egyptian navy and sent a fleet to Punt and traded with cultures
in the Eastern Mediterranean. His pyramid had colonnaded courts
and relief sculptures which illustrated his naval fleet and recorded
his military career consisting mostly of campaigns against the Libyans
in the western desert. He is credited to have begun the cemetery
complex at Saqqara and he also had a diorite quarry just west of
|Model Picture Provided By Hobby World Of Montreal
King Sahure's Ship 2458-2446 BCE 5th Dynasty
King Sahure purchased cedar timbers and commissioned the ship builders
from the area of the ancient city Byblos to create his ships; the
importance of the Phoenician culture in seafaring technologies and
trade throughout the eastern Mediterranean should not be underestimated.
Bigger ships of seventy to eighty tons displacement suited to long
voyages became quite common (In size they can be compared to Columbus's
Santa Maria with a displacement of 100 tons or his smaller ships
with about fifty tons of displacement). How and where these types
of ships were used other than the expeditions where records are
available is a matter for speculation and conjecture. The story
of the shipped wrecked sailor is but one example that sheds some
light on the matter.
|Front View of Sahure's ships Circa 2500 BCE
The next ship is a model constructed from illustrations on wall
panels at the funerary complex of Hapshetsut. One thousand years
of Egyptian history and Egyptian art show the evolution of ship
building in Egypt separates these two ships. It is interesting
to make a comparison of the results of shipwrights craft in the
two different millennia. Hapshetsut recorded some of the oral history
of the ancient Egyptians seafaring history in her funerary chapel,
by citing that ancient trading routes had been lost and the trade
of certain goods had fallen into the hands of middle men and was
no longer under the control of the Egyptians themselves. This commentary
gives insight into some of the history that had transpired during
those one thousand years.
A modern model of an Egyptian sea worthy ship created
on the basis of information from the funerary temple of Hatshepsut.
This model of a 15th century BCE merchant ship was made after
the wall relief at Deir el Bahri. The ship was about 22 meters long
and 5 meters wide. It didn't have a wooden keel but got its stability
from a thick rope fastened under tension at either extremity of
the ship. There were fifteen rowing oars on either side, two connected
oars used as rudder, a single mast and a 15-meter wide horizontal
sail. The stern was decorated with a carved lotus flower. A major
expedition to the Land of Punt (probably modern day Somalia) down
the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean was undertaken by Queen Hatshepsut.
Another story of seafaring trade is the journey
of Wenamen in 2200 BCE, a trading expedition gone wrong in ancient
Egypt. This story illustrates the extent to which cultures bordering
the seacoasts relied on ships and boats for their transportation and
trade. Seafaring was the cheapest , safest and fastest means of transportation,
which probably meant the majority of trade in the Mediterranean basin
and the red sea was conducted by shipping by boat. In the Eastern
Mediterranean cultures generally established cities and towns close
to coastlines in order to take advantage of this phenomenon.
Rameses III recorded his conflict and defeat of the sea peoples
at Medinet Habu.
By looking at Egyptian Art
it has been possible to reconstruct this model of a 13th century
warship. It was made after illustrations on wall panels at Medinet
Habu depicting the victory of Ramesis III over the Sea Peoples.
One of the best examples of contemporary illustrations of ships
in Egytian History, the high bulwarks protected sailors and soldiers
from enemy missiles. The wall panels are a rich source of information
about costumes weaponry and naval capabilities of the historic
time frame of 125o BCE.
|Egyptian Ship used during the conflict with
the Sea Peoples 1250 BCE
Eighteen oars gave it the maneuverability,
which was a decisive factor in the Egyptian victory. Like
many of ships of the ancient Egyptians, it was not laid up on a
keel, but got its structural strength from a gangway-connecting
stern to bow. It had a single mast attached to the gangway connecting
stern to bow. The single mast was hung with a horizontal sail. The
stern was decorated with a lion's head crushing a human skull.
The model below of a Philistine man of
war was equally constructed according to the information gleaned
from Medinet Habu wall panels. This is the kind of vessel the Sea
Peoples would have used in their attempt to invade Egypt in 1280
BCE. This implies that this kind of ship may have been used
and available to the entire confederation of Sea Peoples, therefore
this kind of vessel structure may have been used throughout the
Aegean and Black Sea Regions. Its lack of dependence on rowing
oars may have been a distinct disadvantage in the confined space
of the Nile delta where they must have been incapable of using their
ram against the more maneuverable Egyptian vessels. This also indicates
that this design was not created primarily for military use. The
sea people depended heavily on land forces for the success of their
military campaigns. Although not as effective in its design for
Naval battles this ships overall structural design was superior
to that of the ancient Egyptians ships, having a proper keel and
body ribs to make the hull ridged.
||Modern model of a ship of the sea peoples
created after the illustrations on wall panels at Mendinet Habu.
Circa 1250 BCE . The model is at the Haifa Naval Museum, Israel.
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