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Ancient Ships: The Ships of Antiquity

Merchant Vessels and Pleasure Craft of the 2nd and 1st Millennia BCE as shown in ancient art.

Ancinet Greeek art fron the Greek Islands of Santorini and/or Thera
Fresco from the Minoan Culture on Thera Circa 1700 BCE

At the time when ancient histories were not recorded in the written word it is archeology and art history that give us insight into the nature of the ancient world. Artifacts found in situ their characteristics and the comparative analysis of these items along with the scientific clues they give us are the threads of evidence that lead us to new conclusions about the times and places where these items were made and used . Both archeology and art history are disciplines that lead to powers of observation, records keeping , memory banks of comparative data and the art of deductive reasoning.

As a prime example of this concept we are fortunate to have a moment frozen in time on the island of Santorini, which was covered by the volcanic eruption of Thera in approximately 1625 BCE.

Because the ancient city was covered completely in Volcanic ash the location became a time capsule waiting to be opened upon discovery. This event took place before the time a written language could record the history of this island however the people did record their history in the form of story boards on elaborate frescos showing the day to day conduct of the people on the island. The ancient art frescoes illustrating the use of boats as part of the daily culture of the Greek Islands rival the art and iconography of Egypt in revealing the use of the boat in the pre-Mycenaean civilization that occupied the ancient Greek islands and mainland. This ancient Greek art is an exact window in time into the 16th or 17th Century BCE. Through these beautifully rendered paintings we can witness the culture of the ancient Greek Islands as if from a time machine. Like ancient Pompeii several ancient Greek islands of the Aegean were covered with volcanic ash to create a literal time casual that was only to be opened again in the twentieth century.

This ancient history recorded as frescos on a wall was covered in volcanic ash preserving a visual record of the culture and Greek ships from a very specific time in the history of the island.

Mycenaean Shipping Amphora Dated approximately 1700 BCE  Ancient  History recorded as Greek Pottery  from the 17th Century BCE showing a ship

These frescoes of ancient Greek art illustrate the use of different kinds of Greek ships for transportation, freight, fishing, and as pleasure crafts. The dependency of the culture on the use of boats was dictated by its isolated island geography. Because of this cultures location in an water environment the association and use of boats and ships in most activities within the culture was universal. Under these circumstance we can assume the evolution of the boat building technologies was of premium value in this society.  One of the most interesting speculations about this culture is where the seeds of inspiration for this wonderful art came from.

This art history shows us the fertility of the bull was celebrated on these islands as in Egypt and Assyria and the iconography of the boats matches that of artifacts found In the ancient city of Ur. The best guess scenarios for the seed s of this culture favors the influences from the Tigris and Euphrates valleys as well as Egyptian and north African influences. The various forms of iconography throughout the culture suggests cultural exchanges through sea faring and trade were a regular event through out the Aegean Islands. This conclusion is supported by the depiction of animals that were not indigenous to the Islands such as monkeys and Oryx antelope. The knowledge of these particular species would have been dependant on a broad base of travel to foreign lands by members of this culture.

The sophisticated level reached by the prehistoric culture of Santorini has lead many people to speculate that this was the proverbial "Atlantis" which disappeared in a single day.

Ancient History from the Greek Islands  showing very early Greek Ships

Minoan Ship as depicted in ancient Greek art A model of the Greek ships used by the Aegean cultures starting in about 1700 BCE

Another Scene from the Santorini Frescos
buried in approximately 1625BCE

Read this Dissertation on the origins of the Sea Peoples circa 1250 BCE

Voyage of the Kyrenia II a modern replica of 4th Century BCE merchant vessel. Much will be revealed about his historic era from the Tektas Shipwreck Excavation   

Greek ships of the merchant class
Kyrenia Model Under Sail

Kyrenia Model 

The Ancient Greeks, especially the Athenians, exported olive oil, wine, and beautiful painted pottery to many different parts of the Mediterranean. They used these goods to trade for many different imports. This is a picture of a typical Greek merchant ship used to transport goods around the Mediterranean. Recent oceanographic archeological finds are shedding more light on the actual contents of their cargo’s and the construction techniques used in the merchant ships of antiquity. It is evident from art history that the Iconography and its varied sources that the general design of these merchant vessels remained consistent and changed little over an extended period of time .

Image from  Attic Pottery ancient Greek art of 540 BCE  

See Trading Vessel Image from Greek Attic Pottery

The configuration of merchant vessels changed little in form and function over time the bucket boat was the norm throughout the Mediterranean 

Model of a Roman merchant ship,
of the Corbita type From the Museum of the Ephebe. See wall panel illustration above


Compare to image from this ancient Greek art Attic Pottery

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