Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Ship Building Illustrated


Shipbuilding in Egypt.




The earliest information on the building of ships is found, as might be expected, on the Egyptian tombs and monuments.7 It is probable that the valley of the Nile was also the first land bordering on the Mediterranean in which ships, as distinguished from more elementary craft, were constructed. Everything is in favour of such a supposition. In the first place, the country was admirably situated, geographically, for the encouragement of the art of navigation, having seaboards on two important inland seas which commanded the commerce of Europe and Asia. In the next place, the habitable portion of Egypt consisted of a long narrow strip of densely peopled, fertile territory, bordering a great navigable river, which formed a magnificent highway throughout the whole extent of the country. It is impossible to conceive of physical circumstances more conducive to the discovery and development of the arts of building and navigating floating structures. The experience gained on the safe waters of the Nile would be the best preparation for taking the bolder step of venturing on the open seas. The character of the two inland seas which form the northern and eastern frontiers of Egypt was such as to favour, to the greatest extent, the spirit of adventure. As a rule, their waters are relatively calm, and the distances to be traversed to reach other lands are inconsiderable. We know that the ancient Egyptians, at a period which the most modern authorities place at about 7,000 years ago, had already attained to a very remarkable degree of civilisation and to a knowledge of the arts of construction on land which has never since been excelled. What is more natural than to suppose that the genius and science which enabled them to build the Pyramids and their vast temples and palaces, to construct huge works for the regulation of the Nile, and to quarry, work into shape, and move into place blocks of granite weighing in some cases several hundreds of tons, should also lead them to excel in the art of building ships? Not only the physical circumstances, but the habits and the religion of the8 people created a demand, even a necessity, for the existence of navigable floating structures. At the head of the delta of the Nile was the ancient capital, the famous city of Memphis, near to which were built the Pyramids, as tombs in which might be preserved inviolate until the day of resurrection, the embalmed bodies of their kings. The roofs of the burial chambers in the heart of the Pyramids were prevented from falling in, under the great weight of the superincumbent mass, by huge blocks, or beams, of the hardest granite, meeting at an angle above the chambers. The long galleries by which the chambers were approached were closed after the burial by enormous gates, consisting of blocks of granite, which were let down from above, sliding in grooves like the portcullis of a feudal castle. In this way it was hoped to preserve the corpse contained in the chamber absolutely inviolate. The huge blocks of granite, which weighed from 50 to 60 tons each, were supposed to be too heavy ever to be moved again after they had been once lowered into position, and they were so hard that it was believed they could never be pierced. Now, even if we had no other evidence to guide us, the existence of these blocks of granite in the Pyramids would afford the strongest presumption that the Egyptians of that remote time were perfectly familiar with the arts of inland navigation, for the stone was quarried at Assouan, close to the first cataract, 583 miles above Cairo, and could only have been conveyed from the quarry to the building site by water.
In the neighbourhood of Memphis are hundreds of other blocks of granite from Assouan, many of them of enormous size. The Pyramid of Men-kau-Ra, or Mycerinus, built about 3633 b.c., was once entirely encased with blocks from Assouan. The Temple of the Sphinx, built at a still earlier date, was formed, to a large extent, of huge pieces of the same material, each measuring 15 × 5 × 3·2 feet, and weighing about 18
 tons. The mausoleum of the sacred bulls at Sakara contains numbers of Assouan granite sarcophagi, some of which measure 13 × 8 × 11 feet. These are but a few instances, out of the many existing, from which we may infer that, even so far back as the fourth dynasty, the Egyptians made use of the arts of inland navigation. We are, however, fortunately not obliged to rely on inference, for we have direct evidence from the sculptures and records on the ancient tombs. Thanks to these, we now know what the ancient Nile boats were like, and how they were propelled, and what means were adopted for transporting the huge masses of building material which were used in the construction of the temples and monuments.
The art of reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions was first discovered about the year 1820, and the exploration of the tombs and monuments has only been prosecuted systematically during the last five-and-twenty years. Most of the knowledge of ancient Egyptian ships has, therefore, been acquired in quite recent times, and much of it only during the last year or two. This is the reason why, in the old works on shipbuilding, no information is given on this most interesting subject. Knowledge is, however, now being increased every day, and, thanks to the practice of the ancient Egyptians of recording their achievements in sculpture in a material which is imperishable in a dry climate, we possess at the present day, probably, a more accurate knowledge of their ships than we do of those of any other ancient or mediæval people.
By far the oldest boats of which anything is now known were built in Egypt by the people who inhabited that country before the advent of the Pyramid-builders. It is only within the last few years that these tombs have been explored and critically examined. They are now supposed to be of Libyan origin and to date from between 5000 and 6000 b.c. In many of these1 tombs vases of pottery have been discovered, on which are painted rude representations of ships. Some of the latter were of remarkable size and character. Fig. 2 is taken from one of these vases. It is a river scene, showing two boats in procession. The pyramid-shaped mounds in the background represent a row of hills. These boats are evidently of very large size. One of them has 58 oars, or more probably paddles, on each side, and two large cabins amidships, connected by a flying bridge, and with spaces fenced off from the body of the vessel. The steering was, apparently, effected by means of three large paddles on each side, and from the prow of one of the boats hangs a weight, which was probably intended for an anchor. It will be noticed that the two ends of these vessels, like the Nile boats of the Egyptians proper, were not waterborne. A great many representations of these boats have now been discovered. They all have the same leading characteristics, though they differ very much in size. Amongst other peculiarities they invariably have an object at the prow resembling two branches of palm issuing from a stalk, and also a mast carrying an ensign at the after-cabin.
The oldest known ships.
Fig. 2.—The oldest known ships. Between 5000 and 6000 b.c.
Some explorers are of opinion that these illustrations do not represent boats, but fortifications, or stockades of some sort. If we relied only on the rude representations painted on the vases, the question might be a moot one. It has, however, been definitely set at rest by Professor Flinders Petrie, who, in the year 1899, brought back from Egypt very large drawings of the same character, taken, not from vases, but from the tombs themselves. The drawings clearly show that the objects are boats, and that they were apparently very shallow and flat-bottomed. It is considered probable that they were employed in over-sea trade as well as for Nile traffic; for, in the same tombs were found specimens of pottery of foreign manufacture, some of which have been traced to Bosnia.
Frontispiece.
Fig. 3.—Egyptian boat of the time of the third dynasty.
The most ancient mention of a ship in the world's history is to be found in the name of the eighth king of Egypt after Mena, the founder of the royal race. This king, who was at the head of the second dynasty, was called Betou (Boëthos in Greek), which word signifies the "prow of a ship." Nineteen kings intervened between him and Khufu (Cheops), the builder of the Great Pyramid at Ghizeh. The date of this pyramid is given by various authorities as from about 4235 to 3500 b.c. As the knowledge of Egyptology increases the date is set further and further back, and the late Mariette Pasha, who was one of the greatest authorities on the subject, fixed it at 4235 b.c. About five centuries intervened between the reign of Betou and the date of the Great Pyramid. Hence we can infer that ships were known to the Egyptians of the dynasties sixty-seven centuries ago.
Fortunately, however, we are not obliged to rely on inferences drawn from the name of an individual; we actually12 possess pictures of vessels which, there is every reason to believe, were built before the date of the Great Pyramid.
The boat represented by Fig. 3 is of great interest, as it is by far the oldest specimen of a true Egyptian boat that has yet been discovered. It was copied by the late Mr. Villiers Stuart from the tomb of Ka Khont Khut, situated in the side of a mountain near Kâu-el-Kebîr, on the right bank of the Nile, about 279 miles above Cairo.1 The tomb belongs to a very remote period. From a study of the hieroglyphs, the names of the persons, the forms of the pottery found, and the shape, arrangement, and decoration of the tomb, Mr. Villiers Stuart came to the conclusion that it dates from the third dynasty, and that, consequently, it is older than the Great Pyramid at Ghizeh. If these conclusions are correct, and if Mariette's date for the Great Pyramid be accepted, Fig. 3 represents a Nile boat as used about 6,300 years ago—that is to say, about fifteen centuries before the date commonly accepted for the ark. Mr. Villiers Stuart supposes that it was a dug-out canoe, but from the dimensions of the boat this theory is hardly tenable. It will be noted that there are seven paddlers on each side, in addition to a man using a sounding, or else a punt, pole at the prow, and three men steering with paddles in the stern, while amidships there is a considerable free space, occupied only by the owner, who is armed with a whip, or courbash. The paddlers occupy almost exactly one-half of the total length, and from the space required for each of them the boat must have been quite 56 feet long. It could hardly have been less than seven feet wide, as it contained a central cabin, with sufficient space on either side of the latter for paddlers to sit. If it were a "dug-out," the tree from which it was made must have been brought down the river from tropical 1Africa. There is no reason, however, to suppose anything of the sort; for, if the epoch produced workmen skilful enough to excavate and decorate the tomb, and to carve the statues and make the pottery which it contained, it must also have produced men quite capable of building up a boat from planks.
Frontispiece.
Fig. 4.—Egyptian boat of the time of the fourth dynasty.
The use of sails was also understood at this remote epoch, for it will be noticed that, on the roof of the cabin is lying a mast which has been unshipped. The mast is triangular in shape, consisting of two spars, joined together at the top at an acute angle, and braced together lower down. This form was probably adopted in order to dispense with stays, and thus facilitate shipping and unshipping. It is also worthy of note that this boat appears to have been decked over, as the feet of all those on board are visible above the gunwale. A representation of a very similar boat was found in the tomb of Merâb, a son of Khufu, of the fourth dynasty.
The tombs of Egypt abound in pictures of boats and larger vessels, and many wooden models of them have also been found in the sarcophagi. There is in the Berlin Museum a model of a boat similar in general arrangement to the one just described. It is decked over and provided with a cabin amidships, which does not occupy the full width of the vessel. Fig. 4 is a vessel of later date and larger size than that found in the tomb of Ka Khont Khut, but its general characteristics are similar. From the number of paddlers it must have been at least 100 feet in length. In this case we see the mast is erected and a square sail set. The bow and stern also come much higher out of the water. The roof of the cabin is prolonged aft, so as to form a shelter for the steersman and a seat for the man holding the ropes. Similarly it is prolonged forward, so as to provide a shelter for the captain, or owner. The method of steering with oars continued in use for centuries; but in later and larger vessels the steering-oars, which were of great size, were worked by a mechanical arrangement. The illustration was taken originally from a fourth-dynasty tomb at Kôm-el-Ahmars.
There are also extant pictures of Egyptian cattle-boats, formed of two ordinary barges lashed together, with a temporary house, or cattle-shed, constructed across them. The history of Egypt, as inscribed in hieroglyphs on the ancient monuments, relates many instances of huge sarcophagi, statues, and obelisks having been brought down the Nile on ships. The tombs and monuments of the sixth dynasty are particularly rich in such records. In the tomb of Una, who was a high officer under the three kings, Ati, Pepi I., and Mer-en-Ra, are inscriptions which shed a flood of light on Egyptian shipbuilding of this period, and on the uses to which ships were put. In one of them we learn how Una was sent by Pepi to quarry a sarcophagus in a single piece of limestone, in the mountain of Jurra, opposite to Memphis, and to transport it, together with other stones, in one of the king's ships. In another it is related how he headed a military expedition1 against the land of Zerehbah, "to the north of the land of the Hirusha," and how the army was embarked in ships.
In the reign of Pepi's successor, Mer-en-Ra, Una appears to have been charged with the quarrying and transport of the stones destined for the king's pyramid, his sarcophagus, statue, and other purposes. The following passage from the inscriptions on his tomb gives even the number of the ships and rafts which he employed on this work:2
"His Holiness, the King Mer-en-Ra, sent me to the country of Abhat to bring back a sarcophagus with its cover, also a small pyramid, and a statue of the King Mer-en-Ra, whose pyramid is called Kha-nofer ('the beautiful rising'). And his Holiness sent me to the city of Elephantine to bring back a holy shrine, with its base of hard granite, and the doorposts and cornices of the same granite, and also to bring back the granite posts and thresholds for the temple opposite to the pyramid Kha-nofer, of King Mer-en-Ra. The number of ships destined for the complete transport of all these stones consisted of six broad vessels, three tow-boats, three rafts, and one ship manned with warriors."
Further on, the inscriptions relate how stone for the Pyramid was hewn in the granite quarries at Assouan, and how rafts were constructed, 60 cubits in length and 30 cubits in breadth, to transport the material. The Royal Egyptian cubit was 20·67 inches in length, and the common cubit 18·24 inches. The river had fallen to such an extent that it was not possible to make use of these rafts, and others of a smaller size had to be constructed. For this purpose Una was despatched up the river to the country of Wawa-t, which Brugsch considered to be the modern Korosko. The inscription states—
"His Holiness sent me to cut down four forests in the South, in order to build three large vessels and four towing-vessels out of the acacia wood in the country of Wawa-t. And behold the officials of Araret, Aam, and Mata caused the wood to be cut down for this purpose.
I executed all this in the space of a year. As soon as the waters rose I loaded the rafts with immense pieczof granite for the Pyramid Kha-nofer, of the King Mer-en-Ra."
Mr. Villiers Stuart found several pictures of large ships of this remote period at Kasr-el-Syad on the Nile, about 70 miles below Thebes, in the tomb of Ta-Hotep, who lived in the reigns of Pepi I. and his two successors. These boats were manned with twenty-four rowers, and had two cabins, one amidships and the other astern.3 The same explorer describes the contents of a tomb of the sixth dynasty at Gebel Abû Faida, on the walls of which he observed the painting of a boat with a triple mast (presumably made of three spars arranged like the edges of a triangular pyramid), and a stern projecting beneath the water.
Between the sixth and the eleventh dynasties Egyptian history is almost an utter blank. The monuments contain no records for a period of about 600 years. We are, therefore, in complete ignorance of the progress of shipbuilding during this epoch. It was, however, probably considerable; for, when next the monuments speak it is to give an account of a mercantile expedition on the high seas. In the Valley of Hamâmât, near Coptos, about 420 miles above Cairo, is an inscription on the rocks, dating from the reign of Sankh-ka-Ra, the last king of the eleventh dynasty (about 2800 b.c. ), describing an expedition by sea to the famous land of Punt, on the coast of the Red Sea. This expedition is not to be confounded with another, a much more famous one, to the same land, carried out by direction of Queen Hatshepsu of the eighteenth dynasty, about eleven centuries later. Sankh-ka-Ra's enterprise is, however, remarkable as being the first over-sea maritime expedition recorded in the world's history. It may be noted that it took place at about the date usually assigned to Noah's ark.
The town of Coptos was of considerable commercial importance, having been at one end of the great desert route from the Nile to the Red Sea port of Kosseir, whence most of the Egyptian maritime expeditions started. The land of Punt, which was the objective of the expedition, is now considered to be identical with Somaliland. The following extracts from the inscription give an excellent idea of the objects and conduct of the expedition, which was under the leadership of a noble named Hannu, who was himself the author of the inscription:4
"I was sent to conduct ships to the land of Punt, to fetch for Pharaoh sweet-smelling spices, which the princes of the red land collect out of fear and dread, such as he inspires in all nations. And I started from the City of Coptos, and his Holiness gave the command that the armed men, who were to accompany me, should be from the south country of the Thebaîd."
After describing the arrangements which he made for watering the expedition along the desert route, he goes on to say:—
"Then I arrived at the port Seba, and I had ships of burthen built to bring back products of all kinds. And I offered a great sacrifice of oxen, cows, and goats. And when I returned from Seba I had executed the King's command, for I brought him back all kinds of products which I had met with in the ports of the Holy Land (Punt). And I came back by the road of Uak and Rohan, and brought with me precious stones for the statues of the temples. But such a thing never happened since there were kings; nor was the like of it ever done by any blood relations who were sent to these places since the time (of the reign) of the Sun-god Ra."
From the last sentence of the above quotation we may infer that previous expeditions had been sent to the land of Punt. Communication with this region must, however, have been carried on only at considerable intervals, for we read that 18Hannu had to build the ships required for the voyage. Unfortunately, no representations of these vessels accompany the inscription.
Between the end of the eleventh and the commencement of the eighteenth dynasty, the monuments give us very little information about ships or maritime expeditions. Aahmes, the first king of the latter dynasty, freed Egypt from the domination of the Shepherd Kings by means of a naval expedition on the Nile and the Mediterranean. A short history of this campaign is given in the tomb of another Aahmes, near El Kab, a place on the east bank of the river, 502 miles south of Cairo. This Aahmes was a captain of sailors who served under Sequenen-Ra, King Aahmes, Amenophis I., and Thotmes I. King Aahmes is supposed to have been the Pharaoh of the Old Testament who knew not Joseph. He lived about 1700 b.c.
By far the most interesting naval records of this dynasty are the accounts, in the temple of Dêr-el-Bahari close to Thebes, of the famous expedition to the land of Punt, carried out by order of that remarkable woman Queen Hatshepsu, who was the daughter of Thotmes I., half-sister and wife of Thotmes II., and aunt and step-mother of the famous king Thotmes III. She appears to have been called by her father during his lifetime to share the throne with him, and to have practically usurped the government during the reign of her husband and during the early years of the reign of her nephew.
The expedition to the land of Punt was evidently one of the most remarkable events of her reign. It took place about 1600 b.c. —that is to say, about three centuries before the Exodus. The history of the undertaking is given at great length on the retaining wall of one of the terraces of the temple, and the various scenes and events are illustrated by carvings on the same wall, in as complete a manner as though the expedition19 had taken place in the present time, and had been accompanied by the artists of one of our pictorial newspapers. Fortunately, the great bulk of the carvings and inscriptions remain to this day, and we possess, therefore, a unique record of a trading expedition carried out at this remote period.
The carvings comprise representations of the ships going out. The landing at the "incense terraced-mountain," and the meeting with the princes and people of this strange land, are also shown. We have pictures of their pile dwellings, and of the trees and animals of the country, and also portraits of the King of Punt, of his wife and children. Lastly, we have representations of the ships returning to Egypt, laden with the precious incense of the land and with other merchandise, and also of the triumphant reception of the members of the expedition at Thebes.
One of the inscriptions relates as follows:5
"The ships were laden to the uttermost with the wonderful products of the land of Punt, and with the different precious woods of the divine land, and with heaps of the resin of incense, with fresh incense trees, with ebony, (objects) of ivory set in pure gold from the land of the 'Amu, with sweet woods, Khesit-wood, with Ahem incense, holy resin, and paint for the eyes, with dog-headed apes, with long-tailed monkeys and greyhounds, with leopard-skins, and with natives of the country, together with their children. Never was the like brought to any king (of Egypt) since the world stands."
The boast contained in the concluding sentence was obviously not justified, as we know the same claims were made in the inscription in the valley of Hammamât, describing the previous expedition to Punt, which took place eleven centuries earlier.
From the frontispiece, Fig. 1, we can form an accurate idea of the ships used in the Red Sea trade in the time of the eighteenth dynasty. They were propelled by rowers instead of by paddlers, as in all the previous examples. There were fifteen rowers on each side, and, allowing four feet for the distance between each seat, and taking account of the length of the overhanging portions at bow and stern, the length of each vessel could have been little short of a hundred feet. They were apparently decked over and provided with raised cabins at the two extremities. The projections marked along the sides may indicate the ends of beams, or they may, as some writers have supposed, have been pieces of timber against which the oars could be worked in narrow and shallow water.
Frontispiece.
Fig. 5.—Nile barge carrying obelisks. About 1600 b.c.
These vessels were each rigged with a huge square sail. The spars carrying the sail were as long as the boats themselves, and were each formed of two pieces spliced together in the middle. The stems and sterns were not waterborne. In order to prevent the vessel from hogging under the influence of the weights of the unsupported ends, a truss was employed, similar in principle and object to those used to this day in American river steamers. The truss was formed by erecting four or more pillars in the body of the vessel, terminating at a height21 of about six feet above the gunwale, in crutches. A strong rope running fore and aft was passed over these crutches and also round the mast, the two ends of the rope having been so arranged as to gird and support the stem and stern respectively.
The Temple of Dêr-el-Bahari contained also a most interesting illustrated account of the transport of two great obelisks down the Nile in the reign of the same queen. Unfortunately, parts of the description and of the carvings have been lost, but enough remains to give us a very clear idea of the vessels employed and of the method of transport. Fig. 5 shows the type of barge employed to carry the obelisks, of which there were two. The dotted lines show the portions of the carving which are at present missing. The restoration was effected by Monsieur Edouard Naville.6 The restoration is by no means conjectural. The key to it was furnished by a hieroglyph in the form of the barge with the obelisks on deck. Some of these obelisks were of very large size. There are two, which were hewn out of granite for Queen Hatshepsu, still at the Temple of Karnak. They may, very possibly, be the two which are referred to in the description at Dêr-el-Bahari. One of them is 98 feet and the other 105 feet in height. The larger of the two has been calculated to weigh 374 tons, and the two together may have weighed over 700 tons. To transport such heavy stones very large barges would have been required. Unfortunately, the greater portion of the inscription describing the building of these boats has been lost, but what remains states that orders were given to collect "sycamores from the whole land (to do the) work of building a very great boat." There is, however, an inscription still intact in the tomb of an ancient Egyptian named Anna, who lived in the reigns of the three kings Thotmes (and therefore also during22that of Queen Hatshepsu), which relates that, having to transport two obelisks for Thotmes I., he built a boat 120 cubits long and 40 cubits wide. If the royal cubit of 20·72 inches was referred to, the dimensions of the boat would have been 200 feet long by 69 feet wide. This is possibly the very boat illustrated on the walls of Dêr-el-Bahari; for, it having evidently been a matter of some difficulty to collect the timber necessary to build so large a vessel, it seems only natural to suppose that it would be carefully preserved for the future transport of similar obelisks. If, however, it was found necessary to construct a new boat in order to transport Queen Hatshepsu's obelisks, we may be fairly certain that it was larger than the one whose dimensions are given above, for the taller of her two obelisks at Karnak is the largest that has been found in Egypt in modern times. The obelisk of rose granite of Thotmes I., still at Karnak, is 35 feet shorter, being 70 feet, or exactly the same height as the one called Cleopatra's Needle, now on the Thames Embankment.
The barge shown in Fig. 5 was strengthened, apparently, with three tiers of beams; it was steered by two pairs of huge steering-oars, and was towed by three parallel groups, each consisting of ten large boats. There were 32 oarsmen to each boat in the two wing groups, and 36 in each of the central groups: there were, therefore, exactly one thousand oars used in all. The towing-cable started from the masthead of the foremost boat of each group, and thence passed to the bow of the second one, and so on, the stern of each boat being left perfectly free, for the purpose, no doubt, of facilitating the steering. The flotilla was accompanied by five smaller boats, some of which were used by the priests, while the others were despatch vessels, probably used to keep up communications with the groups of tugs.
There are no other inscriptions, or carvings, that have as yet23 been discovered in Egypt which give us so much information regarding Egyptian ships as those on the Temple at Dêr-el-Bahari. From time to time we read of naval and mercantile expeditions, but illustrations of the ships and details of the voyages are, as a rule, wanting. We know that Seti I., of the nineteenth dynasty, whose reign commenced about 1366 b.c., was a great encourager of commerce. He felled timber in Lebanon for building ships, and is said to have excavated a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea. His successor, the famous Ramses II., carried on wars by sea, as is proved by the inscriptions in the Temple at Abû Simbel in Nubia, 762 miles above Cairo.
In the records of the reign of Ramses III., 1200 b.c., we again come upon illustrations of ships in the Temple of Victory at Medînet Habû, West Thebes. The inscriptions describe a great naval victory which this king won at Migdol, near the Pelusiac mouth of the Nile, over northern invaders, probably Colchians and Carians. Fig. 6 shows one of the battleships. It is probably more a symbolical than an exact representation, nevertheless it gives us some valuable information. For instance, we see that the rowers were protected against the missiles of their adversaries by strong bulwarks, and the captain occupied a crow's nest at the masthead.
Ramses III. did a great deal to develop Egyptian commerce. His naval activities were by no means confined to the Mediterranean, for we read that he built a fleet at Suez, and traded with the land of Punt and the shores of the Indian Ocean. Herodotus states that, in his day, the docks still existed at the head of the Arabian Gulf where this Red Sea fleet was built.
Pharaoh Nekau (Necho), who reigned from 612 to 596 b.c., and who defeated Josiah, King of Judah, was one of the kings of Egypt who did most to encourage commerce. He commenced a canal to join the Pelusiac branch of the Nile at24 Bubastis with the Red Sea, but never finished it. It was under his directions that the Phœnicians, according to Herodotus, made the voyage round Africa referred to on p. 27. When Nekau abandoned the construction of the canal he built two fleets of triremes, one for use in the Mediterranean, and the other for the Red Sea. The latter fleet was built in the Arabian Gulf.
Frontispiece.
Fig. 6.—Battleship of Ramses III. About 1200 b.c.
In later times the seaborne commerce of Egypt fell, to a large extent, into the hands of the Phœnicians and Greeks.
Herodotus (484 to 423 b.c. ) gives an interesting account of the Nile boats of his day, and of the method of navigation of the river.7
"Their boats, with which they carry cargoes, are made of the thorny acacia.... From this tree they cut pieces of wood about two cubits in length, and arrange them like bricks, fastening the boat together by a great number of long bolts through the two-cubit pieces; and when they have thus fastened the boat together they lay cross-pieces over the top, using no ribs for the sides; and within they caulk the seams with papyrus. They make one steering-oar for it, which is passed through the bottom of the boat, and they have a mast of acacia and sails of papyrus. These boats cannot sail up the river unless there be a very fresh wind blowing, but are towed.... Down stream they travel as follows: they have a door-shaped crate, made of tamarisk wood and reed mats sewn together, and also a stone of about two talents' weight, bored with a hole; and of these the boatman lets the crate float on in front of the boat, fastened with a rope, and the stone drag behind by another rope. The crate then, as the force of the stream presses upon it, goes on swiftly and draws on the ... boats, ... while the stone, dragging after it behind and sunk deep in the water, keeps its course straight."
In connection with this account it is curious to note that, at so late a period as the time of Herodotus, papyrus was used for the sails of Nile boats, for we know that, for many centuries previously, the Egyptians were adepts in the manufacture of linen, and actually exported fine linen to Cyprus to be used as sail-cloth.
Before concluding this account of shipbuilding in ancient Egypt, it may be mentioned that, in the year 1894, the French Egyptologist, Monsieur J. de Morgan, discovered several Nile boats of the time of the twelfth dynasty (2850 b.c. ) admirably preserved in brick vaults at Dashûr, a little above Cairo, on the left bank of the river. The site of these vaults is about one hour's ride from the river and between 70 and 80 feet above the plain. The boats are about 33 feet long, 7 to 8 feet wide, and 2½ to 3 feet deep. As there were neither rowlocks nor masts, and as they were found in close proximity to some Royal tombs, it is considered probable that they were funeral boats, used for carrying royal mummies across the river. They are constructed of planks of acacia and sycamore, about three inches thick, which are dovetailed together and fastened with trenails. There are floors, but no ribs. In this respect the account of Herodotus is remarkably confirmed. The method of construction was so satisfactory that, although they are nearly 5,000 years old, they held rigidly together after their supports had been removed by Monsieur de Morgan. They were steered by two large paddles. The discovery of these26 boats is of extraordinary interest, for they were built at the period usually assigned to Noah's ark. It is a curious fact that they should have been found so far from the river, but we know from other sources—such as the paintings found in papyrus books—that it was the custom of the people to transport the mummies of royal personages, together with the funeral boats, on sledges to the tomb.
The famous galleys of the Egypt of the Ptolemies belonged to the period of Greek and Roman naval architecture, and will be referred to later.
From the time of the ancient Egyptian vessels there is no record whatever of the progress of naval architecture till we come to the period of the Greeks, and even the early records relating to this country are meagre in the extreme. The Phœnicians were among the first of the races who dwelt on the Mediterranean seaboard to cultivate a seaborne commerce, and to them, after the Egyptians, is undoubtedly due the early progress made in sea-going ships. This remarkable people is said to have originally come to the Levant from the shores of the Persian Gulf. They occupied a strip of territory on the seaboard to the north of Palestine, about 250 miles long and of the average width of only 12 miles. The chief cities were Tyre and Sidon. There are only three representations known to be in existence of the Phœnician ships. They must have been of considerable size, and have been well manned and equipped, for the Phœnicians traded with every part of the then known world, and founded colonies—the principal of which was Carthage—at many places along the coast-line of the Mediterranean. A proof of the size and seaworthiness of their ships was the fact that they made very distant voyages across notoriously stormy seas; for instance, to Cornwall in search of tin, and probably also to the south coast of Ireland. They also coasted along the western shores of Africa. Somewhere27 between the years 610 and 594 b.c.some Phœnician ships, acting under instructions from Pharaoh Nekau, are said to have circumnavigated Africa, having proceeded from the Indian to the Southern Ocean, and thence round by the Atlantic and through the Pillars of Hercules home. The voyage occupied more than two years, a circumstance which was due to the fact that they always landed in the autumn and sowed a tract of country with corn, and waited on shore till it was fit to cut. In the time of Solomon the joint fleets of the Israelites and Phœnicians made voyages from the head of the Red Sea down the coasts of Arabia and Eastern Africa, and even to Persia and Beluchistan, and probably also to India. The Phœnicians were not only great traders themselves, but they manned the fleets of other nations, and built ships for other peoples, notably for the Egyptians and Persians. It is unfortunate that we have so few representations of the Phœnician ships, but we are justified in concluding that they were of the same general type as those which were used by the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and eventually by the Romans. The representations of their vessels known to be in existence were found8 by the late Sir Austin Layard in the palace built by King Sennacherib at Kouyunjik, near Nineveh, about 700 b.c. One of these is shown in Fig. 7. Though they were obviously rather symbols of ships than faithful representations, we can, nevertheless, gather from them that the warship was a galley provided with a ram, and fitted with a mast carrying a single square sail; there were also two banks of oars on each side. The steering was accomplished by two large oars at the stern, and the fighting troops were carried on a deck or platform raised on pillars above the heads of the rowers.
Portion of a Phœnician galley. About 700 b.c
Fig. 7.—Portion of a Phœnician galley. About 700 b.c. From Kouyunjik (Nineveh).