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Egypt's Earliest Sailing Ships*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015


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Research Article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd 1960

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* The author wishes to express his appreciation to Professor Richard A. Parker of Brown University (U.S.A.) and to Professor George F. Carter of Johns Hopkins University (U.S.A.) for discussing many of the problems considered in this study.

1 E. A. W. Budge, A History of Egypt (London, 1902), 1, 80; H. R. Hall, The Civilization of Greece in the Bronze Age (London, 1928), 36, fig. 28; V. G. Childe, What Happened in History (New York, 1942), 75; S. Lloyd and F. Safar, ‘Eridu’, Sumer, IV (1948), 115-27; R. D. Barnett, ‘Early Shipping in the Near East’, ANTIQUITY (1958), 222. British Museum vase No. 35324, purchased in 1901, provenance unknown. Drawing on pot: H. Frankfort, Studies in Early Pottery of the Near East (London, 1924), I, pl. XIII (1).

2 British Museum vase No. 36326, purchased in 1902, provenance unknown. The author wishes to thank Dr I. E. S. Edwards, Keeper of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities, British Museum, for allowing him to examine this vase in November, 1957; and Mr A. F. Shore, for arranging for photographs. E. A. W. Budge, op cit., 73, published a line drawing of the boat on this vase without describing it, and failed to recognize the sail.

3 H. J. Kantor, ‘The Final Phase of Predynastic Culture’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, III (1944), 116. R. D. Barnett, op. cit., 222, is mistaken in assigning this vase to the Amratian period.

4 It is hoped that no reader will open up the question again as to whether this is a fort or palisade or ostrich farm or some other fanciful interpretation instead of a boat. All those who have considered the problem in any detail in the last quarter-century consider them to be boats. Admittedly they are crude stylized representations. For a recent discussion of this problem see A. J. Arkell, ‘Early Shipping in Egypt’, ANTIQUITY (1959), 52-53.

5 W. M. F. Petrie and J. E. Quibell, Naqada and Bailas (London, 1896), pl. LXVII, 14, which shows the design only on the vase. E. J. Baumgartel, The Cultures of Prehistoric Egypt (2nd ed., London, 1955), pl. XI, has published a photograph of the vase.

6 Ashmolean Museum, No. 1895.584.

7 E. J. Baumgartel, op cit., 82.

8 W. M. F. Petrie, Prehistoric Egypt (London, 1920), pl. XIX, 41N, 41S, 41U.

9 W. M. F. Petrie and J. E. Quibell, Naqada and Bailas (London, 1896), 49.

10 J. Capart, Primitive Art in Egypt (London, 1905), 121.

11 E. J. Baumgartel, op. cit., 13.

12 Ibid.

13 W. M. F. Petrie, Prehistoric Egypt (London, 1920), 31.

14 Ibid., pl. XIX, 41C.

15 W. M. F. Petrie, Royal Tombs of the First Dynasty (London, 1900), 1, pls. XXVII, 64, 65, 66, 67; XXXVI, 48.

16 J. E. Quibell and F. W. Green, Hierakonpolis (London, 1902), 11, pls. LXXV. LXXVI.

17 E. Assmann, ‘Die Schiffsbilder’, in L. Borchardt, Dos Grabdenkmal des Königs Sahu-re (Leipzig, 1913), 161, points out that the earliest known hieroglyph of a sail is shown in a 3rd Dynasty relief published by W. M. F. Petrie, Medum (London, 1892), pl, XIV. No earlier one has been turned up since Assmann wrote. By the 5th Dynasty the mast is shown at times as a sheer mast in the hieroglyph (ibid., fig. 21).

18 H. H. Nelson, ‘The Naval Battle Pictured at Medinet Habu’. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, II (1943), 40-55.

19 B. Graser, ‘Das Seewesen der alten Ågypter’, in J. Dümichen, Resultate der ... im Sommer 1868, etc. (Berlin, 1869), I, 1-26.

20 E. Assmann, op cit., 157.

21 R. O. Faulkner, ‘Egyptian Seagoing Ships’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, XXVI (1940), 6.

22 Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 1922, Part II, 13, fig. 12. Faulkner mistakenly gave 1921, 26, fig. 9 as the reference.

23 Metropolitan Museum of Art photograph No. 63650, Ac. no. 21.1.13.

24 E. Assmann, op cit., fig. 20, 159. Actually the royal barge of 5th Dynasty king Sahure is clearly shown with a boom at the foot (ibid., pl. IX). This boat has been magnificently reconstructed in a coloured drawing in LIFE magazine for 1 October, 1956.

25 N. de G. Davies, The Rock Tombs of Deir el-Gebrawt (London, 1902), vol. 11, pl. VII.

26 G. A. Reisner, Models of Ships and Boats (Cairo, 1913), 59-60, pl. XXVIII, 4891, 4892.

27 S. Lloyd and F. Safar, ‘Eridu’, Sumer, IV (1948), 115-7, pl. v. R. D. Barnett, op. cit., p. 221, is mistaken in saying that the model was found with mast and stays.

28 A. Salonen, ‘Die Wasserfahrzeuge in Babylonien’, Studia Orientalia, VIII, 4 (1939), p. 110, says that a cylinder seal of the Jemdet Nasr period (pl. III, 4) shows a mast and yard. However, a comparison of this with an earlier seal from the Uruk period (pl. III, 3) shows that the two lines (‘mast’ and ‘yard’) are a stylization of a punting pole and a steering oar.

29 W. M. F. Petrie, review of A. Mallon, et al, Teleilat Ghassul, in Ancient Egypt, 1934, 118.

30 A. Mallon, R. Koeppel and R. Neuville, Teleilat Ghassul (Rome, 1934), frontispiece, 139.

31 H. J. Kantor, ‘The Chronology of Egypt’, in R. W. Ehrich, Relative Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (Chicago, 1954), 2.

32 R. L. Bowen, Jr., ‘Eastern Sail Affinities’, American Neptune, XIII (1953), 82; R. L. Bowen, Jr., ‘The Origins of Fore-and-Aft Rigs’, American Neptune, XIX (1959), 294.

33 R. O. Faulkner, ‘A Syrian Trading Venture to Egypt’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, XXXIII (1947), 40-47.

34 A. Assmann, ‘Die Schiffsbilder’, in L. Borchardt, Das Grabdenkmal des Königs Sahu-re (Leipzig, 1913), 148.

35 Ibid.

36 N. de G. Davies, op. cit., pls. VII, XIX, XX.

37 J. H. Breasted, Jr., Egyptian Servant Statues (Washington, 1948), pl. 74, a, b.

38 H. E. Winlock, Models of Daily Life in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, 1955), pls. 70-76, 82. It is interesting to note that four funerary barks have masts 32 to 35 per cent from the bow (pls. 78-81), obviously preserving on these religious craft the older tradition as one might expect.

39 J. H. Breasted, Jr., op. cit., pls. 70, b ; 75, b.

40 A. Assmann, op. cit., 148.

41 Ibid.

42 We mentioned above that the socket (allegedly for a mast) in the Eridu boat was 38 per cent of the length from the bow. Such a location occurs relatively late in Egypt (FIG. 10). Since there were connections between Mesopotamia and Egypt certainly as early as the Gerzean period, this makes us suspect very strongly that the socket was not for a mast.

43 R. L. Bowen, Jr., ‘Experimental Nautical Research: Third Millennium B.C. Egyptian Sails,’ Mariner’s Mirror, XLV (1959) 332-7.

44 It could still be pointed 30° away from the path of the wind, but it slipped to leeward 15° with the sail set square to the wind.

45 A discussion of some of the running rigging and methods of setting Hatshepsut’s sails is to be published in the Mariner’s Mirror in 1960: R. L. Bowen, Jr., ‘Egyptian Sails of the Second Millennium B.C.’.

46 The 360° of the compass are divided into 32 points. Square-rigged clipper ships could point as high as five points off the wind.

47 R. L. Bowen, Jr., ‘Arab Dhows of Eastern Arabia’, American Neptune, IX (1949), 129.

48 S. V. Sølver, ‘Egyptian Shipping of About 1500 B.C.; Mariner’s Mirror, XXII (1936), 460.

49 See R. L. Bowen, Jr., ‘The Origins of Fore-and-Aft Rigs’, American Neptune, XIX (1959), 156-60, 187-8.

50 A. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (2nd ed., London, 1950), 498, P1, P2.

51 A. Salonen, op cit., 110, 116-9; A. Salonen, ‘Nautica Babyloniaca’, Studia Orientalia, XI, 1 (1942), 50.