Ancient Ships: The Ships of Antiquity
Ancient Ships in art history: Egyptian Ships in ancient Egypt
and Egyptian art Hapshetsut's Expedition to Punt
The record of ancient seafaring and trade as recorded
in Egyptian art at Queen Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri Circa
Queen Hatshepsut's temple
Hatshepsut is well known for her ambitious building
projects in Egypt particularly the erection of several Obelisks’
at Karnack and her funerary Temple at Deir el-Bahri. In her time
Hatshepsut was a model of feminine mystic, power and political acumen.
Her accomplishments in ancient Egypt rank well when compared
with , Queen Ferdinand of Spain, Queen Elizabeth 1 of England
and Catherine the Great of Russia.
After examining the contribution
she made to the new Kingdom, historians generally agree this person
was one of the greatest contributors to Egypt's ancient legacy in
Hatshepsut's character and personal
history is another story, this page is dedicated to her expedition
to Punt. This expedition is an indicator of her leadership and skill
in motivating and governing the Egyptian society of her time to
high achievement. The story of Hatshepsut's
expedition to punt is recorded for posterity in the Egyptian art
on the wall of her memorial temple.
The time slot for this adventure
was 1480 BCE. Egypt was in the New Kingdom, had stable boarders,
was recognized as the breadbasket of the Mediterranean. Egypt
had recently successfully colonized Nubia and had a seemingly
endless supply of gold coming into its treasuries from their southern
allies. Egypt had 2000 years of high civilization under
its belt, what could a girl do that was noteworthy.
Egypt was capable of asserting
its military power against any enemy if the situation required.
This fact would be demonstrated by the Military
exploits of Tutmohsis III who was Hatshepsut's co-ruler
From her own account of
things as recorder in her temple it appears Hapshetsut consulted
her Gods and was told to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors
and re-establish old trading associations that had fallen into
the hands of middle men.
Apparently for years the Pharaohs
had been dealing with middle men to acquire trade commodities coming
to them from the east and south through the Red Sea and eastern
desert trade routes Between Luxor and the Red Sea.
recommendation and solution to this problem was to mount an expedition
that would cut out the Middle man and go directly to the source
of supply for many of these commodities. This plan required the
organization of a fleet of seaworthy sailing ships and a military
unit to make the expedition.
Hapshepsut's task force was organized,
launched and proceeded to meet their goals in bringing the trade
goods of Punt to Egypt without the need for trade through middle
men. This page is dedicated to showing the ships used to make
the journey and to discussing the implications of the use of Egyptian
seafaring technologies at this time in History.
Above is a model of a river
barge used for transporting obelisks from quarries to the installation
sites. These freight barges were the Egyptians primary use of displacement
craft with wooden hulls. The ship building experience gained from
building these types of freighters for the transportation of large
scale building materials could have easily been transposed to the
technologies applied in the building of sea-going vessels.
Displacement craft of this type
would have been used in the construction of the Pyramids. The need
to transport large stones of up to 70 tons from remote quarries
to the site of the pyramids would have required the Egyptians to
have developed this technology when building the Pyramids. This
means the technology and its application for building this type
of ship was approximately 1000 years old by the time Hatshepsut
built her fleet.
Another indicator for this conclusion
was the fact that Sahure had built seafaring craft and sailed the
high seas in 2450 BCE and had recorded his exploits at his Pyramid
complex. Sahure may have been one of the ancestors Hatshepsut
had made reference to in her temple. It is clear that seafaring
had been a regular undertaking in Egyptian history but needed
a current champion to undertake a noteworthy expedition during this
generation of Egyptians. Hatshepsut in her wisdom decided to
champion the cause and record it for history.
A modern model of an Egyptian Seagoing Vessel
XVIII Dynasty (1580-1350 B.C.)
August F. Crabtree Collection of Miniature Ships
Mariners' Museum, Newport
The ship illustrated above is the kind of
vessel the ancient Egyptians would have used to in their trading
expeditions to Punt and the African sub -continent. Below is a low
relief placed in the wall of Queen Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri.
The walls of the temple are covered with reliefs and hieroglyphic
records of the events and highlights of this trading expedition
to the land of Punt, Circa 1480 BCE. These relief panels record
a key event in Egyptian history.
Relief showing ships which participated in the expedition to Punt.
This mural and others adorn the walls of Queen Hatshepsut's temple
at Deir el-Bahri.
The petroglyphs of the Egyptian Eastern Desert
provide the earliest record of the use of ships in the Egyptian
culture. Some of these are dated to the Naquada I period but many
of these are yet to be dated. Current research is trying to determine
the dating and relevance the petroglyphs have to later developments
in the use of ships in the Egyptian culture. Fortunately for
the researcher Egyptian Art is replete with images of ships form
the Naquada period to the Roman conquests.
Egyptian art gives us evidence for
the use of wooden boats from at least as early as the beginning
of the fourth millennium BCE on scraps of papyrus which show part
of a sickle shaped hull in which the paddlers appear to be sitting
inside the boat rather than on of it, as would be the case if the
boat was a reed raft. Wall panels a Sahure's funerary temple show
evidence for the types of ships used at the time the Pyramids were
By 2700 BC Egyptian civilization
had developed economically and politically to the point that it
was creating a powerful impression that found its expression in
grandiose architecture. The transportation of building materials
from quarries further up the Nile stimulated the development of
substantial wooden vessels capable of transporting and supplying
these new needs. In addition the temples and palaces were themselves
part of an elaborate funerary cult in which special boats were used
to transport the corpse to the Necropolis on the other side of the
Nile, and, symbolically, to assist the spirit in its passage into
the afterlife. The view of death as a passage across water is common
to many cultures and in itself testifies to the importance of boats
in those cultures.
Middle Colonnade Relief, South Side
Relief Depicting the Expedition to the Land of Punt
Drawings made as copies of the Egyptian Art reliefs
recording Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt. One
the first oceanographic expeditions recorded in art history.
Line drawing copy from a relief of Queen Hatshepsut's
expedition to the Land of Punt.
The Egyptian Sea going ships were apparently built
in much the same way as river craft designed for transporting heavy
construction material such as huge stones and obelisks. The earliest
evidence for this comes from iconography of around 2450BC, which
shows long slender hulls with considerable overhang, essentially
enlarged versions of the river craft. The inherent longitudinal
weakness of the reed raft inspired hulls was compensated, even at
this stage, by the addition of hogging trusses running above the
decks, and also by a substantial webbed girdling truss running round
the hull just below the sheer strake which provided some lateral
reinforcement to the hull.
Departure From Punt
The best recorded examples of Egyptian
seagoing ships at the height of their development are those built
for Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to the land of Punt, which
are depicted in considerable detail on relief sculptures at her
temple at Deir el- Bahri. These ships from the mid 2nd millennium
have much cleaner lines than earlier iconography of ships. These
ships are clearly the product of nearly a millennium of refinement
in shipbuilding techniques. Nevertheless the fundamental design
weaknesses persist including the prominent hogging trusses and the
16 protruding deck beams necessary to pin the sides of a weakly
framed shell built hull.
There is no evidence apparent in
the relief sculpture to show how the shell is constructed, but it
must be assumed to embody the dowelling and dovetailing techniques
found in the Dashur boats and later described by Herodotus. The
stem posts of these boats are straight, but the stern curves round
and is decorated with a lotus blossom, which is a common motif on
on Stamps (Hatshepsut's Ship) There are two large
steering oars, one on each side at the stern, which are turned by
tillers, which project downwards from the loom of the steering oar.
The sail is much wider than on earlier ships but the foot is still
supported by a boom and on one of the ships the yard has been lowered
to the boom rather than the foot raised to the yard, which would
be the normal way of furling a square sail. The yards are made of
two long spars fished together with a pronounced curvature and two
vangs or braces running to the ends of the yard rather than sheets
attached to the lower corners of the sail manipulate the sail. This
method of sail control is found in other ancient Mediterranean ships,
including those with loose-footed sails whereas in Northern Europe
the practice was to control the sail from the foot rather than the
yard. The mast is stepped roughly amidships and the standing rigging
consists of fore and backstays but no shrouds. In addition to the
sailing capability Hatshepsut's ships also have fifteen oarsmen
on each side. Allowing for an inters calm distance between the oarsmen
of just under three feet the central section of the ships must have
been around forty-five to fifty feet in length, and the overall
length may be estimated at around sixty to seventy feet.
Copy from a relief recording Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to the
Land of Punt.
The interpretation of the conformation of Hatshepsut's
ships from antique wall sculpture raises many problems. For example
the sails are shown in a fore and aft position and though it may
be assumed that such ships could go on a beam reach this would probably
not be the normal sailing position. Also the artist has raised the
waterline on the boats by about one foot. The cargo in these illustrations
is shown stacked on the decks. This artistic license has been interpreted
by some researchers as implying these ships were not watertight
and, by extension, were really developed rafts rather than displacement
craft. This seems unlikely, primarily because the general design
and fittings of the ships are too sophisticated for a raft base,
and secondly because artistic conventions in this and other pictures,
requires that the cargo be displayed to the observer of the relief,
cargo stored in a conventional hold would be concealed from the
observer. Lastly it is impossible to make a determination of how
the ships were built and how the planking was fastened from these,
or from other roughly contemporary illustrations. The question of
the method of construction is crucial to a proper understanding
of the nature of these ships. The conditions met during journeys
at sea would impose stresses on the hulls, which would not be encountered
in a river environment.
We can reasonably conclude that
the Egyptians had extensive experience with displacement craft from
at least the time of building the Pyramids and that Hapshepsut would
have had the benefit of earlier experiences with the sea worthiness
of ships to draw upon for the design of her craft. This fundemental
record from Egyptian History of the ships of Queen Hatshepsut as
recorded in her temple mark an apex in our knowledge of Egyptian
shipbuilding in its unique form.
The accomplishments of Hatshepsut during her tenure
as ruler in Egypt is one of the unique chapter in Egyptian
History. Her legacy is even more monumental in light of the male
dominated linage of Egyptian rulers.
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