Egypt and Crete 4000-1000 BC
FOR the earliest known pictures of ships we must turn to ancient Egypt. Not that we shall find there ships in their most primitive form—that an be done better in various out-of-the-way parts of he world at the present day—but because civilization eems to have dawned in Egypt, and it was there that len first began to make any lasting record of things round them.
Navigation in its simplest form is such a very ancient rt that even in Egypt, where records of one kind and nother go back for thousands of years, they take us owhere near the first days of man's use of boats. Boatbuilding seems to have come before drawing, and many snturies before writing.
On Egyptian pottery which is certainly at least as Id as 4000 B.C. we find designs which may possibly be leant for boats with a large number of paddles, but hich look far more like walled buildings of some sort, igures of men and birds on the same vases are quite ell drawn, and it is difficult to believe that the artist ho drew these would have made his boats so difficult ) recognize. True, in the Middle Ages we find artists laking excellent pictures of people in ships which are d better than caricatures, but in those cases the artists very likely never saw a ship, whereas in Egypt the whole nation has always been so dependent on the Nile that every one must have known the appearance of boats almost as well as that of their fellow-men.
These doubtful boats are made all the more doubtful by the fact that in the same collection of pottery in the British Museum there is one specimen with quite a good picture of a sailing-boat; this shows that boats were not beyond the capacity of artists of those far-off times. On the whole, there is wonderfully little difference between this vessel (Fig. 1) and those which we shall find in Egyptian carvings of two or three thousand years later. The hull is the
same shape, very round underneath and rising well out of the water for a long distance at each end. The only striking difference is that the bow is carried up very much higher than in later ships. The sail is practically the same as in all the earlier Egyptian sculptures, a square sail with a )7ard at the top and a boom at the bottom. The mast appears to be a single stick, but there is no indication of how it was supported or how the sail was hoisted and controlled. For knowledge of that sort we have to jump a thousand years or more—-not such a long jump after all, when we consider that we know something of Egypt for at least six thousand years. Here, then, at a date about 3000 B.C., we have (Fig. 2) a ship carved in stone and showing quite a lot of detail. The shape of the hull is I the same except that the ends are not turned right up I as they were before. There are thirteen oars on each.
side, and there are three very large oars used for steering . The sail is higher and narrower; it has a yard at its head and probably a boom at its foot. The mast is composed of two spars joined together at the top and set some little distance apart at the bottom. These two spars were probably not one in front of the other, but
side by side. The Egyptian artist had a way of twisting things round when he wanted to show details that were really hidden by other parts. The ropes leading to the ship's side from the mast are no doubt shrouds to hold it up against the pull of the sail. They are taken much nearer the stern than would be done nowadays, but this is easy to explain. The ancient Egyptians never sailed unless the wind was well behind them, and in any case the A-shaped mast would want more support in a lengthwise direction than sideways. It has a single stay going to the bow of the ship to keep it from falling backward, and the halliard which hoisted the yard is taken from the masthead to the stern to act as a backstay. The two ropes from the ends of the yard are braces, by means of which the sail could be turned to allow for a wind not quite over the stern.
There is no doubt that Egyptian ships as far back as 3000 B.C. were well-built vessels of considerable size. This was the beginning of the Pyramid Age, when stone was brought by water from a long way up the Nile. The first boats of the Nile Valley were probably simply floats made of reeds tied together in bundles. Something of the sort is in use even at the present time. Gradually these reed-bundle boats became more 'shipshape, ' and eventually, at some very remote period, wooden boats on the same pattern were introduced . These wooden boats were very different in construction from anything that we are used to seeing to-day. Egypt is a land badly off for large timber, and the method of building by means of keel, ribs, and planks which developed elsewhere from the great canoes scooped out of a single tree was never possible, or at any rate never easy, in Egypt. That being so, the Egyptians built their boats of short, narrow pieces of wood, each pinned sideways to the next. They gave them no keel, and depended for strength on thick sides and strong fastenings. The shape of the hulls, with the great overhang at each end, was perhaps partly due to their having been copied from the reed-bundle boats and partly to its convenience for loading and unloading by running one end over the bank of the river.
Apparently the two boats shown in Fig. 3, from the same monument, belong to the two kinds of building. The lower is evidently made of some material that has to be lashed together, and the droop of its bow suggests something rather flexible, while the upper looks stiffer and has no sign of lashings. There is another very important difference: the crew of the lower boat are paddling, and those of the upper one are rowing. This step from paddles to oars is quite simple when once it is thought of. All that is necessary is some kind of fixture against which the paddle can work; it then becomes in principle an oar. Still, like many simple
things, it took a long time for men to think of it, and when it was made it marked an important advance, because it allowed ships to be made much bigger than would ever have been possible with paddles.
So far we have been concerned with boats for use on the Nile. These were important because of their early date, but the true ship could be developed only in open water, and it was only by voyages across the sea .that the art of shipbuilding could spread from one people to another. Now we come to real seagoing ships.
By about 3000 B.C. the Egyptians seem to have been sending ships into the Eastern Mediterranean at least as far as Crete, which lies some three hundred miles north-west from the mouth of the Nile, and the coast of Phoenicia, some two hundred miles to the north-east.
About a hundred years after this we know definitely that Egyptian ships brought home cedar-wood, which they must have loaded in Phoenician harbours. A little later, about 2700 B.C., Sahure, King of Egypt, sent out a fleet of eight ships which brought back Phoenician prisoners. Representations of these ships were carved on the walls of a temple and have fortunately been preserved.
They show vessels very nnich like the Nile boats with certain extra fittings (Fig. 4). The enormous rope
running from end to end over a row of forked posts is a truss designed to prevent the ends of the ship from dropping. This dropping of the ends, or ' hogging,' has always been a failing of wooden ships. The Victory has hogged about eighteen inches in the bows, and the motor-launches which were bought in such numbers from America during the War were hogging more and more as time went on. The Egyptian method of guarding against it was thoroughly practical; something very much like it is used in shallow-draught river-steamers even to-day. The exact way in which the truss was made fast at each end is not quite clear, but it was probably taken round the middle of a heavy crosstimber , which was held in place by lashings passing right underneath the ship. How it was tightened, or 'set up,' is clear enough. It was done on the principle of the tourniquet—by putting a stick between the separate ropes that made up the truss, twisting as tightly as
was necessary, and then lashing the end of the stick to prevent it from untwisting. The pattern along the side is apparently formed by two ropes with another wound criss-cross from one to the other. It may have been another strengthening device or perhaps only a fender to save the sides from chafing.
A small but very important detail is the eye drawn on the upper part of the 'stem,' the upright post in the extreme point of the bows. This ornamental eye is still found in many parts of the world, particularly on the Chinese ships (Fig. 5) which we call ' junks.' The A-shaped mast is another ancient Egyptian feature that can now be seen in the East. For instance, the ships of the Irawadi river in Burma have a mast and sail that are very like those of the Nile vessels of five thousand years ago. Some people think that these things prove that the nations of the East learned to build ships from the Egyptians, at any rate indirectly.
It has even been claimed "that naval architecture is an Egyptian art, and that the main lines of the history of shipbuilding for the whole world were laid down in Egypt toward the end of the fourth millennium B.C." This seems a very large claim. No doubt the Egyptians as leaders in the march of civilization did point out the way to more backward peoples, but it must be remembered that it is as easy to find differences as resemblances, and some of the differences are very striking. The Burmese ship may have a mast and sail that came from Egypt, but they are used in a vessel of utterly different construction from anything that was known to the Egyptians. Even the most emphatic believers in the theory that Egypt was responsible for everything have to acknowledge that it is very unlikely that the dug-out canoe was invented or used in Egypt, and yet it is the dug-out that is still the foundation of Burmese shipbuilding. In China too the way that ships are built, and have been built for many centuries, seems to have no possible connexion with anything Egyptian.
Leaving this question, which would want a large book to itself, we will return to definite facts and consider some more Egyptian seagoing ships of about 1500 B.C. Queen Hatshepsut, who was then ruler of Egypt wanted various rare things, particularly myrrh, from a distant country known as Punt. Where exactly Punt was is not certain; it may have been Somaliland or it may have been a good deal farther down the east coast of Africa. In any case, the way there lay down the Red Sea, and the Queen fitted out a fleet of five
ships to go there. In those days there was a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, so that it was as easy for ships from the Nile to go that way as across the Mediterranean. The Suez Canal was nothing new after all.
The expedition was a great success, and the Queen was so pleased with the result that she had a full account of it engraved on the walls of a temple at Deir-el-Bahari, near Thebes. Two carvings, each showing five ships, are there to this day. One shows the fleet just arriving at its destination, in the other it is about to start for home.
The ships are all alike, but they are shown under various conditions. We see them sailing and rowing at the same time (as in Fig. 6), rowing with sail lowered, and lying close to the shore loading cargo. We even see the rowers in the second ship backing water to check her way as she reaches the beach. In a general way there is not very much difference between these ships of Hatshepsut and those of Sahure fifteen hundred years before. The shape of the hull is much the same, and it is strengthened with a rope truss in just the same way. In details there are many changes to notice.
One of the most striking is that the double mast has been replaced by a single spar, which seems to be lashed in place in some way. There are two stays and a single backstay, while the two halliards are also taken well toward the stern. Though one would expect an ordinary mast to need shrouds more than the A-shaped mast did, there is no sign of them. It would seem that the mast was stepped pretty firmly in the ship, so firmly that it was not often lowered. Both the yard and the boom are made of two pieces lashed together, a practice that still survives in ships of the Mediterranean and Red Sea.
From the masthead to the yard there run eight ropes. When the yard is hoisted only two of them are tight; the others hang down loosely. With the yard down, they are all drawn tight. No less than sixteen similar ropes run from the masthead to the boom. It is difficult to see the purpose of all these ropes, but it seems clear that one pair of those on the yard were ' lifts ' intended to keep the yard horizontal, or to tilt it up at one end if required. Two braces are shown on the yard, and two on the boom; the latter are so near the middle that they may have been used more for keeping the boom down than for twisting it round.
The steering-gear shows a great advance. It is no longer an oar but a real rudder. A steering-oar is held actually in the hand of the helmsman and can be pushed about in any direction, but a rudder is secured in such a way that it can only be twisted in its socket, and has a tiller, or projecting handle, which the helmsman holds. These rudders, one on each side, were secured in two places: to the side of the ship and to a post rising well above the side a trifle farther forward.
Beneath the rowers there is a row of oblong marks on the hull. At first sight these look like ports, or holes, for a second row of oars, but they are really the ends of the beams which supported the deck and held the ship's sides together. The bow is very like that of Sahure's ships, but the great lotus-flower in the stern is a new feature. The size of the actual ships is uncertain. If they are drawn on a scale of 1:14 (2 digits = 1 cubit), which seems a probable scale since the Egyptian cubit contained 28 digits, they would be about 88 feet long, and their oars would be about 3| feet apart. The ships of Sahure would seem to have been about 60 feet long.
Another scene in the sculptures of Deir-el-Bahari shows an enormous vessel being towed down the Nile with two great obelisks on board. The two obelisks put up by Hatshepsut were much bigger than the one on the Thames Embankment in London which we call 'Cleopatra's Needle.' They were about 100 feet long and weighed about 350 tons each. We know from an inscription that the vessel used to bring down two smaller obelisks had been 207 feet long and 69 feet wide. Much of the inscription relating to the transport of this second pair of obelisks has been destroyed, but what there is certainly suggests that another, bigger vessel was built. Such as it is, it runs as follows: ". . . trees in all the land to build a very great boat enlarging ... to load two obelisks at Elephantine." The two obelisks end to end as shown would require a length of 200 feet or more, and they would certainly have to be carried without bearing on the part of the hull which was out of the water at each end. If the drawing is in proportion—as it seems to be, except for the size of some of the men— the ship must have been at the very least 300 feet long, and more probably about 330. It was evidently of the same general shape as the ships which went to Punt, but it has three rows of beams showing. These must have been connected with one another and with the deck on which the obelisks lay by means of pillars, or 'stanchions, ' otherwise the lower beams would have been of no use in helping to take the weight. No less than thirty rowing-boats were used to tow the enormous 'lighter ' down the river.
It is worth noting that this vessel was very much bigger than the largest wooden sailing warship ever built. As for the actual loading and unloading of the obelisks, it is a mystery how it was managed without steam or hydraulic power and without even pulleys and wire ropes. When Cleopatra's Needle was brought to London an iron cylinder was built round it as it lay, and was then rolled down to the river with the obelisk inside. After that a deck-house was added, and the whole thing was towed to England by a steamer.
The Egyptian method may not have been quite so ingenious, but it was evidently thoroughly efficient. By the time of Hatshepsut other nations besides the Egyptians were beginning to take a share in the navigation of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Phoenicians had not yet reached their prime, but the people of the Greek islands, and especially of Crete, were in a high state of civilization by 2000 B.C. and had fine ships of a pattern quite different from those of Egypt.
Unfortunately, Cretan artists have not left us such good pictures of ships as the Egyptians. Apparently there were two quite distinct kinds of ships: the ' long ship,' meant mainly for rowing, and the ' round ship,' meant mainly for sailing. Among the Egyptians this difference does not seem to have been made, but from the Cretans onward it can be traced through Greek and Roman ships down almost to the end of wooden ships. The long type was a good deal straighter in the line of the hull than the Egyptian vessels; it had a stern that turned upward suddenly and rose high above the water, while its bow rose very little. It was rowed by a large number of oars and steered by big steering-oars or side-rudders. Mast and sail are not shown. One new feature appears very clearly, both in designs on pottery and in clay models; this is the pointed 'ram bow,' meant for smashing holes in the sides of enemies' ships.
From now on we shall find this ram bow as an invariable feature of the Mediterranean long ship, or galley. In the round-ship type there is always a mast and very often no oars. The two ends are more alike, and the whole shape of the hull is more like that of Egyptian ships of the time.
Soon after the days of the Punt expedition some of the Greek islands, perhaps Crete itself, were subject to the King of Egypt, whose power extended also through the whole of Palestine and Syria. This state of affairs did not last very long, for other nations began to press in from the north, and soon Crete was overrun by the ancestors of the Greeks of classical times, while the Hittites from Asia Minor began to advance into Syria. Driven out by the Greeks, the Cretans tried to find another home, and, in spite of being defeated at sea by the Egyptians, some of them managed to establish themselves in the south of Palestine, where we know them as the Philistines of the Bible.
The carving in which Rameses III, the last great ruler of the Egyptian Empire, celebrated his defeat of these "Northern People" in about 1200 B.C. shows quite distinct types of ships in the two fleets. The
Egyptian ships (Fig. 7) are of the same shape as before, but they have changed in details almost everywhere. The stern has lost its lotus decoration and ends in a thin, upturned point, while the bow has now a-lion's head right on the end of the actual hull. The rowers are protected by bulwarks, and there is a ' top ' at the masthead; these two features would perhaps be found only in warships. The sail has changed too; it has lost the boom at its foot, and it can now be furled beneath the yard while the yard is still hoisted.
The northern ships (Fig. 8) are apparently pure sailing-ships. They are alike at bow and stern, and have comparatively straight hulls, with the ends turning up very suddenly and finishing with birds' heads as decoration. Their masts and sails are exactly like those of the Egyptians, but it must be remembered that they are drawn by an Egyptian artist, who might easily overlook small differences and draw the rig to which he was accustomed.
This battle was one of the last successes of the Egyptian Empire. Egypt was to exist as an independent country for several centuries yet, but as a great power in the world she was finished. Within the next century the Philistines, the Hebrews, and the
Aramaeans had taken from her the whole of Syria and Palestine. At the same time the Egyptians, who had never been a seafaring people by nature, were replaced as the traders of the Levant by the Phoenicians, one of the greatest maritime nations of history. On the whole, ships seem to have changed very little in the course of the last two or three thousand years. Egypt may have led the world in civilization, and in consequence may have had much to do with the early stages of shipbuilding and navigation, but for some reason Egyptian shipbuilding settled down into a groove, and it was left to other nations to introduce anything in the way of new departures. This had been begun already by the Cretans; it was carried very much farther by the Phoenicians and by their successors, the Greeks and Romans.