Ancient Ships

Dec 19, 2013 by

ancient shipsAncient Ships by Cecil Torr was originally published in 1895 and I found it an interesting read even though ships are not at the top of my reading list.

Here are a few of the opening paragraphs about the earliest ships with oarsĀ  to give you a feel for this book:

“The Mediterranean is a sea where a vessel with sails may lie becalmed for days together, while a vessel with oars could easily be traversing the smooth waters, with coasts and islands everywhere at hand to give her shelter in case of storm. In that sea, therefore, oars became the characteristic instruments of navigatio ; and the arrangement of oars, the chief problem in shipbuilding.

And so long as the Mediterranean nations dominated Western Europe, vessels of the southern type were built upon the northern coasts, though there generally was wind enough here for sails and too much wave for oars. But afterwards the nations of Western Europe filled the Mediterranean with sailing-vessels of the types they had devised for voyages on the Ocean; and oars finally gave place to sails.

Yet, only a few years before sails began in their turn to give place to steam, oars were still employed on vessels of considerable size that were intended for the Mediterranean alone ; and probably would have been more generally employed there, had there still been an adequate supply of galley-slaves. In the ancient world, however, the rower was not usually a slave : and it is a strange fact that Athenian citizens in the age of Pericles, who were in no wise unconscious of their own transcendent gifts, willingly laboured at the oar to generate a mechanical force that was directed by the intelligence of others.

The art of rowing can first be discerned upon the Nile. Boats with oars, as in fg. 2, are represented in the earliest pictorial monuments of Egypt, dating from about 2500 B.C.: and although some crews are paddling with their faces towards the bow, others are rowing with their faces towards the stern. The paddling is certainly the older practice ; for the hieroglyph then depicts two arms grasping an oar in the attitude of paddling, and the hieroglyphs were invented in the earliest ages. And that practice may really have ceased before 2500 B.C., despite the testimony of monuments of that date; for in monuments dating from about 1250 B.C. crews are represented unmistakably rowing with their faces towards the stern and yet grasping their oars in the attitude of paddling, as in fgs. 3 and 5, so that even then Egyptian artists mechanically followed the turn of the hieroglyph to which their hands were accustomed.

In these reliefs there are twenty rowers on the boats on the Nile, as in fg. 3, and thirty on the ships on the Red Sea, but in the earliest reliefs, as in fg. 2, the number varies considerably and seems dependent on the amount of space at the sculptor’s disposal. In the contemporary relief representing a battle fought in the Mediterranean about 1000 B.C. the Egyptian war-ships, as in fg. 6, have from twelve to twenty-two rowers apiece according to the requirements of the sculptor, while the Asiatic war-ships, as in fgs. 7 and 8, have not any rowers at all.”

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