The Ships of the Sea Peoples — Part 1

James Thomas
Aug 5, 2011 · 9 min read


The other factor of which is as important in getting to the bottom of the identity of these Peoples is in the ships they sailed. These fighting vessels are unique amongst Bronze Age sea faring vessels in having the prow and stern identical to one another. Figures.60. To .65. are from “The Sea Peoples and Their World : An Assessment.”

Figures.58.-.63. From “The Sea Peoples and Their World : A Reassessment”.

Figure.58. The unmistakable outlines of the double bird-headed warship of the Sea Peoples.

The use of bird headed motif on the prow and stern clearly goes some way to giving us yet another clue as to their cultural identity as they clearly considered the bird’s head important enough culturally to adorn their ships with it. Suggestions have been made that these vessels are the final stage in a long line of development in the Mycenaean ship building tradition sharing the similar traits to the single bird head prows of earlier Mycenaean examples.

Figure.59. Another example of the double bird-head war ship of the Sea Peoples.

Figure.60. A clearer view of the bird-head stern of one of the Sea Peoples warships.

This may very well be yet another example of a common Mycenaean — Minoan galley design not considered to be because the current database of designs left to us through Minoan and Mycenaean art shows no such example. Again we must be ready to admit that the ships of the Sea Peoples may very well be only an example of a modified Aegean design capable of more open sea operations, the beaching prow of several of the Sea Peoples hips is noteworthy and goes to show that the Egyptian sculptors who put this naval scene together may very well have had actual captured Sea Peoples ships to study up close and baste their sculptures on.

Figure.61. The prow of one of the warships and the ram-like device used for beaching the ship.

Such details could only come from first hand sources and although almost lost in the mass of confusion that is the naval scene an Egyptian sculptor still managed to show us the they knew their subject well enough not to forget the finer point of these vessels designs.

Figure.62. A very clear representation of the Birds-Head device on the Stern of the ship in Figure.61.

Figure.63. Another detailed example of the ram-like device used for beaching the ship, such small ram-like devices would have had limited use as a battering ram.

An example of just how easy it is to misrepresent something comes from the following example of the reconstruction of a fighting ship used by the Mycenaeans. This wonderful reconstruction of the late Achaean galley represented on a pyxis from the TraganaTholos tomb near Pylos and dated to around 1200 BC or the Late Helladic IIIC period by the military illustrator Peter Connolly goes to show how careful we must be in our clarification of what constitutes actual and presumed.

Figure.64. A reconstruction of the Tragana Ship By Peter Connolly.

I draw your attention to the prow of the ship Clearly represented with a bird on top of it, this we are told is a reconstruction of the prow of the Tragana ship, and a beautiful one at that it is, but for one important factor there is no bird mounted atop the prow for if you look at the image from which we are told the reconstruction is taken from and the actual detailed drawing in full of that boat we can clearly see that there is no way a bird like object is atop the prow.

When I came across the fully detailed image of the Tragana ship I remembered where I had seen it before, when I compared it with the image from Peter connollys’ book “The Legend Of Odysseus’” I noticed a very different image, one which was simplified and altered to give the impression of a bird atop the prow.

Figure.65. A simplifed representation of the Tragana Ship by Peter Connolly.

Not only this, the object which has been interpreted as a bird is not even in the correct position to be considered atop the prow the fact that it shows something presumably alluding to a bird in flight possibly a seagull or such it dubious to say the least. It is obvious to any one looking at the actual reproduced illustration in full detail of the vessel one can clearly see that the ships prow is in the shape of a birds head much like that of the sea peoples and that of other examples of late Achaean galleys from Kynos and alsodated to around 1200 BC or the Late Helladic IIIC period.

Figure.66. The actual true representation of the Tragana Ship in full detail. ( From “The Sea Peoples and Their World : A Reassessment”).

There is also no golden sash criss-crossing the prow and terminating in the form of two free flowing fabric bands fluttering in the wind.

Figure.67. Image of The Kynos Ship. And its similarity to the Tragana Ship Prow. ( From “The Sea Peoples and Their World : A Reassessment”).

You may ask that this is not of such importance and that the illustrator has capture the true representation of the ship, expertly,- but I both agree and disagree, for if we start changing what is already known and accurate because we haven’t bothered to take the time to analyse something fully then what we get is a half-truth of something, an incomplete picture which might otherwise lead us to conclude incorrectly about a subject matter or object.

I have modified the ships prow to show its actual true representation as depicted on the Tragana pyxis and the examples of the Kynos ships of which it shares the same prow design. As for the unknown object taken to be a bird of sorts I have removed it from my corrected illustration so as to give a clearer shape to the prow design, the actual detailed Tragana ship image does not in my mind give credibility to ta bird like image.

Figure.68. Another Kynos Ship represented in detail, prow section only partially preserved. ( From “The Sea Peoples and Their World : A Reassessment”).

It is highly debatable as to whether the object that appears to be trailing spindle-like protrusions behind it is in fact a bird of sorts as the missing piece precludes any further detailed analysis as to its identity, even if this is assumed, and I use the word sparingly here, then it cannot be part of the prow but must represent something else.

Figure.69. The Image use by Peter Connolly to reconstruct the Tragana ship.

Figure.70a. The Actual Tragana ship image that should have been used, in detail from “The Sea Peoples and Their World : A Reassessment”.

Figure.70b. Missing section of the Tragana ship prow.

Figure.70c. My own basic sketch of the Missing section of the Tragana Ship Prow, probable restoration.

Figure.71. The Tragana ship reconstruction based on incorrect observation of the Prow section.

Figure.72. Close-up of the Tragana ship reconstruction based on incorrect observation of the Prow.

Figure.73. My own basic rough sketch of the corrected true representation of the Tragana ship’s prow taken from the detailed and correct illustration of the Tragana ship.

Figure.74. Another representation of the same ship by the same illustrator Peter Connolly, this time depicting the Trojan Hero Aeneas’s mythical landing at the mouth of the Tiber.

Figure.75. My own sketch of the corrected true representation of the Tragana ship taken from Peter Connolly’s “Ship of Aeneas in Figure.74., with corrected prow taken from the detailed and correct illustration of the Tragana ship.

The importance of the exercise that I have just carried out was to show just how easy a simply oversight or harmless change to a single aspect of the whole can give us a different perception of that whole, I for one adore the brilliant body of work that Peter Connolly has amassed over his career and the way in which peter weaves the literature with the illustrations and reconstructions from his first books”The Roman Army”, “The Greek Armies” and “Hannibal and the Enemies of Rome” all the way to his latest publications.

The Tragana ship serves as one example of many that I will be touching on in forthcoming posts.

It’s a lot like the beautiful reconstructions of Troy in his book “The Legend Of Odyssey” up to the time of publishing what was considered to be the extent of this Bronze age city was shown as what we now know to be the palace complex alone. Later discoveries by the late Manfred Korfmann excavating around what was thought to be the later Greek and Roman circuit wall of the city revealed the full extent of the actual bronze age city of troy VI-VIIA including an encircling anti-chariot ditch!

So what was thought to be just the Citadel complex, the palace and its environs was just 1/13th of the actual site that we know as Troy, hence one can wonder as to why so many originally dismissed it at hand as not bearing any resemblance to the famous city of Greek legend, some of Heinrich Schliemann’s contemporaries ridiculed his findings claiming that Priam’s Palace was more like Priam’s Pigsty.

For no structure on that scale could withstand any degree of siege let alone one of 10 years unless as Michael Wood put it in his In Search of the Trojan War — ‘We would have to reduce the Epic tale of the Iliad to an inglorious foray by Mycenaean pirates’.

So although what peter reconstructed was extremely accurate and evocative it was only the tip of the trojan iceberg at that moment in time.

It clearly shows that in the space of a few years our understanding and perceptions can be completely overturned by the careful eye and deduction of dedicated and passionate individuals.

It is just for this reason, this disjointed sometimes fractured approach to the analysis of the Sea Peoples origins that has meant that the archaeology has had to play catch up with the recorded accounts that have come down to us smothered with a 3000 year accumulation of misinterpretations and mistranslations and downright over exaggerations on the part of some so called ancient authorities.

A study of the Bronze Age by James Thomas

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