The Ships of the Sea Peoples — Part 2

James Thomas
May 8, 2012 · 32 min read


A comparative Analysis of the different types of ships of the Eastern Mediterranean at the time of the late Bronze Age.

In this entry I will be taking an important step into bringing the reader closer to understanding the designs of ships used not just by the mysterious “Sea Peoples” but also by those better known to us as the Minoans, Mycenaeans and similarly to an extent the Egyptians in an attempt to clarify how such vessels may have looked and have been used by virtue of their obvious design, since it is the design of a ship and how it sits and moves in the water that dictates how it can be used.

I will also attempt show how the design of the ships of the “Sea Peoples” has far more in common with those of the Minoan — Mycenaean world than say Levantine or Egyptian vessels which are an all together different design with secondary military function rather than those of the Mycenaeans whose primary function was to serve as a swift and fast moving attack vessels.

Figure.1. Levantine Merchantmen with the typical double-ender configuration.

Figures.1.-.4. Ships From the Tomb of Kenamon fresco , (from Lucien Bacsch’s book Le Musee

imaginaire de la marine antique, Athenes 1987.).

As can be clearly seen in the Levatine examples (figure.1.-figure.4.), the design dictates the function, with acutely raised bow and stern and a broad central hull for dedicated stowage these ships have a purely transportation and trade function and are not built for speed or manoeuvrability, we would need a hull with a uniform cross-section configuration more suited to generating speed and reduced drag. Once the Levantine, or for that matter any type of Bronze age ship of this configuration is fully loaded for transportation of goods it becomes a weighed-down target for any piratical vessels prowling the seas. With no dedicated raised platforms at either bow or stern the ship suffers the disadvantage of safe-points by which to engage aggressors safely and prevent boarding. The crows nest, evident from fig.1. Gives the crew the obvious advantage of an early-warning system, but a high drag factor coupled with poor manoeuvrability and its cargo-weight all add up to deny it any serious advantage in a piratical encounter.

Figure.2. Another example of Levantine- Syrian Merchantmen.

Even if we were to strip these ships of their cargo and introduced raised and a screened bow and stern sections like those we see in the ships of the “Sea Peoples” this design would be at best a better defended target than a fighting vessel capable of out running say a Mycenaean galley, or bringing the fight to one.

Figure.3. Actual image of Levantine Merchantman taken from figure.1.

It is an interesting question to raise when we consider that we see an alarming lack of dedicated attack vessels from the Levantine region at all where as compared to the Aegean we see both trade vessels and dedicated fighting ships developing side by side.

That is not to say that the Levantine navy did not have a dedicated force of fighting ships, it’s just that there is no real evidence for such vessels at the time when The Mycenaeans and “Sea Peoples” were dominant. What is also intriguing is that the Main Opposing regional power of Hatti has no representation of any kind of fighting vessel at all in the archaeological record forcing us to deduce that although the Hittites were on par with Egypt, to an extent, as a regional Power they were severely lacking in naval vessels of any description, from this it would be over generalization at best but correct to postulate that the Hittites were purely a Land-power with Only a marginally developed naval force of possibly merchant vessels at its disposal.

One Interesting point has surfaced is that when we read Apollonius of Rhodes account of the Argonauts expedition to Cholchis on the shores of the Black Sea, Aeetes Dispatches his son Absyrtus to retrieve Medea and the Golden Fleece, Here for want of a more historically verifiable account we have a Coclhian prince at the head of a Cholchian fleet of presumably fighting ships, sent to block Jason’s path and retrieve his sister and the Divine totem of prosperity of the Cholceans. Why do we here of a Black Sea Kingdom Proficient in some form of military naval activity yet almost adjacent to them and contemporary to the period of the first sack of Troy does the biggest and most powerful kingdom of Hatti have no mention of a single naval vessel of any noteworthy description. It is not to say the Hittites did not use vessels of some description, but were are they. That is unless the extent of Hittite land was not as large and continuous as it has been made out to be judging by the numerous maps that appear to show a wide variety of different lands subject or in direct control of Hatti.

Figure.4. Actual image from figure.2. Of the Levantine vessels.

We can therefore rule out the plausibility of either the Hittites and the Syro-Levantine Regions possessing a naval force of ships comparable in description to those of the Myceneans and the “Sea Peoples”. There is just such a wealth of data depicting ships of fighting capability from Greece and Crete that it begs the question were are their Hittite and Levantine equivalents.

Figure.5. Boats and a reed-boat on the banks of the harbour of UR around 2100 B.C. (From a National Geographic Article- unknown.).

In figure.5. We see a wonderful reconstruction of the types of sailing vessels available to the Chaldeans of around 2100 B.C. and how remarkably similar they appear to be in comparison to Minoan vessels, though the Chaldean vessels are double-enders, both in wooden and reed form, the wooden ships display a remarkable similarity to the Minoan vessels of which figure.6. is typical.

Both the Minoan and wooden Chaldean ships share similar lines and if one takes a closer look at the ships lined up on the banks of the harbour you will see a remarkable likeness to the vessel being presented in a funeral from my entry entitled “The Wandering Tribes of the Aegean” (figures.34–34f).

Such ships as in figure.6. would make ideal fighting vessels due to their streamlined hull and light build, in comparison to the Levantines examples just mentioned, Although lacking raised bow and stern sections their low drag and additional oared compliment make such vessels prime candidate for piratical and commercial enterprise since the can exploit both the ability to be used as cargo vessels without compromising their attack capabilities.

Figure.6. A wonderful reconstruction of the Minoan ship that brings Theseus to Crete, by Peter Connolly — from : Greek Legends — The Stories, The Evidence 1993).

Figure.7. The Argonauts launch Argo from Pagasae. Note How Peter Conolly chooses to represent the Argo as Minoan in Design.

The Ship represented in figure.7. (from : Greek Legends — The Stories, The Evidence 1993). Clearly shows off the sleek and streamlined contours of the Minoan vessel. It has been repeatedly stated, and very recently so, that the Minoan Thalassocracy had no requirement for an armed naval fleet of dedicated fighting ships, since their prosperity was built on trade and commerce, but looking closely at figures.6-.7. clearly shows us that such ships were more than capable of carrying large numbers of infantry capable of making lightning quick forays on slower moving merchant vessels or unprotected outposts.

The Idea that a fighting ship of the Bronze Age had to look like the later classical period galleys with multiple banks of oars and a giant bronze battering ram to be classed as a fighting ship did not come to the Greek world for some time after the collapse of the the Bronze Age. Having said that figure.14. Does begin to show the emergence of the identifiable shape of later Greek galleys, though rams, if they were used at all for such functions, were not sheathed in bronze and did not carry out the same function of “holing” an enemy vessel like like their later descendants.

Even with this being only a Minoan example it fully illustrates how the definition of Fighting ship can cover a broader description than previously considered, and although, as we will see in a moment, the development of dedicated fighting ships from the Mycenaean Kingdoms does show us the clear ancestry of the ancient Greek galley from its Mycenaean roots, and how steadily the fighting ships of the Bronze Age Aegean were developing into the more recognisable and later typical fighting vessel of the classical period and beyond.

In figures.8.-.13. (From have an wonderful digital 3-D rendition of a bronze age Greek galley, or a close approximation to one, which really does go a long way into giving us an insight as to how some versions may have looked. The bow and stern section may have varied from the example depicted in as many ways as there are renditions of them in Minoan and Mycenaean pottery art and the like, but in general this I have to admit it is an exceptional study which gives the feel of the ships of the time without trying to specifically class it.


Figure.8. Shows us just haw a ship of this design could be a trade vessel in one description and a fighting vessel in another. It has the sleek uniformly low hull configuration ideally suited for cutting through the water yet wide enough to carry a compliment of between 50 and 100 men, assuming 50 oars and one man per oar to 50 oars and two men per oar configuration.

Whilst if the ship was required to carry a large amount of trading goods the width of the hull and its relatively shallow keel would make it ideal for carrying such large cargo further up rivers than say Levantine or Egyptian examples, this would also serve it exceptionally well as a military vessel for the shallow keel would allow deeper penetration of rivers and estuaries y in search of plunder, ideal for piratical raids deep into enemy territory much the same way later Viking long-ships would exploit too.


In figure.9. The addition of a sail gives us an idea of the complete vessel under sail and a partial idea of what configuration the rigging would have been like. Although here the bow and stern are not raised to any degree and screened with additional timber, the addition of canvas screening or a partial timber screening would serve to add to the forward protection of the ships crew.


In figures.10 and .11. we see the ship in the fore and aft position and at a slight angle, the addition of a figure rowing gives us an exceptional look at the scale of the ship and just how such vessels could have a dual purpose, this vessels would be ideal for long blue sea voyages allowing it to move at a much faster speed and accomplish much further distances , even more so in combination with rowers. In a way this design does remind us of the Viking Long-ships, albeit a variation on a theme and though having similar dual purposes.


Looking at the ships from the Prospective of figure.11., we can easily imagine a squad of 50 -100 bronze age Mycenaean warriors with full armour and provisions for an “expedition” easily accommodated within this type of ship, add 12 to 30 more and you have a considerable seaborne military arm to your armed forces punch able to strike at length and at speed most known settlements both near and far from a base of operations.

With a little modification to raise and timber-screen the bow and stern section of the ship in addition to canvas screening the rowers and possibly adding devices atop the bow and stern in the shape of birds heads one could easily have the ships of the “Sea Peoples”.

Though the ships of the Sea Peoples are depicted without oars, this, as some have already observed, shows that they are merely in storage, as no ship could just rely on sail alone.


In figure.12. We get a first glimpse of what it would be like to be in one of these ships from a rowers perspective, and just how 50 -100 men plus provisions would bee like whilst embarking on an expedition. The gunwale which runs the full length of the ship allows rapid access to both the bow an stern sections for rapid response to boarding at either end.

It has to be said that if this ship was configured for trade its hull would be far more spacious to accommodate trading goods and we might see a reduced compliment of rowers seated higher up.

Again figure.12. Gives us an idea of what it must have been like to sail in a Bronze Age sea going vessel. And again with a little imagination and modification to the bow and stern to give us a ship more like the examples illustrated in my entry “The Ships of the Sea Peoples” we are coming very close to actually imagining what it must have been like to be on board a Mycenaean warship headed for Troy or a Sea Peoples warrior heading for Egypt.


Figure.13. Gives us an excellent rendition with all the oars in place and a rower to scale. From this angle we can gain an appreciation of what the conditions of a Bronze Age Mycenaean warship might have been like. With the mast stowed and for example two men per oar, the ships internal configuration is more evident. Where as Egyptian and possibly Syro-Levantine ships were made with the mortice and tenon constriction method to lock together quit heavy and large pieces of timber, this ship is obviously made from covering a frame with timbers, though the mortice and tenon method of construction might have been used to an extent on the lower hull its overall construction and structure were fundamentally different from those of Egyptian and Levantine vessels.

With provisions and arms and armour stowed under the seating further adding to the the ships ballast we have a fast moving, very stable,sleek, low-lying, wide-hulled vessel typical of the ships depicted in so many pottery and fresco fragments discovered all around Greece and the Aegean. The way in which the mast sits is different to the way I would have portrayed it, possible it would have been better and easier for sailors to manage if a mast-step was shown though a simple post-hole configuration would serve just as well.


Probably one of the most exiting construction programs of an ancient Bronze age fighting vessel to emerge and be developed in recent times comes from Greece when just a few years ago a team of Greek archaeologists and ships builders decided to embark on a project to resurrect the famous ship of Jason and the Argonauts — the ARGO! The project took place in modern-day Volos, Greece, and successfully constructed a plausible replica of what a typical Bronze Age Greek Mycenaean warship called the Argo would have looked like.

Figure.14. Represents the design-artwork followed by the ship builders who used tradition tools and ship building methods of the Bronze Age to construct this ship. Figure.14. Shows us that unlike previous vessels this ship was bigger and longer, giving it capacity for a larger number of rowers — ideally suited for overcoming the powerful and almost continuous blast of northerly winds and treacherously strong currents encountered in the Hellespont and the Bosphorus region which made it very difficult to navigate into the Black sea region and exploit the mineral wealth and trade that awaited Bronze age Merchants from The Mycenaean Greek world and beyond.

It is noteworthy too that this particular vessel unlike the ship of figure.8.-.13. Has now a strong prow, which would have been ideal for ramming, of sorts, but more, if it was used for such a purpose, for smashing an opponents hull or oars rather than have been to any effect a device used to “hole” an enemy ship.

This device too would have also had the purpose of allowing the ship to beach easily and helped prevent it from being bogged down head first so to speak, the upturned underside of the “beak” serving further to ease the ship onto and up the beach.

Noteworthy too is the Sea Peoples ships from Medinet Habu also show the same configuration,(see “The Ships of the Sea Peoples” for a detail account of prow configurations).


Figures.15, and .16. show the actual complete Argo on see trials in Greece, not that this ship is narrower than the 3-D example and just how cramped the rowers are , this being a 48-oared vessel.


Another view of the same ship in more unsettled water, this time at a slightly less elevated camera angle and a better view of the sailors in full swing as the row concertedly without the aid of the sail.

If this is as true a likeness of what the actual Argo may have looked liked then we have come very close to what it must have been like to sail such ships, albeit with subtle changes to the mast configuration and possibly the stern too.

Both my own and Peter Connolly’s reconstruction of the Tragana ship have an almost identical bow and stern section — much like the ships of the Sea Peoples, where as here the ship builders have decided to go with a stern more typical of those seen on Geometric and Archaic representations of

Greek oared warships, none the less this does give us a good idea as to other possible styles that may have existed and serves very well to show that such vessels may have and most probably did vary subtlety from region to region across the Mycenaean world.


In figure.17. We get an excellent side on perspective of the Argo, its sleek lines and low hull configuration are exemplified fully here and raise the question that if the stern section was reproduced as in the bow section and bird headed motifs were added then you would in affect get something very much like the ships of the Sea Peoples seen at Medinet Habu!

This is something that I will further examine at the end of this entry for your benefit, and hope that the reader will understand that such designs, albeit variations on a theme, were evident for some time in the Mycenaean-Minoan world, in one form or another, and that the ships of the Sea Peoples may only be one example of many such ships all stemming from a common ancestry but with their own distinct regional touches and variations.

Although this particular ship is not painted one would expect such ships to be either a blaze of colour or in some examples mono-chrome in colour.

With very clear archaeological evidence that Mycenaean ships had bird-headed-like totems added to the bow section the addition to one on the reconstructed Argo would not go amiss and serve less to remind us of the Greek galleys that took part in the battle of Salamis, although this does show us where the possible ancestry of those later ships might lie and not be coincidental to it.

In one simple respect the Ships of the Sea Peoples does differ is that if the curvature of the keel of their ships. The Sea Peoples ships are similar to that of the Egyptian galleys. But this may be a convention followed by the Egyptian sculptors where ships were shown in this style because in the example of the Sea Peoples Warships the beaching brow of the ship would be of no value since both bow and stern would have sat significantly high enough out of the water to make beaching brow redundant.

In figure.18. I have flipped the image of one of the Sea peoples warships the correct way up to indicate to the reader the more obvious presence of the canvass-like screens used to protect the rowers and warriors alike. I bring to your attention the two figures on the right, one of which is straddling the canvas-screen frame whilst the other warrior seems to be caught through the gap between the canvas-screen and the hull of the ship. It is impossible to tell whether the sculptors were trying to show some depth of field here drawing attention to their eye for detail by showing fallen Sea People warriors caught in the structure of the ship as it capsizes. Though this does show us that a raised screen of sorts was being employed that might have served to screen warriors as the proceeded along the gunwale though it is evident that the bottom half of the snapped mast is depicted in front of this screen and not behind it whilst other fallen warriors seems to be passing right through the bow and stern section, which further serves to confuse the viewer.


In figure.19. We have yet a further example of a screen employed by the Sea Peoples on their ships. If you look carefully you’ll see one of the horn-helmeted warriors bent over what can only be described as a screen of sorts yet further along to the right another warrior is bent over and apparently in front of the screen precluding the fact that the screen is behind him. The warriors who occupy the length of the ship are very likely positioned on the gunwale with a raised canvas-screen to protect them as the move along the ship to position themselves to receive the enemy.

An interesting note to take at this point is the warriors stationed an either end of the ship on the raised screened bow and stern sections. In all the depictions of these ships on the Sea Battle scene they occupy a very high position almost too high a position that precludes the purpose of the screened raised platforms in providing protection in the first place, that aside this must not take precedence in any way as to analysis of the ships design because artistic convention has now taken over to give those viewing the scene the benefit of sculptors art.

The individual who seems to be seated and in front of the warrior who is falling overboard but is being rescued by his colleague raises the question of screen configuration because he along with the rescued colleague behind him are positioned in front of a screen clearly showing in this example that no screen is present to protect what seems to be the position occupied by the rowers but that a screen does exists to protect warriors along the gunwale.


In figure.20. We have an excellent reconstruction of the events taking place with the two warriors depicted in figure.18., This clearly shows a very plausible configuration of the screen though the only way that the warrior who is slipping through the gap between the screen and the hull of the ship could be effected is if the gap was considerably bigger than depicted, more like that shown in the ship of Figures.8.-.13.

Figure.20.from : Conway’s History of the Ship — The Age of The Galley 1995.

In figure.21. Total chaos reigns as the sea invaders panicked by the Egyptians’ ambush hurry to form some semblance of order and retaliate against the enemy.

This particular ship of the Sea Peoples gives us some idea of the overall design albeit simplified and stylized, we have a ship that is long and sleek and quite low-lying, giving it the impression that its a fast moving vessel where as the Egyptian examples come across as large heavy barge-like vessels very well suited for cruising up and down the Nile and with obvious sea going capabilities but not in the same category as the Sea Peoples vessels.

One way to neutralize an enemy’s advantage in superior naval and infantry capabilities is to use the tactic of ambush , the element of surprise will effectively negate whatever technological advantage the enemy has and with a combined water-borne attack and infantry assault in the form of massed archers on either bank of the Niles river further neutralizes and overwhelms the opponents.

What we are seeing isn’t just an enemy being defeated but overwhelmed by a well thought out series of strategically timed movements designed to thrown the enemy off balance and prevent any kind of response through overwhelming land support. If the Egyptian ships had met the Sea Peoples out to sea without any ranks of massed archers as support and the element of surprise the advantage would have no doubt fallen to the Sea Peoples whose lighted and more manoeuvrable fast moving vessels coupled with heavy infantry suited to naval engagements out to see would have taken the day.

Rammesses III must have known full well the capabilities of these warriors and planned a co-ordinated series of strikes centred around the element of surprise through ambush to rob the attackers of any ability to respond. The fact that we see Sea Peoples vessels overturned using grappling hooks testifies that these vessels must have been of relatively light construction compared to the Egyptian galleys who you will see a little later on in this entry as quite heavy and very stable platforms and ideal for “bottling-up” enemy vessels for boarding. With such a weight advantage the Egyptian ships would easily overcome through their sheer physical mass and inertia, when this occurs it’s game over, the enemy would be picked off like tunny in a net!



With figure.22. We have an excellent and plausible reconstruction from : Conway’s History of the Ship — The Age of The Galley 1995, showing us just how lightweight in comparison to the Egyptian vessels these warships would have been but also more importantly just how close in terms of construction techniques and design they really are to those used by the Mycenaean and Minoan navies and those possibly used by the peoples of the coasts of western Asia-Minor.

In is noteworthy that the ships of the Sea Peoples are outfitted with a Crow’s nest and manned by fully armoured warriors, for such a device to be of any use in a naval engagement it would require a vessel of a certain mass plus enough adequate ballast to achieve enough stability to allow use of the crow’s nest as a point from which to launch missiles effectively, whether they be sling-shot, javelins or arrows, this stands to reason as anyone with experience in vessel stability will tell you.

A crow’s nest is not a typical feature to be seen in Mycenaean and Minoan Examples but we are dealing with the closing stages and beyond the period with which we associate as the collapse of the Bronze age and such devices could be nothing more than later modifications to already existing designs adopted to take advantage of current trends in naval warfare.

Though this example does not show any identifiable screening for the rowers and no beaching prow we may just be looking at simple omission or another variant in this examples design. To say that the Sea Peoples did not have within their navy variations of the same design which might well reflect the possibility that the ships we are seeing come from a variety of locals across the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean would be an exercise in myopia, over simplistification and poor observation at best.


In figure.24. The collection of the bird-headed totems that surmount both bow and stern sections of the Sea Peoples warships are plainly evident here. It dose raise some serious doubt as to haw scholars and academics alike could for so long overlook such obvious and blatant signals.

We have from the Aegean and Greece alike enough examples of ships with almost identical features that it beggars belief that the scholars still require “archaeological proof” as to the origins of the Sea Peoples even when sources from Egypt and Israel tell us otherwise. I could understand some reservation to admit to such reasoning in the absence of any further corroborative evidence but with so much evidence pointing to the Aegean an its vicinities it strikes me as somewhat redundant to think otherwise even if you can or cannot show that they may have been exclusively Mycenaean but may have come from areas within the Aegean Archipelago and the coasts of Asia Minor.

Figure.24. From : The Sea Peoples and Their World : A reassessment,2000.

Figure.25. An Egyptian sailing vessel of the New Kingdom period of Queen Hatshepsut.

Figure.26. One of Sahure’s seagoing ships. Note the exaggerated sheer and the vertical stem and sternposts,. The bogging truss with its tensioning lever can be seen amidships ( from Borchardt 1981).

Figure.27.One of the Egyptian warships taking part in the naval battle that Rammesses III fought against the Sea Peoples

Figure.28. Another example of one of the Egyptian warships taking part in the naval battle against the Sea Peoples.

Figure.29. Another example of the typical barge-like ships of the Egyptians. Clearly emphasising it great size and very large steering oars, so essential in controlling heavy and large slow moving vessels.

Figure.30. Another view of a Levantine Trading vessel laden with trade goods, this gives us a very clear view of how design fits function and exposes limitations in the vessels capabilities.

Figure.31. A close-up of The naval battle scene as envisaged by the military illustrator Igor Dsiz. The Egyptian vessels clearly have advantage here in terms of sheer inertia and show the Egyptian marines fully utilizing the ships anatomy to overcome a strong and determined force of Sea Peoples warriors.

In figures.32.-.44.we have what must be the best example of a New Kingdom sailing vessel ever to be reconstructed to date. These images are taken from the article entitled “Sailing in the wake of Hapshetsut” — The story of the ship named Min of the desert, from Volume 11 №2, Issue 62, October/November 2010, of Ancient Egypt Magazine.

In figure.32. We see the beginnings of the ship with the keel section being joined to sections of the hull with the mortice and tenon join system. As Min beginnings to take shape , the large, skilfully and accurately shaped hull timbers are secured to each other by wooden tenons.


In figure.33. The hull is built without any internal support, such as the ribs that are used in conventional boat-building. The contrast in boat-building techniques between Aegean and Egyptian vessels in noteworthy, whilst the Aegean vessels are true blue water vessels able to reach speeds under sail similar to those of later Long-ships the Egyptian examples are built for total the opposite function.


In figure.34. We see the deck beams being fitted, which when fitted give the hull additional rigidity. Again as the ship progresses in construction you get an idea of the great weight of the vessel and just what a masterpiece of bronze age naval engineering this vessel really is. The accumulated knowledge of generations of ship-builders craft that has gone into developing it is truly outstanding.


In figure.35. We get a fantastic view of just how the mortice and tenon system joins the beginning of the hull to the keel.


In figure.36. The wonderful shot of the ship illustrates clearly the “Design serving the Function” rule I have stated earlier, as Min’s completed hull awaits the final fittings. Min begins to take shape and the unmistakable lines of an Egyptian vessel become evident. At this stage alone you can begin to appreciate the weight of even the unfinished vessel.

Egyptian warships depicted in the naval battle scene with the Peoples of the Sea were almost identical in construction aside from the fact that the Egyptian warships mounted great battering ram style bow posts in the shape of bronze clad lion’s head further adding to these ships ability to literally crush any other vessel between them.


In figure.37. One of the two huge steering oars nears completion before being mounted on the vessels stern. This feature further illustrates the barge-like design of Egyptian vessels as their great mass requires two very strong and large steering oars to control the ships direction thus speed and manoeuvrability is not one of its strong points, on the Nile river these requirements are not required, so in a way the environment has shaped the design and how it functions.


In figure.38. Min in the water at last. Now with the last of the ships fittings in place we can begin to appreciate what a similar Egyptian fighting ship would have looked like in the water.

This image just goes to show that when the Egyptian sculptors, who created the naval battle scenes at Medinet Habu , were keeping an authentic feel of the vessels design and not just exaggerating it with artistic licence. Their accuracy in portraying the design of the ships fits very closely with the actual reconstructed version.

Figure.38. Min in the water at last.

Figure.39. Raising the mast.

In figure.39. The mast is finally raised with all its accompanying forestays, backstay, yards, halliards, braces and Sheets, but without the sail and yards.


In figures.40. -.44. we see Min under full sail and the actuality of what an authentic Egyptian galley looks like in open waters. Hemmed in by these heavy and powerful ships the vessels of the Sea Peoples would loose all their advantage of speed and manoeuvrability fixing them in place and allowing Egyptian marines to engage the Sea People warriors directly with boarding parties whilst the compatriots sweep the enemy’s decks with volley after volley of arrow fire.


Figure.42. Min and her crew.

Figure.43. Min in heavy seas, making good headway under a small sail.

Figure.44. Min performing well under sail.

Figure.45. An illustration of ship of the same period and identical to Min.

In figure.46. We have a good representation of the cross section of what a ship of the Sea Peoples would have looked like. The hull cross-section allows us to see how such a vessel would have sat in the water but more importantly how its crew would be positioned in relation to the gunwale.

This type of configuration would closely match that of what we see when observing the ships of the Sea Peoples at Medinet Habu, a long, sleek low lying hull capable of accommodating a large compliment of heavily armed warriors who have the advantage of speed an manoeuvrability in open water. One can imagine what the bow section of Min-style ship, as depicted in Figure.36., fitted with a ramming device of a bronze-clad lion’s head would look like bearing down broadside on a vessel similar to that depicted in figure.46.

Unlike later Greek triremes who’s compliment of rowers to marines was typically 170 rowers to 30 infantry, we have what appears to be a case of, once vessels are engaged and locked together ,all the rowers become infantry at the ready, very much like Viking Long-ship crews who would use grappling-hooks to lock their opponents ship, usually another Viking long-ship, together and use their full compliment of infantry ready rowers to engage and board the enemy vessel.


In figure.47. The hull cross section represents more the style we would see in Minoan ships like that seen in figures.6. And .7., of which Figure.7. Appears to be a larger version of figure.6., and thus a close approximation to figure.47., whilst figure.6. Closely matches figure.47. Many of these ships having started out in their evolution as in figure.47. Eventually evolving into figure.46. An possibly larger versions of it. The ships of the Sea Peoples that are shown capsizing could easily be imagined from figure.46.


With figure.48. We can easily see how a compliment of 50 sailors can be accommodated within a ship comparable to that of figure.46. Note also how there is only a single rower placed at precisely the mid-point along the ships hull an seated next to the mast, thus allowing equal distribution of rowers for both port and starboard sides of the ship. This example is only 13 oars per side with a 50-man compliment ,but a 25-oar per side configuration for a larger vessel giving a 50-oar vessel could conceivably accommodate 100 rowers ( 2 rowers per oar) — more than enough for a Bronze Age raiding party of say 12 ships to be able to cause considerable devastation to unprepared coastal habitations and Bronze Age size cities.

This would give us for just 12 ships well over 1200 fighting men for a raiding party, a truly horrific sight for any hapless inhabitant of an unprepared settlement or city caught off guard by such a force.

Assuming these numbers were common place in the late Bronze Age, and there is no reason not to, a relatively small number of ships, even half of what is being suggested here would still be by Bronze age standards large.


In figures.49. And .50. we have a very curious and puzzling set of images that come from Crete at the Knossos Museum in Herakleion and are dated to the Proto-Geometric period.

Both images appear to be ships whose bow and stern sections bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the Sea Peoples warships at Mdiunet Habu. What’s more the bow section in both examples indicates a beaching prow and atop both the bow and stern section, (less evident in figures.49-.50. But for a clear reproduction see figure.51.) curved representations of what could conceivably be stylized birds heads.

Figure.49. Example.1.of the mysterious ships Which bear an uncanny resemble to those at Medinet Habu. (from Lucien Bacsch’s book Le Musee imaginaire de la marine antique, Athenes 1987.).

Figure.50.Example.2.of the mysterious ships Which bear an uncanny resemble to those at Medinet Habu. (from Lucien Bacsch’s book Le Musee imaginaire de la marine antique, Athenes 1987.).

These images beg the question that if the images before us are in any way possibly connected to the same vessels we see at Medinet Habu and belonging to the Sea Peoples, and not very long after the upheavals at the end of the Bronze Age, then could we not be seeing a crude stylized representation of actual Sea Peoples ships from the Island were Historical sources say they actually came from.

Figure.51. Shows the two vessels as they appear in relation to one another on the Proto-Geometric Vase from the museum of Herakleion, Crete.(from Lucien Bacsch’s book Le Musee imaginaire de la marine antique, Athenes 1987.).



In figure.52. We see the distinctive stream-lined and slender lines of the Sea Peoples warship shown to great effect.


In figure.53. We see an unusual configuration amongst the Sea Peoples warships in that this particular ship appears to have no bow beaching-device or “ram” for want of a better description.


In figure.54. We see the same absence of a beaching-device or “ram” and could possible indicated another style or variant of the Sea Peoples ship building.


In figure.55. We see the unmistakable “ram” device or beaching-device used to facilitate the ship’s smooth landing on steeply inclined beaches.


In figure.56. I have flipped over The ship of the Sea Peoples that has been capsized by the Egyptians for the benefit of the reader to show more clearly the unusual screening adopted by this particular vessel, evident by the warriors caught in between the screening and the ship’s hull.

Figure.57. Initial artwork rendering of the reconstructed Argo from the “Argo Project” that took place recently in Volos,Greece.

Figure.58. Sea Peoples Ship 1. My reconstruction of a possible Sea Peoples Ship. Based on the Argo reconstruction in figure.57., without the bird head motifs and without the addition of screens for the rowers.

In Figure.58. I have used the Artwork representation of the reconstructed Argo, figure.57., To show how easy it would be for a ship of the Sea Peoples to be built by simply repeating the bow section for the stern and thus produce a ship very much like that of the Sea Peoples.

Figure.59. Sea Peoples Ship 2. My simple side profile reconstruction of how a ship like that of the Sea Peoples could be built from my reconstruction illustration of the .Figure.58. Ship, compressed to show the bow and stern sections incorporating the Bird-Head motifs or totems found on Sea Peoples warships with the addition of a screen for the rowers.

Figure.60. Sea Peoples Ship 3. My reconstruction of the ship that appears in Figure.56. With screens included.

Figure.61. My simplified line drawing representation of the ship in figure.56. And its full reconstruction in figure.60 above.

Figure.62. Sea Peoples Ship 4. My reconstruction of of one of the Sea Peoples ships based on the ships from Figures.53., .54. and .56. but without the addition of screens for the rowers.

Figure.63. My simplified line drawing representation of my ship design from figure.62. Based on the ships in figures.53,.54. And .56.

Figure.64. Sea Peoples Ship 5. My reconstruction of the ship in figure.52. Clearly incorporating the bird-head devices and peculiar beaching-device or “Ram” at the bow of the ship but without the addition of screens for the rowers.

Figure.65. My simplified line drawing representation of my ship design from figure.64. Based on the ships in figures.55.and .52.

Figure.66. Sea Peoples Ship 6. My re constructional representation of the ship design from figure.64. And here including the buttress-like structure on the bow of the ship in figure.57. With bird-head motifs but without the addition of screens, and more akin to the ships found on vases discovered in Greece such as the Kynos ship with the beaks of the bird-headed bow and stern motifs more acutely turned up.( Based on the ships in figures.55.and .52.).

Figure.67.My simplified line drawing representation of the ship from figure.52. And used to reconstructed the ship in figure.66.

Figure.68. An interesting view of the different stages representing the capsizing of a ship of the Sea Peoples. Note, here the hull is shown to be “V” in cross section, an interesting yet puzzling choice for such a vessel, which would make it relatively very unstable at sea and would require little to capsize it.

Figure.69. A cross section of a modern boat typical in design and construction methods to those used throughout the ancient Greek ship-building world and particularly those of the Bronze Age. The image typical emphasizes the different approach to ship building the Bronze Age Greeks had to those of their Egyptian counter-parts.

Figure.70. An interesting model in the Haifa Naval Museum, Israel. Showing us one possible interpretation of what a Sea peoples ship might have looked like. Although this model has a closed-hull, and what appears to be the covers for three stowage points. The lack of seating for the rowers is an obvious absence but other than that it comes fairly close to the depictions of the ships of the Sea Peoples in the naval battle scene depicted at Medinet Habu.


A study of the Bronze Age by James Thomas

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