Ancient Egyptian sea power and the origin of maritime forces by Gregory P. Gilbert

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By Gregory P. Gilbert

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31 A N CIENT EGYPTIAN S EA POW ER A ND THE OR I GI N OF M A R I TI M E F O RCE S Old Kingdom cargo ships, were similar in construction to the travelling ships, but with relatively lower hulls and broader bottoms. The greater part of the cargo was placed on deck or inside a papyrus or straw deckhouse or enclosure for greater protection during transit. Depictions of cargo stacked upon the deckhouse was an artistic device to incorporate all the cargo in the picture, and is not evidence for overloading.

In many instances mesha could be translated as ‘marines’. The title imy-r pedjty ‘captain of archers’ could be translated, from a maritime perspective, as ‘captain of marines’. 49 A number of nobles’ titles are clearly of a maritime nature, especially those using one or more hieroglyphs with a nautical origin. 50 During the New Kingdom new titles appear, in addition to some of the earlier ones, ‘fleet captain’, ‘captain of the ships of the king’, ‘captain of galleys’, ‘ship’s captain’, ‘captains of marines’ (literally ‘captain of the ship archers’), ‘officer of the ships’, ‘officer of marines’, ‘standard-bearer of the ship’, ‘standard-bearer of the marines’, ‘commander of the rowers’, ‘chief of the rowers’, ‘ship archers’, and many more.

On the other hand the prevailing winds along the Egyptian Nile are from north to south and assisted travelling ship movements when sailed upstream. 72 Some smaller travelling ships had just a few paddlers. Rowing was also common during the Old Kingdom, with depictions including standing and seated oarsmen facing aft. Depictions of Old Kingdom travelling ships have up to 40 rowers, although from 16 to 28 rowers are more common. Many travelling ships had only a few paddlers or rowers depicted, and in such instances the crew used the current or the wind to full advantage.

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