Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant

Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant

Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant

Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant


During the Bronze Age, the ancient societies that ringed the Mediterraneann, once mostly separate and isolate, began to reach across the great expanse of sea to conduct trade. This text presents an examination of how these early cultures took to the sea - and how they evolved as a result.


It was only with watercraft that ancient peoples could discover, explore, colonize, and supply the once uninhabited islands of the eastern Mediterranean, and it was mainly with watercraft that ancient peoples of the bordering African, Asian, and European coasts acquired the raw materials—especially metals and timber—that allowed the rise of Bronze Age civilizations in the Levant.

Of course there were overland caravans and inland caravan cities, but one can scarcely imagine huge cedar logs being hauled overland from Lebanon to the Nile valley or tons of copper and tin being carted from the East across Anatolia to Greece, even had there been a bridge over the Bosporus. It was on the waters of the Red Sea, not across desert and through jungle, that Egyptians sent expeditions to Punt to bring back the exotic goods of tropical Africa.

Maritime commerce turned the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean into a bustling, cosmopolitan entrepot. Ships sailed from the harbors of Ugarit, Sidon, Tyre, Ashkelon, and Dor, transporting metals, ceramics, resins, and spices southward to Egypt and westward to the Aegean, some at least as far west as Sardinia. the role of Cyprus within this economic sphere has not yet been determined, but it must have been considerable.

The long-distance exchange of goods and ideas by sea was not always peaceful. We cannot imagine Mycenaean Greeks without the knowledge of writing and art they obtained by naval conquest from the Minoans of Crete. and Mycenaean troops did not march but sailed to Troy. Even the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean was marked by destruction wrought along the Syro-Canaanite coast and on Cyprus by raiding Sea Peoples.

Scholarly interest in the ships and boats of these events has not been lacking. But when I, as a young assistant professor, first offered a graduate seminar on ancient seafaring at the University of Pennsylvania in the middle 1960s, there were few general references to which my students and I could turn for the study of early Near Eastern and Aegean watercraft. M. G. A. Reisner’s Models of Ships and Boats . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.