We can already point out that the sources concerning the maritime heritage of antiquity are mainly Western and centered around the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. However, it is also possible to define the types of units that existed in South America, or in Asia.


One of the striking features of this period is the marked differentiation in the typology of boats between trade and war.

As much in the Middle Ages, in the North of Europe, this distinction made no sense any more than in the Renaissance, as the trade of expensive commodities remained risky, as much in pre-Christian Antiquity, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians , Had vessels of very distinct genera:

- The merchant vessel was by its very nature a coaster, small (less than 30 meters, at least at the beginning), light enough to be able to be climbed on the sand at night, or run aground with the tide, To carry the heaviest loads, often weighted, equipped with a large rig and equipped with a reduced crew who could also row if necessary for maneuvers in port and in calm weather. But this propulsion was quite a minority and the main driving force resided solely in the ability to catch the wind thanks to a more developed rigging than on the Galleys.
The military ship was all its opposite: it was long, fine, very light (at the start), narrow, its rigging reduced to maneuvers and mounted in strong winds, sometimes as a swimming aid, and its main driving force Constituted by rowers, in large numbers and integrated into the crew: A sub-distinction: In the Romans, they were not slaves (forget ben Hur): This driving force was managed with gentleness, encouragement, Rowers being considered as full crew members, enrolled for a few years and receiving a pay.

Among the Babylonians and Phoenicians, these rowers were enlisted and paid sailors, but capable of taking up arms if necessary. Among the Greeks there were free men who paid their transport by rowing, the galleys being able to fight if necessary, but not the rowers, who were relatively unprotected but well trained because the technique of sitting was rather elaborate .



All the knowledge which we have at our disposal at this distant period have come to us from very few sources, direct or indirect.

"There are wrecks in the ideal." In this case, only Greek or Roman "cargos" or Phoenicians were found, protected by a bactericidal vessel. But almost no galley (except the ship of Marsala). The explanation stems from the very special nature of these vessels: Constructed of wood with little metal, they were very light, to the point of having a positive buoyancy coefficient, which implied that in case of ramming they remained Flooded, half submerged. They were burned or captured in general.

On the other hand, the cargo ships of antiquity transported their goods in heavy amphorae, the "standard containers" of that time, and sank with their cargo. Under a pile of amphorae, divers know that they can always find a bow or couples, a remnant of freeboard, all more or less decomposed and crushed by the clay mass of the Amphoras. The only real enemies of the galley are fire and wear. The galleys themselves were often hoisted on a ramp built of stone or roughly dug on the shore, and protected by "hangars".

Finding the remains of these hauling ramps gives a precise idea of ​​the dimensions of these ships. The direct sources (wrecks) recovered are hitherto almost exclusively merchant ships. Indirect sources, such as ramps or the remains of hangars cited above, the fixing of trophies and models, or real ships, are therefore the majority.

There are also bas-reliefs, paintings and mosaics, with the limit that the ships represented were only by "generalist" artists, not by specialists in maritime techniques. Thus, among the indirect material sources, one finds the paintings and engravings on vases. The painted Greek vases in negative are particularly instructive in the matter.

Finally there are the sculptures, such as the Roman rostrums and prows on the columns, but also the artisanal objects, which although functional may represent a ship, even roughly. Finally, there are the monuments, such as the one commemorating the battle of Actium, made up of the rostres of the captured galleys (a precious indication because simple calculations then make it possible to define the size and the tonnage of the carrying ship).

There are also the indirect written sources found concerning the organization of the fleets, types of units, legislation, etc. When the navy began to codify, serious sources of information were available. Unfortunately largely destroyed in the frequent fires, including that of the great Library of Alexandria. There were also indications given by chroniclers of the time or post-antique, the translators of the Middle Ages, the clues and indications of the great stories. For example, the ships used by certain Gaulish tribes of Britanny are known to us in detail thanks to the famous "The Gaul War" by Julius Caesar ...

> Concerning South America, there are the traditional boats still built in the Andes, with a technique that approximates most primitive skiffs of the great rivers of the Middle East or Asia, boats in rushes. But the very symbolic graphics of the oldest Mesoamerican civilizations are not explicit on the techniques of construction. The Nazcas, Mayas, were not commercial or maritime powers. The raft of the Jangada (Brazil) found in the mud is undoubtedly the oldest testimony available for this continent (5000 years BC). It confirms in any case the preeminence of river navigation on coastal and offshore navigation, according to a logical chronology because it is linked to the empirical progress of technology.

The Chinese junks, also spread throughout most of Asia, are at the origin of the rafts, intimately linked to the Chinese "Nile", the yellow river. These massive "rafts" have been improved many times, adapted to coastal navigation, then to the Middle Ages, high seas and even oceanic.

navires antiquite

Detailed Typology:

  1. Merchant Ship of Ancient Egypt (3000 BC)
  2. Merchant Ship of Ancient Egypt (2600 BC)
  3. Merchant ship of the expeditions of Queen Hatshepsut (1500 BC)
  4. Kepen 1600 BC
  5. Kepen 1400 av JC
  6. Ptolemaic Triere (100 BC)
  7. Kheops Funerary Ship (2500 BC)
  8. Keftion 800 BC
  9. "Fourth" of the Antigonids (360 BC)
  10. Ptolemaic Tesseraconter (80 BC)
  11. Ptolemaic Diere (90 BC)
  12. Ptolemaic Hepter (70 BC)
  13. Mithridate's Hemolia (70 BC)
  14. Phoenician Trading Ship (270 BC)
  15. Assyrian Dier (600 BC)
  16. Phoenician Merchant Coaster (800 BC)
  17. "20" by Cleopatra (Actium, 31 BC) - From the film of the MGM "Cleopatra", by Cecil B. De Mille
  18. Roman Pentecontore (230 BC)
  19. Romaine Triconter (220 BC)
  20. "10" or Imperial Roman Decere (50 BC)
  21. Roman Actuaria (200 BC)
  22. Carthaginian Penteconter of Hannon and Himilcon (180 BC)
  23. Assyrian Dier of Sennacherib (800 BC)
  24. Greek Trikonteros (600 BC)
  25. Greek Pentakonteros (400 BC)
  26. Corinthian Triere of Ameinocles (400 BC)
  27. Greek Cisokonteros (500 BC)
  28. Greek Cargo 500T (500 BC)
  29. Roman Biremis (250 BC)
  30. Roman Triremis of Scipio (217 BC)
  31. Imperial Deceris (70 BC)
  32. Quinqueremis from Agrippa at Actium (31 BC) - From the film of the MGM "Cleopatra", by Cecil B. De Mille
  33. Deceris of Antoine at Actium (31 BC) - From the film of the MGM "Cleopatra", by Cecil B. De Mille
  34. Carthaginian Tetrere of Hamilcar (260 BC)
  35. Greek Trikonteros (300 BC)
  36. Roman Quadriremis (40 BC)
  37. Oneraria (80 BC) - Cargo of wheat from Alexandria
  38. Triere of Themistocles (500 BC)
  39. Roman Corvus Triremis (not to scale) - Imperial period (50 AD).
  40. Greek Liburna (60 BC)