navire numide gerzeen

A Numidian Gerzean ship (3500 BC)

Among the oldest representations of large ships, some impressive ones extrapolated from the Gerzean rock carvings in the 4th millennium BC. The vessels painted on vases show us a rather often depicted type of ship with a double central "cabin" (sometimes with a slightly different third and closer to the prow) and masts, of which it appears to be two on most Size, unless one of them is a holder. These signs are found at the top of the main mast. The other common point is the palm tree, shown unambiguously, just behind the figurehead. The majority are perfectly symmetrical, with a pronounced sheer, and extremities without any ornamentation, apart from their "palm tree", always in prow. There are also three larger paddles at the back (rudders) which remain a constant during the dynastic period, and a large number of paddles (32 per board, with an interruption in the center, at the level of the "cabins"). The illustration above is a reconstruction resulting from the overlapping of these different representations and therefore calls for some comments:

The palm in prow is a pattern found systematically on these Gerzéens ships (Upper Egypt and Nubia). What is its exact meaning? I leave this to the specialists of the archaic Egyptian period. Is it a symbol of belonging to the country? Had this palm tree a more prosaic utility, was it a lucky charm, a comforting symbol for the crew who saw in the open sea a reassuring sign of promise of return? The bird was also revered in the same way (see "bird-boats"), since in the open sea, far from the coast, the presence of a bird at sea indicated the land nearby. Always it is that the symbol will later be found in the form of Lotus leaf that will be worn by many ships of the dynastic period

navire gerzeen porte ensigneFIG-2

There are also signpost masts (without sails) on many engravings. The question of sailing is contested, but it appears clearly on one of these engravings, and the typical rigging at the back of the folding masts (double or simple, the hypothesis remains) pleads for the use of sails. The very large number of paddles, systematic, as well as the central interruption, suggests that these vessels, which were very taut and probably quite fine, had a total of 64 rowers, which seems enormous in comparison with later units: Never on engravings and posterior bas-reliefs, and up to 1000 BC. JC., From Egyptian ships to more than 16 rowers on board.

It goes without saying that 64 rowers would represent a considerable weight on a soft boat ... My personal opinion is that the engraving has, above all, a symbolic charge, representing not a fringe, but both swims simultaneously, Reduces to 32 rowers, 16 per boat, and this is much more reasonable. Another fact is that only the Minoans and then the Mycenaeans, the possible inventors of the Pentecontore (25 rowers on board) were able to build such ships only with the introduction of a radically new method of construction, with keels and pairs. It seems therefore logical to consider that exceeding 20 rowers on board was already a challenge with the technique of soft boats.

Navire gerzéen pré-dynastiqueFIG-3

The "double cabin" systematically represented in the center is interesting because some engravings diverge on some points but agree on their shape: They are high (much more than the height of the hull), very close together, some even have a "footbridge "Intermediate. All have two or three semicircles on their summit. Are these representations of human heads "exceeding" their summit, swellings of decorations, "crenels", shields? The structure of these "cabins" also seems to be stratified horizontally.

It may appear that these high cabins are shelters for the crew in rainy weather, in the case of a merchant vessel. But it could more probably be "tricks", and more likely likely rounds of archers. Three things support this hypothesis: The number of rowers, speed-oriented, little useful on a merchant ship or traditionally sailing, had the leading role, the fineness of the hull, not really that of a merchant vessel necessarily more bellied, And the absence of representation of goods carried away, argue in this sense. There are also the signboards of masts, which are rather conspicuous, more useful for recognizing themselves in battle than on merchant ships. These engravings also show various symbols, two triangles, a "double horn" depicted above, a quadruple cruciform horn, or an elephant ... One of these engravings shows an anchor, Front, the classic symbol of soft ships, consolidated by holding lines in prow and stern.

Navire marchand pré-dynastiqueFIG-4 et  detailFIG-5 :

But we can also see two representations of what could most probably be a merchant ship (higher), without a masthead symbol, with a hull always very tontured, a sail in the rear with two lateral rudders, a cabin 'Before and apparently no oars. The following are illustrations taken from other engravings. We see a merchant ship (Fig. 2), with a cabin in the back this time, surmounted by a "wheelhouse", a "footbridge" since it is unambiguously seen a man leaning on a railing. The figurehead appears to be a bird's head surmounted by a "crown".

It can be a merchant vessel. The second illustration (Figure 3) shows a slightly different hull design, with a central cabin, numerous rowers, and a figurehead more difficult to pin down, perhaps a symbolic evocation integrated into the hull of the "palm tree" Other military vessels.

The last illustration (Figure 4) shows a Syrian military ship, from an engraving on a knife handle cut into a hippopotamus, about 3500 BC. JC. It depicts the representation of a naval battle well before that of the delta of the Nile led against the "peoples of the sea" by Ramses II. It is a naval battle between Egyptian and Syro-Mesopotamian ships. The latter seem to carry a main mast in front of a cabin and a secondary mast at the rear (a simple sign holder?). The interpolation of the shape of the prow appears to be identical to that of the head of the mast, with the classic form of crescent which will then be found among the Phoenicians and then the Carthaginians. But the shape of the stern very tontured could very well be interpreted as crossing the rear mast, and its "rigging" of the sleepers ... (Fig.5).