Abstract: Some went down to the Sea in Ships: Mediterranean Seafaring in the Bronze Age (3000-1200 B.C.)
Lecturer: Shelley Wachsmann
For the ancient societies ringing the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea, contact was
carried out primarily by sea. The study of seaborne exploration, trade, migrations and
colonization depends on understanding the nautical capabilities of the various cultures. A
knowledge of their ships and seafaring practices is a prerequisite for any understanding
of the mechanisms and directions of Bronze Age cultural flows.
For what reasons did these cultures go to sea? What types of ships did they build? How
efficient were their ships and seafaring practices, and perhaps, most importantly, what
insights into a culture can be gleaned from studying their ships and the manner in which
each culture interacted with the sea?
As early as the Early Bronze Age, the Mediterranean had been transformed from an
impassable barrier into a superhighway by means of which cultures communicated. This
new-found freedom of movement was primarily due to the ability to build wooden-
planked vessels capable of withstanding the rigors of open-water travel and the seafaring
knowledge required to use them.
This lecture gives a broad overview of the blue-water ships of the major Bronze Age
cultures of the eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze Age, including those of the
Egyptians, Syro-Canaanites, Cypriots, Minoans, Mycenaeans and the Sea Peoples. Using
contemporaneous archaeological, iconographic and textual evidence, this lecture follows
the evolution of ships and delves into pertinent aspects of seafaring, such as trade,
warfare, navigation, as well as others.
Short bibliography on lecture topic:
Wachsmann, S., 1998. Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant.
College Station, Texas A&M University.