Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Syro-Canaanite ships

Cat. No.



c. 1200 B.C.


Ugarit, House of Yabninu, ashes of the archive amongst the abandoned tablets of the original floor of sector 203


Diameter: 2.3 cm; thickness (current): 1.1 cm


Faience scaraboid bifacial seal stamp, pierced with a hole for suspension

Accession Number


Basch 1987: 70, fig. 131; Mark 2017: 71-72, figs. 6-7; Morrison and Gardiner 1995: 23-24; Knapp 2019: 124-125; Schaeffer 1962: 134, 147, fig. 114; Wachsmann 1981: 212, fig. 28b; 1998: 49; Yon and Sauvage 2015: 77, 87, fig. 3d

Side A: Schematic Syro-Canaanite galley. The hull is rendered as a narrow rectangle bisected by a single horizontal line. A clear distinction was therefore made between the hull and what should be interpreted as an open bulwark above it that possibly carried a screen. The three horizontals, from bottom to top, are therefore the keel line, the sheer, and the top of the open bulwark. The stempost and sternpost are strictly vertical and the hull is flat. A thick mast is rendered amidships using two parallel vertical lines. The yard is shaped like a crescent with down curving ends as is typical of Syro-Canaanite ships. The oblique lines leading from the yard to the bow and stern are either stays or lifts. Wachsmann favours the latter as it is the more frequently represented part of rigging in LBA ships, where lifts are the most prominent element in boom-bottomed rigs. There are no quarter rudders, making the direction if the ship impossible to determine given the vessel's symmetry. Five oars are shown protruding midway out of the hull. It is clear that they were therefore not positioned on tholepins atop the gunwale and we are therefore dealing with oar ports (cf. Basch 1987: 70 for such a reading). The significance of this detail cannot be overemphasized if it is indeed intentional, since the invention of oar ports is credited to later EIA Phoenician ships. It is just as possible however, that the impression given was unintentional and results from the schematic nature of the carving.

Side B: the second ship was clearly meant to represent the same type of vessel, but it appears that the artist has seriously jumbled the execution. The mast is notably off-center, the upper part of the bulwark is arched downward on the right side, and the yard is twisted in a very odd shape similar to a pretzel.

The house of Yabninu, also previously published as the so-called "South Palace" or "Small Palace" is a private house located near the southern part of the royal palace. It is a large single architectural unit at least one thousand square meters in size (not fully excavated) surrounded by public roads. The northern part of the residence (203, 204) has provided 67 written texts, including 60 in Akkadian, 2 in Ugaritic (including an abecedary), and 2 in Cypro-Minoan. These are primarily economic texts, such as maritime bills of lading, transactions of commodities and lists of foreigners residing in Ugarit. Together, the texts and artifacts indicate that Yabninu was in charge of maritime commercial activities linking Ugarit with Cyprus, the southern Levantine coast, Egypt, and the Aegean. These point to a close connection with the Levantine city states in particular, as many important ones are singled out by name (Arwad, Byblos, Tyre, Akko, Ashdod, Ashkelon). The scaraboid bearing the ship was found in sector 203 which is a large hall, near a statue base inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Basch, L. 1987. Le musée imaginaire de la marine antique. Athens: Institut Hellénique pour la preservation de la tradition nautique.

Knapp, A. B. 2018. Seafaring and Seafarers in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

Mark, S. 2017. “The Ship Depiction in the Tomb of Nebamun: The First Egyptian Seagoing Ship without a Hogging Truss,” JAEI 16: 68-86.

Morrison, J.S. and R. Gardiner. 1995. The Age of the Galley: Mediterranean oared Vessels since pre-Classical Times. London: Conway Maritime Press.

Schaeffer, C.F.A. 1962. Fouilles et découvertes des XVIIIe et XIXe campagnes, 1954-1955. Ugaritica 4. Paris: Imprimerie Générale, pp. 1-150.

Wachsmann, S. 1981. “The Ships of the Sea People,” IJNA 10: 187-220.

―――. 1998. Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

Yon, M. and C. Sauvage. 2015. “La navigation en Méditerranée orientale à l'Âge du Bronze Récent,” in : B. Argémi and P. Tallet (eds.) NeHeT 3. Entre Nil et mers : La navigation en égypte ancienne. Actes des rencontres de Provence Égyptologie Musée Départemental Arles Antique le 12 avril 2014, pp. 73-103.

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