Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Naval combat scene

Cat. No.



LH IIIC middle


Pyrgos Livanaton (Kynos)



Sherd from a krater

Accession Number

Lamia Archaeological Museum


Dakoronia 1990: 122, figs. 2, 3; 1995: 148, figs. 2, 3; 1999: 128, fig. 1; 2006a: 172, fig. 1; 2009: 278; Höckmann 2001: fig. 1; Knodell 2013: 377, fig. 6.4; Lemos 2014: 170, figs. 4a-b; Tartaron 2013: 67, fig. 3.12; Thomatos 2006: 248-249, fig. 6.19 (10); Wedde 2000: 330, nos. 6001,6003; Wachsmann 1998: 131-137, fig. 7.7, 7.9, 7.10

The two vessels are nearly identical, with differences in only two secondary details: the absence of semicircles on the bulwark of the left ship, and the thin vertical lines filling two of the open spaces of its platform. The right galley facing left in nearly complete state and depicted in great detail. Parts missing include the bird-headed device topping the stem, the lower part of the stem, the end of the sternpost together with the blades of the single quarter rudder, and the two sternmost oars.

Low flat hull with a vertical, semi-integrated stempost (group 3), a curving sternpost, fore- and aftercastle. The zoomorphic figurehead has a large almond eye filled with vertical strokes, and a strongly recurving beak with spikes along the upper side of the beak and head. The end of the beak has a knob like element also observable on the Enkomi depiction which possibly hints that this is a snout.

Wachsmann analyses the ship as divided in three longitudinal horizontal areas: "Area CB is the ship's hull, from the keel/keel-plank to the sheer. Above this is a reserved area XB intersected by nineteen vertical "lunates," which are curved on their right side (side facing the ship's stern) but whose left edges are attached to vertical lines. This detail particularly distinguishable in the fifth lunate from the bow, where the lunate is somewhat separated from the vertical line. Ship is propelled by nineteen oars on its port side. Each oar begins at the bottom of a lunate. Presumably, the artist meant to depict a penteconter but ran out of room. The third area (AX) is decorated by two rows of semicircles, a common ornament filler on Late Helladic IIIB and IIIC1 pottery. Since this motif also decorates the bodies of bulls and the leather-covered sides of chariots on Late Helladic pottery, it may indicate that the ship carries a leather screen enclosing an open bulwark. The fact that the mast can be seen through area XA does not prevent this interpretation: this result would have been inevitable if the artist first drew the mast and only afterward added the superstructure. Line X crosses the bow and continues beyond it, suggesting that this line represents a structurally significant element, perhaps a free-standing wale at the bottom of the screen. Such a reinforcement would be required to support the deck beams."(Wachsmann 1998: 131-32).

Several points indicate that the lunates represent the upper torsos of the rowers while their heads are hidden behind the screen. Since the oars begin at the lunates they are related to the rowers. These are slanted towards the stern, which suggests that the rowers are at the end of the stroke, a position in which the men would be leaning backward on their benches, with their oars drawn up close to their bodies. Finally, the helmsman indicates the way that the artist depicted the unarmoured male body. The position of the rowers means that there was no deck planking along the ship's sides. The horizontal ladder motif must be equated with an open rowers' gallery intersected by vertical stanchions. The second warrior standing behind the mast indicates that the ship was at least partially decked longitudinally. The helmsman is manning a single quarter rudder which has no tiller, but two joining semicircles drawn on the fore side of the loom may indicate a control mechanism.

The Ship has a single pole mast slightly forward of amidships. The sail and yard are stowed. The circular mast-head suggests that the rig represented is of the newly introduced brailed design. The only rigging shown is a single forestay and two slack lines that appear behind the mast, hanging slackly (severed backstays) and seemingly looped though one of the mast cap's sheaves. The keel is slightly rockered and abuts an oblique stem. The castles of the right ship are comprised solely of groups of three inverted nestled triangles. This could potentially indicate that they were little more than an open framework, unenclosed by planking. The forecastle on the left ship has four groups of nested triangles, with the added detail of crossbars on the upper two. This rendition potentially alludes to steps that the warriors appears to be climbing. The upper part of the stem bears parallel short lines extending from its inboard surface. It is clear from the fragment on the left ship that this continues up the bird-headed device now missing.

Two nearly identical war-ships (both oar and sail propelled) are pictured in a moment of engagement. On both ships, two warriors stand on a platform (one on the deck and one on the forecastle), holding up their shields for protection, with their other hand raised ready to throw their javelins. The warriors wear short leather chitons, a jerkin with a fringed border and helmets of the hedgehog type. They carry javelins and two types of shields - a round one, and one of the Hittite type made of leather (fringed borders again). The right ship has a helmsman manning a single quarter rudder, positioned in the sterncastle. He wears no armor but has the same feathered helmet as the warriors and holds the loom of the quarter rudder with both hands. The uppermost left sherd belonging to the left ship shows the zoomorphic ornament of the stempost and the torso of a warrior with shield and javelin. The horizontal fringed object along the lower left edge of the sherd likely belongs to a shield. A pair of fish between the two ships.

The narrative scene very closely resembles the one on the Bademgedigi Tepe krater, except that the oarsmen are fully drawn there and the warriors are depicted in much greater detail. The positioning of the mast slightly forward amidships is not likely to have a real structural meaning but should rather be interpreted as an adjustment by the painter to provide adequate room for the warrior. This is also true for the odd number of rowers which were likely the result of the artist running out of space. The ship was most probably intended as a penteconter. The prow appears thicker and more resistant than the stern. This constructional detail hints at a high level of knowledge of seafaring and shipbuilding which was previously considered a development of the Geometric period (Dakoronia 2006: 25; Casson 1971: 49). The attitude of the warriors is the same as those fighting from chariots or in combat on land, with the aim to prevent the enemy from landing. The interpretation of the zone XA as a bulwark is certain thanks to another sherd from Kynos. The oars of the two ships are turned in opposite directions despite the fact that the oarsmen on both ships are facing the same direction. This indicates that the vessels are rowing against each other. The oarsmen on the left ship are rowing facing the stern (usual way), while the oarsmen of the right ship are facing the prow. The positioning of the oars has a balancing effect on the composition. The state of the ships, with their sail pulled down and the oarsmen at the ready to maneuver reflects naval warfare tactics from later ancient sources.

Dakoronia, F. 1990. “War-ships on Sherds of LH IIIC Kraters from Kynos,” in H. Tzalas (ed.) Tropis II: Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity, Delphi, 27, 28, 29 August 1987. Athens: Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition, pp. 117-121.

―――. 1995. “Republication of illustrations to Dakoronia 1987,” in H. Tzalas (ed.) Tropis III: Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity, Athens 24, 25, 26, 27 August 1989. Athens: Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition, pp. 147-148.

―――. 1999. “Representations of Sea-battles on Mycenaean Sherds from Kynos,” in H. Tzalas (ed.) Tropis V: 5th International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity, Nauplia, 26, 27, 28 August 1993. Athens: Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Traditions, pp. 119-128.

―――. 2006a. “Bronze Age Pictorial Tradition on Geometric Pottery,” in E. Rystedt and B. Wells (eds.) Pictorial Pursuits : Figurative Painting on Mycenaean and Geometric Pottery. Papers from Two International Round-Tablw Conferences on Mycenaean Pictorial Pottery at the Swedish Institute at Athens in 1999 and 2001. Stockholm: Paul Åström Förlag, pp. 171-175.

―――. 2009. “Kynos’ Pace to the Early Iron Age,” in . S. Deger-Jalkotzy and A.E. Bächle (eds.) LH III C Chronology and Synchronisms III, LH III C Late and the Transition to the Early Iron Age: Proceedings of the International Workshop Held at the Austrian Academy of Sciences at Vienna, February 23rd and 24th, 2007. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Adademie der Wissenschaften., pp. 61-76.

Höckman, O. 2001. “The Kynos Sea-fighters: Exception of the Rule?” in H. Tzalas (ed.) Tropis VI: Sixth International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity, Lamia, 28, 29, 30 August 1996. Athens: Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition, pp. 223-234.

Knodell, A. 2013. “Small-World Networks and Mediterranean Dynamics in the Euboean Gulf: An Archaeology of Complexity in Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Greece.” PhD Thesis, Brown University, USA.

Lemos, I.S. 2014. “Communities in transformation: An archaeological Survey from the 12th to the 9th century BC,” Pharos 20.1: 163-194.

Tartaron, T. F. 2013. Maritime Networks in the Mycenaean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thomatos, M. 2006. The Final revival of the Aegean Bronze Age: a case study of the Argolid, Corinthia, Attica, Euboea, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese during LH IIIC Middle. Oxford: Archaeopress.

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

Wedde, M. 2000. Towards a Hermeneutics of Aegean Bronze Age Ship Imagery. Peleus Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Griechenlands und Zyperns, vol. 6. Bibliopolis: Mannheim and Möhnsee.

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