Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Two single-levelled galleys

Cat. No.



end of MG II (c. 760 BC)


Chamber tomb 3, Khaniale Tekke, Knossos.


H: c. 45 cm


Sherds from a pithos

Accession Number


Basch 1987: 159-61, no. 323; Boardman 1967: 70, no. 21, fig. 6, pl. 14:21; Coldstream 1973: 19; Wachsmann 1998: 138, fig. 7.20; Wedde 1999b: pl. XCII E10; 2004: 145-146 figs. 5-6; 2006: 260-61, fig. 7 (left)"

A199a: Ship to the right, with a long flat hull and a vertical, non-integrated stempost with lattice work (group 2). The stem device is missing, as well as the lower part of the stern, the latter being highly incurving, and comprised of two parallel lines linked by crossbars forming a square aphlaston. A very long, well developed bow projection extends as a direct continuation of the keelline, with its upper side curving upward into the straight stem. There are two buffers (proembolia) of shorter length above it, their extremities capped with perpendicular strokes. The lower one extends from the horizontal line forming the gunwale. A forecastle that does not appear integrated to the bow is rendered by a rectangle with internal framing formed by two crossing oblique strokes. A series of 38 vertical strokes join the keel to the gunwale, their tips extending slightly above it. The mast is significantly forward of amidships, with a forked, V shaped masthead, a forestay and a backstay. There are short vertical strokes hanging from the latter as well as from the bottom side of the incurving stern, interpreted as decorative ribbons.

A119b: Ship to the right, in a much more fragmentary state of preservation. Only the forward section of the ship survives, from the bow to slightly past the mast. The presumable forecastle and stem device are missing. The ship resembles the first one except for the bow projection which seemingly appears as a more advanced form with a concave stempost. The two buffers (*proembolia*) are depicted in an identical manner.

The fragmentary pithos on which the ships are depicted comes from a small rectangular chamber tomb with material spanning from the Protogeometric to the early orientalising period. Besides pottery, the tomb had an iron sword, two iron adzes and another iron implement, bronze tweezers, a gold and an amber bead. The two ship depictions are located below the handles, with only one being near complete, while the second preserves the bow section and part of the mast.

This ship is in the tradition of the Tragana and Toumba vessels, to which it appears as a more advanced form in light of its very well developed bow projection. The artist appears to be using a different pictorial language to the one customary to Attic geometric depictions, sometimes referred to as the "x-ray" approach, where the internal structure of the bow as lattice work is shown. The vertical lines across the hull which normally depict stanchions pose a problem because they would make for an exceedingly long ship if taken literally. Their slight protrusion above the gunwale resembles stanchions, which is again problematic since this continues into the area of the forecastle where there shouldn't be any.

The presence of two buffers (proembolia) is so far unique in geometric ship depictions yet highly significant for the issue of the evolution towards a functional ram. The presence of bumpers at their ends clearly indicates that their purpose was to limit the penetration of the very long - perhaps exaggeratedly so - ram, ostensibly to avoid ramming too deep into the enemy ship's hold, making disengagement impossible. In addition to this safety measure (Wedde 2000: 170), Basch attributes them a second function as further contributing to the force of impact generated at a higher point of the hull (Basch 1987: 161). Finally it should be noted that thanks to the "x-ray" manner of the ship's depiction, it is possible to identify some of the signs that Wedde identifies as necessary to suggest that the hull was designed to absorb the force of impact (Wedde 2000: 152). What the artist appears to have captured is thus a period of experimentation where clear efforts were made towards improving the vessel's ramming capabilities.

The peculiar vertical strokes attached to the fore- and backstays as well as the stern are best interpreted as hanging decorations attached to the rigging similar to those observed on one of the Thera ships (Basch 1987: 161; Wachsmann 1998: 138).

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

Boardman, J. 1967. “The Khaniale Tekke Tombs, II.” BSA 62: 57-75.

Coldstream, J.N. 1973. Knossos. The Sanctuary of Demeter. BSA Suppl. Vol. 8. Oxford.

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

Wedde, M. 1999b. “War at Sea: The Mycenaean and Early Iron Age Oared Galley,” in R. Laffineur (ed.) Polemos: Le context guerrier en Égée à l’âge du bronze. Actes de la 7e Rencontre égéenne internationale, Université de Liège, 14–17 Avril 1998. Aegaeum 19. Liège: Université de Liège, pp. 465–427.

―――. 2004. “The Late Geometric Ship from Khalasmenos,” in N. C. Stampolidis and A. Giannikouri (eds.) Το Αιγαίο στην Πρώιμη Εποχή του Σιδήρου: Πρακτικά του Διεθνούς Συμποσίου, Ρόδος 1-4 Νοεμβρίου 2002. Athens: University of Crete, pp. 143-148.

―――. 2006. “Pictorial Evidence for Partial System Survival in the Greek Bronze Age to Iron Age Transition,” in E. Rystedt and B. Wells (eds.) Pictorial Pursuits: Eigurative Painting on Mycenaean and Geometric Pottery. Paper from Two International Round-Table Conferences on Mycenaean and Geometric Pottery at the Swedish Institute at Athens in 1999 and 2001, Stockholm: Svenska Instituted I Athen, pp. 255-269.

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