Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Helladic type galley

Cat. No.



LBA (c. 14th-13th centuries B.C.)


Teneida, Dakhleh oasis, Egypt



Rock graffito on a stone that is broken off on the upper edge, with some portions of the composition missing in the upper right section

Accession Number


Basch 1997; Broodbank 2013: 457, fig. 9.11; Knapp 2019: 132; Wachsmann 1998: 203-204, figs. 8A.3, 8A.4; 2013: 28-59 figs. 2.10-2.12

I1a; main ship: Ship to the right, with a low flat hull rendered with a single straight line that continues uninterrupted past the stempost into a long bow projection. Vertical stempost with a rectangular forescale divided midway by a horizontal line into two equal parts. The stempost continues above the upper edge of the forecastle at the point where the stone breaks. This indicates that there was probably a device at its extremity which is now missing. The stern is rendered as a straight oblique line that rises at a 129-degree angle. A curving, nearly vertical quarter rudder extends from the sternpost, with two shorter lines on each side to indicate the broadening of the blade. The bottom was not closed off, giving the quarter rudder the appearance of a trident. The mast is amidships. The diagonal line that leads from the stern area to the mast at a 45-degree angle is the only element that poses interpretative difficulty. There are two salient details which may provide hints as to its function. The first is the two figures climbing on it. The second is that it crosses the mast and continues past it all the way to the break of the rock at the top. Looking at the detailed photo of this section, the mast does not appear to continue above it. This gives the sense that the oblique line is supported by or resting on the mast, rather than the other way around. Wachsmann argues based on this observation that the line therefore represents a long solid timber. His evidence for rejecting the possibility of an unstepped mast or rigging however are based on Egyptian parallels, and it is never made clear why these are perceived as applicable to the image. His theory furthermore that the timber represents a large phallus is based on much later Archaic Greek parallels and remains unconvincing. Basch interprets it as either a backstay or a brace, and notes that there are many representations of sailors climbing on the rigging. In this case, the medium would have made a more realistic representation of crouching bodies difficult, making their otherwise impossible stance understandable.

I1b; boat models: these boat models represent a distinctly different type of ship. All four exhibit only very slight variations which can be readily attributed to execution and are clearly meant to depict the same type of vessel. The ships face to the right, with a flat hull and high extremities. The stempost and sternpost are straight and vertical. The stempost is capped by a bird-headed device with an exaggeratedly long beak, while the sternpost bends abruptly at a straight angle at its extremity. There is a mast amidships. Basch provides Cypriot archaic parallels for these ships, but there is no need to use such late examples as there are even better parallels dating towards the end of the LBA. The same stem and stern devices are observable on two ship graffiti from Nahal Oren. The short lines protruding either below the hull (ships A and B) or behind the sternpost (ships C and D) are unlikely to be indicative of an actual feature and are probably just an unintentional result of the incision process. It is difficult to interpret them as steering oars since the ships are otherwise depicted in an identical manner.

The surface of the stone is particularly well preserved, with an exceptionally crisp and clear graffito that was executed with a combination of deep incisions for straight lines and grooving for rounded elements. The block is broken off on the top, cutting off parts of the three uppermost figures, the upper end of the oblique line abutting the mast, and possibly the stempost's device. There are nine stick figures, with likely a tenth which used to stand on top of the forecastle. They all face towards the bow in a wide stance, their feet pointing forward with the exception of two figures; figure 5 has one foot pointing in each direction, while figure 9 has his feet pointing towards the stern despite the fact that he appears to face forward as the rest of the crew. All of them except for figure 3 sport a head appendage that consists of a long line descending behind their head and ending in a rounded protuberance made using drilling. This appendage is very long, descending at least down to the hip (figures 1, 4, 9) and sometimes as far down as the ankles (figures 2, 5, 6). All of the figures further sport what appear to be phallic sheaths, represented by a vertical line dangling all the way down to their ankles, with a pair of holes on each side midway and a third hole at the tip. Figure 1stands out for an additional decorative element which consists of three vertical lines rising from his head, which must be some sort of feathered headgear. His status as the leader is emphasized not only by this element, but also by his position at the head of the ship, standing on top of the bow projection. Four of the figures (1, 2, 6, 9) hold up boat models (A-D), with the figure behind the mast (6) being distinguished by the fact the boat model appears to be exhibited on a standard shaped like an inverted L. Figure 3 appears to be blowing on a music instrument (possibly a trumpet or a flute), while figures 7 and 8 are climbing upright on the diagonal line abutting the mast.

This is by far the most complex scene relating to ship imagery in this medium - with all other graffiti notably having no human figures or any other additions to the ship for that matter. It is furthermore remarkable for such an unmistakably Aegean type vessel to be represented in a location so far inland into Egyptian territory. The scene appears to depict some sort of ritual, as suggested by the display of the boat models (one of them on a standard). Basch highlights the potential martial character suggested by the trumpet blower. The Aegean oared galley itself is of course ideally suited for raiding, while the display of an entirely different type of ship in the boat models is clearly intentional and was perhaps meant to symbolize spoils.

The artist was at pains to highlight the attributes of the figures which are all exaggerated: the head appendage resembling a braid or lock, the phallic sheath, and the feathered crown of the leader. Both Basch and Wachsmann have analyzed these features at great length in an attempt to identify the identity of the individuals. The Libyans (Tjehemu) are a plausible candidate as they provide the closest parallel in terms of a combination of several of these attributes. Egyptian representations typically display them with a sidelock ending in a curl, phallic sheaths, and 2-4 ostrich plumes in their hair. Basch argues that their naked character is not akin to Aegean iconography. This is not exactly true however, as we do have examples of Mycenaean warriors that are shown naked from the waist down. The long hair appendages are also not dissimilar to two of the warriors from the naval battle scenes from Kynos, while the feathered headgear of the leader could be likened to the feathered helmets associated with some of the Sea Peoples. All this to say that the schematic nature of the representation is vague enough to offer many possibilities, a problem further complicated by the lack of datable or material context for the graffito.

The presence of an Aegean type ship is the only unambiguous element which requires explanation. One solution is the evidence of military cooperation between local Libyan tribes and various sea peoples such as the coalition mentioned fighting against Merneptah in the 5th year of his reign (1208 B.C.). In terms of narrowing the chronology, Egypto-Mycenaean contacts noticeably pick up for the first time during the Amarna era. Basch furthermore highlights the line of defense built by Ramses II along the Mediterranean coast west of the Nile Delta as a potential indicator of concerns about seaborne attacks. The lagoon system at the LBA coastal site of Marsa Matruh, which is virtually the only serviceable harbour along the otherwise highly exposed northeast African coast is surely a crucial link, as this site has provided numerous imports, including Aegean ones dating to the 14th-13th centuries.

Basch, L. 1997. “Une representation de navire de type egeen dans l'oasis de Dakhleh (Egypte) vers 1200 av. J.-C.” in S. Swiny, R. Hohlfelder and H. W. Swiny (eds.) Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean from Prehistory through the Roman Period. (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, Monograph 1.) Atlanta: Scholars Press, pp. 17-29.

Broodbank, C. 2013. The Making of the Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean from the Beginning to the Formation of the Classical World (2 Million to 500 BC). London: Thames and Hudson.

Knapp, A. B. 2019. Seafaring and Seafarers in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

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

―――. 2013. The Gurob Ship–Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

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