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Maritime military practices in the pre-Phoenician Levant

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Juan-Pablo Vita
Affiliation:
Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas del Mediterráneo y Oriente Próximo, Madrid, Spain
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution examines the mainly textual evidence for the use of ships in military contexts by the maritime kingdoms of the Levant, the predecessors of the Phoenician city-states, in the Late Bronze Age (c. 1500–1200 BC). Ships were used to transport troops, conduct raids and blockade harbours, but there is no indication of purpose-built warships, or fleets that were dedicated solely to military activities.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution analyse les preuves, principalement textuelles, de l'utilisation de navires à des fins militaires par les royaumes maritimes du Levant, prédécesseurs des cités-États phéniciennes, à la fin de l'Âge du bronze (c. 1500–1200 av. J.-C.). Si les navires étaient utilisés pour le transport des troupes, les perquisitions et le blocus des ports, il n'existe aucune indication témoignant de l'existence de vaisseaux spécialement construits ou de flottes uniquement dédiées aux activités militaires.

Phoenicians rightly hold a place in our collective memory as the paradigm of a sailing, trading and enterprising people. Their expertise in matters of seamanship and shipbuilding was evident to their contemporaries and their skill was sought by those who had more limited access to the sea. As an example, amongst others, we might recall that a general of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal (668–627 BC), when operating in a waterlogged territory in southern Babylon in the middle of the seventh century BC, requested his lord to send seventy tree trunks along with twenty Sidonians in order to have ships built. Between the eighth and seventh centuries, the Phoenicians managed to build large, perfectly fitted merchant ships of 20 to 30 metres in length, with a beam of 6 to 7 metres. They were capable of constructing even larger warships.

Phoenician mastery of nautical matters was the result of a centuries-old tradition. Five or six centuries earlier Syria-Palestine had already achieved remarkably developed techniques in shipbuilding. For example, the Uluburun shipwreck, found off the southern coast of Turkey and dating from the end of the fourteenth century BC, was 15 to 16 metres long.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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