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But though punts and canoes of osiers, papyrus, or reeds, may have been used on some occasions, as they still are, on the Nile and the lakes of Egypt, we know that the Egyptians had strong and well-built vessels for the purposes of trade by sea, and for carrying merchandise, corn, and other heavy commodities on the Nile; and that, even if they had been very bold and skilful navigators, they would not have ventured to India, nor have defeated the fleets of Phoenicia, in their "paper vessels."
The sails, when made of the rind of the papyrus, were similar to those of the Chinese, which fold up like our Venetian blinds; but there is only one boat represented in the paintings, which appears to have sails of this kind, though so many are introduced there. It is of very early date; and we cannot readily believe that a people, noted for their manufactures of linen and other cloths, would have preferred so imperfect a substitute as the rind of a plant, especially as they exported sail-cloth to Phoenicia for that very purpose.*
The construction of the.various boats used on the Nile varied, according to the purposes for which they were intended. The punts or canoes being either pushed with a pole, or propelled with a paddle,† had no mast, nor even rudder; and many of the small boats, intended merely for rowing, were unprovided with a mast or sails. They were also without the raised cabin, common in large sailing boats, and the rowers appear to have been seated on the flat deck, which covered the interior from the head to the stern, pushing instead of pulling the oars, contrary to the usual custom in boats of larger dimensions. The absence of a mast did not altogether depend on the size of the boat, since those belonging to fishermen, which were very small, were often furnished with a sail, besides three or four oars ; and some large boats, intended for carrying cattle and heavy goods, were sometimes without a mast.
In going up the Nile, they used the sail, whenever the wind
* Ezekiel xxvii. 7, In the lamentation of Tyre, "Fine linen, with broidered work from Egypt, was that which thou spreadest forth to be thy sail." † See Contest of boatmen, woodcut 228, fig. 1.
See Fishing scene, woodcut 420, part 1 a, in Chapter VIII.
Boats for carrying cattle and goods on the Nile.
Thebes. a b, two boats, fastened to the bank by the ropes and pegs ff; in the cabin of one a man inflicts the bastinado on a boatman. He is one of the stewards of the estate, and is accompanied by his dog. In the other boat is a cow, and a net of hay or chopped straw (e), precisely the same as the shenfeh now used in Egypt.
was favourable; occasionally rowing, in those parts where the windings of the river brought it too much upon the bows; for it is probable that, like the modern Egyptians, they did not tack; and when the wind was contrary, or during a calm, they generally employed the tow-line, which was pulled by men on shore.
401. A boat with the mast and sail taken down, having a chariot and horses on board. Eileithyias.
After they had reached the southernmost point of their journey up the stream, the sail was no longer considered necessary; and the mast and yards being taken down, were laid over the top of the cabin, or on a short, temporary mast, with a forked summit; precisely in the same way as at the present day, on board the cangias, and other masted rowing boats of Egypt. For as the
wind generally blows from the N.W., it seldom happens that the sail can be used in going down the Nile, and in a strong wind the masts and rigging are so great an incumbrance, that the boat is unable to make much way against it with oars.
The heavy boats of burden, which from their great size cannot be propelled by oars, are suffered to retain their masts and sails, and float down the river sideways at the rate of the stream, advantage being taken of the wind whenever the bends of the river permit; and the large germs, used for carrying corn during the inundation, are only employed when the water is very deep, and are laid up the rest of the year, and covered with matting from the sun. These, therefore, form exceptions to the ordinary boats of the Nile, and may be considered similar to some represented in the sculptures of Tel el Amarna, which are fastened to the shore by several large ropes, and are shown, from the size of their cabins, the large awning in front for covering the goods they carried, and the absence of oars, to have been of unusual dimensions.
In the one given in the preceding wood-cut, from a tomb at Eileithyias, the size of the cabin, the horses taken on board with the chariot, and its height out of water, show that the common travelling boat was large and commodious; and we see that the cabin, as usual, was in the centre, with room enough on each side for the rowers to sit between it and the gunwale.
Large boats had generally one, small pleasure-boats two rudders at the stern. The former traversed upon a beam, between two projecting heads, a short pillar or mast supporting it, and acting as the centre on which it moved; the latter were nearly the same in principle, except that they turned on a bar, or in a ring, by which they were suspended to the gunwale at either side and in both instances the steersman directed them by means of a rope fastened to the upper extremity. The rudders consisted of a long broad blade and still longer handle; evidently made in imitation of the oars, by which they originally steered their boats, before they had so far improved them as to adopt a fixed rudder; and in order to facilitate its motion upon the mast or pillar, and to avoid the friction of the wood, a piece of bull's
hide was introduced, as is the custom in the modern boats, between the mast and yard.
The oar was a long round wooden shaft, to which a flat board, either oval, circular, or of diamond shape, was fastened; the same as still used on the Ganges, and in the Arabian Gulf. It turned either on a toll-pin, or in a ring, fastened to the gunwale of the boat; and the rowers sat on the deck, on benches, or on low seats, or stood or knelt to the oar, sometimes pushing it forwards, sometimes, and indeed more generally, pulling it, as is the modern custom in Egypt, and most other countries.
At the head of the boat a man usually stood, with a long pole in his hand, to sound every now and then, and prevent its running upon any of the numerous sandbanks in the river (which, from their often changing at the time of the inundation, are not always known to the most skilful pilot); a precaution adopted not always in time by the modern boatmen of the Nile.
That the ancient Egyptian boats were built with ribs, like those of the present day, is sufficiently proved by the rude models discovered in the tombs of Thebes. It is probable that they had very little keel, in order to enable them to avoid the sand-banks, and to facilitate their removal from them when they struck ; and, indeed, if we may judge from the models, they appear to have been flat-bottomed. The boats now used on the Nile have a very small keel, particularly at the centre, where it is concave; so that when the head strikes, they put to the helm, and the hollow part clears the bank: except in those cases where the impetus is too great, or the first warning is neglected.
The sails of the ancient boats appear to have been always square, with one yard above; and none below in those of the oldest construction; this last having been introduced when they abandoned the double mast of early times. The square sail is still retained in Ethiopia, where it is furled by forcibly rolling up the lower yard in the sail; but in Egypt the only modern boats with square sails are a sort of lighter, employed for conveying stones from the quarries to Cairo and other places; and these have only a yard at the top. All other boats have latine or triangular-shaped sails, which, in order to catch the wind when the
Nile is low, are made of immense size: for, unless they reach above its lofty banks, they are often prevented from benefiting by a side wind at that season of the year; but the number of accidents which occur are a great objection to the use of such disproportionate sails.
The cabins of the Egyptian pleasure-boats were lofty and spacious; but even in the smallest they did not extend over the whole breadth of the boat, as they do in the modern cangias, and merely occupied the centre; the rowers sitting on either side, generally on a bench or stool. They were made of wood, with a door in front, or sometimes on one side, and they were painted within and without with numerous devices, in brilliant and lively colours. The same custom continued to the latest times, long after the conquest of the country by the Romans; and when the Arabs invaded Egypt in 638, under Amer, the general of the Caliph Omer, one of the objects which struck them with surprise was the gay appearance of the painted boats of the Nile.
The lotus was one of their favourite devices, as on their furniture, the ceilings of rooms, and other places, and it was very common on the blade of the rudder, where it was frequently repeated at both ends, together with the eye of Osiris. But the place considered peculiarly suited to the latter emblem was the bow of the boat; and the custom is still retained in some countries to the present day. In India and China it is very general; and we even see the small barks that ply in the harbour of Malta bearing the eye on their bows, in the same manner as the boats of ancient Egypt. The Egyptians, however, appear to have confined it to boats used in the funeral ceremonies.
Streamers were occasionally attached to the pole of the rudder, and a standard was erected near the head of the vessel; the latter generally a sacred animal, a sphinx, or some emblem connected with religion or royalty, like those belonging to the infantry; and sometimes the top of the mast bore a shrine, or feathers, the symbol of the deity to whose protection they committed themselves during their voyage.
There is a striking resemblance, in some points, between the boats of the ancient Egyptians and those of India; and the form