Skip to main content

Ships and Shipbuilding in Ancient Mesopotamia (ca. 300-200 B.C.): A Thesis Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A and M University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requuirementd for the Degree Master of Arts

"Mesopotamian cuneiform texts speak of a complex and well-organized tradeon the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers where boats of wooden construction wereemployed. From the evidence it appears that Meluhhan and Dilmunite tradershad an important role in the Arabian Gulf trade especially during the secondhalf of the third millennium B.C. It is possible that the boat designs andtechniques used in the third millennium are no longer present in traditionalboats of present-day Iraq and those of oceangoing vessels sailing in themodern day Arabian Gulf. Based on iconographic evidence, it seems that Mesopotamian riverboats hadflat bottoms and high curving ends, with a stem often ending in an elaboratedesign. Cultic vessels imitated the shape of a papyriform vessel. Theriverine vessels in practical use described in texts, such as AO 5673, mostprobably had square ends. The use of bitumen might have allowed theMesopotamian shipwrights to build hulls in which watertightness (before theapplication of a bitumen layer) was not the primary concern. Mesopotamian textual evidence from the third millennium B.C. does notprovide conclusive evidence as to which edge-joining methods, if any, wereused. Traditional modern-day Mesopotamian riverboats, some of which seem tobe clear descendents of the ancient vessels depicted in seals and boatmodels, do not employ edge-joining methods. Instead, they are builtaccording to a technique where the planking is nailed to the frames. In spite of textual references to "backbone" and "ribs," it is unclearwhether Mesopotamian ships had an elaborate internal framework connected toa keel. It is probable that these vessels had a keel plank or a flat floorsimilar to certain traditional modern-day riverboats. Stuctural elementsevident from the texts are beams and longitudinal strengthening timbers orstringers. It also seems clear that there were floor timbers and probablyframes giving extra support to the hull."

Author(s):  Mäkelä, Tommi Tapani
Format:  Book
Publisher:  Texas A and M University
Date:  May-02