An Ancient Nile Shipwreck Has Proven That Herodotus Accurately Described The Ships He Wrote About In 450 BC

Herodotus first wrote about an ancient Egyptian cargo boat known as a baris 2,500 years ago, and his descriptions have proven accurate.

Egyptian boat.
Efraimstochter / Pixabay

Herodotus first wrote about an ancient Egyptian cargo boat known as a baris 2,500 years ago, and his descriptions have proven accurate.

After his sojourn in Egypt in 450 B.C., the historian Herodotus, who is famous for his Histories, wrote about many things from his travels, including boats found in the ancient Egyptian world. Now that archaeologists have recently recovered an undisturbed shipwreck along the Nile, it has been found that the description Herodotus gave of these boats was astonishingly accurate when he wrote about them 2,500 years ago.

As Science Alert reports, the Egyptian boat that Herodotus wrote about thousands of years ago was known as a “baris,” which was a cargo boat that was frequently used along the Nile. The historian wrote that the inside of this boat was filled with papyrus which was used to line the vessel and that the boat itself was so strong that it was almost like brickwork.

While there have been images left behind from the Pharaonic era which show what the steering system for this baris might have looked like, up until very recently no real boats had actually been discovered to prove whether these images, or Herodotus’s descriptions, were truly accurate. At least until now.

Ship 17, which is the name of the ship that was discovered submerged along the Nile close to what was once the ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion, has been dated to between 664 and 332 B.C. and has been hidden in the river for thousands of years. However, despite this length of time, the ancient Egyptian boat has still retained 70 percent of its hull, according to archaeologists.

As archaeologist Damian Robinson from the Oxford Center for Maritime Archaeology explained of the incredible find, “It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realized Herodotus was right.”

According to archaeologist Alexander Belov of the Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, there are many aspects of the Egyptian Ship 17 which have attributes described by Herodotus, including the boat’s planking.

“The joints of the planking of Ship 17 are staggered in a way that gives it the appearance of ‘courses of bricks’, as described by Herodotus. The planking of Ship 17 is assembled transversally by remarkably long tenons that can reach 1.99 m in length and that pass through up to 11 strakes. These tenons correspond to the ‘long and close-set stakes’ in Herodotus’ narrative.”

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Herodotus also spoke about the keel of these cargo ships, and Ship 17 was discovered to have a keel so strong that it was found to have twice the thickness of the ship’s planking.

There are, of course, a few things which don’t match up completely, including the fact that Herodotus spoke about the tenons as being much shorter than they were found to be. The ship that the historian wrote about was also constructed without any reinforcing frames. However, archaeologists believe that Ship 17 may just be larger than the ship Herodotus described 2,500 years, which would account for these differences.

The new research into the ancient Egyptian shipwreck found along the Nile which has proven that the description Herodotus gave of these boats was accurate has been published in a monograph which can be found at the Oxford Center for Maritime Archaeology.