Phoenician Ships

To make the most of their commercial trading ventures, Phoenician ships were designed and built with the most advanced techniques available. The transport (cargo) ship was called the gauloi or “round “ ship, because of their rounded hulls. They had a large cargo space and were four times as long as they were wide. Between 65 and 100 feet long, and almost 20 feet wide, they had a draft of about five feet below the waterline with sides rising from the water approximately the same distance. The stern was curved with a fishtail or spiral decoration. The bow was also curved and was topped with a figure of a horse’s head. Two eyes were painted on either side of the bow and were meant to allow the ship to see the route it was taking. The eyes were also useful in causing fear among the Phoenicians’ enemies. The ships had a mainmast with a rectangular sail. It was set on a yard that could change direction with the wind. The shape of the sail allowed the ship to move only with the wind coming from behind. A broad, oar-like blade, used as a rudder, was attached on the port (left) side of the ship near the stern. Also near the stern was a quarterdeck where supplies were stored, the crew was sheltered and cooking was done. The crew was usually no more than 20 men including the captain-owner and pilot.

Warships of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians were narrower than their cargo ships. They were seven times as long as they were wide in order to carry the necessary number of crew, oarsmen and warriors. The stern of the warship was like that of the cargo vessel, but the prow or front was very different. The front of a Phoenician warship was itself a weapon. The bow of the warship was tipped with something called a rostrum. This was a bronze beak of various shapes that was used to ram other ships. On the sides of the ships were painted the usual eyes, but above them were openings for anchor cables. There was a forecastle at the bow end used by bowmen or catapults during battle, and an after-castle at the stern end that housed the captain and officers. There were two rudders for steering, one on either side of the stern. Warships carried two masts, one in the center with a mainsail, and one at the front with a small sail that allowed the ship to be handled in crosswinds. In the event the masts were lost in battle, oarsmen, stationed inside along the length of the hull, could propel the warship.