The ships of the ancients were very imperfect in comparison with modern ones. Navigators crept carefully along the shores, from one headland or prominent point to another, making a harbor if practicable every night; and when out of sight of land, being ignorant of the compass and quadrant, they guided their course by the sun and certain stars. Even in St. Paul's time, vessels passing from Palestine to Italy, sometimes wintered on the way!
Ac 27:12; 28:11. The ancient ships were in general small, though a few large ships are on record. They were often highly ornamented both at the prow and the stern; and the figurehead or "sign," by which the vessel was known, was sometimes an image of its tutelar divinity. They were usually propelled by oars often in several "banks" or rows one above another, as well as by sails. In war, the galley tried to pierce and run down its antagonist. The Phoenicians were celebrated for their ships and their extensive commerce, as appears from Ezekiel's description, Eze 27, as well as from numerous ancient historians. Though Joppa and in Christ's time Caesarea were Jewish ports, 2Ch 2:18; Jon 1:3, yet the Jews were never a maritime people, and most of their foreign navigation would appear to have been carried on by the aid of Phoenicians, 1Ki 9:26; 10:22; 22:49-50. Paul's graphic and faithful description of his voyage and shipwreck in Ac 27, discloses many of the peculiarities of ancient navigation. For the "ship of Tarshish," see TARSHISH.
Among the earliest shipbuilders were the Phoenicians, whose commerce and voyages made them foremost in the maritime science of early ages, and traces of whose ships are frequently met with. (On PAUL'S voyage, see EUROCLYDON; MELITA; CNIDUS; CRETE; FAIR HAVENS.) Paul was first in the Adramyttian coasting vessel from Caesarea to Myra; then in the large Alexandrian grain ship wrecked at Malta; then in another Alexandrian grain ship from Malta by Syracuse and Rhegium to Purcell. Luke shows accurate nautical knowledge, yet not professional, but of an observer, telling what was done but not the how or the why.
Fourteen different verbs he uses of the progression of a ship, peculiar to himself and appropriate to each case: pleoo; Lu 8:23; Ac 21:3; apopleo; Ac 13:4; 14:26; 20:15; 27:1; bradupleoo; Ac 27:7; diapleoo; Ac 27:5; ekpleoo; Ac 15:39; katapleoo; Lu 8:26; hupopleoo; 7/4/type/worsley'>Ac 27:4,7; parapleoo; Ac 20:16; euthudromeoo; Ac 16:11; 21:1; hupotrechoo; Ac 27:16; paralegomai; Ac 27:8,13; feromai; Ac 27:15; diaferomai; Ac 27:27; diaperaoo; Ac 21:2. Paul's ship, besides cargo of wheat, carried 276 persons, so she would be of 600 tons. Lucian (Ploion e Euche) describes an Alexandrian wheat ship, 180 ft. long (including end projections) by 45 ft. broad, i.e. 1,300 tons.
The largest on record was Ptolemy Philopator's war galley, 420 ft. long by 57 ft. broad, under 5,000 tons. "The governor" in Jas 3:4 is the "helmsman" (kuberneetees; the "owner" was naukleeros). There were two paddle rudders, one on each quarter, acting in a rowlock or through a porthole. As the helmsman used only one at a time, "the helm" is in the singular in Jas 3:4. In Ac 27:29,40, after letting go the four anchors at the stern, they lashed up both the rudder paddles lest they should interfere with the ground tackle. When they wished to steer again and the anchor ropes were cut (margin), they unfastened the lashings or bands of the paddles. The ship's run from Rhegium to Puteoli, 180 miles in two days, the wind being full from the S., illustrates the rate of sailing. The bow and the stern were much alike, except that on each side of the bow was painted "the sign" (paraseemon), as for instance "Castor and Pollux" (Ac 28:11).
An eye was painted on each side of the bow; so Luke's phrase (antofthalmein), "bear up into," literally, "eye the wind" directly (Ac 27:15). The imperfect build of ships caused the need of "undergirders" to pass round the frame, at right angles to its length, when the planks were in danger of starting. The anchors resembled ours, but had no flukes. Spiritually they symbolize the Christian hope (Heb 6:19). The soul is the ship; the world the sea; the bliss beyond the distant coast; hope resting on faith the anchor which prevents the vessel being tossed to and fro; the consolation through God's promise and hope is the cable connecting the ship and anchor. The soul clings, as one in fear of shipwreck, to the anchor, and sees not where the cable runs, where it is fastened; she knows it is fastened behind the veil which hides the future glory; if only she hold on to the anchor, she shall in due time be drawn in where it is, into the holiest, by the Saviour.
Anchoring by the stern, the ancients were prepared to anchor in the gale such as Paul encountered; and Purdy (Sailing Directions, 180) says that the holding ground at Malta where Paul was wrecked is quite good enough to have secured the anchors and ship in spite of the severe night. In Ac 27:40, for "mainsail" translated "foresail," which was needed to put the ship about and to run it aground. Vessels were propelled by oars as well as by sails (Eze 27:29; Isa 33:21; Jon 1:13). Of the 32 parts or points of the compass card a modern ship will sail within six points of the wind. The clumsier ancient ship probably could sail within seven points. In a heavy gale the ship would lie to, with the right side to the storm, the object being not progress but safety; as under the lee of Clauda (Ac 27:14-17).
To anchor was impossible; to drift would have brought the ship to the fatal Syrtis off Africa. The wind was E.N.E. (Euraquilo); the direction of drift being W. by N., and the rate of drift one mile and a half an hour; the shipwreck must have been off Malta. Having no compass or charts, they seldom ventured voyaging in winter (Ac 27:9), and the absence of visible sun or stars seriously embarrassed them (Ac 27:20). In the intricate passages between islands and mainland they did not sail by night when the moon was dark (Ac 20:13-16; 21:1). Thomson (Land and Book, 401-404) mentions seeing but one rickety boat on the sea of Galilee, which was once covered with fishermen's boats; contrast the fact that Josephus (B. J., 2:21, section 8-10) mentions his collecting here 280 boats, with four men in each.
The Israelites were not a maritime people. Solomon had a 'navy of ships' at Ezion Geber, the eastern branch of the Red Sea; but Hiram sent his shipmen 'that had knowledge of the sea' with the servants of Solomon. Ships of Tharshish are also mentioned both in connection with Solomon and Jehoshaphat. 1Ki 9:26-27; 10:11,22; 22:48-49; 2Ch 20:36-37; Ps 48:7. The ships so often mentioned on the Sea of Galilee in the Gospels were what are now called fishing boats, and were used as such. The ships in which Paul sailed on the Mediterranean were of course larger; those in which he was taken to Rome are well described by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: the ship wrecked at Malta was evidently an Alexandrian wheat-ship. The nautical terms employed by Luke show that he was well acquainted with maritime subjects. Acts 27. The word for GALLEY in Isa 33:21 is the same as that translated 'navy' in the Kings.
No one writer in the whole range of Greek and Roman literature has supplied us with so much information concerning the merchant-ships of the ancients as St. Luke in the narrative of St. Paul's voyage to Rome. Acts 27,28. It is important to remember that he accomplished it in three ships: first, the Adramyttian vessel which took him from Caesarea to Myra, and which was probably a coasting-vessel of no great size,
secondly, the large Alexandrian corn-ship, in which he was wrecked on the coast of Malta
:1; and thirdly, another large Alexandrian corn-ship, in which he sailed from Malta by Syracuse and Rhegium to Puteoli.
1. Size of ancient ships. --The narrative which we take as our chief guide affords a good standard for estimating this. The ship, in which St. Paul was wrecked had persons on board,
besides a cargo of wheat, ibid.
and all these passengers seem to have been taken on to Puteoli in another ship, ibid,
which had its own crew and its own cargo. Now, in modern transport-ships, prepared far carrying troops, it is a common estimate to allow a toll and a half per man. On the whole, if we say that an ancient merchant-ship might range from 500 to 1000 tons, we are clearly within the mark.
2. Steering apparatus. --Some commentators have fallen into strange perplexities from observing that in
("the fastenings of the rudders") St. Luke uses the plural. Ancient ships were in truth not steered at all by rudders fastened or hinged to the stern, but by means of two paddle-rudders one on each quarter, acting in a rowlock or through a port-hole as the vessel might be small or large.
3. Build and ornaments of the hull. --It is probable that there was no very marked difference between the bow and the stern. The "hold,"
would present no special peculiarities. That personification of ships which seems to be instinctive led the ancients to paint an eye on each side of the bow. Comp.
An ornament of the ship which took Paul from Malta to Pozzuoli is more explicitly referred to. The "sign" of that ship,
was Castor and Pollux; and the symbols of those heroes were doubtless painted or sculptured on each side of the bow.
4. Under-girders. --The imperfection of the build, and still more (see below, 6) the peculiarity of the rig, in ancient ships, resulted in a greater tendency than in our times to the starting of the pranks and consequently to leaking and foundering. Hence it was customary to take on board peculiar contrivances, suitable called helps,"
as precautions against such dangers. These were simply cables or chains, which in case of necessity could be passed round the frame of the ship, at right angles to its length, and made tight.
5. Anchors. --Ancient anchors were similar in form to those which we use now. except that they were without flukes. The ship in which Paul was sailing had four anchors on board. The sailors on this occasion anchored by the stern.
6. Masts, sails, ropes and yards. -The rig of an ancient ship was more simple and clumsy than that employed in modern times. Its great feature was one large mast, with one large square sail fastened to a yard of great length. Hence the strain upon the hull, and the danger of starting the planks, were greater than under the present system, which distributes the mechanical pressure more evenly over the whole ship. Not that there were never more masts than one, or more sails than one on the same mast, in an ancient merchantman; but these were repetitions, so to speak, of the same general unit of rig. Another feature of the ancient, as of the modern , feature of the ancient, as of ship is the flag at the top of the mast. Isai l.c., and
We must remember that the ancients had no compass, and very imperfect charts and instruments, if any at all.
7. Rate of sailing. --St. Paul's voyages furnish excellent data for approximately estimating this; and they are quite in harmony with what we learn from other sources. We must notice here, however--what commentators sometimes curiously forget-that winds are variable. That the voyage between Troas and Philippi, accomplished on one occasion,
in two days, occupied on another occasion,
five days. With a fair wind an ancient ship would sail fully seven knots an hour.
8. Sailing before the wind. --The rig which has been described is, like the rig of Chinese junks, peculiarly favorable to a quick run before the wind.
It would, however, be a great mistake to suppose that ancient ships could not work to windward. The superior rig and build, however, of modern ships enable them to sail nearer to the wind than was the case in classical times. A modern ship, if the weather is not very boisterous, will sail within six points of the wind. To an ancient vessel, of which the hull was more clumsy and the yards could not be braced so tight, it would be safe to assign seven points as the limit. Boats on the Sea Of Galilee. --In the narrative of the call of the disciples to be "fishers of men,"
there is no special information concerning the characteristics of these. With the large population round the Lake of Tiberias, there must have been a vast number of both fighting-boats and pleasure-boats, and boat-building must have been an active trade on its shores.