Monday, 17 October 2016

Wierd Wave-Riders : Etruscan (?) Ships

The odd ship on the' Aristonothos krater' is worth following-up. Let us dig a bit deeper into what is going on with this peculier vessel.
 In the previous post I suggested that, for my money, the hooked beak prow of the right-hand ship drawn by Aristonothos was a misinterpretation or, rather, a failed interpretation of what a real ship may have looked like. I have dragged a few additional pieces of evidence to gether to see if more light can be shed on the matter.

The Aristonothos depiction dates from the first quarters of the seventh century B.C..

Tanum, Bohuslan 1500bc?
We have rock art from Bronze-Age Scandinavia which resemble the Hjørtspring boat from 300b.c. that have structures which are really cut-waters.

A reconstruction of the Hjortsrping boat : prow not ram

The very first ram-like structures depicted in Mediterranean art are from ceramic fragments from the proto-Greek  or 'Helladic' culture circa 1600B.C. We have no evidence as to their intended function.
Iolkos fragments 1600b.c.

The shape of the prow is, however, very reminiscent of a later ram.

Later depictions of what may be a ram we have are from the mid-to-late eightth century B.C. These are fragments of greek 'Geometric style pattery which are not precisely dateable.
Late eighth century rams?
The pointed prow of the ships may be a cutwater to aid navigability or may already have become a weapon but we do not know. Homeric texts speak of ships but do not mention a ram.

The shape of the prow does differ from the Iolkos fragments.

The very first dateable depiction we have of a ship armed with a ram is on the relief slabs from Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh which date to after 701B.C. because they show the flight from Tyre in 701B.C..

Pointed ram
It is interesting to note that the ram is not what we come to know and love as a bronze hull-opener in the Classical Age. These rams are pointed cut-waters with a (metal?) sheath.

Fastening collar seen to left.

The next depictions are contemporary with  or later than  the Aristonothos picture and show ship's prows modelled as boar's heads. No remains have revealed a structure anything like this. Maybe it is a symbolic representation of the mode of attack ? A charging boar.
Nicosthenes vase c.525b.c.
The  first written description of ramming in naval warfare is  the Battle of the 'Sardinian Sea' in c.540b.c from Herodotos where a Phocaean fleet defeated a combined Carthaginian-Etruscan fleet which outnumbered them two-to-one.

The point of this short survey is to show that there was not a single structure we can identify as a typical ram before the Second Persian War or even the Second. We can identify several structures which resemble the later rams we have definite knowlege of.

: They are located at the foot of the bow
:They project forward to a point
:They are fitted to galley, longships, not round ships

Back to Aristonothos

There is some evidence to identify the round ship on the krater as Etruscan. This is on the basis of crab and cross motifs on the shields of the warriors on the round ship. The only problem I see with this is that why would Aristothonos have Etruscan symbols accurately depicted on his vase when he was a colonial Greek. ? Also, crab symbols turn up on coins from Sicily and Italy alike. More likely would the explanation be that the whole item is Etruscan but the potter's name agues against this.

Is there anything we can find to explain the bow structure of the round ship ?

First, the right-hand ship is probably the one the potter identifies with. The right-hand ship has a boar's-head ram and is comfortably identified as an attacking warship. This is not two ships out for a sail in consort. Few would argue that an item decorated with a scene of aggression would most likely be ´made, commissioned, owned by the aggressor's faction. People under the Blitz did not hang photos of Heinkel 111s on their living room walls.

Next, the target ship is therefore foreign. This would make more understandable any misinterpretation of the exotic ship type by the Greek potter.

Second, there are some odd ships depicted in non-Etruscan contexts.

On a Spartan cloak brooch from 8th century b.c..
This scene seems to be a direct analog of the Aristonothos krater. So the orignal composition is Spartan, not 'Tyrhennian' and the antagonists need not necessarily include Etruscans. In addition, we can see here that the right hand ship is not a 'round ship' but a galley - there are rowers under the catwalk deck. It may be a 'kourkoros' which is is a galley-freighter but it is not a sailing ship as on the krater.
Detailed drawing of scene

Note that the bow structures on both sides have a serrated appearance. Both left and right ships.

Closer examination of the krater reveals this detail there, too.

On this drawing it looks like wales are extended out in front of the stempost. As they are on later warships also.

This serrated edge, again on a manned warship - with a waterline ram - is also shown another brooch which is also Greek from the eighth century b.c..

We have now shown that BOTH details originate in a Greek, not Etruscan context.

Tunisia 3rd cen A.D.
Is there any more we can discover about the 'hook' structure? Well, there are some freighters from Roman contexts which have unusual looking bows.

But these do not mimic the Aristonothos ship completely.

Grafito, Veii 650b.c.Etruscan
There are 'round ships' with upturned hulls that have a ram/cutwater depicted. The ship at left is definitely from an Etruscan context - Veii in the early seventh century B.C.
This means thatEtruscan  artists could draw a round ship - equipped with mast and sails, upturned prow and a waterline ram. ..and this is only a graffito..This depiction is not so different in age from the Aristonothos krater but a ram has been added convincingly, at the waterline as a warship would have it.

Then we have some ship profiles which a) are Etruscan and b) have a similar form to our subject.

The convex bow which ends in a point followd by the stem post is here as on the krater. The ships have has sails, mast and rigging to identify them as round ships. Everything is here except the ram. Oh. yes, and the catwalk deck and the warriors.

Here may be the answer so long sought.

The warriors indicate a fighting ship. The deck for them to parade on indicates a fighting ship. These features together, when transposed to our Etruscan sailing ship produce a foreign/Etruscan ship to a potter. Oh, yes and there should be a ram to make them warships. Add one to taste.

The left-hand ship from the Aristonothos krater contains accurate details from seventh century b.c. warships. However, in an effort to depict a Greek ship attacking an Etruscan one, the 'Observer's Book of Etruscan Ships' not being to hand, the artist produced a mash-up. Nothing too ludicrous but one which showed the difference between 'us' - left ship and 'them' - right ship.

A nautical expert might have told him that a ram needed to be at the waterline to stave-off attacking warships. Much later, some ship's rams were mounted to attack the enemy hull just  above the waterline but here we are at a time when ram warfare was at its infancy.

An impact on the hooked ram would place crazy stresses on the freighter's bow oblique to its structural grain - the longitudinal planking of the ship and the keel. Rams were designed to essentially keep stresses in the plane and direction of the keel where the ship was strongest so a blow could be safely dealt.
Freighter bows = continental margin plus accretionary wedge : Warship's ram =  Oceanic plate

Having discussed one Etruscan topic, I have another in mind. 'Fancy Dress for Roman Marines' or 'Does your skipper go naked on watch ?' Coming next.

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