Ancient Egyptian Boats

Just to get it out of the way, ancient Egyptian boats are not the oldest in the world. In fact, the oldest boats to have been discovered are longboats that date back between 7 and 10 thousand years ago.

So here's an interesting piece of information: it appears then that the boat is actually older than the wheel!

One of the main functions the ancient Egyptians used boats for is carrying things up and down the Nile – like:

  • The stone blocks to build the pyramid
  • Other building materials
  • Beautiful obelisks
  • Statues
  • Agricultural produce
  • Cattle
  • Troops
  • Religious pilgrimages

And of course another main function is fishing, but they also used them for hunting in the marshes. Also, the ancient Egyptians were prolific traders and explorers.

They traveled through the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to other cities and countries.

Most of the population lived on the banks of the Nile and so their towns and sites were easily accessible from the river. It was also the fastest way of transportation and so it was used extensively as a mode of travel. Traders and merchants would go around selling their products. Engineers would oversee the building projects from there too.

Until today, most of the Egyptian population lives on the banks of the Nile, which is causing us a lot of trouble with population density... Recently and Egyptian scientist has mapped out a project for building new towns and cities further away from the river in order to ease this rising pressure. Let's see if it happens!

They also used them for pleasure, when royalty wanted to pass the time floating and catching the cool breeze. Cleopatra was known for her pleasure boats that were not only beautiful, but big enough to have banquets on. We still rent Nile boats in the summer nights, these boats are called feluccas.

The ancient Egyptians built boats not only for the living, but also for the dead. They used them for funeral processions to carry the deceased to their tomb.

Ancient Egyptian Boats Funeral

Then there were the solar boats, buried along with the pharaoh, they were meant to carry him on his journey through the underworld...


Types of Ancient Egyptian Boats

I know this might sound a bit weird, but we had boats made of papyrus. OK, obviously they weren't made with papyrus paper, but they were made with the reeds. The bundles of reeds were bound together and the boat was long and thin with both ends sticking out of the water. Actually, most ancient Egyptian boats looked like that – long and with both ends out of the water.

Ancient Egyptian Boats Diagram

These papyrus boats and rafts were steered with oars and poles. They were small and light and used for short distances (like for fishing).

Then we have the wooden boats, made from local wood and also the famous Lebanese cedar.

The Lebanese flag sports a cedar tree in the middle by the way.

They were either steered with oars or had one single square sail in the middle.

Wooden boats and ships were used for the more heavy-duty functions like carrying stone blocks weighing many tons to build the pyramids, and taking troops on long sea journeys.

Two archaeological excavations of ancient Egyptian boats worth mentioning here are the Abydos Boats and the Giza Solar Boats. Both of which were found in boat graves or pits.

The Abydos boats were found in boat graves about 1 mile away from the royal necropolis of Umm el-Qaaba in Abydos where tombs of earlier pharaohs are. 14 boats were found, most of them painted white and all of them pointing towards the Nile. It seems that they were built for the afterlife journeys of early-dynasty pharaohs such as Hor-Aha and Djer.

Now, if you haven't noticed by now, Abydos is one of the main sites of ancient Egyptian history and is definitely worth a visit...

Other than the Abydos boats, there were some other First Dynasty boats discovered in Sakkara and Helwan. All of these can be called the predecessors of the Solar Boats.


King Khufu has left us an awesome legacy as it is – with the Great Pyramid. And just as beautiful, but less overpowering, are his mystical solar boats.

In 1954, while working near the south side of the Great Pyramid, archeologist Kamal el-Mallakh found a long rock pit blocked with a series of 41 stones, each weighing about 18 tons.

Ancient Egyptian Solar Boat

Inside this pit were the hidden pieces (all 1224) of the Royal Ship of Khufu. He enlisted the help of a local restoration expert, El Hag Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, who took many years and painstakingly details work to put it together.

The boat is 141 feet in length, made mostly out of beautiful Lebanese Cedar wood. One word I keep coming across when researching this boat is: Magnificent. You'll know why when you see it...

...It is now on display in all its glory in a museum specially built on top of its pit. It is right next to Khufu’s pyramid and it's another must see!

There are other ancient Egyptian boats in the Giza necropolis, one of which has not yet been excavated. They are waiting to find better techniques of preservation before they unseal the pit as the boat isn't in very good condition.

Solar boats, by the way, are meant to carry the resurrected pharaoh with the God Ra across the heavens.

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