Avner Raban

When the fleets of the Sea Peoples and the Egyptians clashed in the epic battle at Medinet Habu, the two adversaries both relied on ships with a revolutionary feature: loose-footed rigging that allowed the vessel to tack into the wind and to maneuver even in poor wind conditions. Both ships also feature a crow’s nest, a perch at the very top of the mast in which a sailor coukd position himself and act as a lookout for approaching enemy ships.

This relief shows a fleet of Phoenician vessels, known as hippos ships, hauling timber by river from Lebanon to Khorsobad for construction of the palace of Sargon II, Assyrian king from 721 to 705 B.C.E. The ships are easily identifiable by their horsehead-shaped prows. Such ships were direct descendants of the vessels shown elsewhere in the article.

The question of who developed the loose-footed rigging and the crow’s nest is still debated. However, authors Stieglitz and Raban argue that the innovations should be credited to the Sea Peoples—a collection of related Mediterranean groups, among them the Philistines—who conquered their way along the Canaanite coast late in the 13th century B.C. Largely because of the negative portrayal of the Philistines in the Bible, historians have long underestimated the technological acumen of the Sea Peoples—an imbalance that Stieglitz and Raban seek to redress in the accompanying article.