Terracotta model of a merchant ship

From Tomb 83 at Amathus, Cyprus
About 600-500 BC

Being an island, shipping was essential for the Cypriots. The earliest inhabitants, hunter-gatherers of about 8800 BC, probably came by sea. The first Cypriot boat models to have survived, however, date from about 1950 BC, and these mark the first technical steps in ship-building on the island. By the Iron Age (from 1050 BC) shipping was firmly established as a means of communication with the outside world. There is no evidence for a constructed port at Amathus before the later fourth century BC, but finds from the acropolis and the neighbouring cemeteries suggest that the city was involved in maritime trade at an earlier date.

The excavator described this merchant ship as brilliantly painted in yellow and black that stood out against the red colour of the clay. Now there is only a black line around the side and elsewhere uneven traces of colour. It also originally had an iron steering paddle attached to the shaft on the port side, but this is now missing.

The model has a heavy hull and rounded bottom with the stern (back) rising up above the deck. There is an additional elevated deck (known as a poop deck) towards the aft (back) of the ship with two vertical partly open shafts running down the outer sides of the hull. These were no doubt holders for steering oars. A rectangular hole in the middle of the poop deck leads back into a lower deck that perhaps served as quarters for the crew. The poop deck itself was evidently for navigation and manoeuvring. The rest of the boat (about three-quarters of the whole) would have accommodated the cargo. The boat has a pronounced 'tumble-home' meaning that the beam (the greatest breadth of the boat) is at deck level. This ensures stability, allows for more sheltered space for the cargo and enables the ship to enter shallow waters.

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More information


S. Hadjisavvas, 'Cyprus and the sea: the Archaic and Classical periods' in Proceedings of the Internati-2 (University of Cyprus, 1995)

L. Basch, 'La rentrée des coques dans l'Antiquité' in Proceedings of the Internati-1 (University of Cyprus, 1995)

J-Y. Empereur, 'Le Port Hellénistique d'Amathonte' in Proceedings of the internation (University of Cyprus, 1995)

K. Westerberg, 'Cypriote ships from the Bronze Age to c. 500 BC' in Studies in Mediterrananean arc, Pocket book 22 (Gothenburg, Paul Aströms Forlag, 1983)


Length: 31.000 cm
Width: 9.000 cm (amidships)
Height: 7.000 cm (amidships)

Museum number

GR 1894.11-1.182 (Terracotta A 202)


Miss E.T. Turner Bequest excavations


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