Fragment of a stone panel from the South-West Palace of Sennacherib

Nineveh, northern Iraq
Neo-Assyrian, 704-681 BC

A Phoenician ship

Most of the rooms in the state apartments of King Sennacherib's palace were decorated with scenes of warfare. Many scenes survive only in small fragments.

This fragment shows a Phoenician ship. 'Phoenician' is the Greek name given to the inhabitants of Canaanite cities along the Levant coast. They were an extremely wealthy people, profiting from the trade that linked Mesopotamia and Egypt and the Mediterranean. The Assyrians expanded westwards to control these trade routes and acquire the wealth of the cities through tribute, booty and taxation. The demand by the Assyrians for materials led the Phoenicians to explore the Mediterranean and establish trading colonies at such places as Sicily, Carthage in North Africa, and Spain.

At some point during the eighth century BC ships were designed with the rowers split into two tiers, upper and lower. In the earliest examples the lower tier rows from the gunwale, and the upper tier from the height of the deck. By 700 BC, as this fragment shows, naval architects had improved the design, to a compact galley with a deepened hull, in which the upper tier rows from the gunwale and the lower through ports cut in the side. To fit everybody in with economical use of space, the oars of the two tiers are staggered.

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More information


J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

L. Casson, Ships and seafaring in ancient (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Height: 66.040 cm
Width: 100.330 cm

Museum number

ME 124772


The palace was excavated by A.H. Layard (1846-51) and by many later archaeologists


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