Horses that Sailed the Nile — El Kab

Ships Transported Horses and Chariots on the Nile

Wilkinson illustration of a boat with horses and chariot onboard

A wood-cut labeled, "A boat with the mast and sail taken down, having a chariot and horse on board. Eileithyias." 1
[Zoom in to enlarge horses and chariot.]

The little horse(s) from the Wilkinson ship drawing

Akin to horse trailers and ferries, ships on the Nile transported horses and chariots all over the kingdom. At first glance Wilkinson's drawing and caption (right) implies a single horse on the ship, but pulling a chariot requires a team. The horse's team mate barely shows behind it, as Egyptian chariot horses nearly always shadow each other in traditional ancient Egyptian art. The enlargement of the horse in the drawing reveals the front legs of the far horse. On top of the high cabin a man tends the chariot, perhaps about to prop it with a forked crutch, as Wilkinson tells us elsewhere, the chariot

"…pole was supported on a crutch, or the wooden figure of a man, representing a captive, or enemy, who was considered fitted for this degrading office." 1

The little horse(s) from the Wilkinson ship drawing

"In some boats of burden the cabin, or raised magazine, was very large, being used for carrying cattle, horses, and numerous stores..." notes Wilkinson.1 We cannot see what is in the magazine on this boat, but here we see that the horses travel outside with the crew. Compare the drawing above with a photo below of the actual painting in the tomb of Paheri at El Kab.

A fleet of cargo ships in Paheri's tomb. The bottom right one matches Wilkinson's drawing.
Cargo ships on Paheri's tomb wall. [ zoom in to the bottom right ship.]

The little horse(s) from the Wilkinson ship drawing

On one of Paheri's tomb walls a fleet of ships conveys horses and chariots along with its other cargo. The ship on the right in the top row is lined up with other ships behind it. Men carry items up planks onto the ship on the top left.

The little horse(s) from the Wilkinson ship drawing

The ship on the bottom right corresponds to the Wilkinson drawing. Fortunately Wilkinson drew the horses standing on the deck to clarify details time has diminished. Perhaps he reconstructed the scene even then, a hundred and fifty years ago. If you zoom in you can see where the chariot sits on top of the cabin and the fragmentary horses, only a bit of their heads left, stand on deck to the right. These are more believable to the eye when viewing the tomb wall than in these photos.

Ship in Paheri's tomb with sails unfurled and reddish horses on the deck
Bottom left ship from above photograph. [Zoom in to enlarge horses and chariot.] Note the man's body hanging overboard near the horse.

The little horse(s) from Paheri's sailing ship

The ship on the bottom left of the above photo provides more detail. It is reminiscent of the ship painted by the Napoleon expedition. In this photo from the tomb wall, at the left a red horse stands with its teammate undoubtedly beside it in identical pose. [Zoom in.] These could be bay horses with black points but damage to the scene leaves that to speculation. Above the cabin the chariot fits under the wind filled sail.

The French engineer [Napoleon expedition] missed these horse details a half century before Wilkinson's study but noted the body hanging overboard which my eyes chose not to register. He might not have considered that horses and chariots had to accompany officials on business excursions of any kind to provide land transportation upon arrival. Ships on the Nile "highway" conveyed the Egyptian horse teams and chariots to the business destinations. Training the fiesty Egyptian horses to walk the plank ramp from dock to ship and then to stand calmly while sailing on the Nile might have been easier that convincing them to squeeze into today's enclosed metal horse trailer.



  1. John Gardiner Wilkinson, The Ancient Egyptians — Their Life and Customs 1853 republished as The Ancient Egyptians Their Life and Customs Vol. I and II by J Gardiner Wilkinson

This page has been written to the Web standards drafted in the 1990s using CSS for layout. If you can see this message, then you undoubtedly are seeing some unintended effects and missing some layout features. The content is accessible to most browsers, even if you do not see the intended layout. You may upgrade to a standards compliant browser with a free download. See the webscribe's standards page for some solutions.

arrowhead - scroll up
arrowhead - scroll down