Egyptian Navy (Ancient)

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Imperial Egyptian Navy
Active1550-330 BC
AllegianceEgyptian Empire
Kingdom of Egypt
Ptolemaic Empire
Garrison/HQPerunefer, Memphis, Egypt
EngagementsSiege of Avaris
Battle of the Delta
Battle of Actium

The Ancient Egyptian Navy became the foremost naval power during middle bronze age following massive reorganisation of the Egyptian military during the period of New Kingdom of Egypt (1550-1069 BC). The maritime forces operated by the Egyptian state were not challenged by any other state’s maritime forces throughout Pharaonic times. They were in effect the major if not the only naval power in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea.[1] It continued as an independent force until 524 BC when it was forces were requisitioned by the Persians Navy as a constituent component. It was finally reestablished as an independent force in 330 BC as part of the armed forces of the Ptolemaic Kingdom until 31 BC.


Egypt has had a navy since Ancient Egyptian times. The Egyptian Navy began to become ever more crucial in maintaining Egyptian power and influence abroad. The Ancient Egyptian Navy was a vital part of the military of ancient Egypt, helping to transport troops along the Nile River and fighting many battles such as the Battle of the Delta against the Sea Peoples. The Ancient Egyptian Navy imported many of their ships from countries such as the Kingdom of Cyprus. During its early history it was primarily used for transportation of Egyptian armies for overseas campaigns In addition the navy consisted of organised squadrons composed of speedy keftiu, kebentiu from Byblos and Egyptian transports patrolled the eastern Mediterranean. During the late bronze age the maritime battles by New Kingdom Egypt centered on operations against the Sea Peoples. Egypt lost its role of maritime superpower after the end of the New Kingdom. Phoenicians and Greeks became the main players in the Mediterranean. Continental powers like the Persians used these sea-faring nations to impose their control on the seas. Egypt renewed its navy under Necho II, investing heavily in the development of biremes and was possibly among the inventors of the more powerful triremes in its attempt to fight off the Persians. It was unsuccessful and thereafter its fleet was at the behest of the foreign power controlling the country when it became a constituent naval force of the Persian Navy and subsequent empires until 330 BC. Revived as an independent once more as part of the Greek Egyptian Ptolemaic Kingdom. The navy continued to exist until 31 BC when it was completely destroyed out at the Battle of Actium against the Roman Navy which spelled out the end of Pharaonic Egypt.


The Egyptian navy was the first to conduct 'joint' operations, the first to use manoeuvre as a maritime warfare approach, the first to conduct maritime power projection operations in foreign lands, the first to blockade an enemy stronghold and the first to conduct amphibious operations. The four main areas of naval operations included the Egyptian Nile, the Nubian Nile, the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Early Battles against the Hykos

The Siege of Avaris is an example is when Ahmose led a siege against the Hyksos capital city of Avaris at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th dynasty. One account of the siege comes from a soldier and sailor that fought in the siege named Ahmose son of Ibana. In his accounts, he states how he was stationed on a ship called the Northern in which he sailed with the Egyptian army towards Avaris. After fighting a battle, they laid siege to the city and surrounded it. The siege of Avaris must have been a combined naval and land based attack since Ahmose son of Ibana claimed to have "fought in the canal against Pezedku of Avar

The War Against the Sea Peoples

This war is perhaps the most famous Egyptian war heavily involving the naval strength of the empire, and it is the first to ever be well documented. During the reign of Rameses III which was in 1182 BCE to 1151 BCE, a new threat arose to challenge the Egyptians in a different way than what they were used to. A new people called the Sea People were arriving in the Levantine region and destroying its cities. Already the once mighty Hittites were destroyed by these people of mysterious origin and it soon became obvious that Egypt with all of its wealth would be next. Rameses III prepared a mighty fleet and planned to repulse the Sea Peoples in the Nile.

Battles against the Sea Peoples

The Egyptian Navy took part in the the Battle of the Delta was a sea battle between Egypt and the Sea Peoples, circa 1175 BC when the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III repulsed a major sea invasion. The conflict occurred somewhere at the shores of the eastern Nile Delta and partly on the borders of the Egyptian Empire in Syria, although their precise locations are unknown. This major conflict is recorded on the temple walls of the mortuary temple of pharaoh Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.


The maritime defence of Egypt relied upon effective border protection, using frontier posts backed up by three operational fleets in the south, east and west and, when required these were supported by the main or reserve Egyptian fleet based at the capital, Memphis..[2]

Egyptian fleets consisted of River Fleets for operations on the Nile and Sea Going Fleets for operations in the Red Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.[3]

Main Royal Fleet, Memphis

The existence of a royal fleet at Memphis, at least during much of the New Kingdom, is supported by evidence from the royal dockyard located at Perunefer The sea battles of Rameses II and Rameses III suggest that the king and this main fleet were required to defeat the Sea People threat during their reigns.[4]

Nile Fleet

The Egyptian Nile fleet not used during any civil war, in defence of Egypt, or enforcement type constabulary tasks. Most of the time, the Egyptian maritime forces were employed to maintain the peace. The fleet was not kept tied up to mooring posts in the major harbours, as the Ancient Egyptians often used maritime forces in support of the state: in managing trade and customs duties, in transporting surplus products and prestige commodities where required within Egypt, in building projects to maintain the peace and also displaying the power of the Egyptian kings as a form of floating propaganda.


The Egyptian Navy maintained a number of important bases.

Principal Naval Bases

  1. Peru-nefer, (modern day name Tell el-Daba)
  2. Thebes.

Secondary Naval Bases

  1. Amunia (modern day name Mersa Matruh)
  2. Paraitonion (Ptolemaic era)
  3. Saww (modern day name Mersa Gawasis on the Red Sea).[5]


Hieroglyphic inscriptions of a nautical nature have since been found on the tombs of number of Egyptian nobles with some of the earliest titles dating from the Old and Middle Kingdoms.[6] The broad extent of the titles used indicates that the Ancient Egyptian maritime forces were commanded by trained and experienced marine professionals.[7] The Egyptian military during this time operated in a joint nature, and is most prevalent at the senior ranks in command of their maritime forces, where the kings and their highest officials – the viziers – held command.[8] The Vizier Rekhmire, under Thutmose III, has left a description of his wide-ranging duties as vizier, including: the administration of maritime forces in his region.[9]


  1. Vizier of Maritime Forces (responsible for naval forces of a particular region).[10]

Admirals and generals

These consisted of fleet and amphibious forces commanders.[11]

  1. Admiral of the Royal Fleet.
  2. General of the Marines.
  3. Chief of the Royal Fleet.
  4. Chief of all the King’s Ships, (chief admiral of the Egyptian fleet).[12]

Senior commanders

These consisted of formation commanders.[13]

  1. Chief of the Broad Ships
  2. Chief of the Rowers
  3. Overseer of the Ships, (a division or squadron commander).[14]

Captains and commanders


  1. Fleet Captain
  2. Captain of the Ships of the King
  3. Captain of the Galleys
  4. Captain of the Marines (meaning ‘captain of the ship archers’)
  5. Commander of the Rowers
  6. Commander of Ships
  7. Commander of Sailors

Officer titles


  1. Officer of the Ships
  2. Officer of Marines
  3. Sribe of the Marines
  4. Standard Bearer of the Ship
  5. Standard Bearer of the Marines

Non-seagoing titles


  1. Harbour Master
  2. Ship Builder

Size of the Imperial Egyptian Navy

During the Egyptian Predynastic period, the egyptian kings assembled maritime fleets numbering from 1000 to 2000 troops, on between 20 and 50 vessels. From Early Dynastic times to the end of the Middle Kingdom, the size of royal maritime expeditions were in the order of 2000 to 4000 troops, indicating fleets sizes of between 40 to 80 ships.[18] During the New Kingdom, it is possible that more than one royal fleet the forces during this period exceeded 80 ships and may have been up to 160 ships.[19] At the Battle of Actium in 31 BC the Ptolemaic Egyptian navy consisted of 230 warships, 30 to 50 transport ships and 60 other types of warships.[20]

Fleets for Military Expeditions
Period Ships Troops
Predynastic Egypt[21] 20-50 1000 to 2000
New Kingdom of Egypt [22] 80-160 4000 to 8000
Temporary Standing Fleets
Period Name Ships Troops
New Kingdom of Egypt [23] Royal Fleet, Memphis 80-160 4000 to 8000
ditto [24] Eastern Fleet 80-160 4000 to 8000
ditto [25] Northern Fleet 80-160 4000 to 8000
ditto [26] Western Fleet 80-160 4000 to 8000


  1. Lenormant, François; Chevallier, E. (1870). A Manual of the Ancient History of the East to the Commencement of the Median Wars. London, England: Asher & Company. p. 39.
  2. Gilbert, Gregory Phillip; Service, Australian Government-Department of Defence- Defence Publishing (2008). Ancient Egyptian Sea Power: And the Origin of Maritime Forces. Canberra, Australia: Sea Power Centre-Australia, Department of Defence. p. 58. ISBN 9780642296801.
  3. Gregory. p.58.
  4. Gregory. p.58.
  5. Curry, Andrew (6 September 2011). "Egypt's Ancient Fleet: Lost for Thousands of Years, Discovered in a Desolate Cave |". Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Media. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  6. Gilbert, Gregory Philip (2008). Ancient Egyptian Sea Power and the origin of maritime forces (Foundations of International Thinking on Sea Power, no. 1). Canberra, Australia: Sea Power Centre Australia, Department of Defence. pp. 20–21. ISBN 9780642296801.
  7. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  8. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  9. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  10. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  11. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  12. Darnell, John Coleman; Manassa, Colleen (2007). Tutankhamun's Armies: Battle and Conquest During Ancient Egypt's Late Eighteenth Dynasty. Hoboken, New Jersey, United States.: John Wiley & Sons. p. 66. ISBN 9780471743583.
  13. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  14. Darnell, John Coleman; Manassa, Colleen (2007). Tutankhamun's Armies: Battle and Conquest During Ancient Egypt's Late Eighteenth Dynasty. Hoboken, New Jersey, United States.: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 65–68. ISBN 9780471743583.
  15. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  16. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  17. Gilbert. pp. 20-21.
  18. Gilbert, Gregory. (2008). Ancient Egyptian Sea Powers and the Origin of Maritime Forces. Sea Power Center. Canberra, Australia. P.38.
  19. Gilbert. p.38.
  20. Gilbert. p.38.
  21. Gilbert. p.38.
  22. Gilbert. p.38.
  23. Gilbert. p.38.
  24. Gilbert. p.38.
  25. Gilbert. p.38.
  26. Gilbert. p.38.


  1. Egyptian Navy
  2. Egypt Sea Power.pdf