Barge, an Arabic word.

The term used by Biládurí to represent a vessel of war is Bárija. He uses the same word, in the plural, in speaking of the vessels which were captured by the Meds, on their voyage from Ceylon to to the Persian Gulf, an act of piracy which led to the Arab conquest of Sind (supra, p. 118).

Bírúní says also, a century later, that the Bawárij are established at Kachh and Somnát, and are so called because they devote them­selves to the pursuit of piracy, in ships which are called Bera (supra, p. 65).* This is a native word still in use for a boat, but the origin of the term Bawárij must be sought, not in the Indian Bera, but rather in the Arabic Bárija, which Golius, on the authority of the Kámús, tells us to mean a large vessel of war.*

From the same source our English Barge seems to be derived, which, though at first view it may appear rather a startling asser­tion, will perhaps be admitted, when we see how our best ety­mologists have failed in their endeavours to trace its real origin. Johnson (Todd) says it is derived from old French Barje, or Barge, and Low-Latin Barga. He should have ascertained whence the French Barje is itself derived. Tooke says, Barge is a strong boat, and Bark is a stout vessel, derived from the past participle of beorgan, “to protect,” “to strengthen.”* Crabb says from Barca.* Richardson, from the Gothic bairgan, “to fortify.” Webster, from Dutch Bargie. Palgrave tells us that the piratical boats of the Danes were called Barga and Barka;* and Barca is used by the Monk Abbo, in his unpolished poem (A.D. 891) on the siege of Paris by the Normans.

Barcas per flumina raptant.*

But we have no occasion to look for any connection between our words Bark and Barge. The former is confessedly an old word, the latter comparatively modern. The former is, indeed, much older than even the Danish or Norman piracies. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, who died A.D. 431, applies it thus:—

Ut mea salubri Barca perfugio foret
Puppis superstes obrutæ.*

In consequence of its use by Byzantine authors, altered into <greek> by Nicetas,* Salmasius and J. C. Scaliger have sought for a Grecian origin of the word, and the latter finds it in <greek>, quasi, “a ship of burden.”* Others, again, say from “Barca, a city of Africa;” and Roderic of Toledo, from “Barco, a city of Spain.”*

Our more immediate concern, however, is with Barge, respecting which it is obvious to remark, that, though its present use is con­fined to fluviatile transits and pageantries—whether for the con­veyance of coals or cockneys, merchandize or Lord Mayors—it was, on its first introduction, designed for higher purposes. Our oldest writers apply it solely to sea-going craft. Thus Chaucer:—

He knew wel alle the havens, as they were,
Fro' Gotland to the Cape de Finistere,
And every creke in Bretagne and in Spaine:
His barge ycleped was the Magdelaine.*

Even as late as the fifteenth century, the great Swedish ship of 1000 tons burden was called the King's barge;* and the largest vessel hitherto built in Scotland was called the Bishop's barge.* But what is more to the purpose is, that we do not find mention of the word till the Crusades had introduced it, through the Arabic language, into our vocabulary,* and then only as a large ship, used chiefly on military expeditions. So, in the very old Romance of Richard Cœur de Lion:—

Among you partes* every charge.
I brought in shippes and in barge,
More gold and silver with me,
Than has your lord and swilke* three.

Again, a little further on:—

Against hem comen her navey,
Cogges,* and dromounds,* many galley,
Barges, schoutes, and trayeres fele,*
That were charged with all weal,
With armour, and with other vitail,
That nothing in the host should fail.*

Coupling this early and distinctive use of the term with the fact of its being first used during the Holy Wars, and with the unsatisfactory guesses of our lexicographers, we may safely conclude that the English Barge is no other than the Arabic Bárija, however much it may now be diverted from the original design of its invention.