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Brief review of the Maritime History of the Aegean

From the 8th millennium BC to the 2nd century BC

It is believed that seafaring people appeared in Greece long before the first farmers and shepherds. Some 10,000 years ago, according to archaeological discoveries, these seafarers began to explore the Aegean. At Franchthi Cave in the Peloponnese tools dating to the 8th millennium BC were found, made of obsidian (a kind of hard volcanic glass) from Melos, showing that this material must have been transported to the Peloponnese in some sort of boat. This is the oldest evidence for the transport of goods by sea. On Syros pottery was found with incised representations of oared boats, which were in use among the Cycladic Islands in the 3rd millennium BC. The inhabitants of the Cyclades were the first to put keels on their boats, which enabled them to voyage in the deep sea (Sp. Marinatos).
The open sea held no terrors for these early sailors; on the contrary, it was a positive factor, an incitement to action, movement and adventure. The closeness and clear visibility between the islands must have been an invitation and a challenge to sail across and explore the neighbouring lands. The ancient inhabitants of the Aegean, apart from the needs of survival that pushed them to travel, must also have been full of curiosity to know the islands nearby. This is how the first short exploratory wanderings across the sea must have begun, to become later on hazardous voyages to distant lands. During the Bronze Age, ships sailed to every corner of the Aegean.
Other factors that played α part in the formation of the sea-loving (thalassoharis) character of the Aegean dwellers were the climate and geography of the region. The short spring, long hot summer, wonderful autumn and mild winter make the Greek climate the pleasantest in the Mediterranean. The indented coasts of the Aegean and the sea scattered with islands must have acted as an incentive to the inhabitants to take to α nautical way of life. Hence the sea very early on became a bridge linking Europe and Asia. The distance from island to island is small. A sailing vessel, putting out at dawn from the eastern shore of the Greek peninsula could, with a stern wind, make the opposite coast of Asia Minor by the same evening.
Each bit of the Aegean has its own nautical history to tell and its own evidence to present linking it to the nautical pursuits of the folk that inhabited its coasts. Scholars have concluded that the Aegean developed a civilization with its own character, having nο relationship with the neighbouring civilizations of Egypt, Assyria and others. Νo other people, for example, has Greek writing.
Ιn the course of the 2nd millennium the Cretomycenean civilization left us striking evidence of the activity of Aegean sailors and their ships. One example is the l5th c. BC fresco,” The Fleet", which Sp. Marinatos uncovered in 1972 while excavating at Akrotiri οn Thera. The destruction of this city goes back to the time of the great eruption of the Thera (ancient "Strongyli") volcano in the l5th c. BC, which caused the submergence of some two thirds of the Original Island and great destruction in the south Aegean. It used to be thought that Crete in particular suffered widespread ιtevastation, which led to the decline of the Minoan civilization and its final replacement by the Mycenean.
Goddess holding a ship's tiller (from a Minoan seal stone) Towards the end of the 2nd millennium (12th century BC) the Trojan War occurred, which together with the adventures of Odysseus, were described much later by Homer in his two epic poems, the "lliada" and the "Odyssey". In the Odyssey, especially, there is a wealth of nautical information and description concerning the types of ships and methods of construction, and also about the maritime activity of the period.
For the 1st millennium BC the evidence’ that has come to light is more extensive and definite, thanks to written records and the representations of ships on coins and vases and in paintings, relief’s, sculpture, mosaics and incised works. All these valuable sources have helped create a more complete picture of the evolution of the ship and of the sailors' work in the Aegean at this time. We have also gained valuable evidence from explorations on the seabed and the raising of wrecks like that of the Kyrenia ship (4th c. BC). One of the most important developments of the 1st millennium BC was the period of the Great Colonization (8th to 6th c.). During that time the Greeks launched out beyond the Aegean and founded many colonies all along the shores of the Mediterranean (South Italy, Sicily, Nice and Marseilles). There was now a need to build better ships to carry out these voyages, which were long ones for those days. Α distinction also began to appear between war and merchant ships (the warships were long, the merchantmen round).
Another important event in the first millennium was the Persian Wars. The naval Battle of Salamis (480 BC), which decided the fate not only of Greece but of the whole of Western Civilization, gave rise to a great increase in trade and consequently to a more vigorous development of the merchant ship in the Aegean. It was at this period that Athens grew to be the dominant naval sea power in the Aegean, and Athenian trade and merchant shipping underwent an unprecederιted expansion ( Pericles's "Golden Age" ).
At this time also Piraeus witnessed a remarkable expansion. Pericles in his wisdom realised the necessity for creating a large, imposing and well-organized port for the maintenance of Athenian naval supremacy and the growth of sea trade. (The Piraeus area with its splendid geographic location had been originally chosen by Themistocles as the most suitable place to build such a harbour). The work was entrusted by Pericles to the famous architect Hippodamus the Milesian, who had experience in town planning and layout.
Piraeus became from every point of view an ideal commercial and naval port with a great many harbour installations and splendid buildings. It soon developed into the most important naval and commercial centre of the ancient world in the 5th c. BC. In the centre of the harbour seafront stoas were built, known collectively as the emporium, to facilitate commercial transactions.
The emporium comprised warehouses, a commercial exchange, banks, and brokerage offices for chartering and for the sale and purchase of goods and ships. Shipyards (neoria) were also built for the construction and repair of shίps, and ship-sheds (neossoiki) to house and protect the warships. This harbour was named Kantharos. Aristophanes gives us a short description of it: Εϊς μέν έστίν ο Κάνθαρος λιμήν καλονμενος έν ιυ τά νεώρια έξήκοντα, είτα 'Αφροδίσιον, είτα κυκλω του λιμένος στοαί πέντε, which means:"There is α harbour called Kantharos with sixty shipyards, next is the Aphrodision, and next five stoas in a ring around the harbour". Later on Strabo mentions that the harbour of Kantharos accommodated 400 vessels, while Pliny gives the figure as 1000.
Ships came to this great harbour laden with every kind of merchandise: grain from Pontus, hides from Cyrene, raisins and perfumes from Rhodes, dates, textile materials and papyrus from Phoenicia and Egypt, rugs and materials from Carchedon, cheese from Sicily, slaves from Phrygia, ivory from Libya, foodstuffs and fruit from every part of the Mediterranean, and a host of other goods. Exports were fewer: wine, oil, honey, metal from Lavrion and pottery; works of art were also exported to the East and the West to adorn the houses of the wealthy.
Near Piraeus, to the east, the two natural harbours of Zea and Munichia were also planned as smaller naval bases.196 ship-sheds were built at Zea and 82 at Munichia. High unassailable walls that were connected to Athens by the Long Walls enclosed the three harbours of Kantharos, Zea and Munichia. The entrances of all three harbours were closed by heavy chains; Aristophanes mentions that εχει δέ ο Πειραιε
ύς λιμένας τρείς, πάντας κλειστους, which means:” Piraeus has three harbours, all of them closed".
Piraeus's commercial activity continued with various ups-and-downs during the following centuries. (Thίs splendid pοιnt was to be totally destroyed and devastated by the Roman Sulla in 86 BC).
Το return, however, to our historical, review: Pericles's "Golden Age" was followed by the fratricidal Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) which brought with it a period of decline. And then we come to the brilliant period of Philip ΙΙ of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great, who literally turned the Eastern Mediterranean into a Greek sea. During this period the merchant ship knew a fresh flowering. After Alexander's early death, however, his descendants proved incapable of holding his vast empire together, and their conflicts resulted in the gradual weakening of Greek sea supremacy, thus laying the ground for the conquest of Greece by the Romans.
Roman Period Little by little the Greek mainland came under Roman domination, and the process was finally completed by the destruction of Corinth in 146 BC. During the 1st c. BC the Romans extended their sovereignty over the Aegean and the whole of the Mediterranean.
Ιη the Roman period, although the Greeks had now lost their independence, the Greek maritime trade continued to exist and prosper. The nautical tradition of the Greeks continued and Aegean sailors, with their experience and boldness, continued to voyage across the seas. Their merchantmen were smaller than the Roman, some of which were
up to 1200 tons, but they were fast and manoeuvrable and carried on a great deal of trade and transport in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Greek sailors, with their unrivalled nautical experience and courage, were also employed by the Romans to man Roman-owned vessels.
It should be underlined here that during the period of Roman domination a State Merchant Fleet was created, financed by wealthy landowners (navicularu). The acicular formed guilds and were obliged by the state not only to construct, but also to maintain and manage the ships of the State Merchant Fleet.
These vessels, large and heavy, were chiefly used to transport grain cargoes from Alexandria to the docks of various Italian harbours, especially Portus. The latter was the port built by Claudius at the mouth of the river Tiber to serve Rome, which Egypt at that time supplied with 1/3 of the grain she needed.
On Delos there are the remains of the imposing dwellings of Roman ship owners, who would probably have manned their ships largely with Greek sailors. This view receives confirmation from the inscriptions on the gravestone relieves (steal) on Rhenia of sailors lost at sea, most of whose names are Greek, (Philemon, Kerdon, Dionysios, Timokrates, Aphrodisios, Theodoros, Theodotos, Alexandros etc. It should also not be forgotten that Roman sailors feared the open sea.
Throughout the period of Roman domination Aegean sailors maintained their activity and continued their nautical tradition in the Aegean.
At this point we should pause and make special mention of two islands that for many centuries played very important roles in the history of Aegean shipping: Delos, the sacred island of Αpοllοn, and Rhodes, the island of the god Helios.

D e l ο s

The light and sea in which Delos is bathed must have particularly fired the imagination of the ancient Greeks for them to create the myth of the Birth of Αpοllοn, god of light, symmetry and harmony, on this sun-drenched isle. Delos, according to Greek Mythology, rose up out of the Aegean Sea (from Adelos - invisible - it became Delos - visible) and served as a cradle for Αpοllοn, who was thus connected with the sea element. Men of the sea were the first worshippers there, and that was the beginning of the glory Delos acquired in the centuries to follow. It should also be mentioned here that Delos, strangely, possessed fresh drinking water, which attracted ships to call there, since water was needed for the rowers.
At first men gathered οn Delos for purely religious purposes. Slowly, however, religious devotion became associated and involved with trade and human interests. At the same time its soil had been proclaimed sacred and inrιviolable, and this also made it an ideal place for trade to prosper and develop undisturbed. And so this small rocky isle grew to become a revered religious place as well as one of the most important centres of shipping and commerce. The Acropolis, Olympia, Delphi and Delos were the four most important sanctuaries of the ancient world. Yet the history of Delos had special links with the Aegean sailors, which is why it is one of the most important sources of information about the ships and maritime activities of the seafarers of the Aegean. The written records, incised representations, gravestones, inscriptions, ruins of houses and other buildings that have survived, and the Neorion where the flagship dedicated to Αροllο by Antigorius Gonatas in the 3rd century BC was kept, are all eloquent evidence and give us valuable information about the sea trade of those times and men's pursuits in connection with it. Legends and facts about the shipping of the Aegean are preserved within the ruins of Delos.
The incised representations of ships on the walls of the ancient houses of the sacred island are of unique importance; they show the shapes and details of the ships, which indicates that they were the work of sailors and not of artists. Also important are the grave stelae of Delos. They carry relief ships and inscriptions referring to shipwrecks and sailors who were lost.
Another interesting piece of information from Delos concerns the weather conditions in the area and is a meteorological observation (weather forecast): Archilochos, a 7th c. Parian poet, says to his friend and fellow-traveller, Glaukos, as they are about to continue their journey: Γλανχ' δρα βαθνς yάρ ίδη κνμασιν ταράσσεται ποντος, άμφί δ' ακρα Γ
υρέων ορθον ϊσταται νέφος, σήμα χειμώνος κιχάνει δ' έξ άελπτίης φοβος, which means: "Look, Glaukos, the sea is already agitated by high waves and a cloud is raised over the top of the Gyrean Mountain (Tinos), a sign of storm; and sudden fear comes over us:' At a later date Cicero made the same observation ( lst c. BC): Itaque erat in animo nihil festinari, nec me Delo movere, nisi omnia άκρα Γυρέων pura vidissem, which means: "Ι decided to be in a hurry and not to move from Delos while the peaks of Gyrea are not completely clear". This "weather forecast" has continued into the present time. The local fishermen predict a worsening of the weather when they see clouds over the top of the high mountain on Tinos. "Tinos has her hat οn", they say.
In the course of its long history Delos knew periods of prosperity from the l6th c. BC until the time of its first great destruction by Mithridates in 88 BC. During that same time, however, it also suffered periods of misfortune at the hands of conquerors, pirates and others. One can get a picture of the glory of Delos in antiquity from the Homeric "Hymn to Αροllο", in which the beauty of the island with the fast ships in the harbour, laden with riches, is wonderfully described.
The geographic position of Delos in the centre of the Cyclades and almost equidistant from the shores of mainland Greece and Asia Minor, helped it to become a great maritime trade centre, and large numbers of ships from every part of the then-known world were continually arriving at the port. Each year the Athenians sent the magnificent "sacred theoria" οη the sacred ship Paralos whose crew were all free men. Νο condemned person was allowed to be executed until the sacred ship had returned from Delos ( Socrates's execution was postponed for thirty days just because the Paralos was late in returning from Delos).
After the Persian Wars Aristeides organized a pan Hellenic alliance based on Delos and called the Delian League, which was under the control of Athens. The alliance made provision for a contribution of ships or money from each of its members in order to meet the Persίan threat and deal with piracy. By that time the port of Delos was already large and developed, since it is mentioned that Leotychides (joint commander with Xanthippus of the Greek fleet when the naval battle took place at Cape Mycale) put in there in 479 BC with α fleet of 110 ships.
Delos continued to be a centre of great maritime activity for the whole time until its devastation in the lst c. BC, but there was an especially great increase in seafaring and trade during the time of Alexander the Grate’s successors and the subsequent period of Roman domination. People from different regions of the Mediterranean - Athenians, Italians, Egyptians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Palestinians and Jews - came to Delos to settle and trade.
The ship owners of the time had great influence in Delian society, became very wealthy, built themselves fine houses and established their own stoas. There was a guild of Tyrian merchants under the protection of Hercules, a guild of the merchants of Beyrouth under the protection of Poseidon (poseidoniatai), one under the protection of Αροllο (apolloniatai) and guilds of Egyptians, Jews and others.
The foreigners also brought their own gods to Delos, and there were temples of Isis, Serapίs, Anubis, Harpocrates and other foreign deities. Delos thus became an international city in which complete religious toleration prevailed. At the same time the result of all these foreign races coming together on the sacred isle was of benefit not only to the Aegean islanders, but to all Greeks, because they acquired a wealth of new experience in the fields of both art and shipping. The ship was the only means of communication with the islands roundabout and with the rest of the world; consequently it played a leading part in the life and pursuits of the inhabitants. Particularly after the decline of Rhodes and Corinth, Delos became the number one commercial and maritime centre in the Mediterranean. The merchandise that passed through its markets included cereals, fabrics, perfumes, luxury goods; works of art, native copper and slaves. Strabon mentions that 10,000 slaves were sold on Delos in one day! The Hypostyle Ηall seems to have served as a commercial exchange.
With the sanctuary of Αpοllοn as the centripetal force, the commercial, economic and nautical development of Delos reached its peak. The city grew in beauty and around the sacred lake (Trochoeides) imposing stoas, marble temples and other buildings were erected. Wealthy homes and innumerable works of art adorned every corner of the island. At the same time the harbour underwent a great phase of development; installations, warehouses, lighthouses, breakwaters and many other harbour works were constructed.
The island's prosperity lasted until 88 BC, when Mithridates; the king of Pontus, first sacked the island. Another destruction followed, by his general Menophanes, and the sacred xenon (wooden statue) of Αpοllοn was thrown into the sea. At some point the victorious Sulla came and attempted to restore the damage. In 69 BC, however, the pirate Athenodorus (an ally of Mithridates) wreaked the final and total devastation on Delos and left it a formless mass of ruins. That was the end of Αροllο's sacred isle and of its commercial and maritime existence.

R h ο d e s

When the god Helios saw Rhodes being born in the midst of the sea he chose it for his dwelling. His three offspring, Kamiros, Lindos and Ialysos divided up the island and gave their names to its three famous cities. So Greek Mythology tells us. This large island, rich in natural beauty, was to play an outstanding role in Aegean nautical history. The Rhodians showed their nautical ability very early on and fared forth in their ships across the sea to bring back riches and knowledge. We learn from Homer that nine Rhodian ships under Tlepolemos took part in the Trojan War.
Able seamen and clever traders, the Rhodians competed with the Corinthians and extended their activities to distant lands. Ιn the West they founded colonies in Sicily (Gela); the Balearic Islands, and Spain. Ιn the East they founded Phaselis οn the coast of Pamphylίa. They sent their merchant ships to all the then-known harbours. They sold Rhodian amphora’s and the famous Rhodian wine. They bartered and transported various other products. At Naucrates in the Nile Delta Rhodian grain-ships took on cargoes of wheat to bring back to Rhodes, which lacked ιt.
During the Classical and Hellenistic periods Rhodes, helped by its favourable geographical position, witnessed a great phase of development and increase in wealth, and achieved great prosperity (δέκα Ροδιοι δέκα νήες, which means "ten Rhodians ten ships" was an ancient saying). In the troubled history of the Eastern Mediterranean Rhodes often found herself at the centre of a conflict between various rivals, but she nearly always managed to aνοίd becoming involved in wars by joining strong coalitions, which gave her protection.
Her goal was always the maintenance of her commercial strength, which was indeed to be envied. Such was the reputation Rhodes steadily acquired on the sea that at one time she was called "Sovereιgn of the Seas". The growth in her shipbuilding reached a peak. The organization of her shipping was exemplary, and the acts of maritime Its that she promulgated influenced peoples who came after. Strabo and Cicero admired the wisdom of Rhodian law, the text of which has unfortunately not survived as a whole. Elements of it, however, existed in Roman law, because the Romans created a complete code of maritime law, the provisions of which were largely borrowed from Rhodian law. It is worth mentioning that among these provisions was also included the law of General Average, Lex Rhodia de jactu, which is still in international use today with various modifications. Elements of Rhodian maritime law are also to be found in Justinian's Digest, as well as in Leon Sophos's Vassilika.
Maritime trade brought Rhodes great wealth. The city was adorned with majestic buildings and noble works of art. Her brilliance radiated to the East and the West. Her political and administrative organization was excellent. It was said that when Alexander the Great built Alexandria, it was planned according to the model of Rhodes, and a small island off Alexandria was named Antirhodes in her honour. Meanwhile the city was fortified, and impregnable walls were built which on many occasions protected it from assaults. The Macedonian Demetrius Poliorcetes (the Besieger) failed to live up to his name when in 305/4 BC he tried in vain to capture Rhodes. After besieging it for a whole year he was forced to abandon his efforts and depart, leaving behind his famous siege engines. These Rhodians sold and with the 300 talents they received for them erected the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the god Helios, which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The sculptor Chares from Lindos took 12 whole years to construct the gigantic bronze statue, which stood 31 metres high. The legs straddled the entrance to the harbour of Rhodes and ships entering passed between them. The Colossus remained in place until 227 BC, when a fearful earthquake shook the whole region, causing much havoc to Rhodes and bringing down the Colossus, which suffered great damage. Pliny, who saw the fallen statue, relates that a man could barely put his arms around its thumb!.

There is much of Rhodian culture that speaks to us even today of the island's maritime greatness. Two examples are the Nike of Samothrace, the famous statue depicting Victory standing on the prow of a ship, and the relief of a ship's prow carved on the Acropolis of Lindos. Both these works have been the objects of special study by experts and are of great interest, particularly for the construction details they give us of ancient ships.

The decline of Rhodes began in 166 BC at the time of the so-called Delian Independence. The decision of the Romans to declare Delos a "free port" was a great blow to Rhodes and from then on she gradually lost her power. She slowly ceased being the great centre of the transit trade and lost two thirds of her revenue. The final collapse came with her capture in 42 BC by the Roman Cassius (one of Julius Caesar's assassins), who stripped the island of every economic resource and plundered it, carrying off to Rome the important works of art that had graced it. That was the end. Rhodes was never again able to recover its former glory.

Thus in the 1st c. BC the two important maritime commercial centres of the ancient world, Delos and Rhodes, which had brought such lustre to the nautical history of the Aegean, came to an end.

We would like to mention individually many other Aegean islands, each of which undoubtedly has its own contribution to make to the history of the region, like the islands of the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, the Sporades and others. That, however, might be the object of a wider, special study in a book on this subject. Our aim at this moment is to give a general picture of Aegean nautical history with emphasis on some of its more important landmarks. And it would not be exaggerating to say that Delos and Rhodes may rightly claim two of the first places among these landmarks, and we think that they deserved a separate mention.

Byzantine Period (330-1453)

When the state of Byzantium was established the Aegean ceased to be under Roman domination and came under the rule of the Byzantines. Byzantium did not possess much of a navy until the 5th c. The Byzantine Empire was vast, however, and in order to meet the needs of all its provinces it required a large merchant navy. Justinian (527-565 AD) understood this necessity, as well as the great importance of the sea for transport and communications, and he set about organising a fleet. Thus Byzantium slowly became the dominant sea power of the time, with the Aegean playing a leading part. The new capital, Constantinople, became the biggest centre of commercial activity. The large ships that had been built, chiefly for transporting cargoes of grain from Alexandria to Rome, began to be used less frequently, because most of these cargoes now went to Constantinople, and for the voyage through the Aegean to the Golden Horn the ships had to be smaller and more manoeuvrable. Furthermore the big ships were slow-moving and not suited to evading sudden attacks by pirates, who constituted a real plague for shipping at the time. These new requirements led to the construction of smaller, swifter vessels, which came to play an important role in the maritime trade of the Aegean during the Byzantine period. At this time there appeared the fast, light mobile ship known as the dorkon (from the ancient word dorkas which means "roe-buck") a vessel of some 130-140 tons capacity with lateen sails, which gave better steering and manoeuvrability. In the same century (6th) the dromon appeared, a new type of fast, light vessel with lateen sails and a protective deck above the rowers. The dromons were chiefly warships, but they were also used as merchantmen on long voyages. The smaller dromon was known as a chelandiοn the larger one as a meizon dromon and the flagship as the pamphylos dromon.

At the end of the 6th c. the State adopted the system of chartering ships from private owners, who during the 7th c. became an important class that was very influential in Byzantine society, since they played a big part in the imperial economy. These ship owners were also often captains and traders themselves (they were known later on in the Aegean as karavokyrides). This was the time when the maritime law was codified and many beneficial and protective measures were taken for sea-trade.

The amount of real information available about the merchantman of the Byzantine period is unfortunately slight and consists mainly of written texts. "No records tell us about the Byzantine ships", said Professor Rados at the beginning of the 20th century. Recently, however, additional evidence has come from two wrecks of merchantmen, of the 4th and 7th c. AD, which were discovered at the islet of Yassi Ada (between the Turkish coasts and the island of Pserimos in the Dodecanese) and raised with part of their cargo. From the drawings of the 7th c. ship made by the archaeologists, it appears that this vessel resembled both the ancient holkas and the modern trechandiri. These, too, are pieces of the thread connecting the different phases of the development of merchant shipping in the Aegean. Byzantine maritime supremacy began to wane progressively from the time of the Crusades and especially after the l2th c. Furthermore, the rise of the city-states of Italy, particularly Venice and Genoa, and their growth into important maritime powers resulted in the Byzantines losing their domination in the Aegean, which gradually fell mainly under the control of the Venetians. These changes had a catastrophic effect on the whole of the nautical world in the region. The Greek shipmasters and sailors of the Aegean found themselves faced with a host of obstructions and difficulties, which were accentuated by religious fanaticism and piracy on the part of both Easterners and Westerners.

Period of Turkish Domination and the Greek War of Independence

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. By that time sea trade had already been taken over by the Venetians, Genoese and other strong maritime powers on the Italian peninsula, which were able, with the financial backing of the wealthy houses of the West or with state subsidies, to build and equip the costly galleys and galleasses.

The islands of the Aegean were gradually conquered, and it needed about two centuries after the fall of Constantinople for Turkish domination over them to be complete. Consequently maritime trade in certain parts of the Aegean continued its course for a long period of time, with more freedom but on a more limited scale, mainly with small vessels, which the Greeks constructed under great difficulties.

The subsequent disputes over possession of the islands and control of the Aegean sea among the great powers of the time (Venetians, Russians, Turks, Franks, Dutch and Anglo-Saxons) in the end proved advantageous for the Greek merchantman, particularly from the l8th c. Each of these powers, wishing to have control of the Aegean, which was a vital area between East and West, endeavoured to win the collaboration of the inhabitants of the islands and coasts, in order to exploit the knowledge and experience of those seamen for their own advantage, and especially of the island seamen, whom they regarded as the best in the known world.

The shipbuilding craft of the Greeks continued in certain parts to play an important role throughout the Turkish domination. At first small kaikia were built, and later on large karavia, especially in the pre-Revolutionary period (end of 18th - early l9th c.), by which time particularly favourable conditions for the Greeks in the maritime trade had been created.

Moreover, the French Revolution (1789) and the Napoleon Wars gave the Aegean islanders the chance to take advantage of the decline in French commerce and to extend their voyages as far as Spain to take the place of the French merchantmen. They even found opportunities to set up in competition for the sea trade and to displace the Westerners in some parts of the Mediterranean. Hydra, Spetses, Psara and other Greek islands acquired great wealth at this time from maritime transport and so were able to build large merchantmen, which were also suitably armed for defence and raids and to show their colours in all the harbours of Christendom. They carried grain, various other products and raw materials from Turkey to Italy, the Adriatic, France and Spain, and even beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. In 1804 three ships from Hydra crossed the Atlantic and arrived at Montevideo, where they sold their cargoes of wine, and returned with cargoes of hides. The profits from the commercial ventures of the islanders were considerable. It was said that on their return from every voyage the ships brought back not ballast but silver and gold.

The six years 1808 -1814 were a "golden period" for Greek Shipping. At that time large Greek Merchant Houses were formed and flourished in Syros, Chios, Constantinople, Odessa, Trieste, Marseilles and London, as well as in different Spanish and Italian ports. Pouqueville mentions that, from the profits of these six years, on Hydra alone, 40 new ships were built. He also says that in 1813 the islands of Hydra, Spetses, Psara, Mykonos, Kastelorizo, Skopelos, Kasos, Symi, Santorini and Andros together with Galaxidi and other Greek ports possessed a total of 615 merchant ships, with a tonnage of 153,580 tons, 17,526 men and 5,878 cannon. The Greek merchant fleet continued to grow even after the six-year period and by 1816 numbered about 700 ships and 18,000 men.

The Revolution of 1821 for Greek Independence from the Turkish rule found the Greek merchant fleet ready for the struggle. The merchantmen were automatically converted into warships and began action against the Turkish conqueror. In his famous speech on the Pnyx in 1836 Kolokotronis said "the grain ships fought the King" (meaning the Sultan). The 18,000 sailors manning the merchant ships, who had acquired useful experience in the course of blockade-running and repelling pirate attacks, were ready for war when the uprising began, and threw themselves into the struggle with great courage, writing pages of glory in Greek Nautical History with their achievements. Without the merchant fleet the War of Independence would probably never have been able to succeed.

The events that followed in the course of the Greek War of Independence stirred the interest of the Western world and turned public opinion in favour of the Greek Cause. The three great Powers intervened, and in 1827 the naval battle of Navarino took place.

In order to complete the picture so far given in this review of Aegean Nautical History it is necessary to mention briefly the influence exerted by another important factor on the maritime trade and the people of this region during the periods we have referred to.

Ρ i r a c y

It is difficult to establish the origin of piracy or when men first began their piratical activities; the evidence is lost in the depths of history. But it is reasonable to suppose that piracy is a part of man's nature. He has always had the urge to "grab", especially when he was still living in a primitive state. It is also difficult, in those far-off times, to distinguish piracy from organized sea raiding for the purpose of conquest.

From the earliest times the Aegean has known the activities and horrors of piracy. Indeed, at various times pirates were in control of it and became "a state within a state". Ancient Greek Mythology often mentions pirates and their operations, showing that piracy had been a part of life for the peoples of the Aegean ever since antiquity, and its purpose was more or less the same as in the centuries that followed, namely pillaging and the profits from booty and ransom. One such myth relates how Tyrrhenian pirates once seized Dionysus, taking him for the son of a wealthy man. Then the god, to amuse himself, changed them into dolphins, which immediately leapt into the sea and he, seated in the middle of the ship, continued to steer it with his divine power alone.

Ancient authors, too, make frequent reference to piracy and pirates. Thucydides, writing about the first inhabitants of Greece, says that piracy was the work of the Carians and Phoenicians. He also says that the pirates were not ashamed of their work but thought that it brought them glory ουκ έχοντος πω αίσχύνην τούτου του έργου φέροντος δέ τι καί δόξης μάλλον, which means: "this work having no shame at all but rather bringing glory". From other ancient texts we also learn that in 475 BC Kimon drove the pirates out of Skyros, which they had made a base for their operations, and cleared them out of the Aegean.

Again in the Roman period it is recorded that Pompey dealt decisively with the pirates by dividing the empire into a number of sections and appointing a responsible official to each of them.

In the Byzantine period, however, and later during the Turkish domination, piracy continued to exist and harass to a serious degree the Aegean waters. Many of the islands became pirates' lairs. Pirate raids alternated with the warlike incursions of the Vandals, Arabs, Venetians, Franks and Turks. The "profession" of piracy was considered so honourable and profitable that it was passed on from father to son by inheritance; it is said that the word leventes (brave, handsome fellow) came from "levante", which signified at the time a fearless pirate of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, piracy was not the "privileged profession" of the Eastern and North African people, but also of the Westerners. The pirates of the West, indeed, were given titles of nobility in recognition of the great benefits their "services" brought to their monarchs.

Piracy was also directly connected with the slave trade, which greatly flourished at that time, because the pirates made a lot of money by selling the people they captured, or holding many of them for ransom. From the 11th to the beginning of the l9th c. the markets of the East were full of slaves for sale. These were the "slave bazaars" that have been described in the blackest colours in many books of the period. The sufferings of the inhabitants of the coastal towns and particularly of the Aegean islands at the hands of pirates of every race and origin can hardly be described.

In 1528 Ios was devastated by 14 Moslem pirate gallipots. In 1537 the well-known and terrible pirate, Khairedin Barbarossa, slaughtered all the men on Aegina and took 6000 women and children into slavery. Samos remained deserted for some hundred years because of the pirates. In 1570 the Algerian archi-pirate Kemal Reis (who later became Kapudan Pasha under the name of Kilitz Aslan) stripped the islands of Kythera, Skiathos and Skopelos of every inhabitant.
After the devastation and depopulation of these and many other islands in the Aegean the pirates made them into pirates' haunts. In the l6th c. Salamis became a nest of pirates and brigands. Corsairs established themselves on Ios. On Melos and Rhodes the slave trade flourished.
In the Aegean at this period the pirates became "a state within a state". They had their own laws, their own "ensigns", and each one had his own territory, over which he wielded complete control, even exercising "protective" authority in many cases.

The ordinary people had many names for pirates. They called them spantitoi, from bantito; leventes, from Levante; ververinoi or barbaresoi, from Barbary (which was the overall name given to the three Turkish possessions in North Africa: Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers, after the name of their chieftain, the terrible Barbarossa, which means "Red-Beard"), and algerinoi, from Algiers. The word "corsair" (koursaros) originally meant privateer, but soon came to signify pirate, so that when people wanted to refer to a legitimate privateer, they added the word publikos before koursaros.

The pirate ships (usually fast and manoeuvrable, like galleys, galleasses and later, feluccas, foustas, alamanes, mystics, xebecs, brigantines, and brigs) intercepted unarmed vessels and seized them, usually without striking a blow. When, however, the ships were armed, the pirates employed some ruse to take them by surprise and, after a fierce battle, made a risalto (they boarded the other ship) and took it by tracollο (hand-to-hand fighting).

Apart from pirate attacks on ships there were also pirate raids on coastal towns, which is why the Greek coasts of the Aegean are full of ruined castles and towers built by the local rulers for their protection.

The intensification of piracy in the Aegean forced the Greek island shipmasters and sailors to gradually begin (particularly during the Russo-Turkish wars, 1770- 1807) arming their ships with cannon, and to learn to repel pirate attacks. Many of them turned pirates themselves. Maritime trade in the Aegean was paralysed by piracy, although the pirates themselves kept it going in their own fashion and, naturally, for their own profit. This, in addition to a mounting general fury over the dreadful sufferings inflicted by the pirates on the inhabitants of the Aegean, resulted in a more serious and organized approach to the problem. As a consequence in 1803 the Hydriots made available permanent armed anti-pirate galleots and tratas, the cost of whose maintenance was shared with the other mercantile islands of the Aegean on a proportional basis. Many notorious pirates and pirate collaborators were captured at this time and harshly punished to set an example. But the Aegean pirates did not readily give up their "profession" and "posts", and so the pursuit of the pirates and the slaughters and reprisals (vendettas) continued.

In the following years piratical activity in the Aegean underwent various fluctuations. There was a fresh upsurge after the new Russo-Turkish war (1806) and the Treaty of Tilsit (1807), because many of the Greeks who had aided the Russian admiral Seniavin in the war, afterwards turned into pirates in order to escape the brutal Turkish reprisals. They became, in other words, kinds of "resistance fighters" on the sea.

Nevertheless, in spite of the lack of order, the situation had one positive consequence: the Greeks gradually became experts at repelling pirate attacks, as well as famed privateers and specialists in blockade-running, to such a degree, indeed, that foreign powers employed them as mercenaries in their wars. Thus the outbreak of the War of Independence found the Greeks of the Aegean prepared for battle and strong, ready to give their all for the success of the revolution against the Turkish yoke. With all the experience they had acquired from living for years under the incessant threat of piratical attacks, the Greek islanders and sailors succeeded in making real history by their brilliant achievements in the Aegean throughout the War of Independence.

Some pirates continued their activities even after the Revolution of 1821. In his "Historical Memoirs of the Greek Revolution" (pub.1878) the then Minister of Justice and later Eparch of the Cyclades, Constantine Metaxas, in his chapter "Pursuit of Piracy 1826", recounts the following:

"Ι began cruising around the islands of the Aegean Sea on a naval schooner ( ... ) Many pirates gathered on the deserted island of Yioura and held a council, as a result of which they addressed a letter to me in which they asked why Ι was pursuing them, when they, by their piracy, would be able to force the European nations to recognise our independence and bring the war to an end; they, although they were doing this good for the country, found their own expenses and those of many others; consequently, instead of pursuing them Ι should come to an agreement with them, and they were ready to show clear proof of their obligation to me by promising me a rich recompense. This letter bore many signatures, amongst them (...) that of the Mykonian Mermelechas (...) After this, learning that the terrible Mermelechas was at Amorgos with two pirate ships and 35 pirates, Ι sailed by night to that island ( ... ) and took prisoner sixteen pirates (...) and another eight pirates with this Mermelechas a captive (...) Thus in the space of two months the leaders of the pirates were arrested and most of their followers, and their pirate ships were destroyed by fire opposite the town of Syros".

The terrible pirate Mermelechas died in 1854 and his gravestone can still be seen on Mykonos at the church of "Agia Sotira tou Kastrou". Mermelechas had nonetheless succeeded in establishing reputation with the populace as the protector of the weak, as is apparent from the jingle that circulated in the Aegean from mouth to mouth at the time:

"Have a care for me, have a care for me, Mermelechas with the beard"

The general conclusion from the above, is that from earliest times piracy has played an important role in the development of the merchant marine in the Aegean. We might indeed say that it created the preconditions and stimuli for Aegean seafarers to acquire added experience and knowledge, which they employed in both war and peace (sea-trade, fishing, sea communications):
They learned to build and handle with great skill fast, manoeuvrable ships (effect on shipbuilding).
They learned to effectively combat pirate attacks and every other kind of hostile assault, as well as to make successful attacks them selves, showing exceptional agility and skill (a kind of battle training for the Aegean seamen).
They learned to take advantage of the fickle Aegean weather and generally they increased their nautical capabilities and knowledge. This is why they early on became unbeatable at manoeuvring on the sea.

At the same time their own character was being forged, a character compounded of obstinacy, patience, great endurance, accurate judgement of circumstances and courage. They were thus able to confront coolly and effectively every sort of danger, whether from foe or foul weather, in times of peace or in times of war.

The experience and knowledge gained by the Aegean inhabitants in the long fight against piracy was always employed with great success. In the course of centuries there was gradually created what might be called "nautical genius", (naftiko demonio) which, together with an inherent "sailorliness" and an almost instinctive bond with the liquid element that surrounds him, are the chief characteristics of the Aegean dweller.

Period from the Greek War of Independence to the End of the Century

In 1828 Southern Greece and the islands of the central Aegean were officially proclaimed free and Ioannis Kapodistrias came, the first Governor of the liberated half of the country. Capodistria from the beginning showed great administrative and organiser ability. He grasped the great importance of a strong merchant marine for Greece and in Aegina, which was the temporary seat of the Governor; he issued the first decree after the liberation for the organization of the mercantile marine.
The few overage, worn-out merchantmen that remained after the war formed the nucleus for the expansion of the Greek Merchant Marine until the end of the l9th c. The experienced captains and sailors played a decisive part in the rebuilding of the fleet and in the new ventures. The first decades of the l9th c. were marked by the appearance of steam propulsion for ships. The Greek shipmasters, exhausted financially and without capital, were unable to keep up with the rapid developments taking place with the use of steam in ships, but they continued to build new brigs and barks in the Greek shipyards on Hydra, Spetses, Andros, Galaxidi, Samos, Kasos as well as on Syros, which developed into the most important Greek commercial harbour.

Greece acquired its first steamships in 1856 with the founding of the Hellenic Steam Navigation Company. This company, as a matter of interest, later made some of its vessels available to assist the Cretan Revolution (1866-68). Among them was the legendary "Enosis", which was converted into a cruiser and which, with the heroic Mykonian captain, Nikolas Sourmelis, in command, made glorious history in the Aegean by running in supplies to help the revolting Cretans.

In the second half of the l9th c. the Greeks went on to build better and larger sailing vessels, but at the same time, realising the importance of steam, they began, towards the end of the century, buying more and more steamships.
These ever-growing developments and needs stimulated the shipping world to improve the organization of the merchant marine.
Syros grew into the most important mercantile shipping centre in the Aegean. In 1861 a steam-powered iron-works was opened on Syros, "an establishment unique in the East" (as was said at the time), later to be known as the "Syros Dry-docks and Engineering Works" (Neorion), with the Englishman Smith as chief engineer. In it old ships were repaired and new ones built, and it was also the first training establishment for the steam engineers who manned the ever- growing fleet of Greek steamships.
Syros was filled with many shipping offices, bunkering stations, repair units, shipyards, insurance companies and banks. Merchants and shipmasters gathered in Hermoupolis from all the nautical islands of the Aegean, and especially from Chios, Spetses, Hydra, Psara, Andros, Mykonos, Kasos and Santorini. This great shipping activity on Syros continued until almost the end of the century, with a parallel development following later on in Piraeus. In 1870 the Nautical Bank "Archangelos" established the first Greek Shipping Register. It gives the following picture of the growth of the Greek merchant marine:

1871: 2,228 sailing ships totalling 292,382 tons. 24 steamships totalling 6,161 tons. Ι879: 3,025 sailing ships totalling 371,362 tons. 49 steamships totalling 12.021 tons.

At the end of the I9th c. Greek sailing ships had significantly decreased and steamships had increased to about 200.
By the end of the century the decrease in sailing ships became more rapid, and they began to give place to mechanically propelled ships. The beginning of World War Ι found the Greek Merchant Marine with 475 steamships and some 1,100 sailing ships.

In the 20th c. the Greek Merchant Marine underwent great fluctuations. In the midst of them, however, the Greek's close ties with the sea, his inherent seamanship, his stubbornness, courage and faith in the value of shipping remained unchanged, and these qualities helped the Greek merchant fleet at the beginning of the 1980's to take first place in the world. Various types of Greek-owned vessels are to be found today plying a1l the world's seas, and still the eternal trechandiri, descended from the ships of our ancient forefathers, continues to traverse the Aegean waters, following the distant tradition.

Aegean Maritime Museum

sailship evangelistria









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