Ancient maritime history

Ancient maritime history

Maritime history dates back hundreds of years. In ancient maritime history, the first boats are presumed to have been dugout canoes which were developed independently by various stone age populations. In ancient history, various vessels were used for coastal fishing and travel.


The Indigenous of the Pacific Northwest are very skilled at crafting wood. Best known for totem poles up to convert|80|ft|m|0 tall, they also construct dugout canoes over convert|60|ft|m long for everyday use and ceremonial purposes. [ [ Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians website] ]

The earliest seaworthy boats may have been developed as early as 45,000 years ago, according to one hypothesis explaining the habitation of Australia. In the history of whaling, humans began whaling in pre-historic times. The oldest known method of catching whales is to simply drive them ashore by placing a number of small boats between the whale and the open sea and attempting to frighten them with noise, activity, and perhaps small, non-lethal weapons such as arrows. Typically, this was used for small species, such as Pilot Whales, Belugas and Narwhals.

The earliest known reference to an organization devoted to ships in ancient India is to the Mauryan Empire from the 4th century BC. It is believed that the navigation as a science originated on the river Indus some 5000 years ago.


The Ancient Egyptians had knowledge to some extent of sail construction. [Hatshepsut oversaw the preparations and funding of an expedition of five ships, each measuring seventy feet long, and "with several sails". Various other [ instances of Egyptian sailing vessels] exist, also.] This is governed by the science of aerodynamics. A primary feature of a properly designed sail is an amount of "draft", caused by curvature of the surface of the sail. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Necho II sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, which in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa to the mouth of the Nile. Many current historians tend to believe Herodotus on this point, even though Herodotus himself was in disbelief that the Phoenicians had accomplished the act.

Hannu was an ancient Egyptian explorer (around 2750 BC) and the first explorer of whom there is any knowledge. Hannu made the first recorded exploring expedition. He wrote his account of his exploration in stone. Hannu travelled along the Red Sea to Punt. He sailed to what is now part of eastern Ethiopia and Somalia. He returned to Egypt with great treasures, including precious myrrh, metal and wood.

The Sea Peoples was a confederacy of seafaring raiders who sailed into the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, caused political unrest, and attempted to enter or control Egyptian territory during the late 19th dynasty, and especially during Year 8 of Ramesses III of the 20th Dynasty. [A convenient table of sea peoples in hieroglyphics, transliteration and English is given in the dissertation of Woodhuizen, 2006, who developed it from works of Kitchen cited there] The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah explicitly refers to them by the term "the foreign-countries (or 'peoples' [As noted by Gardiner V.1 p.196, other texts have "foreign-peoples"; both terms can refer to the concept of "foreigners" as well. Zangger in the external link below expresses a commonly held view that "sea peoples" does not translate this and other expressions but is an academic innovation. The Woudhuizen dissertation and the Morris paper identify Gaston Maspero as the first to use the term "peuples de la mer" in 1881.] ) of the sea" [Gardiner V.1 p.196.] [Manassa p.55.] in his Great Karnak Inscription. [Line 52. The inscription is shown in Manassa p.55 plate 12.] Although some scholars believe that they "invaded" Cyprus, Hati and the Levant, this hypothesis is disputed.

The Mediterranean

Minoan traders from Crete were active in the eastern Mediterranean by the 2nd millennium BC. The Phoenicians were an ancient civilization centered in the north of ancient Canaan, with its heartland along the coast of modern day Lebanon, Syria and northern Israel. Phoenician civilization was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean during the first millennium BC, between the period of 1200 BC to 900 BC. Though ancient boundaries of such city-centered cultures fluctuated, the city of Tyre seems to have been the southernmost. Sarepta between Sidon and Tyre, is the most thoroughly excavated city of the Phoenician homeland. The Phoenicians often traded by means of a galley, a man-powered sailing vessel. They were the first civilization to create the bireme. There is still debate on the subject of whether the Canaanites and Phoenicians were different peoples or not.

The Mediterranean was the source of the vessel, galley, developed before 1000 BC, and development of nautical technology supported the expansion of Mediterranean culture. The Greek trireme was the most common ship of the ancient Mediterranean world, employing the propulsion power of oarsmen. Mediterranean peoples developed lighthouse technology and built large fire-based lighthouses, most notably the Lighthouse of Alexandria, built in the 3rd century BC (between 285 and 247 BC) on the island of Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt.

Many in ancient western societies, such as Ancient Greece, were in awe of the seas and deified them, believing that man no longer belonged to himself when once he embarked on a sea voyage. They believed that he was liable to be sacrificed at any time to the anger of the great Sea God. Before the Greeks, the Carians were an early Mediterranean seagoing people that travelled far. Early writers do not give a good idea about the progress of navigation nor that of the man's seamanship. One of the early stories of seafaring was that of Odysseus.

In Greek mythology, the Argonauts were a band of heroes who, in the years before the Trojan War, accompanied Jason to Colchis in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. Their name comes from their ship, the Argo which in turn was named after its builder Argus. Thus, "Argonauts" literally means "Argo sailors". The voyage of the Greek navigator Pytheas of Massalia is an example of a very early voyage.Encyclopædia Britannica (1911). "Navigation". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th edition) 19. Ed. Chisholm, Hugh. Page703.] A competent astronomer and geographer, Pytheas ventured from Greece to Western Europe and the British Isles.

The "periplus", literally "a sailing-around', in the ancient navigation of Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans was a manuscript document that listed in order the ports and coastal landmarks, with approximate distances between, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore. Several examples of "periploi" have survived.

The concept of an underwater boat has roots deep in antiquity. The very first report of someone attempting to put the idea into practice seems to have been an attempt by Alexander the Great. According to Aristotle, Alexander the Great had developed a primitive submersible for reconnaissance missions by 332BC.

"Piracy", which is a robbery committed at sea or sometimes on the shore, dates back to Classical Antiquity and, in all likelihood, much further. The Tyrrhenians and Thracians were known as pirates in ancient times. The island of Lemnos long resisted Greek influence and remained a haven for Thracian pirates. By the 1st century BC, there were pirate states along the Anatolian coast, threatening the commerce of the Roman Empire.

The Persian Wars

In Ionia (the modern Aegean coast of Turkey) the Greek cities, which included great centres such as Miletus and Halicarnassus, were unable to maintain their independence and came under the rule of the Persian Empire in the mid 6th century BC. In 499 BC the Greeks rose in the Ionian Revolt, and Athens and some other Greek cities went to their aid. In 490 BC the Persian Great King, Darius I, having suppressed the Ionian cities, sent a fleet to punish the Greeks. The Persians landed in Attica, but were defeated at the Battle of Marathon by a Greek army led by the Athenian general Miltiades. The burial mound of the Athenian dead can still be seen at Marathon. Ten years later Darius' successor, Xerxes I, sent a much more powerful force by land. After being delayed by the Spartan King Leonidas I at Thermopylae, Xerxes advanced into Attica, where he captured and burned Athens. But the Athenians had evacuated the city by sea, and under Themistocles they defeated the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis. A year later, the Greeks, under the Spartan Pausanius, defeated the Persian army at Plataea. The Athenian fleet then turned to chasing the Persians out of the Aegean Sea, and in 478 BC they captured Byzantium. In the course of doing so Athens enrolled all the island states and some mainland allies into an alliance, called the Delian League because its treasury was kept on the sacred island of Delos. The Spartans, although they had taken part in the war, withdrew into isolation after it, allowing Athens to establish unchallenged naval and commercial power.

Achaean League

The Achaean League was a confederation of Greek city states in Achaea, a territory on the northern coast of the Peloponnese. An initial confederation existed during the 5th through the 4th century BC. The Achaean League was reformed early in the 3rd century BC, and soon expanded beyond its Achaean heartland. The League's dominance was not to last long, however. During the Third Macedonian War (171-168 BC), the League flirted with the idea of an alliance with Perseus, and the Romans punished it by taking several hostages to ensure good behavior, including Polybius, the Hellenistic historian who wrote about the rise of the Roman Empire. In 146 BC, the league erupted into open revolt against Roman domination. The Romans under Lucius Mummius defeated the Achaeans, razed Corinth and dissolved the league. Lucius Mummius received the cognomen "Achaicus" ("conqueror of Achaea") for his role.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome was a civilization that grew from a small agricultural community founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 9th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its twelve-century existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy, to a republic based on a combination of oligarchy and democracy, to an autocratic empire. It came to dominate Western Europe and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest and assimilation.

Punic Wars

The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage. The main cause of the Punic Wars was the clash of interests between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman sphere of influence. The Romans were initially interested in expansion via Sicily, part of which lay under Carthaginian control. At the start of the first Punic War, Carthage was the dominant power of the Mediterranean, with an extensive maritime empire, while Rome was the rapidly ascending power in Italy. By the end of the third war, after the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of soldiers from both sides, Rome had conquered Carthage's empire and razed the city, becoming in the process the most powerful state of the Western Mediterranean. With the end of the Macedonian wars — which ran concurrently with the Punic wars — and the defeat of the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus III the Great in the Roman-Syrian War (Treaty of Apamea, [188 BC) in the eastern sea, Rome emerged as the dominant Mediterranean power and the most powerful city in the classical world. This was a turning point that meant that the civilization of the ancient Mediterranean would pass to the modern world via Europe instead of Africa.

Pre-Roman Britain

The Coracle, a small single passenger sized float has been used in Britain since before the first Roman invasion as noted by the invaders. Coracles are round or oval in shape, made of a wooden frame with a hide stretched over it then tared to provide waterproofing. Being so light, an operator can carry the light craft over the shoulder. They are capable of operating in mere inches of water due to the keel-less hull. The early people of Wales used these boats for fishing and light travel and updated models are still in use to this day on the rivers of Scotland and Wales.

Early Britons also used the world-common hollowed tree trunk canoe. Examples of these canoes have been found buried in marshes and mud banks of rivers at lengths of upward eight feet. [ [ 57.—Ancient British Canoes. [500x225 ] ]

In 1992 a notable archaeological find, named the "Dover Bronze Age Boat", was unearthed from beneath what is modern day Dover, England. The Bronze Age boat which is about 9.5 meters long x 2.3 meters is determined to have been a seagoing vessel. Carbon dating reveals that the craft dating from approximately 1,600 B.C. is the oldest known ocean-going boat. The hull was of half oak logs and side panels also of oak were stitched on with yew lashings. Both the straight grained oak and yew bindings are now extinct as a shipbuilding method in England. A reconstruction in 1996 proved that a crew between four and sixteen paddlers could have easily propelled the boat during Force 4 winds upwards of four knots but with a maximum of convert|5|kn|km/h|0. The boat could have easily carried a significant amount of cargo and with a strong crew may have been able to traverse near thirty nautical miles in a day. [ [ Canterbury Archaeological Trust: Buckland Anglo-Saxon Cemetery ] ]

Northern Europe

The "Norsemen", or 'people from the North', were people from southern and central Scandinavia which established states and settlements Northern Europe from the late 8th century to the 11th century.
Vikings has been a common term for Norsemen in the early medieval period, especially in connection with raids and monastic plundering made by Norsemen in Great Britain and Ireland.

Leif Ericson was an Icelandic explorer known to be the first European to have landed in North America (presumably in Newfoundland, Canada). During a stay in Norway, Leif Ericsson converted to Christianity, like many Norse of that time. He also went to Norway to serve the King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason. When he returned to Greenland, he bought the boat of Bjarni Herjólfsson and set out to explore the land that Bjarni had found (located west of Greenland), which was, in fact, Newfoundland, in Canada. The "Saga of the Greenlanders" tells that Leif set out around the year 1000 to follow Bjarni's route with 15 crew members, but going north. [Another saga, "The Saga of Eric the Red", relates that Leif discovered the American mainland while returning from Norway to Greenland in 1000 (or possibly 1001), but does not mention any attempts to settle there. However, the "Saga of the Greenlanders" is usually considered the more reliable of the two.]

Indian subcontinent

In the Indian maritime history, the world's first tidal dock was built in Lothal around 2500 BC during the Harappan civilisation at Lothal near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coastFact|date=July 2007. Other ports were probably at Balakot and Dwarka. However, it is probable that many small-scale ports, and not massive ports, were used for the Harappan maritime trade. [Possehl, Gregory. Meluhha. in: J. Reade (ed.) The Indian Ocean in Antiquity. London: Kegan Paul Intl. 1996, 133–208] Ships from the harbour at these ancient port cities established trade with Mesopotamia, [(eg Lal 1997: 182-188)] where the Indus Valley was known as Meluhha.

Emperor Chandragupta Maurya's Prime Minister Kautilya's Arthashastra devotes a full chapter on the state department of waterways under "navadhyaksha" (Sanskrit for Superintendent of ships) Ref|Kautilya. The term, "nava dvipantaragamanam" (Sanskrit for sailing to other lands by ships) appears in this book in addition to appearing in the Buddhist text, "Baudhayana Dharmasastra" as the interpretation of the term, "Samudrasamyanam".

Asia and the Far East

In ancient China, during the Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC–481 BC), large rectangular-based barge-like ships with layered decks and cabins with ramparts acted as floating fortresses on wide rivers and lakes.Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 678-679.] These were called 'castle ships' ('lou chuan'), yet there were 4 other ship types known in that period, including a ramming vessel. During the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC) the Chinese sailed south into the South China Sea during their invasion of Annam, modern Vietnam.

During the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), a ship with a stern-mounted steering rudder along with masts and sails was innovated, known as the junk in Western terminology.Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 649-650.] The Chinese had been sailing through the Indian Ocean since the 2nd century BC, with their travels to Kanchipuram in India.Sun, 161-167.] Chen, 67-71.] This was followed up by many recorded maritime travelers following the same route to India, including Faxian, Zhiyan, Tanwujie, etc.Sun, 220-221.] Like in the Western tradition, the earlier Zhou Dynasty Chinese also made use of the floating pontoon bridge, which became a valuable means to blockade the entire Yangtze River during Gongsun Shu's rebellion against the re-established Han government in 33 AD.Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 680.] Although first described in ancient Ptolemaic Egypt, the Song Dynasty scientist Shen Kuo (1031-1095) was the first to describe the use of the drydock system in China to repair boats out of water.Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 660] The canal pound lock was invented in China during the previous century, while Shen Kuo wrote of its effectiveness in his day, writing that ships no longer had the grievances of the old flash lock design and no longer had to be hauled over long distances (meaning heavier ships with heavier cargo of goods could traverse the waterways of China).Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 352] There were many other improvements to nautical technology during the Song period as well, including crossbeams bracing the ribs of ships to strengthen them, rudders that could be raised or lowered to allow ships to travel in a wider range of water depths, and the teeth of anchors arranged circularly instead of in one direction, "making them more reliable".Graff, 86.]

Japan had become a naval power by at least the 6th century, with their invasions and involvement in political alliances during the Three Kingdoms of Korea. A joint alliance between the Korean Silla Kingdom and the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) heavily defeated the Japanese and their Korean allies of Baekje in the Battle of Baekgang in August 27 to August 28 of the year 663 AD. This decisive victory expelled the Japanese from Korea and allowed the Silla Kingdom to conquer Goguryeo. However, the Japanese invaded Korea again during the Imjin War of the late 16th century, the attack against the Joseon Kingdom led by the famous Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The exploits of the Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin during this war were made famous with his military strategy and use of the armored 'turtle ship'.

Although there were numerous naval battles beforehand, China's first permanent standing navy was established in 1132 during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 476.] Gunpowder warfare at sea was also first known in China, with battles such as the Battle of Caishi and the Battle of Tangdao on the Yangtze River in 1161 AD. One of the most important books of medieval maritime literature was Zhu Yu's "Pingzhou Table Talks" of 1119 AD. Although the Chinese scientist Shen Kuo (1031-1095) was the first to describe the magnetic-needle compass, Zhu Yu's book was the first to specify its use for navigation at sea. Zhu Yu's book also described watertight bulkhead compartments in the hull of Chinese ships, which prevented sinking when heavily damaged in one compartment.Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 463.] Although the drydock was known, Zhu Yu wrote of expert divers who were often used to repair boats that were damaged and still submersed in water. Divers in China continued to have a maritime significance, as the later Ming Dynasty author Song Yingxing (1587-1666) wrote about pearl divers who used snorkeling gear (a watertight leather face mask and breathing tube secured with tin rings) to breathe underwater while tied by the waist to the ship in order to be secure while hunting for pearls.Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 668.]

ee also

*History of navigation


* Hattendorf, John B. (2007) [ Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History] ;Citations and notes

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