Sailing through the Ages Part 2: A Mediterranean Odyssey


Map of Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countries

The Mediterranean Sea has been influencing human civilization and culture for over 10,000 years. Its unique size and structure connects Europe, Africa, and Asia, making the Mediterranean unlike any other body of water found on the planet. Throughout much of ancient history the Mediterranean was used as a means to communicate, travel, trade, and wage war. Beginning several thousand years ago sailors from Crete, Egypt, and Phoenicia started mapping the coastline and establishing some of the first trade routes. With the development of standardized trade routes goods, information, and ideas were able to be passed between several regions and cultures. This level of connectivity between the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean was bolstered by the ships and boats of the age.

Full scale Greek trireme reconstruction being tested in the Mediterranean
Greek trireme being tested in the Mediterranean

During the Bronze Age, prior to the 1st millennium BCE, ships were often multipurpose. The same type of ship would be used for trade, travel, and warfare. These ships were of modest size and their primary method of propulsion was through rowing. It was not until the start of the classical era, around the 8th century BCE, when ships evolved from the multipurpose vessels of the late Bronze Age, to more specialized ships that were dedicated to a specific purpose. All of these ships were powered by either sails or rowers. The most common rigging of these boats was a large square sail on a single mast or, on larger ships, two square sails on two masts.