Historical overview

If you are not an expert historian, this brief historical overview of ancient seafaring may help you to start …

Chronology of civilizations acc. to Inman in “Ancient and modern harbors: a repeating phylogeny”, 15th Coastal Engineering Conference, New York, 1974
Chronology of civilizations acc. to Inman in “Ancient and modern harbors: a repeating phylogeny”, 15th Coastal Engineering Conference, New York, 1974

The Mediterranean Sea has been sailed for millennia since Prehistoric times, the Bronze Age, Greek and Roman times, with a climax in the first centuries of the Common Era.
As far as archaic seagoing shipping is concerned, Egyptian rulers have been sailing during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3300-2100 BC), i.a. Pharaoh Khufu-Cheops importing stones from the Sinaï (ca. 2570 BC), Sneferu (ca. 2575 BC), Sahure (ca. 2450 BC) and Sesostris I (ca. 1950 BC) sending ships to Byblos for wood and to Puntland for exotic goods[1]. In the Gulf, Mesopotanians were sailing to the Indus valley and to East Africa, via Dilmun (Bahrein) and Magan (Oman)[2].

Minoans from Crete were probably the first “professional” seafarers sailing internationally in the Mediterranean area. This spanned, in round figures, the period between 2000 BC and 1500 BC.

From 1500 BC to 1200 BC, the Mycenaeans ruled the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean as illustrated by Homer’s later epic on Achaeans fighting the Trojan War[3], while the Egyptians were still sailing on the Nile and on the Red Sea, and we know of Hatshepsut’s sailing from Myos Hormos on the Red Sea to the Land of Punt (ca. 1450 BC) and of Rameses III’s naval battle near Pelusion on the Nile against foreign invaders (1178 BC).

The Bronze Age ended around 1200 BC, when the Iron Age started with long “Greek Dark Ages” in Greece (1200-800 BC) corresponding to a Phoenician climax (Carthage was founded in 814 BC, but Byblos was already a trade port in the 3rd millenium BC). This was followed by a Greek revival called “Greek Archaic Period” (800-500 BC) and by the beter known “Greek Classical Period” (500-323 BC), the “Hellenistic Period” (323-31 BC) and the Roman period[4].

At the end of the Roman Empire (476 AD), it was western Europe that had its “Dark Ages”, for say five centuries, during which everything had to be rebuilt in the western Mediterranean … while the Arabs were over-active in the Indian Ocean.

Finally, if you would like to read a recently published overview on ancient ports, I recommend Arnaud (2016) [5], Marriner (2017) [6], and Morhange (2016) [7]. For a complete overview on ancient seafaring, see Danny Lee Davis (2009) [8].

Notes

[1] Marcus, E., 2002, “Early Seafaring and Maritime Activity in the Southern Levant from Prehistory through the Third Millenium BCE”, in van den Brink & Levy eds, Egypt and the Levant, interrelations from the 4th through the Early 3rd millenium BCE, New approaches to Anthropological Archaeology, pp 403-417.
See also Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahure
[2] Potts, D., 2016, “Cultural, economic and political relations between Mesopotamia, the Gulf region and India before Alexander”, in Megasthenes and His Time, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, pp 109-118.
[3] Achaeans were also called Danaans or Argives by Homer, and possibly Ahhiyawans by the Hittites and Tanaju by the Egyptians; today they are called ‘Mycenaeans’.
[4] For a superb overview of the Roman history, have a look at: Badel, C. & Inglebert, H., 2014, “Grand Atlas de l’Antiquité romaine – Construction, apogée et fin d’un empire”, éd. Autrement, Paris, (191 p).
[5] Arnaud, P., 2016, “Les infrastructures portuaires antiques”, in The Sea in History: The Ancient World – La Mer dans l’Histoire: L’Antiquité, General editor Christian Buchet, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press.
[6] Marriner N., Morhange C., Flaux, C., Carayon, N., “Harbors and ports, ancient”, 2017, A. S. Gilbert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology, Springer Science+Business Media, Dordrecht, pp 382-403.
[7] Morhange, C., Marriner N., Carayon N., 2016, “The eco-history of ancient Mediterranean harbours”, in The Inland Seas, Towards an Ecohistory of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, T. Bekker-Nielsen et R. Gertwagen (eds.), Verlag, pp 85-106
[8] Danny Lee Davis, 2009, “Commercial Navigation in the Greek and Roman World“, PhD thesis, University of Texas, Austin, (359 p).