The History of Sailing in Greece

the history of sailing in Greece

The History of Sailing in Greece

Sailing in the Aegean in Greece is a must-do activity on your summer vacation. But do you know the history of Greece in sailing?

Part of the charm of sailing in Greece is that ancient history is evident everywhere. Knowing that your Greek sailing charter can plow the same routes as its ancient sailors adds something to the experience.

Maritime Mythology

One of the earliest recorded stories of Western seafaring was that of Odysseus or Ulysses. The Ancient Greek king of Ithaca, whose sailing adventures were described by Homer in his epic poem the Odyssey. Although the Odyssey and the Iliad are believed to have been published around 800 BC. Both take place during the years of the Trojan War (1194 to 1984 BC) before the invention of the Greek Alphabet and written records.

Another sailing epic from Greek mythology, in the years before the Trojan War, they accompanied Jason to Colchis in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. This crew is referred to as the Argonauts, a name derived from their ship, the Argo which was in turn named after its builder, Argus. This ancient ship has been reconstructed and is located in the Greek city of Volos, where Jason is believed to have departed from.

The ancient Greek sailors deified the sea. They believed
that every man who set out on a sea voyage no longer belonged to himself. In awe of the power of the sea, they attributed it to the great god of the sea, Poseidon. For this reason they left offerings at his temples before each journey, believing that they could be sacrificed at any moment to his anger.

Maritime History

The art of Greek shipbuilding extends to the impressive ships of the Bronze Age through the Virimi and Triiri of ancient Greece, the Dromona of the Byzantine era, through the steamships of the mid-19th century and beyond. Greek shipbuilders have excelled throughout history in smaller vessels. From seaworthy fishing boats to outstanding examples of luxury yacht and yacht building craftsmanship. It is a proud heritage of thousands of years.

Ancient Greek Ships

The oldest ships of the Bronze Age date from the 3rd millennium BC. The Minoans of Crete and the first inhabitants of the Cyclades enjoyed a sophisticated culture. Rich from trade, they had fleets of sailing ships that were also propelled by oars.

In ancient Athens there was a formidable fleet of Triremes. Some of these were funded by wealthy benefactors – it was the custom for the wealthy of Athens to fund a trieri (or religious banquet). But the majority was funded by the wealth of the silver mines at Lavrio, on the eastern coast of Cape Souni. About 200 ships were ordered by the wise general Themistocles, in anticipation of a war with Persia.

These ships were technological marvels of their time. Nearly 40 meters long, they were propelled by oarsmen and, as the name Trireme suggests, three rows of oarsmen (-reme’ referring to oar) per side.
The Bireme was slightly smaller – about 25 meters long, and had only two rows of rowers per side. Rows of rowers in each type of ship were staggered in height for great efficiency and manpower per length of ship, for maximum speeds.

Ships of the Byzantine Period

During the Byzantine Period, the ship of the famous Byzantine Navy was the ‘Dromon’ – also a galley ship. The ‘Monorema’ ship – with single rows of rowers – but more popular was the ‘Biremes’, with its two rows of rowers on separate decks.

Greek Shipping under Ottoman Occupation

Helliniki Nautilia developed in various areas in Greek territory, mainly in Messolonghi and Galaxidi. In the Ionian Islands, Paxos and Corfu developed shipping, because they had commercial transactions with Italy.
The islands of the Aegean also prospered, with Hydra and Spetses in the Saronic. Andros, Syros and Mykonos in the Cyclades. Chios and neighboring Psara in the northern Aegean. And Kasos in the Dodecanese. All these islands grew in sea power and wealth. Under Ottoman occupation, Greek ships flew the British or Russian flag when crossing international waters.

When Greece sought its independence from Ottoman rule, Greek shipowners converted their fleets into warships that contributed to the cause of Greek freedom.

Steamship and Greece

In the 19th century steamships were the next bet for Greek Shipping. Greek companies responded to the challenge. The first shipyard for steamships was the Hellenic Steamship Company, founded in 1856 in Ermoupolis, Syros. Immediately after, the Hatzigiannis-Metsis shipyard of Spetses followed, as did the Onex Neorion shipyards.

Contemporary Greek Shipping

Greece’s seafaring ability was a source of wealth, pride and power in the ancient world. In modern times, Greek shipping was a source of wealth and culture. The shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis is one of the most famous Greeks of all time. The great Greek benefactors Giannis Karras, Stavros Niarchos and Vassilis Goulandris, as well as many others, are known not only as ship owners. But also because of their huge cultural offering.

Greece still has commercial shipyards, with most of them located around Elefsina and Piraeus and Salamis on the Saronic. The shipyard of Neorio, Syros, still operating since 1861.Many Greek Islands have excellent facilities that offer yacht towing, maintenance and repair. But on some islands, the exquisite craftsmanship for which Greece is famous still thrives.