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Profiles different kinds of ships, including triremes, Viking longboats, ships of the line, and more.
Throughout the history of mankind, seafaring has played a pivotal role in trade, warfare, transport, and exploration. From the very first dug-out wooden canoes used by our ancestors, to the great ocean-going palaces that glide on the water today, ships have a rich history, and have played an important part in the development of mankind.
The first known sea-going vessels date to the Neolithic Period, about 10,000 years ago, although they could not be strictly classified as ships. The first navigators used animal skins or woven fabrics as sails. Affixed to the top of a pole set upright in a boat, these sails gave early ships range. This allowed men to explore widely, resulting in the settlement of Oceania, for example (about 3,000 years ago).
The ancient Egyptians built wooden hulls for sailing on the Nile, lashing the planks together with woven straps and using reeds or grass to prevent water permeating. An early example of a great ship is the Solar Barge buried for King Cheops' passage into the afterlife, which is currently on display next to the Great Pyramid at Giza. The ship, 144 feet, is longer than many subsequent ships, including Viking long ships and great warships such as the Mary Rose.
Sea-going trade had become common by the Bronze Age, with the Egyptian, Minoan, and Eastern Mediterranean states all vying for mastery of the seas. The shipwreck known as Uluburun, dating to 1300 BC and discovered off the coast of Turkey in the 1980s, is testament to the rich goods being traded at that time. Her cargo included copper and tin ingots, Canaanite jars with pistacia resin, glass ingots, logs of blackwood, ivory, tortoise carapaces, ostrich eggshells, Cypriot pottery, and an ancient trumpet, amongst many other things.
In the early Iron Age, it was the Phoenicians who proved themselves to be masters of seafaring, exploring the Mediterranean and beyond, creating settlements from Tyre in the East to Cadiz on the Atlantic. By the time of the Romans, mastery of the sea as a means of establishing and controlling empire had become fully established.
History's greatest ships are those which have either been a new innovation that has altered seafaring, such as the Viking long ships or the Portuguese caravels, or the pinnacle of a development in ship building, such as the ships of the line and the clippers. Some are simply great ships which are famous for all the wrong reasons, such as the Titanic and the Mary Rose.
Although there are dozens that could be mentioned, this publication aims to explore a few that were the leaders of their time for speed, warfare, and exploration, and were instrumental in connecting new worlds.