From the time the Egyptians first took to ships about three thousand years before the birth of Christ until the age of exploration, commercial shipping was confined to the Mediterranean Sea. After an oceangoing ship was evolved, ocean transportation came into its own. If we disregard the isolated ocean voyages of the Phoenicians and the Vikings, ocean transportation is less than five centuries old.
After the astrolabe and compass appeared to help the mariner to find his way, and a seaworthy and manageable ship had evolved, there came an "era of shipping" that revolutionized not only the mental attitude but also the political, social, and economic life of all mankind. Today's fleets are the results of developments extending over thousands of years -years during which maritime strength has moved steadily westward.
THE SEA AND SHIPPING TO THE AGE OF COLUMBUS
The Egyptians, who started to trade their grain and papyrus for timber from the Lebanon about 3000 B.C., were the first people to use the open sea for commercial shipping. For two thousand years before Christ and probably longer, the Phoenicians roamed the shores of Europe, Asia, and Africa in search of the precious cargoes for their flourishing trade.
Greek maritime supremacy was based on her defeat of the Persians, the greatest power in the then-known world, and on her commerce. Three times, between 492 and 480 B.C., Persia invaded Greece in the world's first campaigns in which the control of the sea was vital. For more than a century, Greece enjoyed a period of commercial prosperity that has been compared to Great Britain's prior to World War I. At the docks of such trading cities as Piraeus, Greek ships from Pontus (the area south of the Black Sea), laden with grain and fish, moored alongside Egyptian grain ships and ships carrying mixed cargoes from the Greek trading settlement of Syracuse in Sicily. To ensure the success of his campaigns against the Persians, Alexander the Great (ruled 336-323 B.C.) liquidated a large Persian fleet, conscripted Phoenician sea power, changed the name of Naucratis ("Mistress of the Seas ") to Alexandria, and converted that port into a naval base for his operations.
Historians who have dealt with the Punic Wars ( 264-146 B.C.) have sometimes failed to stress the part that the sea played in ultimate victory. In 265 B.C., Carthage closed the Straits of Messina between toe of the Italian boot and Sicily to Roman trading ships. War ensued. Rome won the second Carthaginian War ( 218-201 B.C.) because she had secured and never lost control of the basin between Italy, Spain, and Africa. During the third war, she used her sea power to transport an army to Africa to sack and burn Carthage. As a result of these wars, a people of Western and not Eastern origin controlled the Mediterranean.
For Imperial Rome, navigare est ("sail we must") might very well be translated "sail or die." To encourage the trade imperative for the preservation of the empire, Rome kept the sea lanes free of pirates; built lighthouses and beacons at such places as Ostia, Boulogne, and Dover; improved ports; dredged the old Egyptian canal between the Nile and the Red Sea; and issued a book of sailing instructions. A martial, not a trading city, Rome was at one and the same time the world's greatest importer and smallest exporter. No Roman of the upper classes was permitted to engage in trade, and only noncitizens were admitted to the navy.