Lloyd's List, Book Review, 05-04-2002
Greek shipping's longevity tends to be expressed in round numbers and
an ambitious new publication from Greece's T&T Publishing, 10,000 Years
of Greek Shipping, goes for glory by opting for the upper end of the
There is not a great deal of evidence for choosing the 8th millennium
BC as the dawn of mercantile marine activity in the Hellenic - or is
that pre-Helladic? - world.
Until the 1960s latter day sons of the sea like Onassis and Niarchos
were content to believe they hailed from a tradition just short of 5,000
However, the discovery in some Peloponnesian caves of obsidian, that
apparently was quarried 150 km away on the island of Milos, raised the
Its dating has provided a compelling argument for the idea that, thanks
to nameless proto-Greeks, seaborne trade has been around longer than
Either that or the obsidian was planted by Stanley Kubrick. Or UFOs
Happily, the lack of other such discoveries helps the authors of the
earliest chapters to avoid getting bogged down in masses of archeological
detail pertaining to pre-history. Before long the reader is being introduced
to theories that the accounts of sea journeys in epics and myths were
often poetically embroidered records of actual voyages.
Some of these led Greek navigators to the Black Sea and the mapping
of the British Isles. Other scholars have conjectured that Odysseus
reached Europe's Atlantic coast and it was the Argo expedition that
"discovered" the Americas.
Appropriately, this book is not the work of one author but of many hands.
This has a number of advantages, although it means there is little internal
consistency by which the book can be measured.
Furthermore, it is split into two volumes, both handsome softbacks,
that fit snugly into a protective presentation box.
As noted by publisher Sergios Trampas in his introduction, the publishers
have aimed for a "middle way", something that is not purely historical
research and yet not a typical coffee table album either.
Volume 1 is the slimmer of the two and to my mind the better. In 236
well-illustrated pages it provides most of the essential history of
Greek shipping from cavemen to the 20th century. It divides the subject
mainly by period, apportioning the sections to a total of five historians
who know their particular subjects well. Eleanna and George Vlachos
gallop readably through the early millennia, outlining Greek navigation
and trade in prehistoric times, Minoan sea power, Alexander the Great's
expedition to India and overviews of the classical, Roman and Byzantine
Thereafter, Gelina Harlaftis shoulders most of the burden in picking
up the tale in the centuries of Ottoman rule and taking it on through
the rise of Greek-owned shipping in 19th and 20th centuries.
She has also provided a very small piece indicating the important role
privately owned brigs played in the war of independence against the
Turks as well as a useful final essay on the state of the art in researching
Greek maritime history, which includes a comprehensive bibliography.
However, this is not all. Nicos Vlassopulos contributes two excellent
chapters on shipping activity originating from the Ionian islands between
1500 and 1900 and on Missolonghi as a prominent shipping town and port
in the 18th century.
In addition to this, Demetrios Polemis is allowed to wave the flag expertly
for his home island of Andros, which made a large contribution to the
growth of modern Greek shipping - although this makes one wonder why
particular chapters were not also dedicated to, say, Chios or Syros.
At almost 500 pages, Volume 2 is by far the bigger tome and it is to
this that anyone interested in more modern shipping must turn. It is
also a more uneven collection than the first part of the set, including
contributions from plenty of well-known figures involved in the industry
as well as some entries that are not credited at all.
As such, it includes a fair measure of propaganda and a number of oddities.
The material veers from op-ed type pieces on globalisation, shipowners'
liability and Piraeus' credentials as a maritime centre to histo- ries
of various institutions that range from 10 pages devoted to each of
the Union of Greek Shipowners and the Hellenic Seafarers' Federation
to a mere 13 lines given the ministry of merchant marine.
But this is history in the making rather than an attempt to put things
into coherent order, and if future readers conclude from this particular
imbalance that the industry has been primarily the result of individual
entrepreneurship and seagoing manpower rather than governance it will
not have been misled.
There are also stabs at mini-biographies - Onassis, Niarchos, John Latsis
and the Haji-Ioannou family, "issue-type" articles such as bulk carrier
finance, the development of maritime communications and a fair amount
on relations between Greek shipowners and the British insurance fraternity.
There are also items that are difficult to categorise, including a homage
to terrorist victim Costis Peraticos and a homily to the shipbuilding
prowess of Hellenic Shipyards. Volume 2 is as well-illustrated as Volume
No one truly interested in Greek shipping should be without, for example,
the photograph of prime minister Constantine Karamanlis sternly leading
former shipowners' leader Menis Karageorgis by the arm, or that of Andreas
Papandreou and John Latsis snapped in a moment of unlikely hilarity.
There are several delightful photos such as these - and, of course,
plenty of ships. Altogether, 10,000 Years of Greek Shipping is not unduly
expensive and it is difficult to think of anything comparable which
includes so much interesting material in a format so convenient.
Though uneven as a history, it is never remotely boring, as so many
big compendia are, and in this way it certainly reflects its subject.
It is especially recommended for anyone travelling to Greece for this
year's Posidonia exhibition who fears his or her knowledge of Greek
shipping is lacking. Even a couple of hours spent dipping into this
will help you "talk the talk".