Age of Sail


Maritime history describes the events associated with the origins and development of shipping. Shipping has played an important part in the development of mankind. It made it possible to make overseas discoveries, trade, and spread ideas and skills. In addition, it has also been a means of waging war.

Four periods can be distinguished in western shipping:

The history of seafaring is a history of human heroism and martyrdom, and the torture chambers in which those who defied the Gods of Time and Space had to suffer their punishments, were called ships. Hendrik Willem van Loon, (1934)

Alternatives:First vesselsInitial vesselsFirst crafts

The first vessels were built thousands of years ago. Depending on the conditions, the form varied. Where wood species occurred that were hard enough to be hollowed out, log canoes were made, while skin boats and rafts were used in other areas. Several early vessels are:

Alternatives:Early historyAncient history

The oldest known depictions of ships have been found on rock paintings in a cave town of the high plateau Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria. The drawings date to approximately the 8th millennium BCE. Possibly this civilization was a precursor to the 1st Dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

A pottery ship model from Eridu dating to about 3400 B.C. shows a clear trace of a mast.

The Cretans and other peoples, such as the Carians, the mysterious Sea Peoples and the Phoenicians made long sea voyages early on.

The first galleys were probably in use from the 30th century BC. A well-known type is the penteconter, a galley with fifty oars.

The first recorded naval battle took place in 1210 BCE when Suppiluliuma II, king of the Hittites, defeated a fleet of Sea Peoples near Cyprus and burned their ships at sea.

Around 800 B.C., the ram stern was introduced, which drastically changed the way warfare was conducted at sea. Until then, people usually boarded, but now a fast, maneuverable ship could take another ship out of action by ramming into a side.

Around the 7th or 6th century BCE, an additional row of straps was placed on each board, resulting in the bireem. Soon after, another row was added, creating the trireem.

During the Sicilian Expedition from 415 B.C. to 413 B.C., the upper ranks proved vulnerable to catapults and bows, so newer ships were built to protect all rowers.

The catapult was already used extensively by Alexander the Great from ships during the siege of Tyre in 332 BC. The wars between his successors, the Diadochen, led to an arms race. The catapult made ramming as a weapon much less effective. Speed and maneuverability became less important and boarding became an important tactic again. Ships became bigger and bigger to be able to take more men on board for this purpose.


In about 4000 BC, sail was used in Egypt for propulsion. The Egyptian Pharaoh Snofroe (4th Dynasty) had ships built around 2600 B.C. that were 50 meters long. Of these, he sent 40 to the Lebanon to fetch cedar wood.

From the 25th century BCE, Egyptians sailed on Poent, where they obtained myrrh, gold, ivory and ebony. In the 15th century BCE, Hatshepsut restored international trade that had been lost in the battle against the Hyksos. She ordered a voyage to Poent. The expedition consisted of five boats, each seventy feet long, with number of sails, each ship had 210 men and in each boat were goods to exchange. The scenes can be seen in the Temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari.


The Minoan civilization of Crete sailed to Cornwall from as early as the 3rd millennium BCE to obtain tin, with which bronze was made. In the 25th century BCE, requirements for maximum load were already in place in Crete.


After Minoan Crete fell into decline, the Phoenicians became the leading seafarers and traders of the Mediterranean. Their network flourished between 900 and 550 B.C. From their port cities in the Levant, they founded colonies everywhere. They were initially small but permanently manned trading posts on distant coasts intended to facilitate trade with the local population. In time, these posts grew into real port cities, some of which were not inferior to Tyre and Sidon. Many cities around the Mediterranean can thus boast Phoenician roots. Gadir, for example, was founded outside the Pillars of Melqart by settlers from Tyre. The surviving founding date of 1104 BC is at least two centuries too early. On the other side, the Phoenicians had Lixus. From these ports they conducted a regular trade along the Atlantic coasts of Iberia and Morocco. They were after Iberian silver, but also tin and murex. In the late seventh and early sixth centuries, their regular trade extended as far as Mogador near Essaouira. This annual seasonal camp did not grow into a permanent settlement.

Herodotus recounted a journey by Phoenicians around Africa circa 600 B.C. A fleet is said to have sought an alternative from the Red Sea by order of Pharaoh Necho II to enter the Mediterranean. This impressive journey would have taken three years. They made an observation about the position of the sun, which Herodotus could not believe: “And they told, what I cannot believe, but another than perhaps, that in sailing round Libya they had had the sun on the right hand.” With current knowledge, this observation just makes the story more plausible, as it would show that the Phoenician fleet had been south of the equator, two thousand years before the Portuguese. Still, it is doubtful that such an expedition could have taken place, given its short duration, the lack of suitable ships, and the difficulty of maintaining them. In any case, the expedition did not lead to new trade routes in the Indian Ocean.

Another imaginative account of an African voyage of discovery is that of Hanno. This Carthaginian suffet sailed out in the 5th century BCE to establish colonies along the Atlantic coast of Africa. He probably got as far as Cameroon, although it is certainly not excluded that he made a full circumnavigation of Africa. This would then have been in the opposite direction of the earlier circumnavigation mentioned by Herodotus. According to Pliny the Elder, Hanno rounded the Cape of Good Hope to land in Arabia. This claim is also found in Arrianos of Nikomedia.

The main colony of the Phoenicians was Carthage in what is now Tunisia. After the conquest of Phoenicia by the Persians around 500 BCE, the maritime and commercial influence of Phoenicia diminished and the Phoenicians’ trade role in the Mediterranean was taken over by Carthage and the Greek city-states. Carthage was the great rival of the Greeks in southern Italy and in Sicily (Magna Graecia), with Syracuse as the main city here.

The Phoenicians introduced the trireme, which was adopted by the Greeks. Later, the Carthaginians built the quinquereem, which allowed them to achieve a higher speed. This established their dominance.


The Iliad already mentions 1186 ships with which the Greeks are said to have set out for Troy around the 13th century BC. From the 8th century BC, the Greeks colonized Dalmatia, southern Italy, Sicily, Massilia and eastern Spain.

In September 480 BC, one of the most important battles in history took place, the Battle of Salamis, in which the Greek fleet defeated a much larger Persian fleet. A short year later, the Persian fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Mycale. This left the Greeks in control of the Mediterranean for a short time, until internal squabbles forced them to cede their position to Rome and Carthage.

The Greek Pytheas of Massalia traveled to Thule around 325 BC.

Hiero II, the tyrant of Syracuse, had a huge ship built, some 90 meters long and with a deplacement of 6000 tons. The launching was done by Archimedes who pumped the dock full with his famous screw. Archimedes’ Law was the beginning of stability theory.

The Pharos of Alexandria was completed in 283 BC, making it the world’s first lighthouse. It is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In 127, Claudius Ptolemy published his Geographia, a world map that lacks America and allows the Indies to be reached by sailing west. This would remain the world view for over 1300 years. Ptolemy also described the principle of stereographic projection on which the operation of the astrolabe is based. This was an important navigational tool until it was replaced by the sextant in the 18th century.

The mechanism of Antikythera was used for navigation at sea by providing information on the position of the sun, the moon and the four planets known at the time. It was the most complex navigational tool for over 1200 years.


The Roman answer to the swift quinquereem was the corvus, a boarding bridge that they placed on their ships, which riveted the two ships together and allowed them to board, creating a battle – equivalent to that on land – in which the Romans had the advantage. During the Battle of Mylae in 260 BCE, this allowed them to achieve a decisive victory. The supremacy of early Rome over Carthage began with its victory over Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

The importance of shipping was enormous for the two million inhabitants of Rome. Half a million tons of grain had to be brought in every year for them.

The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (Periplus Maris Erythraei) shows how far Roman shipping extended. This periplus was written by a Romanized Alexandrian in the 1st century BCE and gives sailing directions to ports on the Erythrean Sea (the Red Sea, but also the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf), each time starting from the port of Berenice. In addition, the text also describes the coast of India up to the Ganges and the east coast of Africa (called Azania). China (Thinae) is mentioned as difficult to reach.

With increasing trade, piracy also increased. To this end, the Lex Gabinia was adopted, giving Pompey access to 500 ships in 67 BC and ridding the Mediterranean of pirates in one summer.

In 55 BC, Julius Caesar began his invasion of Britannia from Portus Itius (today Boulogne-sur-Mer), an area controlled by the Morini and Menapians. This invasion was not very successful, so he had ships built during the winter. The following year he sailed again to Britannia with a fleet of more than 800 ships. This time he was more successful, but had to return due to unrest in Gaul.

Through the Battle of Actium on September 2, 31 B.C., the Romans gained dominion over Egypt.

Julian the Apostate had 200 ships repaired and 400 new ones built at the mouths of the Rhine and Meuse in 358, thus restoring the classis Britannica, the grain-harvesters on Britannia.


The Chinese invented the compass around 2600 BC. In the 1st century, the stemmed rudder was developed in the Chinese empire. A 2000-year-old tomb model has been found already bearing such a rudder. The jonk, one of the most successful ship designs in history, was equipped with it.


The achievements of the Polynesians in navigation can hardly be overestimated. With relatively simple vessels – outriggers or double-hulled canoes – and no compass or sextant, they were able to travel and colonize large areas of the Pacific Ocean. At a time when European mariners kept the coast in sight, the Polynesians used astronavigation, as well as the direction of the trade winds, to find their way around the open sea.


By Tacitus the Viking ships were already mentioned in his Germania. Remarkable are the length compared to the small width and the lightness. The Norsemen already used a rudder blade on their drakkars, which were steered with a tiller.


The collapse of the Western Roman Empire caused a sharp decline in trade and thus shipping in Western Europe. The Byzantine Empire did manage to maintain itself in the eastern Mediterranean. The west was controlled by the Moors. In the 8th century, the Arabs introduced the longitudinal rigged Latin sail.


In order to calculate longitude, it is necessary to determine time. In the late Middle Ages, this became possible with the nocturlabium. This instrument only works at night, as it measures the angle between Polaris and a reference star. During the day, the time can be determined with a sundial in combination with a compass.

Alternatives:ExplorationsDiscoveriesDiscovery ToursExploratory Travel

Brandaan of Clonfert, an Irish saint, is said to have sailed to America around 530. However, Brandaan is surrounded by legend and there is no further evidence. Christopher Columbus even invoked the legend of St. Brandaan to bolster his claim that he had sailed to Asia via the west.


Taller and taller structures emerged on the bow and stern so that archers could better target enemy ships. Ships in Northern and Western Europe were built over-seam. The caravel construction method, in which the planks or sections are placed butted together at the sides, was known early on in China, in the ancient Egyptian empire and among the Phoenicians. In the Middle Ages it was common in the Mediterranean region and from there it spread north through southern Europe.

In the early Middle Ages it was known in the northern countries, but was only used in flat-bottomed ships, and then particularly only for the bottom or keel planking.

In the 12th century, European ships were also given a stemmed rudder.


The Vikings began their raids in 793 with the plundering of the monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England. This sudden expansionism was probably due to overpopulation. In addition, the Frisian fleet had been almost completely destroyed by Charlemagne around 785, so the flow of goods to Scandinavia suddenly stopped and they came to get it themselves.

The Vikings became the new power at sea. With their longships they completely dominated the seas for hundreds of years. Rollo obtained Normandy as a fief from Charles the Simple in 911, from where his descendant William the Conqueror conquered England with 3000 ships.

The Norwegian Vikings colonized Iceland and Greenland. Around the year 1000, even the east coast of present-day Canada was discovered by Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red.

The Vikings in southern Europe also managed to conquer Sicily, among other places.

The Swedish Vikings, mainly from Gotland, turned their attention to the Baltic areas, but especially to Russia, where they established important settlements (Novgorod and Kiev). These Varjagen used the Russian rivers as thoroughfares to rich Constantinople and the Middle East.

Alternatives:Repubbliche marinareRepubbliche marinaresRepubbliche navareMarine Repubbliche

The Repubbliche marinare included the city-states of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice as the four most important. In 603, Pisa declared its independence from the exarchate of Ravenna. They competed militarily and commercially with each other and controlled varying overseas territories. These Italian maritime republics made important contributions to the Crusades.

In the Middle Ages, the Republic of Venice already had laws that required ships not to be loaded beyond a mark affixed to the side of a ship. Ships from Venice had a cross, while those from the Republic of Genoa used three horizontal stripes.


The Crusades required a large transport fleet. The First Crusade took place between 1095 and 1099. Venice and Genoa each contributed 200 galleys and Pisa 120. Barcelona and Marseilles also contributed many ships. On July 15, 1099, Jerusalem was finally taken.

The Second Crusade in 1147 led to the siege of Lisbon by Flemish, Frisian, Norman, English, Scottish and some German crusaders. On October 24, the Moors were defeated and Lisbon, after being plundered, was handed over to King Alfons. This was also the only real success of this crusade. Because it was not possible for King Louis VII of France and King Cohn III of the Holy Roman Empire to travel by sea, they moved by land toward the Promised Land. Along the way, they were defeated by the Seljuks.

The Third Crusade took place between 1189 and 1192. In April 1190, Richard Lionheart gathered a fleet of 600 ships from England, Normandy, Britain, Anjou, Poitou and Aquitaine at Dartmouth in Devonshire. They conquered Akko in 1191. During the siege of the city, the Flemish count Philip I of Alsace died on June 1, 1191. Because of continued friction with Richard Lionheart, Philip August withdrew. Richard conquered part of the coastal region that would form the kingdom of Akko, but he could not conquer Jerusalem from Saladin. He did obtain from the latter free access for Christians to the holy places.

In the Fourth Crusade between 1202 and 1204, Venice equipped a fleet of 1,200 ships with 4,500 horses on board, 9,000 horsemen and horse hands, and 20,000 foot soldiers. That a single city was able to finance such an undertaking shows the wealth of The Queen of the Adriatic.


English naval power consisted of ships of the Cinque Ports from 1155 onwards. England defeated the until then supreme French fleet at the Battle of Sluis in 1340. English naval power was not challenged after this during the Hundred Years’ War. However, the number of merchantmen willing to cede ships for warfare declined. The subsequent Wars of the Roses added to this.


One of the most important figures in shipping of the late Middle Ages was the French merchant Jacques Cœur. From Montpellier, his shipyards supplied ships that were accepted by the Arabs. With others, he established trade between France and the Levant and almost single-handedly made Marseilles the most important port in the Mediterranean. His wealth was so great that it constituted over one-fifth of the income of the French king.

But Cœur’s huge monopoly caused his downfall. Trading in everything, he had absorbed the country’s trade, and merchants complained that they could no longer make a profit as a result. He had lent money to members of the royal family, the king himself and other high officials. His debtors were preying on his downfall which came with the poisoning of Agnès Sorel, which he was falsely accused of.


Despite the Vikings, trade on the Baltic Sea was not very important. In the 12th century, trade associations began to form. In 1356, the Hanseatic League was founded in Lübeck, the most important Hanseatic city. The kogge, a further development of the Viking ship, more specifically the knarr, was the workhorse of the Hanseatic League. The influence of the Hanseatic League grew as that of the Vikings diminished. In 1349, Norway turned over the sea trade to the Hanseatic League. With the Treaty of Stralsund of May 24, 1370, the Hanseatic League obtained free trade in the entire Baltic Sea from Denmark and gained a monopoly on fish exports. With the rise of the Dutch, the Hanseatic cities lost their dominant position, although they retained an important share in the transport of luxury goods.

Alternatives:Low CountriesLowlands

In the early Middle Ages, Dorestad was an important transit port in Magna Frisia. However, silting and looting by the Vikings caused this city to decay.

Bruges became the most important port and trading center of Northern Europe in the late Middle Ages. Incidentally, Flanders had little shipping of its own. Most ships in Bruges and the outports of Damme and Sluis sailed under foreign flags. The Hanseatic League established a Hanseatic Office in Bruges – see Hanseatic Office of Bruges. Due to silting of the Zwin, Bruges lost its position to Antwerp at the end of the 15th century.

Despite the Anglo-Croatian disputes, there was also a certain prosperity in the northern provinces during that period. How strong Holland and Zeeland were at that time was shown in 1438 when Philip the Good gave his consent for the retaliation of the cruel treatment by 6 Wendish Hanseatic cities. In 1441 Admiral Henry II of Borselen, Monsieur De La Vère, sailed up the Elbe and the Weser and dragged away a number of Hanseatic barges from Hamburg and Bremen. This was followed by the Peace of Copenhagen, in which Holland and Zeeland were again granted free passage through the Sound.


The Portuguese were traditionally focused on the sea, especially shipping to England. Around 1300, King Dinis had thousands of pine trees planted for shipbuilding. He had docks dug and attracted shipbuilders from Genoa. He established the Portuguese navy under the leadership of an admiral from Genoa. Seafaring and shipbuilding became aristocratic professions, and astronomy and navigation were taught at the pageschool.

Henry the Navigator was the great initiator of the era of great discoveries at the instigation of his mother, Philippa of Lancaster. In 1415, Henry and his brothers distinguished themselves by the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta, a Muslim city in the north of present-day Morocco. The city had become wealthy because it was the terminus of trade caravans from West Africa. After the conquest by the Christians, however, this source dried up. Henry believed that the Portuguese themselves should sail to the sources of the products being traded in Ceuta in order to take control of the trade. Another important incentive for him was the idea of a crusade against the Muslims. By going south beyond the Muslim areas, the Christians could take the Muslims in their stride. And perhaps he would also succeed in making an alliance with Pape John, a powerful Christian priest-king, who was believed to rule somewhere in the interior of Africa.

Henry became president of the wealthy Order of Christ and established a nautical center, Vila do Infante, in Sagres, near Cape St. Vincent. Here he gathered experts in navigation and cartography, building on Portugal’s rise as a seafaring nation. The caravel, highly seaworthy, was the most widely used ship.

João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira rediscovered Porto Santo in 1418, leading to Portuguese colonization of this island and Madeira. The Azores were also discovered and colonized, sometime in the 1930s, by members of Henry’s expeditions.

Eannes and Afonso Gonçalves Baldaia reached some 200 km beyond Cape Bojador in 1435, in 1436 Baldaya reached Rio de Oro, coming to 20°46′ N. lat. In 1445, Dinis Dias reached de Sénégal and Cape Verde. In 1446, Tristão reached the Geba. The Cape Verde Islands were discovered around 1455. At the time of Henry’s death in 1460, as far as is known, the farthest point reached was Cape Palmas by Diogo Gomes in 1458.

In 1470, the equator was reached. Diogo Cão discovered the mouth of the Congo in 1483 and sailed on to about 13° S. Later he would get as far as Cape Cross, nearly 22° S. Bartolomeus Diaz visited the mouth of the Congo River, and sailed further south to Namibia. He continued to follow the coast of South Africa to the Great Fish River. On his way back in 1488, he saw the Cape of Good Hope. In 1497, Vasco da Gama completed the journey around Africa with the first sea voyage from Europe to India.

For example, the Portuguese learned to use the winds and sea currents by sailing from West Africa first to the west, then to the north and back from there, called volta do mar.


In 1274 and 1281 Japan was attacked by the Mongols led by Kublai Khan, but both times a severe typhoon came to the rescue of the Japanese.

The Khan wanted to go to war as early as 1268, but the Mongol Empire around that time proved unable to maintain a large enough army or navy. He sent an army to Korea in 1273, as an advance post, but this was unable to sustain itself from the Korean land and had to return to China for supplies.

Finally, in 1274, the Mongol fleet sailed out with some 15,000 Mongol and Chinese soldiers and 8,000 Korean warriors, in 300 large ships and 400 to 500 smaller ships. They conquered the islands of Tsushima and Iki and landed on November 19 in Hakata Bay, near Dazaifu, the ancient capital of Kyushu. The following day, the Battle of Bun’ei took place. The Mongols had superior weapons and tactics with which the samurai were unfamiliar. Because of this and the inability of the Japanese to lead such a large force (all of Kyushu was mobilized), the Mongols initially made great progress. Due to heavy losses, lack of provisions, and rebellion among the Korean and Chinese auxiliaries that made up the bulk of the army, the invasion came to a rapid end; according to some sources, a storm that destroyed much of the Mongol fleet was the final blow.

In 1275, the Bakufu began to prepare for the expected second invasion. In addition to improved organization of the samurai of Kyushu, they had forts and other defenses built at potential landing sites, including Hakata.

In the spring of 1281, the Chinese fleet of the Mongols was delayed by difficulties in provisioning and manning the large fleet. The Korean fleet sailed out, but suffered heavy losses at Tsushima and turned back. In the summer, the Korean-Chinese fleet captured Iki-shima and landed at various points on Kyushu. In a number of different skirmishes, known collectively as the Battle of Koan, the Mongols were driven back to their ships. The Japanese army was once again heavily outnumbered, but because of the defenses along the coast, they were able to beat back the attacks. The kamikaze (divine wind), a huge typhoon, persisted for two days off the coast of Kyushu and destroyed much of the Mongol fleet. However, examination of the remains of the 1281 fleet, found in 1981, shows that the ships were carelessly and hastily built and that poor wood had been used, sometimes even second-hand wood. Moreover, the ships were made in “taken” China. Due to the unfeasible number of ships that had to be made in a very short time, they used many river ships without a deep seaboard, making them very vulnerable in storms.

The invasions had weakened the Kamakura shogunate and the Goryeo dynasty, increasing attacks by Wokou pirates from the Riukiu Islands on the Chinese coast.


On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America. It is considered the end of the Middle Ages. The century and a half after Columbus was of immense importance in the fields of navigation, geography and economics. During the Renaissance, much knowledge of antiquity became known again in Europe, including mathematics. Through Simon Stevin, Archimedes’ Law was rediscovered.


The Jacob’s Rod, an astronomical measuring instrument, was invented by Gersonides or Purbachius. Metius made his own version of the Jacob’s staff and Gemma Frisius made an improved version. Around 1730, John Hadley and Thomas Godfrey invented the sextant almost simultaneously. This quickly replaced the Jacob’s staff and the astrolabe because of its greater accuracy. Nevertheless, the accuracy of positioning left much to be desired, as the longitude was not easy to determine. Many ships were lost as a result. In 1714 the British government therefore established the longitude prize for those who could determine the longitude with sufficient accuracy. The solution had already been proposed by Frisius; determining the exact time. The problem of accurate timekeeping at sea was solved by John Harrison, who after many difficult years built a chronometer that met the specifications.

Alternatives:ExplorationsDiscoveriesDiscovery ToursExploratory Travel

America had been discovered by the Normans before, but Columbus’ voyage demonstrated what people in classical antiquity already knew; that the earth is a sphere. It was the beginning of a period in which European ships circled the globe in search of new trade routes. Of great importance to this was the development of first the caravel and later the kraak, the first ships seaworthy enough for the long and arduous journey across the Atlantic.

With the formation of the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, world trade grew at a tremendous rate. This required larger and faster ships. In order to sail faster, the Rigging had to become higher, ushering in the period of Great Sailing.


Until that time, ships were rowed or had a single yard sail. With the invention of the ship’s rigging, the rigging was given more spread, allowing the rigging to be higher.

By Columbus, a small marsail was already used above the mainsail. For ocean voyages, square rigging was used. Longshore rigging was not considered suitable for large voyages. In the 16th century the mast was extended by the stem. Around 1570 this was made ironable so that the wind had less hold on the ship in a storm. Then, on the bramststaff, the bramsail was placed. Around 1600 the ships got three masts; the foremast, the main mast and the crossmast or mizzen mast, the so-called full ship.

Ships during this period lost the castle-like structures on the barge – necessary to be able to board other ships – due to the introduction of the cannon on ships, which reduced the need for boarding. This is clearly seen with the galleon, a further development of the squat.

Alternatives:Slave TradeSlave TraffickingSlavery

A black page in this period is the transatlantic slave trade. This began in the late 15th century and lasted until the 19th century. At least 10 million slaves were transported to the Americas by the British, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch (mainly by the WIC), French and Danes. The number of Africans affected by the slave trade was much higher, as the deplorable conditions before and during the journey caused many to die before arriving in America. Numbers vary between 40 and 100 million, which includes the Arab slave trade.


Portugal colonized Brazil and parts of Africa, along the route to Asia. They established trading posts in India, Malacca and the Moluccas, among other places. Cartography improved greatly among the Portuguese. Pedro Reinel made the first Portuguese sea chart. This showed Western Europe and part of Africa. The knowledge of the routes to Asia was kept secret. Nevertheless, the Cantino planisphere depicting Brazil ended up in Italy. This map was of great influence on Martin Waldseemüller’s world map, the Universalis Cosmographia, in which he named the New World America after Amerigo Vespucci.


The Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães departed in Spanish service from Sanlucar de Barrameda on September 20, 1519 in search of a western route to the Moluccas, since the Portuguese controlled the eastern route. This was to be the first expedition to sail around the entire earth.

The conquistadors conquered large parts of the Americas, such as Mexico by Hernán Cortés (1519-1524) and Peru by Francisco Pizarro (1531-1534). Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first to reach the Pacific Ocean from the west in 1513 when he crossed the isthmus of Panama.

Ottoman Empire

With the rise of the Ottoman Empire from the 12th century, their influence in the Mediterranean also increased. The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 was an important turning point in this process. The following century would see the Empire expand its influence in Arabia and southeastern Europe. The conquests of Sultan Selim I gained access to the Red Sea. Under Süleyman I, Baghdad was conquered in 1534, gaining access to the Persian Gulf.

Through Admiral Khair ad Din (proper name Khidr) – initially together with his brother Aruj a Barbary pirate – Ottoman power was established in the Mediterranean. In 1516, Aruj succeeded in making himself master of Algiers and Tlemcen. In 1518, however, he was killed in an attempt to recapture Tlemcen from the Spanish. Khidr, who until then had functioned as his brother’s sub-commander, took over his position as commander-in-chief and also adopted the name Khair ad Din. His brother’s nickname Barbarossa was later transferred to him as well. Fearing that he would lose his possessions to the Spanish, he sent an envoy to the Ottoman Sultan, Süleyman I, and recognized him as his lord. In return, the sultan granted him the title beylerbey and he received military reinforcements. Algiers was now built into a major stronghold of piracy in the Mediterranean.

In 1533, Barbarossa was summoned to Constantinople by Sultan Süleyman I, who was alarmed by the activities of Genoese admiral Andrea Doria in the eastern Mediterranean. Barbarossa was appointed grand admiral (kapudan paşa) and charged with building a war fleet. In the summer of 1534, Barbarossa set sail for Tunis with this fleet. On the approach of the Turkish fleet, the sultan of Tunis, Muley Hassan, fled and Tunis was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

With the possession of Tunis, the Turks now occupied a strategic position on the divide between the western and eastern halves of the Mediterranean. In response to this threat, Emperor Charles V organized a large-scale expedition with the aim of taking Tunis. The fleet was commanded by Andrea Doria. The expedition succeeded in its plan and much of Barbarossa’s fleet fell into the hands of the attackers. However, Barbarossa himself managed to escape and with another part of his fleet, which he had stationed at Bône as a precaution, he then made an attack on the Balearic Islands, plundering, among other things, Mahón, the capital of Minorca. Charles V’s conquest of Tunis thus missed its mark, for Barbarossa’s power at sea remained unaffected.

In 1537, Barbarossa set sail from Constantinople with a new fleet, this time with the aim of attacking Italy. The plan provided for a simultaneous attack by an Ottoman force from Albania and a French attack from Marseilles. The attack succeeded only partially, as the French failed to keep their promises and the land forces failed to show up. Barbarossa then shifted his operations to the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea. He failed to take Corfu, but large-scale attacks and looting forced the islands to agree to heavy annual assessments.

It was now clear that Ottoman power at sea was beginning to pose a serious threat. This realization led to an alliance between Charles V, the Pope and the Republic of Venice. In 1538, a large fleet of about 200 ships and 60,000 men under Andrea Doria gathered at Corfu. The subsequent battle of Preveza became a victory for Barbarossa. For Barbarossa, the way was now clear for a breakthrough to the west. In 1540 he launched an attack on Gibraltar from Algiers. A counterattack by Charles V on Algiers in 1541 was a failure. In 1543 Nice was conquered in cooperation with the French. The French obtained a special trading relationship with the Ottoman Empire.

During this period, the Ottoman Empire conspired with France, England and Holland against Habsburg Spain, Italy and Habsburg Austria.

The battle of Djerba in 1560 strengthened Ottoman power in the Mediterranean. It was not until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, one of the greatest naval battles in history, that the increasing dominance of the Ottoman Empire was halted.

By uniting all the countries in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turks gained a monopoly on trade between Europe and Asia. The Venetian traders who had previously traded with India and China via the Levant were therefore forced to pay high prices for commodities such as pepper. Spices literally became prohibitively expensive. This led to the search for alternative routes by sea to the Indian spice regions and other great voyages of discovery through which America was discovered. Trade shifted from Venice and Genoa first to Lisbon and later to Amsterdam and London. The Ottoman Empire thus fell outside the trade routes, although it still conquered the Venetian colonies of Cyprus (1571) and Crete (1669). The colonization of other parts of the world eventually led to the end of the Ottomans’ power in Europe.

The Barbary pirates remained a scourge until they were effectively put to an end in 1816. The British Royal Navy, assisted by six Dutch ships, then destroyed the port of Algiers and its fleet of pirate ships. Shortly thereafter, the area was occupied by France. Dozens of these pirates were originally Dutch. Three examples are: Suleyman Reis, De Veenboer, who became admiral of the Algerian privateer fleet in 1617, and his right-hand man Murad Reis, born Jan Janszoon van Haarlem. Both worked for the notorious pirate Simon de Danser, who owned a palace. Claes Compaen was also a pirate who came to Morocco. During the Eighty Years’ War, Barbary pirates sometimes served as allies of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands against Spain and Portugal, both kingdoms under Habsburg rule.

Republic of the United Seven Netherlands

Due to the Anglo-Croatian disputes, many Dutch cities had lost almost all their ships by the end of the 15th century. Emperor Charles V ensured stabilization in the Netherlands from the 1540s, so that trade and shipping were soon at their former level. Antwerp flourished and became the largest warehousing center in Europe until it languished after the capture by the Spaniards in 1585 due to the maritime blockade by the Dutch Republic. Partly because of this, many Flemish and Brabant merchants and scholars moved to the northern provinces with their capital, their trade relations and their knowledge.

In 1507 Johannes Ruysch published a map of the entire world, Universailor Cogniti Orbis Tabula Ex Recentibus Confecta Observationibus. This map was frequently copied and therefore had more influence than the Contarini-Rosselli map and Martin Waldseemüller’s world map. With Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigatium Emendate, Mercator’s world map of 1569, the mercator projection became known, of great importance for navigation, since a line of constant compass heading on the map is a straight line.

In the first years of the Eighty Years’ War, the water-beggars were of great importance. The capture of Den Briel in 1572 was the actual beginning of the revolt against Philip II. Another important feat was the victory in the Battle of the Zuiderzee in 1573.

In addition to the grain trade, the timber trade on the Baltic Sea was of great importance to the Republic. The oak wood from that area was of great importance for shipbuilding. Also of great importance was the herring trade, the Great Fishery.

Cornelis Corneliszoon was granted a patent for the sawmill on December 15, 1593, for the crankshaft on December 6, 1597. Corneliszoon’s invention was later improved to an integrated construction, the so-called paltrok wood sawmill. This type of sawmill was of great importance in building the ships of both the VOC and the WIC. The invention contributed significantly to the economic boom of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces in the 17th century. The Zaanstreek became the largest shipbuilding center in the world.

The first flute ship is said to have been built in Hoorn in 1595. It was characterized by a recessed upper deck, which gave the ship its pear shape. There was an important economic reason for this shape: the height of the Sonttol depended on the width of the deck. Hence the narrow deck above the wide hold, allowing maximum cargo to be carried at minimum toll. This way of calculating tolls remained in use until 1669. Ships built thereafter received a wider deck.

The flute was particularly suited to trade shipping in Europe due to the limited number of crew required to sail it (about 12) and its shallow draught. The ship therefore became one of the most important ship types for Dutch international shipping. Flutes remained small, up to about 400 tons.

Other vessels included the mirror return ship, from 500 to 1000 tons, pinas, frigates, pinks, yachts, cornerers, galleons, stern boats, cat ships, packet boats and brigantines.

With the publication of Reys-Gheschrift van de navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten by Jan Huygen van Linschoten in 1595, it became possible to break the monopoly of Portuguese trade in the East. The Compagnie van Verre equipped an expedition of heavily armed ships under the command of Cornelis de Houtman. When these returned safely, a large number of expeditions were soon sent from Holland to the East Indies. In the space of 7 years, 12 different companies were founded. In order to put an end to this competition, in 1602 the States General, on the initiative of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, merged these companies into a single one, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie. It is the beginning of the Dutch voyages of discovery.

The Portuguese-Dutch War of 1588 to 1654 was waged at the initiative of the Dutch. It was a subversion of the Portuguese Empire and the result was the building of the Dutch colonies. In addition, since the Battle of Alcântara in 1580, Portugal had been annexed to Spain, with which the Netherlands was at war.

In 1596, Willem Barentsz set off on his third, most famous voyage in an attempt to find the Northeast Passage. However, in 1619, Tsar Alexis of Russia closed the Mangazeja sea route, fearing Dutch and English influence in Siberia.

A notable fact, given the prominent position of the Netherlands in trade and shipping within Europe, was the great absence of this nation in the Atlantic area. Only at the end of the 16th century did the Netherlands begin to participate in this trade. One reason for this was the restrictions imposed by Philip II on the trade of the Low Countries within Europe. Another reason was that trade within Europe had reached its saturation point and one had to look further to expand. In addition, an important impulse at that time was the immigration of many merchants, scholars and craftsmen from Antwerp, which had been conquered and plundered by Philip II in 1585. This provided a large increase in knowledge and capital needed for expeditions to distant places in the Atlantic region. One of the scholars who settled in Amsterdam at this time was Petrus Plancius, a Flemish clergyman who was also engaged in making maps, globes and nautical instruments.

Amsterdam took over the position of Antwerp. In 1609, the Amsterdamsche Wisselbank was founded, making Amsterdam the financial center of the world until the Industrial Revolution.

In 1609 Henry Hudson landed on the coast of what would later be known as New Netherland, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, in his search for the Northwest Passage to Asia. Because the VOC had a monopoly on trade with the East, it was not until 1621 that trade with the West got underway with the establishment of the West India Company (WIC). Trade with the West was also slowed by the Twelve Year Truce with Spain, which would last from 1609 to 1621. Spain offered peace on the condition that the Republic would withdraw from Asia. However, Raadpensionaris Johan van Oldenbarnevelt offered to suspend trade with the West in exchange for a truce. After the expiration of that truce, nothing stood in the way of the creation of the WIC.

Piet Hein, in the service of the WIC, captured a Spanish silver fleet during the battle of Matanzas Bay in 1628. This booty contributed significantly to the war effort of the Dutch Republic.

Since the beginning of the Eighty Years’ War, the Dunkirk privateers were a real scourge on Dutch shipping, which would continue intermittently until about 1697.

The Battle of Duins in 1639 – in which Lieutenant Admiral Maarten Tromp and Vice Admiral Witte de With defeated a Spanish war fleet of 55 ships, the Second Spanish Armada – ended Spanish dominance at sea.

After the Peace of Munster in 1648, the Dutch took over England’s traditional trade with Spain and Portugal, which provoked tremendous resentment in England. The Netherlands had a gigantic merchant fleet (with more ships than all other countries in Europe combined) and at the time held a dominant position in European trade in general, and the Baltic trade in particular. They had further annexed most of the Portuguese territories in the East Indies, including the associated monopoly on the highly profitable spice trade, and were gaining increasing influence over the sea trade between England and its North American colonies.

With the Navigation Acts of 1651, ships under the Dutch flag were denied entry into English ports if they carried goods not from the Netherlands. Since this was the bulk of Dutch shipping to England, it greatly undermined the trading position of the Netherlands. This led to the Anglo-Dutch Wars, including the memorable Tocht to Chatham in 1667. The battle of Livorno in 1653 under commander Jan van Galen gave the Dutch the upper hand in the Mediterranean, the English trade with the Levant was at their mercy. During these wars, Admiral Michiel de Ruyter distinguished himself in such a way that he became the greatest Dutch naval hero.

On 6 April 1652, on behalf of the VOC, Jan van Riebeeck founded a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope. Here VOC ships en route to the Dutch East Indies could stock up on fresh water, vegetables and fruit. This would grow into Cape Town and the later Cape Colony, although the VOC had forbidden the colonization of any areas.

The VOC had a special relationship with Japan: from 1641 to 1853, the Dutch were the only Europeans allowed to trade in Japan. For this they used as their home base the artificial island of Dejima in the port of Nagasaki.

By 1670, the Republic had about 15,000 ships. That was five times more than the English fleet.

Trade with the East created a lopsided trade balance. Since there was little interest in European products in Asia, trade often had to be paid for with gold and silver. The precious opium proved to be a good alternative. From the middle of the 17th century Batavia became the center of the VOC’s opium trade. The bulk of the opium imported from Bengal was sold there to speculators and small traders, many of them Chinese, who continued to trade in the opium and transport it to the islands of the archipelago and to China. When in 1676 the VOC obtained a monopoly on the opium trade from the sultan of Mataram (Java), the trade took on considerable proportions. In 1745 the Society for the Trading of Amphoras was founded.

Although the merchant fleet remained of great size, after this the decline of Dutch naval power began. Upon defeat in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780 – 1784) Britain obtained the right to free trade with the Dutch East Indies. The Batavian Revolution of 1795 is considered the end of the Netherlands as a superpower. The bankruptcy of the VOC in 1798 was characteristic.

The deathblow for Dutch merchant shipping and for Amsterdam was Napoleon’s introduction of the continental system in 1806 as an embargo against Britain. Already in 1795 he had closed the Amsterdam harbor, after which residents left and the city decayed.


Henry VII revived trade and shipping in England. He granted a Royal Charter to Giovanni Caboto of Venice. In 1497 he set sail from Bristol in search of a western route to the Indies. In the process, he discovered Newfoundland.

Henry VIII continued his father’s maritime policy. He issued a Royal Charter to a religious order from Deptford for piloting the Thames. This present-day Trinity House eventually became responsible for the lighthouses, buoys, beacons and lightships for the purpose of safe navigation. Henry VIII also broke with the Roman Catholic Church, which caused resentment in Catholic Spain.

Francis Drake was an English pirate, privateer, explorer, naval hero, politician and the first Englishman to sail around the world, in the years 1577 to 1580.

Spanish hostility toward England culminated in 1588 when Philip II sought to punish the Protestant English Queen Elizabeth I for her secret support of the insurgents in the Netherlands and for her anti-Catholic stance. In addition, Spanish ships suffered greatly from Dutch and French pirates who captured ships on behalf of England.

Philip II assembled a huge Armada of 137 ships, manned by 30,000 men, 20,000 of whom were soldiers. On July 29, off the French town of Grevelingen (Gravelines), a naval battle took place between the armada and an Anglo-Dutch fleet of 226 ships. Although this battle was not decisive – because of turning winds, which prevented the armada from reaching the coast of Flanders where the Duke of Parma was waiting with fresh troops – Medina Sidonia decided to return to Spain by sailing around Scotland and Ireland. In the process, many ships crashed into the Irish cliffs due to unfamiliarity with local currents and winds. Eventually 67 of the 137 ships reached Spain, many of them heavily damaged.

This English support for the Eighty Years’ War prevented Philip II from focusing on the rebellious Netherlands. For England, the outcome was less favorable. The Spanish-English War did not end until the Treaty of London in 1604. This war was a victory for Spain and put the English colonization of North America at a considerable disadvantage.It would take until the Naval Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 for the English to gain hegemony over the sea.

The English in particular sent out several expeditions in the late 16th and early 17th centuries to find the Northwest Passage to find a shorter route to the Far East. Martin Frobisher, John Davis, Henry Hudson, Robert Bylot and William Baffin. Although the Northwest Passage was not found, Hudson Bay was discovered in the process. False stories that the Northwest Passage would have been navigated led to the name Strait of Anián.

James Cook searched for the Northwest Passage from the Pacific Ocean, but it was after the Napoleonic Wars that the British Navy became heavily involved in the search for the passage. John Ross and William Parry explored the area in several expeditions between 1818 and 1833.

In 1600, the later British East India Company obtained a Royal Charter from Elizabeth I. At first it could exert little influence over trade in the East, but eventually it obtained a monopoly on trade with India.

After being defeated in the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars, the Royal Navy slowly grew into the strongest naval force in the world. The Glorious Revolution marked the beginning of England and then Britain as a superpower. The State fleet was placed under the command of English admirals by William III in 1692. In 1707, the parliaments of England and Scotland were united in as the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1800, after union with the Kingdom of Ireland, the United Kingdom was formed.

English supremacy of the sea was sealed with the Naval Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 in which a French-Spanish squadron was destroyed by Horatio Nelson. It would be a hundred years, until the rise of the Kaiserliche Marine, before the rule of the Royal Navy was again challenged.


In 1500, shipbuilder Descharge of Brest placed gun ports in the side of a ship for the first time.

Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier were early explorers for France in the early 16th century. Due to Spanish opposition and the French religious wars in the second half of the 16th century, this did not lead to true colonization. In 1604 a settlement was founded on the island of Ile Sainte Croix, the beginning of the colony of Acadia, part of New France. In 1627, Cardinal de Richelieu and Samuel de Champlain established the compagnie des Cent-Associés to administer New France.

Under Louis XIII, Richelieu established the first state navy. In 1626 five warships were built in Dutch shipyards. The La Couronne was the first ship that the French built in their own country. That the French did not yet have much shipbuilding experience is shown by the long time between keel laying and launching. It was one of the most advanced ships of the time. During La Fronde this navy was largely destroyed.

Under the Sun King it was rebuilt by his finance minister Colbert who wanted to compete at all costs with the Republic of the United Netherlands, the richest state in Europe. Under Louis XV this was not continued, ending in the disastrous Seven Years’ War and French and Indian War, in which France lost its colonies of New France and Florida to Britain. Choiseul initiated a rebuilding of the navy, allowing Admiral de Grasse to win the decisive Battle of Chesapeake in 1781 against the British during the American War of Independence. During the French Revolution, many senior officers were executed, so later under Napoleon the French Navy could not compete with the Royal Navy.

In 1664, the French East India Company was founded as a counterpart to the Dutch and British East India Companies.

Not much was known about stability, but in 1746 the French mathematician Pierre Bouguer publishes Traité du Navire. In it, he introduces the metacentre (M), the point at which a ship swings around and through which the upward force passes. He is also the first to talk about the inclination test.


Victory in the Ingrisian War against Russia in 1611 marked the beginning of Sweden’s rise as a superpower. King Gustaaf II Adolf Vasa of Sweden ordered the construction of four warships in 1625, including the three-masted Vasa, under the direction of Dutch shipbuilder Hendrik Hybertsson. However, it capsized and sank in 1628 during its trial run due to a lack of stability.

Sweden’s efforts to gain control of the important trade in the Baltic Sea led to the siege of Copenhagen in 1658. The Dutch came to the aid of the Danes in the Battle of the Sound, part of the Swedish-Dutch War. The Peace of Copenhagen gave the Netherlands free access to the Baltic Sea.

Meanwhile, knowledge of stability had increased and Fredrik Henrik af Chapman, shipbuilder for the Swedish Navy at the end of the 18th century, was the first to put this new knowledge into practice. His designs were considered the best of the time. In 1768 his book Architectura Navalis Mercatoria was published, which already talked about model tests in a basin and which already contained line plans.

The Swedish East India Company was founded in Gothenburg in the year 1731 with the aim of trading with the far east. The company was inspired by the successful Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie and the British East India Company. The Company became Sweden’s largest trading company during the 18th century until it went bankrupt in 1813.


Semyon Dezhnyov, along with Fyodor Popov, led an expedition through the Arctic Ocean via the northeasternmost point of the Eurasian continent, the Chukchi Peninsula, to the Bering Strait in 1648, becoming the first westerner to discover that Asia is not connected to the Americas.

Russia fought since the 17th century to gain access to the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea a the Sea of Azov By the end of this century, the Russians had gained valuable experience in using riverboats in conjunction with land forces. Under Tsar Michael Fyodorovich, construction of the first three-master began. This was the first to be built in Russia and was completed in 1636. It was built in Balakhna by Danish shipbuilders from Holstein according to European design and was christened the Frederick. The bojaar Afanasy Ordin-Nashchokin had Dutch shipbuilders come to Dedinovo. Here between 1667 and 1669 four ships were built; the 22-cannon galley Орёл (Eagle) and three smaller ships.

Peter the Great led a large-scale modernization of Russia. During the second Azov campaign of 1696 against Turkey, the Azov flotilla was used. This demonstrated the importance of naval forces and in 1696 the Imperial Russian Navy was established. To gain support in his fight against the Ottoman Empire and to increase knowledge of shipbuilding, he traveled to Holland and England during the Great Embassy in 1697.

During the Great Northern War against Sweden from 1700 to 1721, the Baltic Fleet was formed. The Peace of Nystad in 1721 marked the end of the Great Northern War and confirmed the superpower status of the Russian Empire.

Catherine the Great’s Russo-Turkish wars resulted in the creation of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1770, Grigori Spiridov’s squadron gained dominance in the Aegean by destroying the Turkish fleet in the battle of Çeşme.

During the 1799 expedition, Fyodor Ushakov expelled the French from the Republic of Seven Islands, Corfu and all the Ionian Islands. Dmitry Senyavin restored Russian authority in the southern Adriatic, besieged Dubrovnik, and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at Battle of Athos (1807).

Adam Johann von Krusenstern was the first Russian to sail around the world between 1803 and 1806. Bellingshausen, who sailed with von Krusenstern on his round-the-world voyage, discovered Terra Australis, Antarctica, in 1820.

Zheng He would visit about thirty different countries with which he established diplomatic relations. In the contacts with these foreign civilizations, the exchange of precious gifts and scientific knowledge played a major role. Thus, after their journey, the fleets invariably returned with new goods. These expeditions would also benefit the economy. Following in the footsteps of Zheng He’s great junks, a great many Chinese merchants would travel to these destinations to trade, taking advantage of the overwhelming impression made by the Chinese fleet and their gifts.

In 1421, on the Emperor’s orders, a fleet led by Zheng He left again, this time with the goal of mapping the world. The fleet split into four squadrons, each carrying out part of the task.

Emperor Yongle died in 1424 and his son, Emperor Hongxi, put an end to Zheng He’s expeditions. Emperor Hongxi in turn died in 1425 and his son, Emperor Xuande, had the same maritime interest as his grandfather. Zheng He made a final expedition in 1431 with 100 ships and 27,500 men.

Influenced by persistent natural disasters, these very costly expeditions came to an end under Emperor Zhengtong.

The Hai jin was instituted, a ban on seagoing ships, which was probably a measure against piracy. Improvement of the Grand Canal made seafaring less necessary and China isolated itself, apart from trade with surrounding countries such as the Indonesian Archipelago, although this policy varied from emperor to emperor.

Alternatives:Clipper PeriodKlipper period

With the advent of the steamships, paradoxically, a heyday for the sailing ship coincided with the advent of the clipper. This ship type had evolved from the schooner in colonial America for the slave trade and precious, relatively light cargo. Around the time of the American War of Independence when fast sailing was a necessity for survival in the privateering industry, the clipper was widely used. The Baltimore clipper became a household name. They were sharp, relatively narrow ships that could sail sharply to the wind because of their large draft. Instead of the usual three yard sails one above the other, these ships had five or even six. Then, between 1840 and 1850, China clippers or tea clippers were built in Boston and New York, of which the Flying Cloud is a famous example. Because of the California gold rush, San Francisco was growing rapidly. For this purpose the much larger California clippers were built in Boston. Also in England many tea clippers were built, of which the Cutty Sark is the best known. Between 1850 and 1890 the Netherlands had about 150 clippers, which sailed mainly to Java, but also to the west coast of America and Australia.

The end of the clipper came gradually with the introduction of steamships. Although clippers were generally faster than their new competitors, they remained dependent on the wind. Steamships had the great advantage that their schedules were much more reliable. The final blow came with the opening of the Suez Canal which allowed steamships to sail a much shorter route. However, the canal was difficult for sailing ships to navigate because it is so narrow. The narrow clippers with their little cargo space disappeared.

In an effort to keep the sailing industry alive, fuller ships were built that could carry more cargo. German shipowners in particular kept this up for quite some time. In World War I, many windjammers were destroyed. Finland bought up the remaining large ships after this, but World War II marked the end.

The Industrial Revolution also had a major impact on shipping. It changed the way of propulsion, but also the construction of ships.


By Heron of Alexandria, the aeolipile, the first steam engine, had already been invented in the 1st century. In 1543 Blasco de Garay sailed through the port of Barcelona with a ship propelled by a steam engine he had designed. However, he kept his invention a secret.

Steam navigation began in the United States at the end of the 18th century. The steam engine was invented in the United Kingdom in the late 17th century by Thomas Newcomen, who used the studies of Denis Papin and the experiences of Thomas Savery. James Watt made the machine economically viable by making necessary modifications that increased its efficiency.

As early as a 1690 article in Acta Eruditorum, Papin proposed a steamboat equipped with four cylinders driving rotating wheels. In 1707 he built a boat with paddle wheels, but it is not clear whether it had steam propulsion and whether it was built to full size. With this he intended to sail across the Fulda and Weser rivers, but the boat was destroyed in the battle for passenger rights with the Münden skippers’ guild, who saw steam propulsion as a threat.

In 1736, Jonathan Hulls obtained a patent in England for a steamboat propelled by a Newcomen machine, but it was not until James Watt’s modifications that the concept became feasible. William Henry of Pennsylvania had heard of Watt’s machine on a trip to England and built his own, which he attempted to install in a boat in 1763. This sank, however, and despite further attempts he did not have much success.

In France, Marquis Claude de Jouffroy had a 13-meter working steamboat with rotary paddle wheels, the Palmipède, which sailed across the Doubs in June and July 1776, making it probably the first steamship to make a successful trial run. In 1783, a new paddle steamer, the Pyroscaphe, sailed across the Saône for fifteen minutes until the engine failed. Bureaucracy prevented further progress.

Starting in 1784, James Rumsey built a boat with pump propulsion (water jet) that sailed across the Potomac in 1786. The following year he obtained a patent from the state of Virginia. In Pennsylvania, John Fitch, an acquaintance of William Henry, had made a model paddleboat in 1785. In 1787 he built a steamboat that had a successful trial run. The following year a second boat made voyages of 50 kilometers and in 1790 a third boat made voyages on the Delaware, but patent problems forced Fitch to stop further development.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Patrick Miller had developed boats with two hulls propelled by paddle wheels between the hulls. He had engineer William Symington build his patented steam engine into a boat that made a successful trial run on Dalswinton Loch in 1788. A larger steamboat was built a year later. Miller then withdrew from the project, but ten years later Symington was hired by Thomas Dundas and in March 1802 the Charlotte Dundas towed two 70-ton barges 30 kilometers across the Forth and Clyde Canal to Glasgow. This ship, the first tugboat, is considered the first practical steamboat.

Robert Fulton, whose interest in steamboats may have come from his visit at the age of twelve to William Henry in 1777, visited Britain and France where he built and tested an experimental steamboat on the Seine in 1803. He was familiar with the success of the Charlotte Dundas. Before returning to the United States he ordered a Boulton and Watt steam engine. After his return, he built the North River Steamboat (often called the Clermont). In 1807 this steamboat began passenger service between New York and Albany, a distance of 240 kilometers, which was a commercial success.

In 1815, Pierre Andriel was the first to cross The Channel with the Élise, making it the first seagoing steamship. The first steamship to cross the Atlantic was the Savannah, which arrived in Liverpool in 1819. However, it only used the steam engine during 85 hours of the voyage; the rest was accomplished sailing. The first crossing entirely under steam was made in 1827 by the Dutch Curaçao – formerly the English Calpe – from Willemstad to Hellevoetsluis in 13 days. The Great Western of 1838 was the first ship to be built specifically for the Atlantic crossing.

As early as 1746, the Frenchman Borginer had propelled a boat by hand using a kind of millwheel. John Fitch experimented with a propeller on his paddle steamer. Both of David Bushnell’s 1775 submarine Turtle and Robert Fulton’s 1800 Nautilus used propellers, partly because a scoop wheel is impractical underwater.

Inspired by Archimedes’ screw, various screw types were tried. Initially like this one a spiral screw in a tube. Some versions omitted the tube. Josef Ressel designed and patented such a screw in 1827. Francis Petit Smith tested a propeller similar to Ressel’s in 1834 on his ship Archimedes. During the test run, the long screw broke off and, to everyone’s surprise, the ship’s speed increased instead of decreasing. The Archimedes’ original propeller was placed amidships and was more of an auger than a propeller with blades as we know it today. The Archimedes was expected to reach a speed of 4 to 5 knots, but the ship turned out to run 9.5 knots.

Nevertheless, there was quite a bit of skepticism. In 1848, the Admiralty of England held a towing contest between the Rattler – equipped with a propeller – and the Alecto, a radar ship. The Rattler won, towing the Alecto at a speed of 2.8 knots, but it was not until the 20th century that the radar ship was replaced. This was due to its greater efficiency, compactness, less complex transmission and greater robustness.

In 1883 the steam turbine was invented by Gustav de Laval on the action principle and in 1884 by Charles Algernon Parsons on the reaction principle. Parsons foresaw the possibilities for ship propulsion and for that purpose founded the Marine Steam Turbine Company with five others in 1893. He built the experimental ship Turbinia in 1894. The initial test runs with one screw were disappointing, so he eventually coupled three steam turbines to three screws. With these he managed to achieve a speed of more than 34 knots. The steam turbine would then slowly replace the steam engine.

Many naval vessels are propelled by a gas turbine because of its low weight relative to its power and because of the rapid acceleration it allows. By Ægidius Elling in 1903, the first gas turbine was built that produced more power than it needed. The first ship to be equipped with this was a converted Motor Gun Boat MGB 2009 of the Royal Navy in 1947.

Another important change during this period was the change from wood to iron and later steel in shipbuilding. In 1825 the Codorus was built, the first iron ship in the United States. This was followed in 1843 by the launching of the Great Britain, the first seagoing iron screw ship by the brilliant engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was the largest ship of the time. With the invention of the Bessemer process, named after Henry Bessemer who patented it in 1855, and the Siemens-Martin process of 1866, it becomes possible to mass produce steel. In 1858 the Ma Roberts is built at the Cammell Laird shipyard, the first steel ship. At this yard, in 1920, the Fullagar is built, the first fully welded ship. Until that time, ships were riveted.


Around 1900, coal bunker stations were still scattered around the world, but then people slowly switched to fuel oil.


A major improvement for navigation was the introduction of the gyrocompass. In 1913, the first gyrocompass was installed on a passenger ship. This uses a very rapidly rotating mass that is made to track north using precession.

With the radio direction finder, ships are no longer dependent on weather conditions. During World War II, several systems were developed in Britain to increase accuracy. These included Gee and DECCA. In the United States, LORAN-A was developed from this, and later LORAN-C.

During this time, radar was also developed, which was a great improvement for shipping. Not only could other ships be detected with it, but it could also be used to gauge knowable points as soon as one came within sight of the coast.

In the 1960, the U.S. Navy launched the TRANSIT or NAVSAT (Navy Navigation Satellite System) system. It used the doppler effect to determine position. The disadvantage was that the system could only determine a position once every few hours.

Beginning in 1978, the U.S. Department of Defense began launching satellites for the NAVSTAR GPS (Navigation Signal Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System), better known as GPS for short.

The Russian version of GPS is GLONASS. Starting in 1982, the launching of the satellites began. However, due to the economic downturn, it was greatly neglected, so it cannot currently be used for navigation.

Galileo is the European answer to GPS and should be operational by 2010. The accuracy will be comparable to GPS, while the commercial version should have an accuracy of less than a meter. When combined with ground stations, the accuracy could become less than 10 centimeters.


In 1836, a parliamentary committee was formed in the United Kingdom to investigate the cause of the many shipping disasters. It was determined that it was due to faulty design and construction. Overloading was not mentioned. A second committee in 1843 came to the same conclusion and in 1846 a law was passed establishing a board of inquiry into maritime disasters.

In 1850, a law was passed that established the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade. In 1854 the Merchant Shipping Act came into being with crew requirements, requirements for professional competence of the crew and the operation of merchant ships. It also regulated that in investigations of shipwrecks, the draft before and after was mentioned. This was difficult given the lack of draft marks.

James Hall, a shipowner from the north of England, was concerned about high insurance costs. He asked the Board of Trade to investigate the many shipping disasters – they had doubled in 30 years – and overloading was found to be one of the causes.

In 1871, Samuel Plimsoll introduced a bill concerning drainage. Heavy opposition from a small group of shipowners followed, but Plimsoll took up the fight. In 1873 Our Seamen, an Appeal came out, which made a very big impression across the country. In 1875 Disraeli still rejected the bill, but under great public pressure it was incorporated into the Merchant Shipping Act in 1876. This made it compulsory to affix a drainage mark; a circle with a line through it, the plimsoll mark.

However, there were no legal provisions yet for the position of the mark. In 1883 a commission was formed to indicate the criteria for the position. The proposals of this commission did not take effect until 1890.

In 1906, laws were passed requiring foreign-flagged ships calling at British ports to carry a plimsoll mark. The 1906 law was adopted in its entirety by the Netherlands, which meant that Dutch ships complied equally with British requirements.

The requirements have been modified several times since then, including in 1930. This was the first international agreement for worldwide validity.

After the sinking of the Titanic, the SOLAS was adopted in 1914 which set minimum safety requirements for ships.

Alternatives:Ship TypesVessel Types

This period is also characterized by ships becoming more specialized. Specialized shipping is distinguished from bulk and liner shipping by the use of vessels specifically designed for a particular cargo. For some, the market has become so large that they are no longer considered specialized transport. This includes supertankers and container ships.

The first tanker was the Vaderland. However, the 3,000-ton dwt Gluckauf, built in 1886, is generally regarded as the pioneer of tanker shipping. During World War II, hundreds of T2 tankers were built with a carrying capacity (dwt) of about 16,000 tons. Initially, the size of the tankers remained almost the same, but after World War II a slow increase in scale began, a reaction to strong economic growth. The second half of the 20th century was a long period of boom. This is especially true for the first thirty years after the war, also known as trente glorieuses. Between 1950 and 1998, the world economy grew sixfold. To make this growth possible, energy was needed, which at first was mainly obtained from coal, but during this period increasingly from oil. Whereas before World War II, oil refining was often done at the source, it shifted to where the consumers were. Also during this period, oil production in the Middle East began to take off. Instead of product tankers, more and more crude oil tankers were sailing from source to market. Soon tankers were built so that they could just barely pass through the Panama Canal. It then proved more economical to build even larger Aframax tankers. When the favorable levies for these tankers disappeared, even larger ones were built, which could just barely pass through the Suez Canal. Whereas the tanker fleet before the war was mainly managed by the oil companies themselves, this shifted increasingly to independents.

For tanker shipping companies, however, the Six-Day War of 1967 was of greater significance. The Suez Canal was closed until 1975. Freight rates shot up due to the shortage of shipping space now that the tankers had to round the Cape of Good Hope and were therefore underway longer. The new tankers were built larger, because they were no longer bound to the restriction of the Suez Canal and because that was economically advantageous. In a few years the size of tankers grew to over 500,000 tons dwt, while there were even plans for tankers of 1,000,000 dwt. VLCCs were developed, but most remained Malaccamax, about 320,000 tons. In 1969, the first ULCCs were built. The largest ever was Tung Chao Yung’s Seawise Giant, completed in 1981, although the four Batillus class ships had a larger gross tonnage. Despite the tanker fleet growing about 12 percent annually around 1970, there remained a shortage of ship space. In 1973, this resulted in a huge increase in newbuilding orders, especially from oil companies who wanted to catch up with the more responsive independents, who could charge huge prices for their ships. While the existing tanker fleet was about 150 million tons, 75 million tons of ships were ordered in one quarter, despite newbuilding prices doubling.

On October 10, 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out, leading to the 1973 oil crisis in which the price of oil tripled to $10 per barrel, halting economic growth. Ships that had just left the shipyard were sometimes immediately laid up. In addition, the Suez Canal reopened in 1975. When things started to get better again in 1979, the Iranian Revolution caused the second oil crisis, causing the price of oil to shoot up to $30. Ships were sometimes already being scrapped even though they had come into service less than ten years before. It was not until the late 1980s that money could again be made in tanker shipping.

The much lower transportation costs of containers allowed for a huge increase in world trade, and eventually the vast majority of general cargo transportation would be done by them. It now appeared possible to ship the same cargo from coast to coast in a week, and it made international trade possible on a scale hitherto unheard of. Today, the vast majority of products in a store are transported in a container.

For a long time, the size of container ships was limited to panamax, the maximum size to still be able to pass through the Panama Canal. The maximum capacity of these ships was around 4500 TEU. Larger ships could no longer be used on all routes and were therefore hardly built. Due to the enormous increase in world trade, this became less and less of an objection and from 1996 onwards, post-Panamax ships were increasingly built. After that, the ships rapidly increased in size and today the HMM Algeciras is one of the largest container ships in the world with a capacity of almost 24000 TEU.

The first refrigerated ships were built at the end of the 19th century. The transportation of frozen meat and fish and chilled fruits and dairy products allowed countries such as Argentina and New Zealand to greatly expand their export areas, while in many Western countries the diet could be greatly expanded. Ships used for refrigerated transport are larger and especially faster than freezer ships to minimize the spoilage of the refrigerated cargo. Famous became the white fruit chasers of the United Fruit Company, later Chiquita. The major competitor was Standard Fruit Company, now Dole. The Dutch company Seatrade is another major player.

The rise of the container was also influential here with the advent of the refrigerated container. The most common is the integrated refrigerated container with its own refrigeration system that only needs to be connected to the electrical grid. In addition, there are porthole containers for ships equipped with conair, insulated containers with 2 holes without their own refrigeration system. This requires specific ships and shore installations, so this type is only used on certain routes. Due to the lack of flexibility, these containers are becoming less common.

Beginning in the mid-second half of the nineteenth, migration to the United States increased dramatically and with it transatlantic passenger shipping. In the process, increasingly faster and more luxurious passenger ships were built, and for many years these ocean liners competed for the Blue Pennant, the distinction given to ships when they set a new speed record when crossing the Atlantic. With the development of aviation, this sailing came to an end in the second half of the twentieth century. From this, however, emerged cruise shipping, which was initially used to fill in the off-season in liner shipping. With increasing prosperity, this became a booming industry with ever larger cruise ships that could carry more than 8,000 people – crew and passengers.

British Empire

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the end of a long period of internal turmoil in Britain. Political stability was one of the causes that allowed the British Empire to grow into the eventual huge empire that covered a quarter of the earth’s surface. Other causes were the geographically advantageous location of the British Isles, the adaptability of political institutions to those on the mainland, the concentration of surplus capital and the extensive experience of economic organizations in its utilization, economic predominance through the Industrial Revolution, and relative freedom from the disruptive wars and revolutions in the rest of Europe.

This allowed mercantilism, the protection of the economy by the state that characterized the first period of colonial expansion (e.g., the English Shipping Acts), to be replaced by economic liberalism, free trade. However, the United Kingdom was much more inclined to impose free trade on other countries than to apply it to its own markets.

The American War of Independence marked the end of the first British Empire. After this initial period of colonialism, attention shifted to Asia and later Africa. The loss of the United States showed that colonies were not always such a boon economically. Britain still had a monopoly on trade with its former colony, but no longer had to pay for defense and administration.

The lessons Britain had learned after losing the United States, that even ex-colonies are still very valuable economically, contributed to granting Canada and Australia their own governments, called dominions, between 1840 and 1860.

The Second Industrial Revolution saw the rise of industrialization of other countries such as the United States and Germany. This caused British dominance to wane and there was a return to shielding one’s own market. To still be able to expand the market area, refuge was sought in increasing colonization. Despite initial opposition by Otto von Bismarck, Germany eventually joined in and began building up the Kaiserliche Marine.

In the arms race that followed, the Royal Navy introduced the HMS Dreadnought in 1906. This battleship was so revolutionary that all older battleships were rendered obsolete overnight. It was the first to use armament with only gun towers with heavy caliber artillery.

Alternatives:United StatesUSA

During the American Revolution, the merchant marine had a significant share in the American victory. After independence, American ships were excluded from colonial trade with the British Empire. With other European countries, however, there was lively trade due to the need for American agricultural forest and fish products. With the West Indies, wood and food were traded for rum, molasses, and sugar. In 1787, the Empress of China made its first voyage to Java and China.

During the American Civil War, a number of techniques and ship types were used for the first time. For example, the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia was the first time that armored ships were in action against each other. The greater maneuverability of the steamship compared to a sailing ship provided a brief revival of the use of ramstevens during the Civil War.

During the War of 1812, despite a number of victories, the U.S. Navy could not prevent the British from blocking ports and landing when they wanted. For 40 years after this, American shipping and shipbuilding grew. In 1816, the Black Ball Line began a passenger service between New York and Liverpool. The 1950s were the most prosperous for the American merchant marine. After English Shipping Laws were abolished in 1849, American ships were able to participate in the lucrative tea trade between China and Britain. Tonnage increased from 943,000 tons in 1846 to 2,226,000 tons in 1857.

Especially during the California gold rush, shipping helped connect the east coast with the west coast. However, after the American Civil War, shipping declined due to the growth of railroads. In addition, sailing ships were replaced by steamships, and European shipbuilders had made rapid technical advances and lower labor costs. The United Kingdom took the lead in building iron and steel steamships. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was only one U.S. transatlantic service. Less than ten percent of U.S. imports and exports were carried by American ships.

President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been Deputy Secretary of the Navy, had the Navy greatly expanded. In 1907, he ordered the Great White Fleet to sail around the world to underscore the power of the United States. Roosevelt also saw the strategic importance of the Panama Canal and arranged for the French to be bought out.

During World War I, goods piled up in American ports as foreign ships were requisitioned by the warring nations. When the United States also entered the war in 1917, it was at the mercy of foreign ships to transport troops and equipment. A major shipbuilding program was initiated. The Hog Islanders were built in large series, but were not ready until after the war. The U.S. Navy saw little action, but was greatly expanded after the war.

In 1920, the Jones Act was passed, a protectionist law stating that only American ships could carry cargo between American ports.

Because of the Great Depression, the U.S. merchant marine fleet shrank to very low levels. When the Merchant Marine Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1936, there was effectively no merchant fleet. The Act provided for the construction of 500 ships over a ten-year period. During World War II, American shipyards built some 5,600 merchant and warships, including Victory’s and Liberty’s.

After the war, many of these ships were used by American shipping companies, but they were soon outstripped by the more efficient fleets of Japan and Europe, which had lower labor costs. In 1948, about 60 percent of foreign trade was carried by U.S.-flagged ships. By the mid-1980s this was only 4 percent, even though the United States is the largest economy in the world and 95 percent of foreign trade, apart from trade with Canada and Mexico, is carried by sea.

In addition to the merchant fleet, the U.S. government maintains a fleet to transport troops and equipment in the event of war. The Ready Reserve Fleet and the Military Sealift Command consist of some 400 ships.

Although initially weakened by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war fleet expanded greatly during World War II. After the war, many ships were initially laid up, but the Cold War caused the fleet to expand greatly again. Today, the U.S. Navy is the strongest in the world with a fleet larger than that of the next seven navies.


Despite the successes of the Russians against the Turks, slow technical and economic growth in the first half of the 19th century caused Russia to lag behind in steamship construction. In 1826, the first armed steamship was built in Russia, the Izhora. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, steamships were few and far between. With the Peace of Paris, Russia lost the rights to a war fleet in the Black Sea.

The sailing fleet lost its significance and was quickly replaced by steamships, including the first gunboat with steel armor, the Opyt. Vice Admiral Stepan Makarov launched the first torpedo from a boat. He also had the first true icebreaker built, the Jermak, with which he made two expeditions in the Arctic in 1899 and 1900.

One of the most unusual warships ever, the Novgorod, was built in 1873.

On the eve of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, the Russian Navy was considered the third strongest in the world. However, the Russians were devastatingly defeated by the Japanese in the battle of Port Arthur. An ambitious shipbuilding program was begun to replace the ships lost in this war with modern dreadnoughts. During World War I, the Navy had only a limited role due to the many minefields.

The Russian sailors welcomed the Russian Revolution, in which they also participated. As early as 1905 there was the mutiny on the Potemkin. The Aurora was the first ship of the Soviet Navy. A shot from this panther cruiser was the beginning of the October Revolution. The building up of the navy after the revolution was slow. Only with the beginning of industrialization 1930 was a shipbuilding program begun, which however was not completed when World War II broke out. Minefields had blocked much of the Soviet fleet in the Baltic Sea.

After the war, work began on building a fleet that could rival that of the West. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this fleet was neglected and eventually divided among the former Soviet republics. The neglect culminated in the loss of the Kursk.


Although there had been attempts from Germany to establish colonies as early as the 16th century, these had been short-lived. In the 19th century, the process of unification of the German states began. This resulted in the foundation of the German Empire in 1871. The big man behind this unification was the Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck was not in favor of colonization, but in 1888 Wilhelm II became emperor and he dismissed Bismarck in 1890. Wilhelm II did favor colonization and began building the Kaiserliche Marine. Germany had a stronger position during the Second Industrial Revolution than the United Kingdom, which suffered from the law of inhibiting advantage. To emphasize German power at sea, fast passenger ships were built, such as the Kaiser Wilhelm der Große and the Kronprinz Wilhelm of the Norddeutscher Lloyd, founded in 1857, and the Deutschland of HAPAG, which made a successful attempt to capture the blue pennant.

Beginning in 1852, the shogun’s government was warned by the Dutch about Matthew Perry’s plans. Three months after his visit, the Bakufu repealed all legislation prohibiting the construction of large ships and began building a war fleet of Western-style sailing ships. These ships were built using Dutch manuals and the knowledge of Japanese who returned from the West, such as Nakahama Manjiro. With his help, Japan’s first steamship, the Unkoumaru, was built in 1855.

In 1855, Japan purchased the Soembing from the Netherlands. This was renamed Kankō Maru and was Japan’s first steam warship. The Nagasaki Naval Institute was also established just off Dejima. In 1857, Japan purchased its first steam warship with screw propulsion, the Kanrin Maru. Officers in training were sent to Western naval institutes for several years, such as the future Admiral Enomoto who studied in Holland from 1862 to 1867.

In 1863, Japan’s first steam warship was built, the Chiyodagata, a 140-ton gunboat. The ship was built by Ishikawajima, which would grow into a huge industrial concern and one of the pillars of Japanese shipbuilding.

After the humiliations during the bombardment of Kagoshima in 1863 and the bombardment of Shimonoseki in 1864, modernization was accelerated, drawing mainly on French and British expertise.

At the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, the Japanese Navy had eight modern steam warships around the flagship Kaiyou Maru that were used against Imperial forces during the Boshin War. The conflict culminated in the Battle of Hakodate in 1869, Japan’s first modern naval battle.

Beginning in 1868, the reinstated Emperor Meiji began reforms to industrialize and militarize Japan to face the United States and the European powers. The new government embarked on an ambitious plan to build 200 ships divided into ten fleets, but had to abandon this after a year due to lack of funds. Internal struggles, especially the Satsuma Rebellion (1877), forced the government to focus on the land war. In 1869 Japan obtained its first ironclad, the Kōtetsu, only ten years after the introduction of this type in Europe with the French La Gloire. In 1870, by imperial decree, the British navy was taken as the model for the Japanese navy.

During the 1880s, French influence became greatest thanks to the Jeune École doctrine that favored smaller, fast warships, especially cruisers and torpedo boats. The French Navy’s success against China in the Sino-French War of 1883-85 seemed to confirm the potential of torpedo boats and was attractive because of Japan’s limited resources.

China, with German help, also began to build a modern navy. Tension between the two countries ran high over control of Korea, and in 1894 the First Sino-Japanese War began.

The Japanese Navy destroyed the northern fleet of the Qing at the mouth of the Yalu River during the Battle of the Yalu River. Although Japan was victorious, the Chinese Navy’s two large German battleships proved virtually impenetrable to the Japanese guns. Larger, more heavily armed battleships were built on these.

In 1900, the Japanese Imperial Navy participated in the suppression of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, with the Japanese having the largest share.

These preparations resulted in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). At the Battle of Tsushima, Mikasa led the Japanese fleet in what has been called the most decisive naval battle in history. The Russian fleet was completely destroyed, which caused an enormous shock in the West.

To achieve its expansionist policy, the Japanese Imperial Navy also had to fight the largest navies in the world (The 1922 Washington Treaty assigned a ratio of 5

As a result, Japan had probably the most advanced navy in the world at the beginning of the war. The Japanese navy achieved spectacular victories in the beginning, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, but due to the much greater production capacity and technological improvements of the United States, they eventually gained the upper hand.

After the war, the navy was used only for the defense of the country. Japan developed into an economic powerhouse in the 1960s through Keiretsus, conglomerates, of which shipbuilding companies include Kawasaki Heavy Industries, IHI, Sumitomo Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. It became the largest shipbuilding country in the world until it had to cede this position to South Korea, which in turn had to cede it to China in 2010.

It is, after Greece, the country with the most merchant ships with shipping companies such as Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, K Line and NYK Line.

Alternatives:South KoreaRepublic of KoreaKoreaKorea South

As one of the Asian Tigers, South Korea’s industry grew tremendously in the 1970s. Shipbuilding was one of the pillars of chaebols (Korean conglomerates), such as Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. Today, South Korea is the country with the largest shipbuilding industry, ahead of Japan and emerging China.

It also has a large merchant fleet with shipping companies such as Hyundai Merchant Marine and Hanjin Shipping.


In 1793, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, under the influence of his minister Heshen, proclaimed to a British delegation that China had no need for European goods. As a result, Chinese goods such as porcelain and especially tea could only be paid for with silver. The already negative trade balance and the dwindling supply of silver caused the British to start trading opium from India. This eventually led to the First Opium War in 1839. This showed how outdated the Chinese navy was with its wooden junks. The bloody Taiping Rebellion of 1851 to 1864 further weakened the country, while from 1856 to 1860 the Second Opium War was waged. The Sino-French War of 1883-85 was also lost. Under Cixi, an attempt was made to modernize the armed forces, the Ziqiang Movement. By Li Hongzhang, the Beiyang fleet was strengthened with German help to become the strongest fleet in Asia. However, this fleet was almost completely destroyed during the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894. This was followed by a period of civil wars and invasions by Japan, so there was no question of building up a serious fleet. It was not until the Communists came to power in 1949 that the building of a serious navy was begun again.

Starting in 1978, reforms of China’s economy began. One of the goals was to become the largest shipbuilding country in the world by 2015. This goal was already met in 2010. China’s merchant fleet is the fourth in the world, while Shanghai has been the world’s largest port since 2004.

Alternatives:NetherlandsThe NetherlandsHollandNetherland

After the French era, there was not much left of Dutch shipping. The recovery was initially difficult. Although the United Kingdom had ceded the Dutch East Indies back to the Netherlands, they had retained a share in shipping on Java. It was not until the establishment of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij NHM in 1824 that this changed. After the Java War in 1830 the Culture System was introduced. By the consignment system, the proceeds of the culture system were given to the NHM in custody, which transferred the profits to the Dutch treasury. For this purpose Dutch ships were used by the NHM, which paid a very good price for them. Also, new construction was subsidized. This greatly increased the shipping on Java and new ships were built at a rapid pace. Around 1850, after the United Kingdom, the United States and France, the Netherlands was again in fourth place with some 1800 seagoing ships, including a dozen steamboats.

In addition, there was the fencolonial seafaring industry. Originating from the peat trade, Groninger skippers sailed further and further around the world with their kofschepen and schoonerbrikken.

From 1848 onwards a period of great prosperity began. This was partly due to the high demand for grain and rice after the potato blight had caused the famine in Ireland from 1845 onwards. In addition, the English Shipping Acts were abolished in 1849. The demand for shipping space was further pushed up by the Crimean War.

The economic crisis of 1857 caused the freight market to collapse, leading to a decline in Dutch shipping. As a result, the parliamentary inquiry into the Dutch merchant marine was held in 1874.

De Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij in 1823 and then by Paul van Vlissingen the Amsterdamsche Stoomboot Maatschappij ASM were founded in 1825. The real beginning of steam navigation was in 1854 when the Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot-Maatschappij was founded. This was followed by the Stoomvaart-Maatschappij Nederland in 1870 and the Stoomboot Rederij Rotterdamsche Lloyd in 1875. After 1890, the shipping industry experienced another strong growth.

As a result of some American and Austrian successes, ramming became popular again. Thus, for the Royal Navy, the Scorpion was commissioned in 1868. In the same year three sister ships were commissioned by the Navy: the Taurus, the Buffalo and the Guinea. This was a major modernization of the Dutch fleet. They were intended to replace the wooden ships with steam and sail power and smooth-bore front-loading guns of the Dutch Navy.


Between 1815 and 1830, Antwerp was the most important port in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In the early 19th century, Antwerp experienced remarkable economic growth. John Cockerill founded Cockerill Yards in 1824.In 1828, with financial support from William I through the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij, Bureau Veritas was established in Antwerp. In 1829 the fleet of the Southern Netherlands numbered 182 ships totaling 27,000 register tons. That was one-seventh of the fleet of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Shipping company Saportas opened a liner service Antwerp-Brazil in 1828. After the Belgian Revolution of 1830 and the renewed Scheldetol (bought off in 1863) several Flemish shipowners emigrated to Vlissingen. Belgian independence led to stagnation. In 1858 the Cockerill shipping company was founded, Armement Deppe followed in 1860, Navigation Belgo-Américaine (better known as the Red Star Line) in 1872. Over the next fifty years, 2.3 million emigrants traveled to America with the Red Star Line. In 1935 the company was dissolved. The first major shipowners in Antwerp were English and German.

At the beginning of Congo Free State in 1885, Leopold II’s private colony, there was no direct Belgian shipping line. The Compagnie Gantoise de Navigation was founded for navigation to Central Africa. The CGN did not become a long-term success. In 1895 the Compagnie Belge Maritime du Congo was founded. It would become the most important shipping company in Belgium. Initially, the fleet consisted of ships built in the United Kingdom and manned by Englishmen.

In 1897, an expedition to Antarctica is undertaken with the Belgica during the Belgian Antarctic Expedition.

In 1900, the Belgian merchant fleet had seven sailing ships and 73 steamships. Belgium ranked seventeenth in the world.

Thanks to Albert Thys, CBMC was given a more Belgian character in 1910. There was an agreement between the British, the Germans and the new Belgian bosses on a division of the cargo and the passengers, which was to prevent the Belgian Company from being wiped off the map by heavy competition.

On the eve of the Great Depression, the Belgian fleet again numbered 202 ships (543,000 tons). Cobelfret was founded in 1939 just before the Second World War. In 1940 CMB came under German management. The fleet was partly in free and partly in occupied territory. The CMB management stipulated that the occupying power keep its property rights intact. CMB ships were deployed in both camps. 294 CMB sailors lost their lives at sea because of the war. CMB lost 23 of 31 ships. A total of 56 ships were lost and 900 sailors and officers died. After 1945, substantial allowances flowed to a young and renewed fleet.

The independence of Belgian Congo in 1960 led to a complete surprise of the Belgian business community, including CMB. Trade with Congo received a severe shock. The acquisition of Armement Deppe in 1960 was CMB’s first response to the Congo debacle. Deppe was the second largest Belgian liner shipping company. CMB took over Ufimar in 1961 and acquired broader financial resources plus stakes in SAIT and McAllister Rowing and Island Tug & Barge, two Canadian companies in towage, rescue and river transport. In 1968, CMB entered the Dart consortium. At that time, Dart Container Line’s three ships were among the largest in the world.

Icelandic shipping was an illustrious period in Belgian fishing.

Belgium occupies a leading position in dredging with Jan de Nul and Deme.

Alternatives:Transatlantic passenger shipsTrans-Atlantic passenger shipsTransatlantic passenger liners


The emergence of the offshore gave rise to new types of vessels, such as drill ships and crane ships, and new techniques such as dynamic positioning.

Alternatives:lex Rhodia de iactulex Rhodia the iactu

On Rhodes, at that time the center of international banking, there existed from 479 B.C. the lex Rhodia de iactu, a maritime law with 66 rules, in which, among others, all general average was regulated. The importance of this is shown by a quote that the Roman jurist Lucius Volusius Maecianus attributes to Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius in which he indicates that the lex Rhodia must be respected. At the end of the 19th century it was still referred to in the British Supreme Court.

Alternatives:lex Maritimalex Maritimas

Alternatives:Amalfi tablesAmalfic tablesAmphibian tables

Alternatives:Rôles d’OléronRoles d’Oléron

The Rôles d’Oléron were based on the Consolato del Mare and were promulgated by Eleonora of Aquitaine on Île d’Oléron around 1160. From Aquitaine there was a large wine export to England, among other countries, and Île d’Oléron occupied an important place in it. In the Low Countries the laws became known as the Water Law of Damme.

Alternatives:Treaty of TordesillasConvention of TordesillasTordesillas ConventionTordesillas Treaty

In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas settled the division of the non-European world between Spain and Portugal – who organized the first voyages of discovery.

Pope Alexander VI, after the discovery of the New World, determined that everything west of a certain line (480 km from Cape Verde) belonged to Spain, and everything east of it to Portugal. In the Treaty of Tordesillas, Spain agreed to move this line west (1170 km from Cape Verde). This made the later discovered Brazil Portuguese possession. By the Treaty of Zaragoza (1529), this line was extended into the Pacific Ocean.

This line of demarcation also caused the seas to be divided between the Portuguese and the Spanish.

Alternatives:Mare LiberumMare Liberal

In 1604 Hugo de Groot published De iure praedae (On the Law of Lands), including Mare liberum (The Free Sea). In it he formulated the new principle that the sea was an international territory and that all countries were free to use it for trade. This work was the ideological ground on which the Republic of the Seven United Provinces could break open various trade monopolies with its vast sea power.

Mare Clausum

England, which was in a fierce battle with the Dutch over dominance of world trade, disagreed and demanded sovereignty over the waters around the British Isles. In Mare clausum (1635), John Selden tried to prove that it was just as possible to appropriate a piece of sea as a piece of land.

Alternatives:De Dominio MarisThe Dominio MarisThe Dominion MarisDominio Maris

As conflicts arose due to the conflicting interests, the maritime states moderated their demands and based their demands on the number of miles stretching out to sea. A workable method was found by Cornelis van Bijnkershoek in his De dominio maris (1702), limiting the area to the range of a cannon. This was generally accepted and elaborated to the three-mile limit.

Alternatives:English Shipping LawsEnglish Shipping ActsEnglish Maritime Laws

The dispute would later have important economic consequences. The Dutch Republic espoused the idea of free trade (although it maintained a monopoly on nutmeg and cloves in the Moluccas). England passed the Act of Navigation in 1651, which only allowed English ships to dock in English ports, or ships from the country the goods came from. This prompted the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652 – 1654).

Alternatives:Subsequent ConventionsSubsequent treaties

On March 14, 1857, the Treaty of Copenhagen was signed whereby Denmark renounced the Sonttol. Incidentally, the Netherlands had already had free passage through the Sont intermittently since the Peace of Copenhagen in 1441.

The Treaty of Montreux concluded on July 20, 1936 regulated free passage through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.


All this led to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In 1948, the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization was established, renamed the International Maritime Organization in 1982. Over the years, it has established a number of provisions on the boundaries of international waters.


  1. Maritieme geschiedenis
  2. Maritime history