Forfjord Supply

 

What the ancient coastal world ports were like:

If one inspects the world today for seaports, the results would be amazing when the total number was realized. You see, a port can be nothing more than a dock able to sustain tonnage traffic. A good port has a breakwater or natural shape to protect the vessels from the open sea, and is deep enough and yet not too deep to anchor. Ports grew as vessel size and traffic increased, and the mouths of large river areas already supporting the traffic of goods from deep within the river systems became sure bets for the first coastal cities and great ports, as heavy commerce flowed. When it came to moving bulk goods over great distances, water was the easiest medium to use for transportation then as it is now, consequently assuring mankind will always be a watershed society.

Recent developments in the archeological digs in Egypt revealed goods in the old tombs that had to have come from South America, so how did they get there? You can only choose two ways, by boat or plane..., so take your pick. I choose boat, for the Sea Peoples were very busy in those days and as time continued, the goods in the Egyptian tombs came from all over the known world. The Nile was a great port... and so was the Persian Gulf area as well as the Indus River system just to toss in a couple of others, and Asia was represented well in the same category.

"Open ports" were different from other ancient cities in general, far more tolerant when it came to the mixing of cultures and their various vices for one thing, as agents from the known world haggled for the best prices for their goods. I highly suspect as time went on an international code of laws was somewhat in effect for most open ports, for tolerance was good for business...

"Closed ports" would be that of the military or naval variety just as they are today. In some cases, a section of an open port was set aside for this purpose, however there was one closed port for a very long time, and that was the entire Black Sea area, one of the most mysterious areas known in ancient times. The metal smiths were well protected by someone and very busy in this area, as well as Cypress, another highly protected port. (the Area 51 of its day...)

Areas now underwater in Japan, off Florida and Bermuda show indications of old ports and or cities, however marine archeology is far more expensive than the land variety and investigation seems to be somewhat slow for this reason more than any other. Dive times are short and sea levels rose an estimated 300 feet from the last ice age, putting any lost ancient ports out of reach except for the special deep diving vehicles we have which are expensive to run. Then there is always the weather to contend with at sea... Where would some of these places might be? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Try the mouths of the rivers we use today and follow the sea beds to the estimated ancient coastlines and look into the areas of myth and legend for possible additional help.

The oldest ships we have found vary in sizes up to 50 feet or more, and one can bet some of the crews that sailed them were a colorful lot, indeed! Adventurous and somewhat hard drinking in general, the smart captain knew when to break out the wine or leave the jar sealed until the crew had settled down into their sea routine. In short, nothing has really changed for the same routine is employed to this very day. The ship gets loaded, the crew gets drunk, then off they go with the hope they will be lucky enough to return to all the wonderful things they could blow their money on. It did not matter if the mix consisted of Egyptians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Greeks, Hebrews and so on. They learned to work together, fight together and get drunk together in harmony without bashing each others heads in. All professional crews were very respectful as well as tolerant of the other man's religion, and chose common grounds for areas of verbal discourse, such as calling the captain obscene names behind his back...

For some trips at certain seasonal times crews were hard to come by. Slaves really were not used much on the merchant crews until the the time of the Roman, and even then the practice was not that wide spread. The sailors may have been considered lower class by most, but they were very well paid lower class and ascended to middle class or merchant status very quickly when they saved up enough funds for their own vessels as many did. The Sea Peoples were not only ethnically mixed, but were very democratic in many ways, a fact noted by ancient historians. Now just what was a young captain to do if he was a little short on labor? The good port always had people to take care of this problem, the tools of procurement being wine and opium or hashish. You can bet more than one Sheppard or country boy saw the world whether they really wanted to, at least once. Many of them came to like the free wheeling life, as hard and dangerous as it was. Some were commercial fishermen down on their luck, men willing to take a gamble for a better life such as it was. It goes without saying wages were higher during the periods of bad weather and bonuses were lavish to captain and crew.

As far as the goods went, one fact glares out but is rarely spoken about, and that was the fact wine and beer tonnage far outstripped that of olive oil, an essential commodity. Beer was touchy as it was not pasteurized, and most ports had their own brewery as time was the critical factor determining when the commodity would go sour. When certain libations could be shipped long distances in amphora or other containers, one could trade wine for other commodities in areas that were not so blessed with the grape. When the great disaster of -1190 B.C. came to pass, the first crockery to be replaced was the amphora to keep the wine flowing... Keeping the crew out of the sealed cargo was somewhat of a problem, so most alcoholic beverages were stored under the general cargo and a wise captain made sure the wine was unpacked at the last port of call. The Isle of Tin, better known today as England, was one of these last ports and the agents there knew the booze would keep the miners happy and the ships crews placated for a commanding price...

Gold was a commodity to ship to the main ports from the distant regions, but as far as the mass movement of the metal was concerned, overland routes normally were chosen unless the destinations were close and the weather good. Very few chances were taken with bulk gold, and this is why there have been no great masses of gold treasure found in any of these ancient shipwrecks. An army could stop a bunch of thieves, but no one could stop the raging sea. Then there was the issue of piracy which flourished until the time of Rome...

Over a period of time Europe followed suit with its river systems and the same situation applied to the Americas until we end up with the present picture of seaport location to this very day. The methods of exchange, book keeping, cargo handling, scheduling and tariffs, as well as the seamanship have modernized but the basics were well laid down before Abram walked out of Ur. As has been said by others: "It seems 40-60,000 years ago man hit the water at a dead run for some reason, and the results are the cultures spread all over the South Pacific." In short, ports and Sea People have been around for a long, long time.

Man is today as he was then, with the exception he has far more toys to play with. When you see any of the ports working their huge cranes loading container vessels, keep in mind the agents are in place and the crew is an adventurous lot.... for they are the real Sea People of this day and age and nothing has changed.

Allen D. Furford