When discussing notable seafaring vessels, one often recalls the renowned Titanic. In 1909, this ship achieved the distinction of being the largest human-made construction of its time.
However, the history of sea travel reaches far beyond this modern marvel. While many are familiar with the ancient tale of Noah’s ark from the Bible, evidence suggests that maritime exploration traces back even further.
In a world devoid of modern technological marvels like compasses and visible maps, ancient civilizations forged ahead with their intrepid explorations. Their feats of maritime travel stand as a testament to their resourcefulness and determination. Today, we embark on a captivating journey to uncover the fascinating ways in which ancient people prepared for sea travel. Join us as we dive into 10 intriguing facts that shed light on their remarkable preparations and ventures across the vast oceanic expanse.
1. Building the ship
Building a ship was the first big and most important step of sea travel. Only experienced and great crafting engineers were allowed to make boats for the voyage. Wood, reeds, and animal skins were just a few of the materials used to construct ancient ships. Ships were frequently compact and straightforward, yet they were durable enough to survive the stresses of sea travel.
Ancient shipbuilders also used a technique known as shell-first construction, which involved starting from the outside in. They would begin by constructing the ship’s exterior shell out of precisely formed planks, which were later strengthened with interior frames and beams. This method allowed for more accuracy for building svelte, seaworthy vessels.
2. Astronomical Navigation
Ancient navigators didn’t have GPS and modern map technology, therefore they used their understanding of the night sky. They were able to determine the four basic directions by observing the stars and their patterns.
Polaris, which is often known as the North Star, was of great significance because of its constant location in the sky, which served as a trustworthy indicator of the north. In the daytime, the sun played the role.
People were smart enough to calculate the height and angle of the sunshine. Astronomical navigation was not just fun. It had its own challenges such as cloudy and rainy days. Mostly the stormy days gave them a hard time with almost zero visibility.
3. Sails and Rigging
The utilization of sails and rigging played a crucial role in the ancient world’s maritime endeavors. This method enabled seafarers to harness the power of the wind and convert it into a valuable resource. Various fabrics were employed in the construction of sails, with linen and canvas being particularly prevalent due to their exceptional efficacy in capturing the wind and converting it into propulsive force. Sail designs varied according to prevailing weather conditions and specific circumstances. Among the most widely recognized sail types are square sails, which you may have encountered in depictions on TV or in movies. These sails are extensively employed to maximize the capture of wind force. Another sail type is the rectangular sail, primarily utilized when the wind blows from behind and requires less wind resistance to generate forward momentum.
4. Nautical Charts aka Sea Map
Nautical charts are an updated version of astronomical navigation we talked about earlier. Sailors used to figure out landmarks, coastline and other important information by nautical charts. It was mostly made by experienced explorers who have great knowledge over geography and sea travel. One of the biggest points of using a nautical chart is the accuracy of it.
5. Stock for the Journey
In the past, sailors were required to prepare an ample supply of provisions for their sea voyages, including additional rations to account for unforeseen circumstances. During that era, our world had yet to fully embrace modern advancements, and transportation routes were not as interconnected as they are today.
The oceanic routes were predominantly empty or sparsely populated by boats and civilizations. Consequently, sailors packed food items that could withstand extended periods without spoilage and remained in a dry state. Examples of such provisions included grains, dates, preserved fish, and meat. Given the lengthy duration of these journeys, larger ships were also utilized to accommodate the stocking of livestock, ensuring a sustainable food source throughout the voyage.
6. Material for Stability
In the present day, we benefit from advanced technologies that enable us to precisely measure various aspects of a ship, such as its weight and pressure distribution. However, in the past, ensuring the stability of a boat posed a different challenge. Ancient seafarers employed clever methods to achieve balance and stability, often resorting to carrying heavy stones or utilizing other weighty materials. This practice, known as ballasting, played a crucial role in preserving the safety of the vessel. Ballasting not only facilitated proper weight distribution but also enhanced the ship’s maneuverability by reducing excessive rolling. A modern-day parallel to this concept can be observed when boarding a small boat in certain island regions, where you may notice two or more tires suspended on either side to balance the weight and increase the boat’s propulsion. This technique essentially echoes the principles of ancient ballasting. It is fascinating to see how certain innovations stand the test of time.
7. Seamanship Skills
In modern times, we rely on highly trained pilots to navigate planes and ensure safe air travel. However, there is a notion that operating a ship is even more challenging than piloting an aircraft. While the intricacies of this comparison can be debated, the main point to highlight is the vital role that seamen played in ancient times. Particularly for large trading vessels, seamen held immense significance as they possessed the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to navigate and maneuver the ship effectively. Seamen were not just skilled individuals; they were also natural leaders, responsible for directing the entire crew, especially during critical moments or emergencies. The expertise and leadership of seamen were indispensable components of successful maritime journeys in bygone eras.
8. Research on Exploration and Trade
In the past, people often faced a lack of knowledge and understanding, necessitating careful planning and research for journeys on water. Whether it was for trade or exploration, prehistoric individuals recognized the importance of devising well-thought-out strategies and determining specific routes to follow. These endeavors were distinct from mere trade trips, as they involved venturing into uncharted territories. Through dedicated research and exploration, significant changes were brought to our understanding of geography, as well as the establishment of connections between distant communities. It is remarkable to consider that through these efforts, previously unknown lands such as America were eventually discovered, unveiling new horizons and connecting people in unexpected ways.
9. Safeguarding Loved Ones During Ventures
Life in ancient times was undoubtedly challenging. Ensuring the safety of the family was a primary concern, particularly when setting off on adventurous endeavors. Historical records indicate that many massacres occurred in villages when strong men or warriors departed for sea voyages. In response to this perilous situation, various strategies were conceived. One common approach involved leaving behind a portion of the male population to safeguard the family and the local community. Additionally, alliances were formed, and neighboring communities would occasionally provide protection and support to one another. These measures aimed to mitigate the risks and vulnerabilities faced by families during times of exploration or conflict, highlighting the importance of collective defense and mutual assistance in ancient societies.
10. Spiritual and Ritual Practices
One of the largest and most festive aspects of getting ready for a voyage by water was performing rituals. In order to receive blessings from God or Gods, ancient humans used to sacrifice cattle and other animals. In the past, the Vikings were well known for doing so. The main purposes of these rites were safety and good fortune. There is a myth that certain ancient civilizations sacrificed humans to please their gods. For good luck, some people brought the ashes and bones from the offering to the boat. Others used to bring blood to throw into the water. It was a belief that sea God would be joyful to receive the blood as an offering.
Our gratitude is owed to our ancestors and the intrepid travelers who traversed the globe, as they played a pivotal role in connecting communities, establishing trade routes, and disseminating knowledge from one port to another through their maritime journeys.
It is through the advent of sea travel that our civilization has progressed to its current state. The wisdom and innovation of these ancient seafarers have propelled us forward, fostering modernity and advancement. It is my hope that this blog has provided you with a glimpse into the world of sea travel in ancient times and the preparations undertaken by our predecessors. Until we meet again in another captivating tale, farewell.