| Leopold von Ranke, one of the greatest German
historians of the 19th century, wrote in his last work, the Universal History, in which he
summarized the experiences of his life, devoted to the studies on the
human history, that probably the only destiny of the human race was to
ripen and develop through the voyages by sea and wars between
neighbouring states. "Voyages by sea and
wars", according to him, were two factors that fostered the development
of the mankind, and therefore shaped the whole course of its history.
to the "wars between neighbouring states" he most likely means wars
between neighbours on the land, although neighbours at sea, even in the
ancient times, waged big wars one on another. With the development of
the seafaring water, and the sea in particular, ceased to be a
separating element, and became a binding element, both in peaceful and
Finally, the phrase "the only destiny" most likely does not express
pity that the human destiny was not different. He spoke not about a
regretful fluctuation, but about a regular phenomenon of the human
development - unchangeable and continuous, estranged from random
Voyages by sea and wars were the direct ways of the human development,
amalgamated in the institutions of the navies. Navies often decided
about the fates of the nations, and therefore made the ways of the
history. Although the scale of the conflicts at sea is not
with that on the land, very often sea wars had bigger impact on the
human history than land wars. Until battles of Stalingrad and Kursk no
land battle had such a historical importance as the battles of Actium
and Trafalgar. The former secured to its winner the rule over the whole
ancient world for five centuries; the latter - a century-long control
nearly all the seas.
Nevertheless, historians of all the times paid more attention to the
land armies and campaigns; not only they enjoyed bigger interest, but
also bigger understanding, than the seafaring and naval campaigns.
Uneven sea, the arena of the sea wars, to most of the humans is alien
and frightful, and the naval service leaves little time for scientific
and literary activities. That is why a man o'sea seldom takes on
writing, even if he is predisposed for that. None of the great naval
commanders left description of his campaigns as did Julius Caesar or
Frederic the Great, or, closer in time, the whole pleiad of the Second
World War commanders. That is why the history of the sea wars is
fragmentary, unsatisfactory, and often contradictory. It does not help
to see the bigger picture.
It is self-evident that sea wars could begin only when seafaring
developed, and that is why it is proper to examine the history of
seafaring and peoples most merited in its development. The beginnings
are going to the times, about which we have no written evidence. The
first means of water transportation most likely were rafts, constructed
of the bundles of reed, as it still can be seen on the lake Titicaca in
the Andes, or tree trunks, like it is customary on the rivers of
Canada. Such rafts would float with the stream, or be propelled against
the stream by the means of long poles; they had a wooden log for the
rudder, and a primitive hut for the shelter.
The next advancement came with the dug-out trunk of a tree, as it is
still in use in southern seas. Such a primitive boats were set in
with a pair of oars, and sometimes also a primitive sail. Those vessels
already required some use of tools in the process of their
which fostered the technological progress. It logically led to the
vessels made of separate planks, with many oars and diversified sails.
Such a progress was possible only with developed crafts and ability to
The first impulse for seafaring came with fisheries, after which
followed exchange of the goods, namely the sea trade. At once the sea
trade encountered a new phenomenon in the vast oceanic spaces, where
even nowadays force often substitutes for the law, that is piracy. To
the ancient peoples, who knew not the concept of international laws
every stranger was an enemy, who could be killed unpunished. Sea piracy
was considered neither criminal, nor shameful, and was conducted
completely openly. All the seafaring people conducted piracy at sea,
hunting for goods and people, and maintained slave trade. Those events
left their trace in the literature, in the stories of abduction of
Helen and the slavery of Eumaeus.
In respect of ability and fitness for seafaring,
individual nations differed one from another, sometimes diametrically.
Some of them seemed to be predisposed by nature for seafaring and sea
adventures; others, contrary, did not nurse any desire for sea travels
the feeling that sometimes grew into a mystical fear of the sea.