Greece and the Sea
Greece has always looked toward the sea and lived by it. Of necessity she must continue to do so. Because of her geographical position and because of the limited resources of her land, the Greeks have been a maritime people since the earliest times.
The mountains which break up the land seem to push the people into the sea, and indeed they make land travel and land communications so difficult that by comparison sea travel has always seemed simple. The land itself is so lacking in fertility that extensive agriculture is impossible. Thus the Greeks have been forced to import a large part of their food and to turn to the sea to gain their livelihood.
In Greece, the sea seems to be everywhere. The Aegean, the Ionian, and the Mediterranean all wash Greek shores, and these shores are so cut up and so strewn with islands that the sea penetrates everywhere. The coastlines and islands in turn shelter the sea and do away with the fear men have always had of vast unbroken stretches of water.
The Greeks are not such a people as would fear the sea, no matter how far it stretched. By nature they are adventurous and enterprising. Their love of adventure makes them good sailors, and added to this their capacity for enterprise makes them the best of sea-merchants.
Seamanship is an old Greek tradition. Children have been trained from the cradle to become expert sailors. It has been customary for seamen to take aboard ships and sailboats children ranging in age from 6 to 13 so as to accustom them to the sea. When an island was sighted, the children were called on deck, told the name of the island, its ports, and the most navigable routes around it. If, on the next trip, they had forgotten, they were punished. In like manner, children were thrown into the sea to teach them to swim. Nothing was overlooked in an effort to make them skillful and brave seamen.
The skill of Greeks at sea includes not only seamanship but also trading. The Greek was and is a sailor-merchant. There has never been absentee ownership of Greek ships nor have Greeks put their money in enterprises involving ships run by others. Even today, when there is a class of rich Greek shipowners owning sometimes large numbers of ships, such owners have nearly always been identified with ships and are in general successful sailor-merchants.