Europe has been home to many a famous sailor. One calls to mind the stories of the Greek poet Homer. From these stories, historic accounts and ancient excavated relics we know the ancient Greeks and Romans were master sailors. The mountainous area of the Mediterranean made it too hard to travel and transport loads of goods by land so these communities depended on master shipbuilders, navigators and merchants.
Roman merchants typically had government contracts and used their massive ships to take their wine, wheat, olive oil, perfume, glass cups and vases, jewelry and clothing, grindstones, and metal tools to sell and trade along the Mediterranean coast, especially to Egypt. The story of the longshoreman starts with the ships.
Greek ship power
Greek merchant ships had sails and were wind-powered. The smaller trading ships stayed close to the shore with an eye on the coast to prevent being lost at sea. Before every voyage, the sailors would pray to Poseidon for a safe journey.
Greek warships were powered by both sail and man. They were roughly 115 feet long and were called triremes. These warships had three banks of oars (170 oars total) and required 170 men to row it. Later the Romans built a much more sleek and faster ships with only two rows of oars called an liburna or liburnica.
Greek ship load capacity
The full load capacity of an ancient Greek merchant ship was about 165,000 tons of cargo- usually olive oil, wine or grain. The Romans did not count by square feet however, they used amphoras. A Roman amphora contains 26.2 liters. A typical merchant ship could carry 18,750 gallons, or 150,000 pounds, of wine. Or course the ancients did not measure by pounds or grams but by modii, and 10,000 modii equals about 75 tons.
Who loaded the ships?
But even way back then, trade was dependent upon ships being loaded and unloaded. With ships carrying tons of cargo, this was a big job and was usually by animals and slaves. The men who did this were probably called saccarius– or one who carries a sack, or one who does the labor of a porter. As trade evolved so did the job. By the 17th century groups of men gathered at the docks and along the shore to do the loading and unloading.
In Spain these men were called estibador and in Portugal they were called estivador . Both words mean one who stuffs or one who stows cargo. This where the word “stevedore” most likely originates, from the Iberian sailors bringing their lingo to America.
Today, in America, we have many names for longshoremen. And our economy is still dependent upon this labor – for more than just our imported olive oil, wine, wheat and tools, but for almost all of our imported goods.