The history of Greece — written at sea

Shipping is a very private business, they say. Perhaps this is because enterprises connected with the sea are principally family businesses. But the story of captains and shipowners goes hand in hand with the story of the modern Greek state. The houses of ships’ captains can be seen throughout Greece, wherever there is a harbor. Even in remote locations, now far from the catchment areas of tourism and trade, the lofty mansions of ship’s captains, often silent and empty during the winter months, stand like wave breakers, witnesses to bygone prosperity. Prosperity came from the sea and still does. Greece’s past in shipping is considered one of the country’s greatest strengths and has made it a leader of the international shipping world. There is a long and fascinating history of the people connected with ships, of products from various places, tales of the sea, business plans, desire to see other places, the longing for home, scanning the horizon for the first sight of the homeland, the accumulation of wealth, and the first maritime trade centers on the shores of the Mediterranean. Behind this legend are the people: the families, old ship’s captains and modern shipowners; families which made their small homeland known at the ends of the earth; the mothers, spouses and young brothers and sisters who stayed behind; the portrait of a grandfather, a ship’s captain in 1870. There were also parcels from London, Marseilles and the Far East; new shoes for the New Year; the admiration of a small society; letters. And, above all, the building-up of national wealth. The extraordinary success of Greek merchant shipping is recounted in «Ploto,» published by the Greek Literary and Historical Archive (ELIA), a moving and aesthetically pleasing investigation into family and local historical archives. «Ploto» – named after one of the Nereids – documents Greek ship captains and owners from 1770 to World War II. The book, which includes texts by Tzelina Harlafti, Manos Haritatos and Eleni Beneki, represents the culmination of a six-year research project which ELIA conducted under the sponsorship of the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation. Another product of the same project was the publication «Pontoporeia,» which documented the Greek-owned merchant fleet. The latter was the starting point, the data bank which generated «Ploto,» and which will eventually give life to «Efpombi,» recording the performance of shipowning families since 1950. «Ploto» is crammed with useful information and fine photographs highlighting people’s connection with the sea, based on the seagoing families of each region. The result is something like a family atlas of the Greek contribution to global shipping and transport. It is a touching appraisal of legendary maritime families, each of which quietly and painstakingly built up a substantial part of the nation’s wealth. As the researchers explain, «Ploto» is more than a biographical dictionary, and it fits in with a growing trend toward studying enterprises. Shipping, with its emphasis on family capitalism rather than an impersonal global capitalism that separates ownership from management, retains certain kinds of commercial and economic relations which go back more than 200 years. Greek merchant shipping was born in the 18th century and developed rapidly in the following century when the growth of material wealth created new markets. Before the creation of an independent Greek state, Greek mariners worked a single expanse of water that stretched from the Black Sea to the North Sea and the Mediterranean, dotted with Greek-owned sailing ships. It could be said that the overtures made by Greek sailors and captains to the West in the 1770s were a motive force in strengthening the ties of Greeks with European ways and spreading ideas of equality before the law and social justice. The rapid progress of Greek shipping helped contribute to the national idea. Later on, in the 20th century, it contributed in large measure to national pride and economic development in Greece. Even the mansions in many Greek harbors, now a part of the national heritage, were contributed to by mariners who had encountered the prosperity of the West. Straddling the north-south and east-west sea routes, Greeks occupied a privileged position from 1850 onward, when the Ottoman empire was disintegrating and the era of free trade and laissez-faire capitalism was emerging. The transition from sail to steam, from 1880 on, furnished another opportunity for Greek trade to go global. Shipping families whose global reach benefited their homeland Below are some of the shipping families whose international activities helped build the national economy: Cephalonia: Athanassoulis, Ambatielos, Vallianos, Lykiardopoulos, Metaxas, Potamianos, Svoronos, Fokas. Ithaki: Vlassopoulos, Theofilatos, Stathatos. Galaxidi: Arvanitis, Dedousis, Kammenos, Katsoulis, Bakogiorgis, Economou, Parapetrou, Tsipouras. Andros: Valmas, Goulandris, Embirikos, Kambanis, Kydonieios, Palaiokrassas, Polemis, Hadoulis. Milos: Damoulakis, Malandrakis, Syrmalienos. Myconos: Ambanopoulos, Drakopoulos, Mavrogenis, Batis. Santorini: Alafouzos, Dakoronoias, Zannos, Manolessos, Nomikos, Sarris, Sigalas. Sifnos: Vernikos. Syros: Vafiadakis, Kalvokoresis, Mavrogordatos, Negropontis, Foustanos. Chios: Dromokaitis, Rallis, Rodokanakis, Skaramangas, Skylitsis, Andreadis, Georgantis, Karras, Livanos, Lo, Fafalios, Chandris. Oinousses: Laimos, Pateras, Frankou, Hadzipateras. Psara: Varvakis, Kalafatis, Kalimeris, Kotzias, Filinis, Hadzikyriakos. Lesvos: Kiourtzis, Sifnaios. Samos: Inglesis. Istanbul-Dardanelles: Arvanitidis, Zarifis, Kavounidis, Sideridis, Foscolos-Mangos. Smyrna and Asia Minor: Esthathiou, Papayiannis, Onassis. Patmos: Emiris, Kouloukountis, Mavroleon, Nikolaou, Hadzilias. Leros: Roussos. Skopelos: Valsamakis, Garyfalos, Rembakis, Siskos. Skiathos: Yiakoumis, Damaskos, Kokkinos, Koumbis, Mataronas. Hydra: Miaoulis, Koulouras, Kountouriotis, Kriezis, Sachtouris, Tombazis, Tsamados. Spetses: Anargyris, Goudis, Koutsis, Lazaros-Orlof, Mexis, Botasis. E. Peloponnese: Hadzipanayioti-Politis. Piraeus: Kallimanopoulos, Niarchos.

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