International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
44:2 (2015): 453–55

Julia Strauss, London

Man’s interaction with the sea has been a driving force in human history, through migration, war, exploration and trade. This is what Lincoln Paine hopes to demonstrate, and accomplishes admirably, in this monumental history of the world from a maritime point of view. The reader should not be put off by the 600 pages of text, for each chapter can stand on its own; it is, however, a compelling read and will surely appeal to a wide audience. This reviewer, at least, was sufficiently captivated to read about places and eras that had not previously been of great interest to her.

Paine pulls together an astonishing amount of information to narrate and analyse this chronological history, from the peoples of Oceania who bravely set out to sea 50,000 years ago, to the 21st-century container ships that carry 90% of the world’s trade. He tackles a far wider timescale than other maritime authors have done and he is also much less Mediterranean- and Western-supremacy-centric. In fact, the narrative jumps from one continent to another, but it is only by doing this that one can appreciate how maritime activities have shaped civilizations and cultures in every age and in every part of the Earth. Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949) was the first book to encompass geography, economics, politics and culture in this way and Paine, using similar ideas, broadens the field and examines geographical areas that have previously been studied in isolation. He answers the question ‘What is maritime history?’ with another: ‘What is terrestrial history?’ It is then that we realize how important the sea actually is, covering 70% of the globe. The exploitation of rivers, lakes and canals is included too as having played its part in the growth and success of land-locked regions around the world.

The 20 chapters of The Sea and Civilisation include the first sea crossings in the Pacific, Ancient Egypt, the ClassicalWorld, early Arab seafarers, Chinese traders, Viking conquerors, the Mediterranean Sea in medieval times, the Monsoon Seas of the 11th century and the Golden Age of Sail and European expansion of the 16th century onwards. The chapters on the advent of steam in the mid 19th century that enabled greater changes to naval power than had happened in the previous 25 centuries, and on the age of containerization in the 20th century bring the book to its present-day conclusion.

It is not possible to comment on every chapter, but some deserve particular mention. Ch. 1, ‘Taking to theWater’, offers an absorbing insight into the Pacific islands and the subject of migration. Spreading over nearly 39-million square kilometres (an area larger than the continent of Africa), Oceania was one of the last regions of the globe to become populated. People first crossed from Sundaland (South East Asia) to Sahul (Greater Australia) by sea about 50,000 years ago. Presumably they crossed on rafts of lashed logs—logboats only originated 20,000 years ago—but they may well have been able to keep land in sight. The next wave of migration happened north of New Guinea no later than 13,000 years ago, but these islands and those of the Solomons, the eastern-most limit of expansion, retained their diversity as can be seen by the many different languages spoken, ‘a linguistic stew found in no other region of comparable size’.

The history of Pacific voyaging becomes more impressive once a pattern of west to east migration began from the Solomon Islands towards Western Polynesia in about 1500 BC since seafarers would have lost sight of land. After centuries of stops and starts of seafaring in various directions, Hawai’i was finally populated in about AD 400 and New Zealand about 1000 years ago. An intriguing question is what motivated these people to sail across open water: not population pressures, nor trade. Paine tentatively mentions mere curiosity but, if that were the case, there is no comparison for such exploration until the 19th century. There is no archaeological evidence for the boats used by these voyagers but it seems likely that the double canoes observed by Captain Cook in the 1770s were the boats of choice. Single hulls with outriggers were used for fishing but were not stable enough for ocean sailing. Double canoes could measure up to 27 m long, and therefore carry people and provisions for up to six weeks.

In contrast to the open-water migrations of Oceania, the most popular theory about how the Americas became inhabited is that of a coastal route of migration about 15,000 years ago—also from Asia but via Beringia, an area of Siberia and Alaska that was still joined together until 11,000 years ago. Human settlement reached all the way down to Chile. A possible catastrophic El Ni˜no at some point during the 1st millennium BC then drove people from the coasts up to the highlands.

Chapter 4 focuses on the Phoenicians and the Greeks and their contribution to Mediterranean history over a 500-year period. They were responsible for the creation of many ports and centres of trade still in use today, for the first ships intended solely for military purposes and for furthering exploration into the Atlantic Ocean.

The international nature of trade can be seen very clearly in Ch. 11, ‘China Looks Seaward’. The beginning of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) brought in a golden age of Chinese civilization ensuring its prominence in Asia. Seeking to increase the monies raised from tax, the government allowed a more relaxed approach to trade than there had previously been. This internationalism can be seen most interestingly in the Belitung wreck of AD 826; a huge number of Chinese products, including 60,000 pieces of ceramics, and silverware, was being transported in a ship built in Southwest Asia. The ceramics were decorated with motifs to suit their intended markets: geometric designs for the Abbasid Caliphate, green-splashed bowls for the Persians and lotus symbols for the Buddhists.

Of special interest to this reviewer, and probably to the readers of this journal too, is the development of shipbuilding techniques throughout the ages, although Paine states in the introduction that this book is less about ships per se than about the things they carried. To focus solely on a couple of areas is all that space allows here. Ancient Egypt, a country normally associated with the desert rather than water, provides the most comprehensive body of evidence for the development of shipping in the ancient world, both archaeologically and epigraphically. The Nilewas the lifeline of this arid land, providing a means of transport for all sorts of merchandise, from 1000-ton stone blocks used for the pyramids to luxury goods such as incense and exotic animals. Egyptian mariners were also sailing in the Mediterranean to the Levant by 2600 BC and down the Red Sea to the land of Punt. The earliest surviving written references to Mediterranean trade are Egyptian (The Palermo Stone) as is the oldest surviving shipwreck narrative, ‘The Shipwrecked Sailor’. The return of Hatshepsut’s ships from Punt, c.1470 BC, is beautifully illustrated in the Temple of Thebes; some ships are being rowed and some are solely reliant on single sails; some are laden with storage jars and others with myrrh trees in baskets.

Egypt’s first vessels, however, were papyrus floats or rafts that were cheap to make but did not last much longer than a year, so by the middle of the 4th millennium they had been replaced by wooden boats. The earliest-known portrayal of a sail dates to the late 4th millennium BC and is depicted on the Gerzean jar, showing a single square sail positioned well forward on a single pole mast, although the earliest ships with masts were actually Mesopotamian and date to the 6th millennium BC.

The biggest and best-preserved ship from antiquity is the royal ship of Khufu that was found in the tomb at the base of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Dating to 2500 BC and comprising more than 1200 pieces of wood, mostly imported cedar, laid out in perfect order, it was painstakingly re-assembled over 13 years from the mid 1950s to form the 44 m pleasure ship it had once been. Built shell-first, the ship was flat-bottomed and held together by a combination of mortise-and-tenon work, and an estimated 5000 m of cordage. There was also a deckhouse that included an anteroom and main cabin, as well as two canopied areas.

Many other ships have been discovered in tombs and, added to the descriptions of boats in The Pyramid Texts, about 100 different kinds of vessels have been logged. The enormous working barges that plied the Nile were made from local woods such as acacia and sycamore fig that were only available in short lengths, hence the ‘brick-work’ kind of construction that is still used today.

On the other side of the world in North America, at roughly the same time, the choice of boats was logboats, skin boats, kayaks and bark canoes. These were designed to be light yet resilient for hunting walrus and seals in the cold northern seas and for carrying cargo and people in lakes and streams. While planked boats and sails were beginning to be used in Eurasia, they never developed in the Americas and the question as to why not remains a mystery.

Jumping forward a few centuries, interesting changes occurred in planked boats in the Mediterranean. The shell-first method had been used for centuries with both edge-joined, such as those fastened by mortise-andtenon joints, and clinker construction. A transitional phase occurred in which the hull was still built shell-first but with widely spaced mortise-and-tenon joints no longer fixed by pegs, as seen in the 7th-century Yassıada A ship off the coast of Turkey. The complete frame-first method developed in the later Middle Ages and revolutionized the way that ships could be manufactured. No longer were skilled boat-builders needed for the whole construction: they were still required to set up the keel, stem and stern-posts but less experienced workers could then attach the planks. The 11th-century Serc¸e Limanı ship, also off the coast of Turkey, is a good example.

Paine’s bibliography is extensive and up-to-date, the maps useful and clear. His treatment of end notes works very well: no distracting superscripts, but rather a 60-page section at the back simply corresponding to the page numbers. It would have been a bonus had there been more illustrations both colour and black-and-white, but those that have been chosen are clear and well-placed. Another bonus would have been some kind of chart depicting the types of boats and especially their sails as the descriptions can be difficult to visualize.

This massive and encyclopaedic retelling of world history through the eyes of a maritime historian is peppered with anecdotes, details and descriptions, such as the conditions on slave ships in the 1780s and the tragedy of the Arctic in 1854. Paine opens his work with the statement: ‘I want to change the way you see the world’. For this reader, that goal has been achieved. Such an enormous undertaking as this had not previously been tackled, and perspectives, especially of early history, will surely now be changed.


Journal of Global History 10:2 (2015): 358–59

Reviewed by H. V. Bowen, professor in modern history, Swansea University, UK

This is a bold and ambitious book. One can only admire an author who sets out to write a maritime history of the world that seeks to explore long-running interactions between ‘the sea’ and ‘civilization’. Most historians would shy away from such a challenge in view of the enormous range of knowledge that is required to offer even a summary of maritime history that extends over several thousand years, as well as over every ocean and continent. But Lincoln Paine, whose many and varied previous publications equip him well for projects such as this, wants to do more than simply offer an outline history to his readers. In his very first sentence he tells them that ‘I want to change the way you see the world’. By this he means that he wishes to shift the focus of attention and analysis away from the land to the sea. In doing this, he is, of course, drawing inspiration from the recent emergence of oceanic history as an important historical subdiscipline. But he is extending its scope of analysis yet further in a book that is described emphatically and self-consciously as a ‘world history’ (rather than global history), which he defines as being ‘the synthetic investigation of complex interactions between people of distinct backgrounds and orientations’ (p. 4).

There are many obvious dangers in taking such an approach, not least of which is the Eurocentricism that privileges the successes of Europe’s maritime powers in the four centuries after 1500 as lying behind the emergence of the modern world and its integrated global maritime economy. It is thus much to the author’s credit that he does not fall into this trap. Maritime Asia is well to the fore in the first half of the book, and Christopher Columbus does not put in a meaningful appearance until two-thirds of the way into Paine’s story. Indeed, to my mind the strongest and most engaging chapters are the early ones, where the sweep of the analysis is broad and a range of maritime interactions between peoples is explored with great skill in a very readable manner. Thereafter, however, one has the sense that Paine has been almost overwhelmed by the multiplicity of themes and volume of materials at his disposal, so much so that imposing order on it all has proved difficult, if not impossible. His chosen solution, as explained in the Introduction, is to select a few themes centred on, or arising from, maritime enterprise, which is especially evident for the period after 1600. As a result, the spine that runs through the book is discussion (and illustration) of how maritime enterprise stimulated broad levels of interaction and connection between peoples and the lands they inhabited.

The problem with this mode of organization is that it serves to create a teleological narrative that moves remorselessly towards the creation of a modern world economy shaped by ‘globalizing’ processes of maritime enterprise that, in retrospect, first crystallized in the seventeenth century. In this scheme, much has had to be left out: just as we are left with little sense of the sea as facilitating leisure, pleasure, or sporting activity over many centuries, so too, for example, there is nothing much said about fishing or the significant annual movements of people that have taken place by sea for religious purposes, as in the Hajj, which is only mentioned in passing. It might also be the case that readers are left wondering how the ‘civilization’ invoked in the title of the book has represented the sea in art, literature, music, and popular culture over the centuries.

There is also a marked change of style in the post- 1700 chapters when (almost inevitably, it has to be said) the reader is assaulted by a blizzard of detail and dates relating to wars, battles, treaties, and the like. The author’s strategy in this part of the book is to organize material into short sections with subheadings such as ‘The American revolution’ (which receives three-and-a-half pages of coverage), ‘The French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars’ (three pages), or ‘Peter the Great and Russian maritime ambition’ (two pages). As a result, the contents of Chapters 16–20 feel similar to a succession of encyclopaedia entries. It is also a pity that the book lacks a conclusion to tie together the major threads.

To be fair to the author, he acknowledges at the outset the ‘greater risks’ than usual carried by his project, and, for all the arguable omissions or misplaced emphases in the book, it is important to note the great range and diversity of what is included in its sweeping narrative. There are many surprises, not least of which is the author’s insistence on pursuing maritime activity into the interior of continents through examination of river- and lakeborne transport and commercial systems. Such subject matter adds to the rich texture of a book that readers will find accessible, informative, and entertaining. And those coming to maritime history for the first time will be indebted to the author for successfully rising to a challenge that is deemed too forbidding by most scholars and writers in the field.


Naval History 29:3 (June 2015): 68–69

Reviewed by Virginia Lunsford, associate professor of history, U.S. Naval Academy

While the current leaders of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps realize the tremendous significance (and vulnerability) of the global maritime domain, Lincoln Paine fears that many folks do not. His new book, The Sea & Civilization: A Maritime History of the World, aims to awaken us from our blithe obliviousness. “I want to change the way you see the world,” Paine proclaims in the very first sentence of his substantial tome. He hopes to refocus his readers’ eyes on the 70 percent of the globe that is shaded blue and away from their traditional preoccupation with activities on territorial masses, or rather, he wants his readers to grasp that endeavors on land are actually predicated on the seas. He seeks to reveal that historically (and today), happenings at sea and between seas have made the big events on land possible.

“This book,” Paine explains, “is an attempt to examine how people came into contact with one another by sea and river, and so spread their crops, their manufactures, and their social systems from one place to another.” He goes on to add that as a historian, “I have attempted to show how shifting approaches to maritime systems can be read as indicators of broader changes beyond the sea.” Paine’s approach, then, is something fresh and different in world history. All too often, Paine laments, the sea has functioned merely as an unobtrusive backdrop for “the complex interactions between people of distinct backgrounds and orientations.” Paine’s study aims to turn this type of interpretation on its head, and instead, offers a new perspective by making maritime history the crux of world history.

The Sea & Civilization is novel and different in another fundamental way, too. Paine’s version of maritime history is much more expansive than the field has traditionally been understood. While he certainly includes the Europeans in his account, they represent but one facet of his tale. His interpretation of maritime history is geographically and culturally fuller and more diverse, and thus includes a rich discussion of myriad peoples around the globe and through time; examples include the various civilizations of Asia and the Middle East, and indigenous peoples of Oceania and the Americas. Moreover, Paine stresses that maritime history should not just concentrate on the “blue water” of the oceans; rather, much of what has been crucial in human history has taken place on and by means of the world’s rivers and inland seas.

The result of Paine’s reorientation of world and maritime history, The Sea & Civilization, is a great achievement. It is an expansive yet highly readable and organized narrative history, grounded in impressive and extensive research and accented by a variety of helpful maps and effective illustrations. It is a long book, but never dull or laborious. Beginning in the Bronze Age and concluding with the contemporary era, Paine explores how the sea has fostered connections between the globe’s disparate peoples, and led to the development of various important economic relationships and centers of power. Tracing and connecting the maritime histories of a multitude of peoples — including the ancient Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Chinese, the Arabs, and the various European societies—Paine succeeds in asserting the primacy of the maritime domain in the unfolding of world affairs.

In his last chapter, “The Maritime World since the 1950s,” the author makes a final argument: The sea still matters. With the rise of the modern container ship and the isolated ports that serve them away from the public eye, and the ever-growing prevalence of “flags of convenience,” most communities have lost their sense of direct connection to merchant shipping. Once upon a time, merchant ships served as emblems of national economic might and graced key ports and population centers, but no longer.

Now, Paine explains, merchant shipping, despite its continual growth and central importance to the global and national economies, has been largely forgotten by modern populations. To vacationers taking holidays on cruise ships and to the beach, the sea is important as a playground and pleasant backdrop, but that is all. In contrast, Paine reminds us that the sea still maintains a fundamental role in global politics and economics, as it has throughout world history. Indeed, its role is more important than ever. Readers of Lincoln Paine’s admirable The Sea & Civilization will surely enjoy the book’s detailing and interweaving of diverse maritime activity over time; however, they should come to realize, too, a great and fundamental truth: the essential significance of the maritime domain to global human history and contemporary reality.

Asian Review of World Histories 3:1 (January 2015)

Reviewed by Karen M. Teoh, Stonehill College, Massachusetts, USA

This is a poignant moment to contemplate the sea, and mankind’s relationship to it. The pressures of climate change and human activity—from large-scale aquaculture to container shipping, from mineral extraction to deep-sea exploration—have affected the oceans and the marine life on which we depend, usually not for the better. As Lincoln Paine conclusively demonstrates in this magisterial work, the seas are also a crucial, perhaps even central, point of focus in the story of human civilization. Paine opens the book by declaring that he wants to change the way we see the world—by re-orienting our attention to the three-quarters of the planet that is blue, and composing a longue durée history that places water, not land, at the center of global development and transformation. The sheer scope and detail of this book alone take Paine a good way towards realizing that goal. Beyond that, however, he also shows an impressive command of both the specifics of maritime studies and a genuinely world-historical approach. What might, in less expert hands, be yet another retelling of a well-worn story is instead rendered as a deep, engrossing, and perspective-shifting read.

The Sea and Civilization is highly ambitious in its coverage. The book proceeds chronologically from the earliest days of documented maritime activity some fifty thousand years ago to twenty-first century shipping technologies and border politics. Paine begins with the earliest maritime ventures in regions such as the South Pacific and ancient Egypt; plunges into the intricacies of Mediterranean trade exchange and imperial tensions; and traces Northern European, African, South and Southeast Asian, and East Asian seaborne expeditions. In fact, it is not until Chapter 14 (of twenty chapters in total) that we encounter the Western European “age of expansion”—an era that, together with its impact on the Americas, is the typical starting or focal point of more Eurocentric (and “landcentric”) world histories. Simply by following the archaeological and archival trail, and by placing this later era in chronological perspective, Paine effectively challenges a conventional approach to global history and offers an undeniable alternative view.

In terms of depth, the book is equally thorough, authoritative, and persuasive. Paine carefully recounts the most significant and intriguing features of seafaring in each time period, from the science of navigation and boat building, to trade routes and military conquest, to cultural exchange and the minutiae of shipboard life. He then relates them to their larger economic, social, and political contexts, and provides a brief summary at the end of each chapter of the major themes and developments explored. This structure keeps the exposition from becoming overwhelming, as it allows the reader to surface regularly from the fine-grained examination of a specific region and era in each chapter to gain an overview of the global scene. As such, this one account is able to assimilate not only the somewhat more familiar Greek galleys, Roman ships, and the famed flotilla of the Chinese admiral Zheng He, but also the less frequently discussed (in conventional world history texts, at least) vessels and expeditions of Oman, and present-day Java and Cambodia—all as integral elements in the continuous and often inter-dependent story of human development in relation to the world’s waterways.

This nearly 750-page tome is densely packed with details, references, and action. One suspects that readers with some basic background in world history would have an easier time negotiating the plethora of information, and appreciating the mastery with which Paine manages this balance. Yet the author wears his decades of in-depth research and expertise relatively lightly, and this is to the reader’s benefit. The narrative is eloquent and engaging. Substantial endnotes and references are tucked away but easily accessed towards the end of the book, and the inclusion of vivid illustrations and literary references throughout enliven the text. This text would appeal to academic and general audiences alike. The former may find a few small items with which to quibble: for example, maps at the beginning of the book somewhat oddly combine place names and terminology from different eras, such that the map for “Pre-Columbian South America and the Caribbean” includes Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Also, scholars seeking a discussion of the most recent historiography will not find much of what they are looking for here. But these are minor issues that do not at all detract from this encyclopedic, enjoyable, and extremely well executed addition to maritime and world history.


Good Reading magazine (Australia), October 2014

Reviewed by Grant Hansen

In The Sea and Civilization Lincoln Paine attempts world history from a maritime perspective.

He does well to deliver a maritime history from Neolithic times to the late 20th century that traverses the seven seas and every other body of water you have ever heard of. This is a massive subject, and Paine does an excellent job of organizing his material and making it accessible. The book is packed with fascinating detail about navigation techniques and obscure trade routes.

Whether he succeeds in delivering ‘world history’ is more debatable. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power upon History (published in 1890) is the progenitor of this genre and has the rare distinction of being a history book which arguably caused World War I (the Kaiser read it and decided that Germany just had to have a few dreadnoughts). That work had a very clear thesis: the variable which has mattered throughout history was sea power. That is how world history tends to work. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel is in the same mould, but for better ships substitute better domestic animals. All of which makes great reading but it’s also historiographically quite dodgy, as if monocausal explanations can even adequately explain the average car accident, let along why Europe (and its scions) ended up dominating the world for the last 5000 years. (For those, like this reviewer, who believe tea drinking is the critical variable in world history, see The Savage Wars of Peace by Alan Macfarlane.)

In his introduction, Paine makes some large claims for the value and explanatory power of maritime history; he argues that it is far more than a niche subset of the history of technology. He sees his work as in the tradition of Fernand Braudel’s classic The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II and thus sets himself a pretty high standard.

But Braudel was really concerned with economics and how geography, climate and weather and a lot of other ‘structural’ factors determine events. He emphasised multiple perspectives. Fascinating as the maritime perspective is, its explanatory power is limited.

But then again, who cares? This book has a lot to offer. Paine is anxious to avoid a Eurocentric treatment of his subjects, and one of the pleasures of this book is the access it gives to little known areas of maritime endeavour such as the ancient trade routes of the Indian Ocean and the spasmodic episodes of Chinese naval expansion.

And it is a great pleasure to revisit the classic set pieces of the traditional narrative, too—the amazingly adventurous Portuguese explorations of the African coast; the incredible vision of that desperado Italian entrepreneur Columbus, hawking his mad schemes around the courts of southern Europe and finally getting lucky; the astonishing intrepidity of centuries of British sailors.

Inevitably in a single-volume work of this scope, the treatment of individual episodes—for example the Vikings or the Portuguese exploration of the African coast—is fairly superficial. And Paine’s concern to avoid a Eurocentric analysis may have led him to downplay the significance of European naval dominance from the 15th to 20th centuries and to overemphasize the significance of what preceded it, at least in terms of world history.

But if you want a sound overview of the last 5000 years of mucking around in boats, The Sea and Civilization is a good place to start.



Tribune (UK), October 1, 2014

Alastair Buchan

You know The Sea and Civilisation by Lincoln Paine (Atlantic, £30) is no Euro-centric fizz through the high­lights of maritime travel when a third of the way in, on page 252, you have only reached how the Normans crossed the Channel in 1066. The author demonstrates comprehensively that control of the seas—or at least its skilful use in trade—is a truly ancient story.

Mankind first took to open water 50,000 years ago; they braved the unknowable with the first voyages beyond sight of land at least 13,000 years ago. The South Pacific, not the Mediterranean, was the scene of these breakthroughs.

As a history, this vividly written book is a major achievement. But its main fascination in the time of air travel is that it is by sea that the large proportion of international trade still takes place. Today 90 per cent of the world’s freight, more than eight billion tons, travels over water.

Sadly—and I speak as a fisherman’s grandson—the community-linking benefits are not what they were. Huge container ships silently move between “ports” manned by crane operators and security guards. Hamburg, Halifax and Houston are still the destinations but the people are in the skies.

 Education About Asia 19:2 (Fall 2014)

James Holmes, Professor of Strategy, Naval War College

One of the great questions preoccupying Asia watchers today is whether continental powers such as China, India, or Iran can go to sea by amassing enough overseas commerce, merchant and naval fleets, and forward outposts to support voyages spanning the seven seas. And if they can, how will they do business in great waters, and how should established maritime powers interact with the newcomers to safeguard longstanding interests?

Commerce, bases, and ships: these are the lineaments of sea power according to classic works of maritime strategy. Yet both China and India withdrew great navies from the sea many centuries ago—during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, respectively. Only today are they again casting their strategic gazes seaward. Their return to the Asian seas, and the interactions it may set in motion, is eminently worthy of teachers’ and students’ attention, as it will be a fixture of twenty-first-century life. Can Asians regain the stature they once commanded in earlier centuries?

Maybe not. Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914), America’s prophet of sea power, doubted any continental power could make itself a dominant seafaring state for very long, as the resource demands are simply too burdensome. No nation can afford to do everything. Land defense—fending off invasion—comes first for nations situated among potentially unfriendly neighbors. The exigencies of maintaining a large army, maintains Mahan, siphon off manpower and resources that might otherwise go into an oceangoing navy.

Accordingly, Mahan suggests that continental powers such as the Sun King’s France are doomed to inferiority on the high seas vis-á-vis maritime nations such as Great Britain in its imperial heyday. Oceans and seas surround the British Isles with aquatic ramparts holding would be conquerors at a distance, whereas French rulers confronted prospective threats in continental Europe to the east and on the Iberian Peninsula to the west. Geography may not be destiny, then, but it does bias maritime competition in favor of a sea power squaring off against a land power.

Now, along comes historian Lincoln Paine with a rollicking good read that will also remind students not to blithely discount the nautical prospects of China, India, or Iran. Paine’s contribution to contemporary debates is indirect, to be sure, but no less valuable for all that. This is history on a grand scale. Horizontally speaking, it spans the globe; and vertically speaking, it peers into the dim recesses of time for insight into how civilizations have made use of the sea for commerce, combat, and natural resource extraction.

Paine’s recounting of maritime history demonstrates that supposedly landbound civilizations were anything but. Indian Ocean trade networks, notes the author, date back at least 4,000 years. Indeed, nautical trade and commerce were facts of South, Southeastern, and East Asian life long before 1498, when Portuguese mariner Vasco da Gama dropped anchor at Cochin along the Indian subcontinent’s southwestern coast. Archaeological evidence confirms that seagoing commerce connected Asian subregions centuries before Europeans’ arrival.

Perceptions of Western superiority at sea, then, arise from a historical accident—namely that the age of modern historical inquiry happens to coincide with the age of European and American rule of the waves. Plying the oceans and seas is not a purely European or Western specialty, observes Paine. Western seafaring is simply more recent, better documented, and thus easier to chronicle and mine for lessons.

Paine thus supplies a corrective to the sea power canon, which relies overwhelmingly on the age of European sail for insights into maritime strategy. Mahan, in his books The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 and The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, draws primarily on the British experience, as does his contemporary and occasional foil, Sir Julian Corbett (Drake and the Tudor Navy; Some Principles of Maritime Strategy).

Interestingly, as naval advocates in Asian capitals contemplate how to devise strategy and construct forces to execute it, they pore avidly over the works of Mahan and Corbett. In a sense, they are importing the Western experience as a guide to future Eastern strategy. One wonders whether there is a universal logic of sea power, or might Asians do things differently as they venture down to the sea in ships?

This is an offshoot of a long-running debate over whether there exist distinctly Eastern and Western ways of war and diplomacy or whether certain precepts—cost-benefit logic, concentration and dispersal of force, and so forth—transcend boundaries of time, space, and culture. In effect, Paine’s work provides the fundamental research for a fascinating conversation about foreign policy and strategy in a more maritime and Asia-centric world.

It’s a conversation with far-reaching consequences. America’s most recent maritime strategy designates the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf as the chief theaters for US naval endeavor. As sea service leaders ponder how to oversee the system of liberal trade and commerce while facing down potential rivals for maritime supremacy, they could do worse than gaze back into Asia’s past. The Sea and Civilization offers such a glimpse within one cover.

Similar works in macrohistory of the sea include Fernand Braudel’s venerable The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II and, more recently, David Abulafia’s The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. Even though they reach far back into recorded history, neither of these works matches Paine’s in its geographic breadth.

How should teachers of world and Asian history or international affairs use The Sea and Civilization? The book is too rich and densely packed with historical detail for any high school classroom short of—perhaps—the AP level. High school instructors, however, should distill useful insights from its pages to enliven their classrooms. The book is suitable for university-level coursework, particularly for upperclassmen, and would make an ideal text for graduate courses relating to Asia, the sea, and saltwater interactions between East and West.

Strongly recommended.

JAMES HOLMES is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of the book Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy (Naval Institute Press, 2010). The views voiced here are his alone.


The Northern Mariner / Le marin du nord
24: 1&2 (2014): 195–97

Louis Arthur Norton, West Simsbury, Connecticut

Lincoln Paine. The Sea and Civilization. A Maritime History of the World. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf,, 2013. xxxvi+744 pp., illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. CDN $46.00, cloth; ISBN 978-1-4000-4409-2.

The Sea and Civilization is an ambitious investigation of maritime history as it relates to and affects the advances of the world’s civilizations. Lincoln Paine leads his readers into a maritime maelstrom of the science, technology, cartography, industry, commerce, and politics of humankind as it is linked to the navigable waters of the world. He also touches upon sociology, religion, naval conflicts, international relations, transnational communications, intercultural migration, and exchange of natural resources. In summary, this work is an extremely complex narrative of mariners and ordinary people, and their varied activities that connected them to the seas and oceans.

Imagine being transported upon a series of vessels each built and launched during a particular time at a certain place representing an astounding array of intellectual, social, political, economic, technological, and industrial aspirations of a nation. Every ship and its mariners would become a microcosm of the society that created it on shore. The Sea and Civilization illuminates interrelated themes that have propelled world history.

Paine’s hypothesis is that the seas of the world have acted as pivot points in world history. To support this argument, Paine retells man’s experiences on the sea with masses of meticulously gathered historical evidence. The first voyages across open water occurred about 50,000 years ago and, according to Paine, those out of sight of land started 13,000 years ago. These pioneering events largely took place in the South Pacific. In each chapter the author reflects upon the history of navigation, naval architecture, shipbuilding, and their use in seaborne trade and warfare for each area of the world and its evolving culture.

The raw materials used in each ship’s hull construction ranged from tree bark, through animal hides, acacia, cedar, coconut, pine, oak and teak. The joining or fastening of the planking to the keels for water tightness varied greatly depending upon local rope-like matter and time-tested but primitive waterproofing compounds. Hulls were constructed in a shell form reinforced with ribbing. Mediterranean builders were the earliest shipwrights to abandon the shell-first hull-construction technique. This advance was more economical in terms of rapidly dwindling materials, available skilled labour and construction time. It, in turn, gave rise to the vessels that launched European domination of the Atlantic and ultimately, beyond. Watercraft were oar-propelled at first and became more sophisticated and less labour-intensive as they evolved from square, lug and lateen sails and complex rigging. As mariners plied the oceans during different seasons, they noted that the prevailing currents also changed through the year. Natural sciences were harnessed as an aid to propulsion.

This led to the global age of seafaring beginning just prior to 1500. Mariners devised depth-sounding devices by using lead lining and tide tables. They mapped what they could discern of the ocean floor to aid their movement between distant land masses. Adjustable compensational compasses and ship designs for specific purposes enabled trade to flourish more easily.

Paine’s chapter about Columbus notes that he made his historic voyage(s) largely due to an error of judgment about the size of the earth and had the good fortune to find landfall just before his crew was about to mutiny. Columbus’ [196] preparation as a seaman and the aftermath of his adventures are illuminating. The voyages of Columbus and his contemporary, Vasco da Gama, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope to Asia, opened the so-called “age of expansion.”

“This era was unprecedented not only because extraordinary floods of people, ideas, and material wealth, as well as flora, fauna, and pathogens, were unleashed around the world, but because Europeans were for the first time in the vanguard of world change. . . While maritime initiative shifted among various European powers, supremacy at sea would remain a European monopoly until the end of the nineteenth century” (p.406). European mastery of the seas evolved into the domination of global exploration and commerce. This led to colonization and unfortunately, slave labour on a mass scale. “Twelve thousand slaves were shipped in the first quarter of the [sixteenth] century, forty thousand in the second and a further sixty thousand between 1550 and 1575… The first slaves taken directly from Africa to the Americas arrived in 1530” and rapidly increased in number to work in the Brazilian sugar plantations (pp.410-411). Slavery supported agricultural demands and massive industrialization needs.

The biggest advance in maritime travel and shipping was steam technology dating from around 1800. Wind was a free source of power, but undependable and variable. Generation of steam required fuel sources such as wood, coal, or petroleum and in some military vessels, nuclear radiation. Providing ready access to fuel supplies led to the establishment of bases such as coaling stations, some of which morphed into mini-colonies of seafaring nations around the world. These outposts both opened up continents and connected them.

Canals and improvements in navigation transformed the industrial and economic landscape. Opportunities sprouted for economic development as goods and people moved across the seas and inland waterways. The tempo of life changed rapidly, leading to the realignment of trade and control of financial markets and the movement of capital. Steamships were used to lay intercontinental communications cable making instant communiqués for ordering and selling raw materials and finished goods to manage markets on a global scale. Water was the most efficient and cheapest way to transport bulk goods. The global trade in agricultural and industrial products that currently plies the world’s seas account for about 90 percent of global movement of freight. The cost of this seaborne transport has been driven down by more than 80 percent through port facility innovation, containerization, and especially reductions in labour costs.

The sea, however, has been a duplicitous friend. It enabled the conquest of distant lands, depredation, slavery, indentured servitude, deadly pathogens, and crime, such as piracy, that nibbled away at the edge of the seaborne spread of civilization. Yet it also promoted economic expansion, the promise of a better life in new lands, and, thanks to mechanical efficiencies in shipbuilding, means of propulsion and the maritime sciences, the steady march toward ever-rising standards of living.

Paine presents a consistent style for each chapter. The first section sets the broad historical scene as it relates to the nearby waters. The next roughly twenty plus pages take the reader through a whirlwind of historical maritime events. This usually leads to a section on the advances that a culture made in naval architecture and maritime science. Finally, Paine summarizes the chapter, putting it into historical perspective and leading into sections that cover the Mediterranean civilizations, the South Pacific, the African continent, plus the Arabic, Indian and Far [197] Eastern cultures emphasizing Chinese maritime history.

Such a broad and ambitious undertaking inevitably leads The Sea and Civilization into some shoal literary-waters. It begins before recorded history and describes places whose names have changed many times over and minor civilizations that have come and gone. The author includes many maps, but the places mentioned in the early part of the book are either difficult or impossible to find. The same applies to the peoples who, in many cases, are historically obscure. It is an exceptional guide through maritime history, but the information is so broad and vast, one occasionally feels drowned in a deluge of seafaring and cultural details. The choice to include some facts and exclude others was obviously difficult. The important details of many historical events are mentioned only in passing – if at all. Thus, Paine calls at a few “seaports” of historical information, but steams past others. It does, however, make me wish to visit the missing ones now that my interest has been piqued.

The Sea and Civilization is a well written and brilliantly organized book. It is extremely inclusive in its breadth, if not in depth. With its literary grace and richness, one could safely predict that it is destined to become a classic of maritime history. Paine’s literary opus certainly deserves a prominent place in the libraries of all maritime historians.

The New Maine Times
June 5, 2014

William D. Bushnell


In 1860 American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:  “The sea, washing the equator and the poles, offers its perilous aid and the power and empire that follow it.  ‘Beware of me,’ it says, ‘but if you can hold me, I am the key to all civilizations.”

And as Maine maritime historian Lincoln Paine smartly shows, the world’s seas and oceans are not only the keys to all the lands, they are the keys to all civilizations.

THE SEA & CIVILIZATION is Paine’s fifth non-fiction book, preceded most notably by his DOWN EAST:  A MARITIME HISTORY OF MAINE and SHIPS OF DISCOVERY AND EXPLORATION.  Paine lives in Portland, Maine, and is noted for his comprehensive explanations of maritime history.  Here he presents an excellent view of the “consciousness of the sea and the growing realization that maritime history offers an invaluable perspective on the history of the world and ourselves.”  As an added bonus, this book just won the prestigious 2014 Maine Literary Award for Non-fiction, presented by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.

Paine’s effort here is to graphically show how world history, from antiquity to today, has been shaped by the world’s seas and oceans and by societies driven by maritime commerce, exploration, and naval activity.  This is a global history told within a maritime theme as he expertly reveals the direct interrelationships  between maritime geography, human migration, empire creation and expansion, as well as coastal and trans-oceanic trade, and the development of navigation aids and ship design through the centuries.

With colorful examples, Paine relates how ancient civilizations quickly realized the potential for sea and ocean travel as seafaring opened commercial markets for imports and exports, and allowed for the creation of wealth and the expansion of power.  He describes the Bronze Age of Seafaring (Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans), the Silk Road of the Seas (China, India), and why the Mediterranean Sea was viewed bas the center of the world.

He tells how the Phoenicians were the first civilization to establish a sea-based colonial empire, how they were the first to sail out of the Mediterranean, and how the Greeks expanded their reach into the Black Sea.

Much of Paine’s narrative focuses on maritime trade, but he also explores the uses of naval forces to protect commerce and advance civilizations’ territoriality and power, controlling sea lines of communication, and creating the early concepts of sea denial and sea control.  The Portuguese were the first to claim the seas as their sole domain in 1488, and although that political tactic has been unsuccessfully attempted countless times, nations even today still try to control the seas to the exclusion of others.

He does on to tell of the development of the clipper ships and steamships, the establishment of prescribed shipping lanes to control maritime traffic, safety at sea, naval warfare (ironclads, rifled guns, radios), how container ships were created, how “flags of convenience” now govern maritime shipping companies, how the greatest migration of humans was made possible by maritime shipping, and how massive engineering projects were built to facilitate maritime commerce, naval forces, and empire protection (the Suez and Panama Canals).

Best of all, Paine convincingly argues that humans are creative and resourceful, responsible through the ages for the remarkable positive uses of the seas and oceans.  He properly summarizes his maritime history of the world with a quote from Byzantine philosopher  George Pachymeres (1242-1310):

“Sailing is a noble thing, useful beyond all others to mankind.  It exports what is superfluous, it provides what is lacking, it makes the impossible possible, it joins together men from different lands, and makes every inhospitable island part of the mainland, it brings fresh knowledge to those who sail, it refines manners, it brings concord and civilization to men, it consolidates their nature by bringing together all that is most human in them.”

So, it seems that Emerson, Pachymeres, and Paine are right.

June 04, 2014, Alan Judd

The clue is in the title: this is not about the blue-grey-green wet stuff that covers 70 per cent of our planet’s surface. Rather, it’s about how the sea and our use of it have influenced us economically, culturally, religiously and politically:

“Much of human history has been shaped by people’s access, or lack of it, to navigable water …. Life on the water whether for commerce, warfare, exploration or migration has been a driving force in human history.”

Admitting that he wants to “change the way you see the world”, Lincoln Paine also claims that “The past century has witnessed a sea change in how we approach maritime history.”

He adduces a deal of evidence from times ancient and modern to show how the sea has at once protected and exposed, enabled and frustrated, attracted and repelled us. Nowadays, with more sea cruises annually than before the jet age and with the proliferation of leisure sailing, we have made a pleasure out of what was once a peril, yet 90 per cent of the world’s freight is still sea-borne.

For some civilisations the sea was formative. Five thousand years ago the Nile and the Mediterranean brought to the early Egyptians their vision of the afterlife, a conception of the state, political stability, a degree of domestic tranquillity, and economic and cultural intercourse with distant peoples. It also enabled them to perform useful tricks, such as moving 330-ton stone obelisks hundreds of miles. (They would bring the stone to the water’s edge on rollers, dig a channel beneath it to let the water in, load a barge with smaller stones, float it in beneath the obelisk, then unload the smaller stones until the barge had risen sufficiently in the water to bear the obelisk.)

The sea could also work against you, of course. Not only by drowning, flooding or isolating, but in exposing you to danger even while protecting you. We often think of our own sceptred isle as having been saved by the sea from Spanish, French and German invasion, as indeed it was. But between the fifth-century departure of the Romans and 1066 it was our long undefended coastline with its many estuaries that facilitated surprise attack and easy penetration by waves of Saxon and Viking invaders. Surprise would have been harder if they’d had to tramp across the area of the North Sea rather than materialise out of the dawn mists.

But the main drift of this learned and deeply researched book is that many human societies evolved as they did largely because of sea-contact with other societies.

The birth, expansion and longevity of pharaonic Egypt depended on harnessing the Nile … while the seas were a filter through which its people absorbed foreign goods and influences, a buffer against invasion and a thoroughfare for projecting political and military power.

Perhaps most significant for us and for the development of the western world was the seaborne diffusion of the Greek alphabet “the last word in low-volume, high-value cargo and the most transformative agent of change in the ancient Greek world”. Along with the Phoenician original on which it was modelled, examples of the earliest Greek writing have been found not only in Greece but along the trade routes.

However, the sea wasn’t merely a helpful facilitator of communication and a conveyor of goods and services. It was, and remains, a home for pirates. It is unfortunate that we inherited the romantic image of these ruthless wealth-seekers as colourful and nowadays “deprived”, their predations thus almost justified. The Roman mind, as Paine shows, was less clouded by sentiment. Young Julius Caesar was captured and held for nearly 40 days before being ransomed for 12,000 gold pieces; but Caesar did not know Stockholm Syndrome and returned to crucify his captors. Possibly the most effective piracy suppression strategy in history was that of Pompey, who divided the Mediterranean into 13 naval districts, ordering the captain of each to destroy any pirates he found but not to leave his zone. One area, the coast of Cilicia, was left unguarded and swiftly became a refuge for survivors, upon which Pompey moved against it with his army. He is thought to have killed about 10,000 altogether, cleansing the western Mediterra
nean in only 40 days, while showing pragmatic clemency to those who surrendered at Cilicia. Transplanted to a nearby port, they became his loyal supporters in subsequent wars.

Important though it was, the Mediterranean is only part of the history of maritime development, known because some of the cultures it spawned left written records. Other seas and other cultures in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans were variously busy, particularly in the Far East, but scarcity of a written record makes some of their human histories harder to trace.

Paine is assiduous, however, in ferreting out evidence. Just as the spread of Judeo-Christian beliefs and Islam were partly seaborne, so, he notes, did the spread of Buddhism to China increase trade, despite Confucianist scorn of commerce. In the first few centuries AD there were maritime disputes involving Korea, China and Japan (as there are, ominously, between the latter two now). There is evidence, too, of ancient Chinese use of canals and of hydraulic engineering to control flooding and later of a Roman merchant at the Han court.

Somewhat later still, the development of the marine engine and vastly larger and safer ships transformed our use of the sea. It made possible “the greatest episode in human migration” when 56 million Europeans emigrated between 1815 and 1930. Churchill’s 1912 insistence on a diesel-powered Royal Navy endowed oil with strategic importance and shaped the course of international relations into our own century.

Now, often under flags of convenience, the maritime industry increasingly operates without reference to national interests, fostering globalisation and cross-cultural interdependence as it has for millennia but on a much greater scale one container ship can carry as much as was moved in a year across the Mediterranean in ancient times. With containerisation and remote docking our sea trade is less visible than before but our reliance on it even greater. Now and again, though, we are reminded that although we ride those seas we do not master them as recently, on the west of these isles, when Neptune gave us a little prod with his trident.

Literary Review: Men in Boats

Roger Crowley, March 2014

Lincoln Paine launches this major new maritime history with a bold mission statement: ‘I want to change the way you see the world.’ His thesis is that the contribution of seafaring to world history has largely vanished from our field of vision, as the ships themselves have. He chides other big-picture historians, such as Jared Diamond and J M Roberts, for having missed a vital dimension. A hundred years ago it would have been otherwise: merchant fleets and navies were at the heart of many national identities. Now the stacked containers that carry 90 per cent of the world’s goods are transported in ghost ships manned by international skeleton crews and flying flags of convenience. The seafaring life has been industrialised to the point where it is now invisible to the vast majority of people; the cosmopolitan bustle of ports has been replaced by the automation of warehouses. In the process we have lost sight of a huge tranche of human history. To correct this imbalance Paine does not offer a traditional account of ships and ship design—though these do have a place in his book. Instead his approach is multidisciplinary. He focuses on what ships carried and facilitated—trade, ideas, peoples, religions, languages, legal systems—and how these contributed to the development of societies and civilisations. If there is one overarching theme, it is that of convergence: ships are engines of globalisation.

In twenty neatly parcelled chapters he takes us from the first known images of ships – Norwegian rock carvings of hunters in boats chasing swimming reindeer, dating from around 4200 BC – to the trucking magnate Malcom McLean, whose invention of containerisation in the 1950s revolutionised the maritime world and launched a new, global torrent of goods. In the process, Paine switches our angle of vision, arguing that Europeans didn’t start to dominate maritime activity until 1500, a period he covers in the last quarter of the book. For nearly two thousand years the epicentre of world trade lay further east, in the monsoon seas of the Indian Ocean and beyond – a place to which it is now reverting. Before Europeans found a way into the Indian Ocean, these waters comprised a dynamic trade zone that allowed China to receive the goods of Rome via Persia, and Islam to spread, not at the point of the sword but in the hold of a dhow. At  the time of Marco Polo, activity in the port of Guangzhou dwarfed that of Alexandria, the hub of long-distance exchange in the Mediterranean.

Throughout history, the link between religion and trade has been particularly strong. Merchants and missionaries travelled on the same decks. During the period of the Liu Song dynasty it was noted that ships brought ‘valuable products of the sea and mountains. And also the doctrine of devotion to the lord of the world’ – that is, the Buddha. The Chinese attempts to pioneer a direct route across the China seas probably stemmed from a desire to have access to the great centres of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and India. The oriental ‘Silk Road of the Seas’ resulted in a generally virtuous circle of transmission of goods and cultures that fostered the development of compatible legal systems and maritime contracts, boosted agriculture and generated tradable food surpluses.

From a maritime perspective, many assumptions about world history can be picked apart. As well as undermining the idea that Islam was simply a religion of terrestrial nomads (the largest Muslim population is to be found on the archipelago of Indonesia), Paine demonstrates that Rome only became a world power by taking to the sea, that the warlike Vikings were traders as much as raiders, and that it’s a mistake to imagine that the mass migration to find Californian gold took place in wagons. The majority of the ‘forty-niners’ travelled round Cape Horn in sailing ships. It was a journey of more than 13,000 miles, compared to 3,000 overland, but it took the same amount of time and allowed the transportation of far larger numbers.

Paine repeatedly reveals the symbiotic relationship between seafaring and social and political developments. Ships are highly labour-intensive and require considerable natural and human resources and civic commitment. In the long view warfare is little more than a storm on the surface of the sea. Sometimes a development in maritime technology has shaped kingdoms. The invention of sails on the Nile allowed ships to travel upstream more easily – against the current but with the wind – and was probably influential in the unification of upper and lower Egypt. Conversely, ships can be instruments of centralising governments: the most extreme examples have come in the past five hundred years, the most successful being the British Empire. Wider technological developments have often led to maritime advances – sometimes with unforeseeable consequences. Once the age of steam took to the water it allowed for migration on an unprecedented scale, carrying 56 million people away from Europe in a century. The container revolution, ushered in by a man with no shipping experience, is really the application of hyper-efficient big-box distribution onto floating platforms.

The Sea and Civilization  is an extraordinary and lucid feat of compression that draws on a mass of scholarship. Paine writes extremely well, chooses his quotations aptly and balances the proportions of the book carefully. He does not privilege the flurry of maritime developments in the last two hundred years or the battleships and submarines of the world wars over the earlier history. The book is rich in suggestive ideas. The maritime perspective is continuously intertwined with the rise and fall of cultures and civilisations and Paine introduces a vast amount of information about geography and world history along the way. Fortunately the maps are good, but the sheer volume of information does lend the book something of a textbook feel – each chapter begins and ends with a summary and is broken up into short subsections. It’s a book to read slowly and thoughtfully. If there is one thing eerily missing, it’s the sense of the maritime experience itself. The sea, as Paine points out, frequently provides an easier means of travel than land but it is not a neutral medium, and the difficulties, the dangers, the voice of the sailor and the smell of the sea itself are understated here. To be fair, Paine did not promise these things, and if his approach does not completely revolutionise your view of world history it will, however, enrich it. ‘To sail is necessary; to live is not,’ Pompey declared, as he set off in a storm with a supply of grain for the people of Rome.


Times Literary Supplement: Great creature on which weak creatures ride

Margarette Lincoln, 16 July 2014

Lincoln Paine sets out to change the way we see the world by focusing on the impact that the sea has had on human histories. He wants us to concentrate on the blue in maps and allow the earth tones to fade to lesser significance. This is an epic task. As he points out, people took to the sea around 50,000 years ago, about 40,000 years before they started domesticating dogs or planting crops. Naval warfare between centralized states that could boast comparable fleets did not begin until the first millennium BC, and much has happened since.

The Sea and Civilization is well illustrated throughout and carefully structured: within a broad chronological sweep Paine deals with different geographical areas in separate chapters. Even though he focuses successively on distinct areas of the globe and diverse peoples, he invariably finds a powerful link between chapters that gives added coherence to the work. It is prefaced with a series of maps relating to consecutive sections and therefore to the world and sea power at different points in history. These maps are vital in order to follow the trajectory of the book’s often complex geopolitical content.

Inevitably, Paine treats similar themes in successive chapters: ship construction, navigation, seaborne trade, how governments and rulers have used maritime enterprise to augment their power. Yet this detail permits comparison between different peoples worldwide and over centuries. Some, as in the Americas, were slow to develop long-distance maritime networks, in spite of abundant natural resources and favourable environmental conditions. Even the Greeks, whom we think of as a maritime people, in archaic times stayed mostly around their native Mediterranean Sea, “like frogs round a pond”, in Plato’s words.

Naturally enough, Paine starts his ambitious work with Oceania, setting out the impressive voyages made by island peoples as they swept from west to east over the Pacific from about 1500 BC and settled in increasingly remote landfalls. He explains how these islanders, the most advanced navigators of their time, managed to cross vast expanses of water, carrying with them enough supplies and livestock to create viable new homes, and he excites admiration for their bravery and navigational skill – which was orally transmitted to a select few from one generation to the next. This sets the tone for the rest of the book, which essentially seeks to pay tribute to humankind’s maritime endeavour and cumulative achievement over the centuries.

Chapter by chapter, Paine describes the maritime progress of the Ancient Egyptians; of Bronze Age seafarers in Mesopotamia, the Indus valley and the Mediterranean; the accomplishments of the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans in Classical times; and the maritime peoples of the Indian Ocean – where trade had less impact on political developments than in the enclosed Mediterranean world. Paine then turns his attention to China, where branching rivers were harnessed to improve internal communication, crucial to the formation of the Chinese state. While the sailors of other countries dominated long-distance trade, China was the magnet whose goods prompted further development of maritime commerce. In discussing trade between China and Japan, Paine mentions the Japanese practice of employing ritual abstainers to ensure a safe passage:

“They always select a man who does not comb his hair, does not rid himself of fleas, keeps his clothes soiled with dirt, does not eat meat, and does not lie with women. He behaves like a mourner, and is called a “keeper of taboos” . . . . If the voyage is concluded with good fortune, every one lavishes on him slaves and treasures. If someone gets ill, or if there is a mishap, they kill him immediately, saying that he was not conscientious enough in observing the taboos.” If this report is true, the employment of a ritual scapegoat seems unique to the Japanese maritime tradition.

The narrative then deals with maritime life in the medieval Mediterranean after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and during the period of Muslim maritime expansion. Paine notes that the growth of trade between Byzantine and Muslim ports supports the military record, which indicates that while it is usual to think of a Mediterranean divided between Christian and Muslim spheres of interest, relations were far more complicated: power between states split along many secular and religious fault lines. He scotches the notion that Islam was hostile to the sea.

Arab countries such as Oman and Yemen have ancient traditions of seafaring, although the second caliph may have recommended that Muslims avoid it, having been informed that “the Sea is a great creature upon which weak creatures ride – like worms upon a piece of wood”. Interestingly, too, by medieval times Jewish, Christian and Muslim commercial contracts had developed similar features in spite of different legal traditions. Merchants were collaborative as well as competitive, adapting their business to overcome cultural differences so that all stood to gain through trade.

Paine proceeds to the Viking Age; to trade across the Monsoon Seas from southwest to northeast Asia (the Spice Islands had a far greater role in shaping world trade than their minute size and small population would suggest); to the period of European expansion from the fifteenth century – pointing out that the volume of trade carried to Venice during an entire year would probably fit into a single twenty-first-century cargo ship; and emphasizes the unprecedented rise in the numbers of people at sea in the eighteenth century as northern Europe came to prominence. Finally, he deals with the Age of Steam, mass migration, twentieth-century world wars, and concludes with an examination of the maritime world since the 1950s.

The focus on the sea rather than the land means that the narrative tells us more about battles and the trade in goods than about the consumption of those goods and culture. Even so, it is obvious that far from being a barrier, the sea is generally a frontier that joins people of different faiths and races, facilitating the transmission of ideas. From the earliest times, travel by water was often faster, more convenient and even safer than overland travel. Paine incorporates the latest archaeological findings and we learn much about the evolution of the ship – a development that moved at different speeds in different locations, and in ways adapted to local needs and ambitions.

Yet arguably, in order to form a just appreciation of sea power at any point in time, readers also need to understand what was happening on land and to grasp the significance different people themselves placed on maritime affairs. This is implicit in chapters about the Classical World, when the Greeks then the Romans first built fleets so that they could defeat rival powers. And yet, it is Paine’s contention that a specific emphasis on the maritime reveals patterns of world history that would otherwise be obscured. For example, trade on the Monsoon Seas connecting East Africa and northeast Asia was already established 2,000 years ago; later traders only built on existing traditions.

Unsurprisingly, in a book of this scope and length, the performance is uneven. Often this simply reflects the nature of the source material. Chapters dealing with pre-history are unable to draw on individual testimonies to enliven and personalize the account. As Paine moves from one region of the world to another and from one civilization to the next, the danger is that sections of the book can read like a gazetteer repeatedly offering bald descriptions of local geography, staple products, regional politics and key statistics. The effect on historiography of the nature of the sources that survive into the present is well illustrated. Where there is no witness testimony we have little sense of how people felt at the time, even if the lack of personal accounts, invariably biased, hardly affects our understanding of the course of events. A quotation from Aristophanes’ comedy The Acharnians (425 BC), describing the frenetic activity at the Piraeus waterfront, brings home the absence of such accounts in the earlier narrative:

“Shouting crows around ship’s captains, pay being distributed, figureheads of Athena being gilded, the Piraeus corn market groaning as rations were measured out. People buying leathers and rowlock thongs and jars, or garlic and olives and nets of onions, garlands and anchovies and flute girls and black eyes; and down at the docks, the reed-pipes and pan-pipes and boatswains and warblings.”

Even so, surprising comparisons can lift the prose, as when Paine describes the meandering rivers in Bronze Age Mesopotamia that could wipe out riverside towns: “watercourses twitched across them like a garden hose in geologic time”.

Occasionally, one feels the lack of analysis and discussion, or at least transparency about the selection of material. Yet this is an accomplished work of synthesis rather than of grand argument. The scholarship evidenced in a narrative that spans so wide a canvas and so lengthy a chronology is impressive. And Paine aims to be even-handed rather than offer merely a Western viewpoint: he understands that a maritime focus which aims to look beyond nationalist paradigms risks replacing arbitrary terrestrial divisions with an equally arbitrary division of the world’s seas and oceans. But Eurasians ultimately built vessels of greater size and complexity than those found elsewhere, and they are the primary subject of the book.

On one level the importance of the sea to civilization is self-evident. Yet The Sea and Civilisation does deepen our understanding of human endeavour and problem-solving over the centuries, emphasizing the consequence of wind, weather and geographies to the historical chain of events. Paine also understands that maritime enterprise becomes a determining force in history only when there is a particular combination of economic, demographic and technological conditions that enable it to take effect. His narrative enables us to see the longevity of certain behaviours and human concerns that we mistakenly tend to think of as modern. But arguably the overall effect of taking such a long view, as civilizations flourish and fade, is to make much human endeavour seem small, however heroic an individual act; the fractious concerns of myriad peoples insignificant.

The Sea and Civilization is priced to appeal to a popular readership. Paine is regretfully conscious that people are no longer aware of the importance of ships and shipping lines as they were when the piers and docks of traditional port cities were crammed with liners and freighters. Ships still carry about 90 per cent of world trade and the number of ocean-going vessels has increased threefold in the past half-century, but cargo-handling facilities have long since relocated to less visible areas. Lincoln Paine’s monumental work serves to remind us that maritime history offers a valuable perspective on the history of the world.

Sydney Morning Herald: Sweeping view of martime history’s role in today’s world

July 8, 2014
Ross Southernwood

In many ways we take the seas and oceans, covering 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, for granted these days. They are there and we utilise them as we see fit for travel, trade, leisure pursuits and fishing.

However, most of us don’t give them the weight they deserve for how important they—and the rivers­—were in landing the human race where and how it is now. Lincoln Paine, though, does exactly that in his majestic The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World.

Paine’s sweeping narrative, as the subtitle suggests, ranges from extremely ancient times through to today. “It is impossible to know who first set themselves adrift in saltwater or fresh and for what reason, but once launched our ancestors never looked back,” he writes.

Noting the oldest known pictorial representations of watercraft are 6000-year-old Norwegian rock carvings depicting reindeer hunters in boats, he adds “… the distribution of human communities around the world proves that our ancestors launched themselves on the water tens of thousands of years before that”.

Among those that made their mark afloat were the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans from the classical world. Although the latter are often seen as primarily a land power, Paine shows how critical to the establishment of their empire was the Romans’ eventual dominance of the Mediterranean, which they ultimately saw as “our sea”.

The Chinese, like the Romans, were at one time, through a Eurocentric world view, seen as a non-maritime people. Yet, they have had their moments, one of the most memorable being the huge expeditionary fleets led by Zheng He between 1405 and 1433. Today, of course, China is developing as a considerable naval power.

In a different context, we tend to think of the Vikings as having been a sea-going people. While this is true – they reached western Europe, the British Isles, Ireland and North America – they were also inland sailors, voyaging to the Caspian and Black seas by river. Nearer to Australia’s shores are the islands of Oceania, situated across millions of square kilometres of the Pacific and the locality of what Paine considers the “oldest, most sustained, and perhaps most enigmatic effort of maritime exploration and migration” in history. These Pacific sailors’ feats, long before European sails were sighted there, were achieved by their own unique navigational practices, the details of which make fascinating reading.

Paine invites the reader to imagine a world of people bound to the land. He suggests, for instance, that without ships the ancient Greek diaspora would have developed a different character and been forced in different directions; without maritime commerce, neither Indians nor Chinese would have exerted the influence they did in south-east Asia; while the Vikings could not have spread as quickly or widely as they did.

During more recent centuries, he reminds us, the age of western European expansion was a “result of maritime enterprise without which Europe might well have remained a marginalised corner of the Eurasian landmass”. In that period the Australia we know today came into being after the British arrived, in what Paine correctly describes as “the second settling of Australia”, the first being that of the country’s indigenous people, who arrived by land millennia before.

Paine’s Sea and Civilization should be a welcome addition to historical and maritime bookshelves.


Naval Historical Foundation

Reviewed by Sam Craghead (Posted June 30, 2014.)

This book could easily be titled, “The Greatest Sea Story Ever Told.” The subtitle proffers the scope of the work, which Lincoln Paine delivers in grand style. With 599 pages of text, 48 pages of bibliography, 17 maps, 26 pages of color images, and 46 illustrations, it was a prodigious undertaking. The Sea and Civilization is a worldview rarely seen today. It ventures far to acquaint us with the influence of the seas and rivers and relates where man has been and how he arrived to where he is now.

This noteworthy volume is written in a prose style as engaging as the stories included in the volume. Paine tells of the people throughout history who have explored, pioneered, traded, fought, and died; built and lost ships; opened markets; conquered adversity; established and spread religion; made and lost money; and used the waters comprising seventy percent of our planet to further human civilization. This monumental product of intense research is presented in a manner easily readable by scholar and layman alike. The book contains detailed descriptions of the vessels employed and the means of navigation utilized throughout. The author begins with the astounding distances and means employed by the inhabitants of the Pacific, the dispersion of people to the Americas, and the founding and expansion of contact, communication, and trade by sea and river.

As trade developed along the Nile, Pharaonic Egypt stretched its influence along the Eastern Mediterranean. As this influence declined other peoples filled the gap in succession. The Phoenicians were followed by the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. In the East, the Indian Ocean trade centered on seaborne communications and trade to Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. As maritime traffic grew, nations recognized the need for protection of their interests. Navies and maritime laws became established.

Today, few of us dream of going to sea. A trip to cities that were once ports of call for ships resembles little of those by-gone days. With its shipping and the variety of seamen from around the world, as described by author Herman Melville, the port of Nantucket of his day, as well as other previously well-known ports of call for ships indeed have vanished.If there is any criticism of this work, it would be the anchoring of maps at the front of the volume. This makes the reader to mark their place when referring to the map. That being said, it is a small inconvenience for such an overall rewarding experience.

—See more at: – sthash.JBpWmqCt.dpuf

Asian Review of Books

Juan José Morales, 12 May 2014

Although more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, it is generally neither realized nor accepted that the history of the world is very much a maritime history. Lincoln Paine’s The Sea and Civilization seeks to rectify this: it is an ambitious work of more than 700 pages dense with facts and rich in detail that tells mankind’s story from the perspective ofour relation to the seas—as well as lakes, rivers and canals. The success of the effort is that by the end, the underlying idea seems self-evident: man’s relation to thesea has been a driving force of human history; the interrelations and reciprocal influences are the prevalent condition in world history, and not the exception.Taking inspiration from Fernand Braudel’s classic and influential The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Paine taps into the recent increasing emphasis on  analysis of the interplay between geography, economics, politics, military and cultural history, and the role of the sea and water in particular.The oldest advanced navigators were probably the inhabitants of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia,although how they reached those remote Pacific islandsremains an enigma. As in other areas of ancient history, our knowledge is constrained by a dearth of records, here aggravated by the improbability of finding underwater relics and the difficulties of marine archeology.Evidence becomes clearer for historic periods closer to our own, allowing us to gain a reasonable understanding of everything from the aboriginal paddlers of the North American birchbark canoes and Arctic skin boats to the intrepid Vikings and their exploits from the Mediterranean to what is now Newfoundland in Canada.Nowhere were the conditions more favourable for cultural interaction than in the Mediterranean; its enclosed nature and short distances, its predictable currents and winds, were central to the civilizations that flourished there for millennia. The sail is known to have appeared at around 3000 BC in Egypt. Two masts were used for the first time by the Etruscans. The Phoenicians expanded their seaborne trading network westward—in competition with the Greeks—and were the first to build different ships for trade and for war.But not surprisingly, a maritime history of the worldquickly becomes a history of international trade, for the legal and financial instruments that facilitated the exchange of goods between peoples of different cultures were born in connection with the sea. Luxury and basic goods as well as, sadly, slaves, were traded by sea,which also provided the conduit for ideas, religions and the written word.Among the earliest vestiges of the Greek language is an inscribed cup mentioning Nestor and Aphrodite, found on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples; it could only be brought there on a ship. Sea voyages are prominent in the Epic of Gilgamesh, echoes of which are left in the Bible and in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The Buddhists stories collected in the Jatakas are a remarkable source on Indian seafaring as well. And like symbolic representations of human conflicts that took the seas as the stage, Aeschylus fought in the battle of Salamis, and Cervantes in Lepanto.The book covers the little known but rich maritime history of the Monsoon Seas—the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.China is covered at length too: the rise and expansion of Chinese civilization was made possible by the harnessing of the Yangtze and the Yellow River and the accomplishment of a remarkable network of canals. This inland navigational knowledge would later facilitate China’s exposure to the open seas and itscultural, religious and political imprint on neighbouring Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. Non-maritime elements are overlaid on the narrative, and some are particularly well-explained, such as the influence of the short-lived Sui dynasty on the blossoming of the succeeding Tang, or the context of the backlash against Buddhism in mid-9th century.The Sea and Civilization is a coherent history of world’s civilizations rather than a history of navigation. Although highlights of different vessels and developments in shipbuilding are interspersed throughout the narrative, the discussion of early books of navigation is fragmentary, the compass merits an entry in the index but longitude does not, and the landmark invention of the sea clock is covered in one paragraph and its inventor, John Harrison, is just mentioned once.But technology had its role and Paine gives its fair share, noting for example the fundamental shift in Mediterranean shipbuilding sometime during the early Middle Ages, when shipwrights abandoned the shell-first for the frame-first hull construction: a more practical method that ultimately allowed European expansion across the Atlantic and beyond, all the way to Asia.It is not hard to agree with the author when he singles out the main navigational feats of any age: Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic in 1492; da Gama’s voyage to India via the Cape of Good Hope in 1498; Magellan-Elcano’s circumnavigation of the globe from 1519 to 1522; and Urdaneta’s first west-to-east crossing of the Pacific in 1565.In the age of sail, these were no easy achievements—before Urdaneta found the right currents and the right winds, many Spanish crews were lost at sea. In the end, those voyages inaugurated the era of true global interdependence.From that point on the world becomes better understood, if not necessarily better. Mankind has gone from adaptation to mastery of the seas to, now, the endangering of the maritime environment that nurtured civilization in the first place. This book is a call to save it.Juan José Morales is a Spanish lawyer and management consultant who writes for the Spanish magazine Compromiso Empresarial. A former President of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, he has a Master of International and Public Affairs from Hong Kong University and has also studied international relations at Peking University (Beida).


All at sea: the container ship Rena, which ran aground in the Bay of Plenty, New

All at sea: the container ship Rena, which ran aground in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand in 2011. Photo: Polaris/Eyevine.


The Sea and Civilisation: a Maritime History of the World

In the latest tempestuous weather to hit the British Isles, members of the public were warned not to walk near the sea. It was as if the mere sight of the crashing, spumy waves posed a malign, almost preternatural threat – a reminder that, for all our supposed dominion, the sea remains an uncontrol­lable power that might yet rise up against us. Yet it also served to underline our increasing disconnection from the sea and all it means.

Perhaps that explains a swelling cultural fascination with the subject. In the past 12 months we’ve had Nottingham Contemporary/Tate St Ives’s eclectic exhibition, “Aquatopia: the Imaginary of the Ocean Deep” and the National Maritime Museum’s “Turner and the Sea”; Penny Woolcock’s film and interactive website, From The Sea to the Land Beyond, with a soundtrack by British Sea Power; the forthcoming exhibition “From Ship to Shore: Art and the Lure of the Sea” in Southampton, and the artist Tania Kovats’s show “Oceans” at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. Along with books such as the marine biologist Callum Robert’s Ocean of Life; the naturalist Horatio Clare’s container-ship adventures, Down to the Sea in Ships; and a brilliant collection of critical essays from Royal College of Art students, As is the Sea, the horizon looks positively crowded with watery artefacts, texts and displays.

The US historian Lincoln Paine’s global history steams into view from across the Atlantic, a brilliantly researched and ambitious affirmation of the sea and civilisation. It begins with an arresting image: the earliest representation of watercraft in 6,000-year-old rock carvings of hunting scenes in Norway. Soon, we are following the extraordinary migrations of Oceania peoples in dugouts, using intuitive navigational skills that assessed wind and tide, the mere colour of the sea, or the “loom” of an island, the changing light that land cast in the sky long before it was visible on the horizon.The Mediterranean – itself the relic of an ancient sea, the Tethys – bore witness to the first colonial sea empires. The legacies of the Phoenicians and Greeks remain in the ports that still ring the Mediterranean; Aristophanes’ fifth-century BC description of trading quays at Piraeus filled with “nets of onions, garlands and anchovies and flute-girls and black eyes” seems almost timeless.
With empire came conflict. The ascendency of Rome would have been impossible without mastery of the sea, an era of sail-and-oar-powered warships – triremes and quinqueremes – and tyrant-rulers such as the wonderfully-named Demetrius “the Besieger”. Demetrius encouraged an arms race of ever more bloated boats, powered by slaves – sometimes eight to an oar – and armed with catapults launching bolts, boulders and, as one “creative tactician” suggested, buckets of vipers and scorpions. More peaceable but equally overblown were mercantile ships such as theSyracusia, a precursor of an ocean-going liner – complete with first-class accommodation, decorated with mosaics and comprising a library, a gymnasium, baths, flower-bed-lined promenades and a chapel dedicated to Aphrodite.
Europe remained a maritime back­water until the Middle Ages. Paine writes that Viking depredations are exaggerated and they were far more concerned with trade; I’d never thought of the provenance of Norway as the “North Way”, a parallel to the “whale roads” of Anglo-Saxon poetry. But it took the monopolistic influence of the Hanseatic League to shift the focus firmly north by the mid-1300s. As well as bringing wealth to Lubeck, Hamburg and Copenhagen (“merchants’ harbour”), it also brought less welcome imports, such as the plague.
Paine is full of such illuminating facts. I was glad to read of my own hometown, Southampton, that it was England’s first naval base and shipbuilding port in 1420; and that in 1439, for instance, a Venetian great galley sailed from Southampton containing 2,783 cloths and 14,000 tons of tin. Yet each of the modern container ships that slip down Southampton Water every day contains more cargo than the total volume of trade carried to Venice during an entire year of the 15th century.
Paine forestalls any western bias with excellent chapters on Asian expansion. Long before the European age of navigation was enabled by the compass and the astrolabe, Chinese fleets of hundreds of ships and hundreds of thousands of sailors and soldiers were sailing to the Indian Ocean. Yet Zheng He’s seven expeditions under the Ming dynasty would be written out of its own history by the increasingly isolationist Chinese as “deceitful exaggerations of bizarre things”.
Such a withdrawal left the oceans open to figures such as Henry the Navigator. Although Henry – a Portuguese prince and grandson of John of Gaunt – never travelled further than Morocco, the power of his sponsorship extended Europe’s dominion; as did the voyages of Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Ferdinand Magellan.
Yet, so much of this was accidental. Christopher Columbus was alerted to new lands to the west by tales of strange flotsam drifting across the Atlantic – “in Galway, in Ireland, a man and a woman with miraculous form, pushed along by the storm on two logs” – and in the Azores, “the sea flung ashore two dead bodies, with broad faces and different in appearance from the Christians”. (Four centuries later, in 1877, the Ocean Notes for Ladies guide to sea-going etiquette would recommend that “a body washed ashore in good clothes, would receive more respect and kinder care than if dressed in those only fit for the rag bag”.)
As Rosalind Williams demonstrates in her recent book The Triumph of Human Empire (University of Chicago Press), the ocean was mare liberum until the 18th century, not subject to the sovereign claims that had carved up much of the terrestrial globe. Even in 1812, Byron could still write, in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, “Man marks the earth with ruin – his control/Stops with the shore . . .”
But then the world’s latest and greatest maritime power declared a three-mile nautical extension – the distance that a British cannonball could be shot – to assert its imperial rights. As Paine notes, the first commercial transatlantic service, in 1838, was greeted by the headline, “Annihilation of Space and Time”. Yet space and time were never more important. By the 20th century, a new empire, the US, had extended its coastal governance to 200 miles off its shores.
Now, even the waters under the rapidly melting Arctic ice cap are staked out by Russian flags, while European fishing fleets pillage the coasts of African countries. Piracy and slavery are still with us; perhaps more than ever, the sea is an arena of dispute, both above and below. New proposals have been made to mine recently discovered abyssal volcanic vents for rare earth metals. Meanwhile, off the British coast, cold-water reefs with 4,000 year old spires of coral are destroyed by trawlers.
Abused, ignored, trashed and transversed, the sea is a sink for all our sins. I’d like to think that Byron, my fellow open-water swimmer, had the last words – “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean – roll!/ Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain”, but I fear that I’m indulging a romantic fantasy. “The sea held no promise for slaves, coolies, indentured servants, or the dispossessed”, Paine reminds us, and while it is “fickle and unforgiving, it is a fragile environment susceptible to human depredation on a scale unimaginable to our ancestors”. And yet, whose heart does not sing out when they see the sea? Our last resort, it still holds its promise and its power.
Philip Hoare’s The Sea Inside (Fourth Estate, £9.99) is published in paperback this month.

the-times-logo-squareThe Sea and Civilization, by Lincoln Paine

by Gerard DeGroot

Published at 12:08AM, February 8, 2014

Near the northern end of the Forth Road Bridge sits the picturesque seaport of Culross. The town’s 16th-century houses have red roof tiles that are uncommon elsewhere in Scotland. They look Dutch, and probably are. It is thought that these tiles came from Holland as ballast in ships that then made the return voyage loaded with coal and salt, the two main industries of Culross.

This little artefact illustrates perfectly the main theme of Lincoln Paine’s mammoth study, The Sea and Civilization. His aim was “to consider the ways in which mariners have fostered cross-cultural interdependence over 5,000 years of literate civilisation and for many millennia before that”. Long before the internet, the airliner and the multinational corporation, the ship was the engine of globalisation.

Those who today lament how globalisation erodes cultural integrity do not entirely appreciate that the ship has had that same effect for thousands of years. Before the advent of cost-effective road and rail haulage, the sea was the most efficient conduit for transporting goods. This meant that trade patterns were entirely different from those of today. By land, Culross is about 45 miles from Glasgow, but back in the 16th century that would have been a hard slog by cart over unpaved roads.

It was far easier to trade with the Dutch port of Veere, 600 miles away by sea. Using a different example, Paine points out that in 1336, the cost of shipping a sack of wool from London to the Gironde Estuary in France — a distance of 700 miles — was one eighth that of transporting the same sack 400 miles by road within France. Seaborne trade was massively important in centuries past, but the fact remains that the total volume of trade carried to Venice in the 15th century could fit on a single 21st-century container ship.

That suggests immense change, but a prominent theme of this book is continuity on the high seas. A photo showing sailors sleeping on the deck of an overloaded freighter travelling from Aden to Mogadishu depicts a situation that hasn’t changed in a thousand years. Elsewhere, there’s a description of a cruise ship in which 142 first-class passengers enjoyed a library, gymnasium, promenades lined with flower beds, a chapel and spa. When did this ship sail? Archimedes designed it in the 3rd century BC.

The Sea and Civilization is, without doubt, the most comprehensive maritime history ever produced. Paine’s guiding principle is that “all history is maritime history”, since the sea has been the single most important factor in driving development. As such, his book differs markedly from that of JM Roberts, whose History of the World stays firmly on land. If offered a choice between these two versions of world history, I’d take Paine. Paine loves the sea and ships.

His ambition reminded me, appropriately, of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo (1982), in which the main character decides to transport a steam ship over a steep hill in Peru in order to gain access to an area rich in rubber. That task was virtually impossible, but so too was making a film about it. Herzog once remarked: “The feeling crept over me that my work, my vision, is going to destroy me, and for a fleeting moment I let myself take a long, hard look at myself . . . to see whether my vision has not destroyed me already. I found it comforting to note that I was still breathing.”

That same quality of an all-consuming vision oozes from Paine’s book. His passion is to tell the story of the sea. History is seldom written with that kind of passion today. The professional historians who reside in academia usually avoid big topics like this one. They prefer instead to mark out their tiny bits of territory with dull microhistories full of detail but lacking emotion. This is not entirely their fault but rather that of an academic system that crushes individuality. It is no coincidence that some of the most exciting history published today is written by freelancers like Paine who can ignore the rules of academia.

That said, The Sea and Civilization needs more soul, since the ocean is a place of elaborate emotion. “I must go down to the seas again,” John Masefield once wrote, “for the call of the running tide/Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.” In truth, that call is only heard by a certain sort of person. The sea is a separate country, and sailors a distinct culture. What Masefield called “the vagrant gypsy life” links sailors from England, Sri Lanka and Singapore, but also separates them from their countrymen on dry land.

Landlubbers like me find that call hard to understand. It might have been more cost-effective to transport coal from Culross by sea than by land, but it was still hell for the sailors. Antonio Pigafetta sailed with Magellan across the Pacific in 1519-20. They saw no land for 14 weeks, during which time 21 crewmen died. “We ate biscuit, which was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuit swarming with worms, for they had eaten the good. It stank strongly of the urine of rats.” Those rats were traded at ever-inflating prices when food ran out. But why?  What drew Pigafetta away from the golden bounty of Spain to the foetid misery of a ship?

Winston Churchill supposedly once dismissed naval tradition as “nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash”. Was that fair? Paine doesn’t really provide an answer. The main problem with this otherwise superb book is its failure to explain the call of the sea and the culture of the sailor. He does relate the 10th-century tale of Moriuht, whose Viking captors piss on his head, whereupon “he is forced by . . . to perform the sexual service of a wife”. That lonely anecdote, however, gets lost amid a container load of rather less colourful information on ship construction and sea routes. For the sake of verisimilitude, and atmosphere, the book needed a bit more of the old rum and bum.


The Telegraph: A magnificently sweeping history of seafaring that travels from Europe to Asia

5 out of 5 stars

By Ben Wilson, 02 Feb 2014

It is no surprise that the sea has been pushed to the margins of our consciousness. An industry that once employed vast numbers on land and shore and which had a visible, raucous presence in the heart of major coastal cities has been banished from congested centres. Look at Felixstowe or Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New York Harbor. As Lincoln Paine writes, they “bear the same relationship to traditional ports that suburban malls have to downtown shopping districts”.

In 1970 2.6 billon tons were transported across the oceans; today it is more than eight billion, 90 per cent of the globe’s freight. We live in one of the most dynamic and least discussed periods in terms of maritime history. Before the advent of container shipping in the late Fifties, it sometimes took longer for cargo to cross a pier than it did the ocean. Now thousands of containers are loaded on to ships according to complex algorithms and unloaded by an “intricate choreography of ships, trucks and trains” governed by computer. Such a process requires a tiny workforce and the great ships that ply the sea lanes are ghostly affairs, sometimes with a crew numbering a dozen or so. The anonymity of the industry is the corollary of its hyper-efficiency. Bustling port towns have given way to eerily quiet and other-worldly container facilities, the sinister backdrop to television dramas.

For centuries the size of a country’s merchant marine and the extent of its docklands were symbols of national prestige. Now the connection is broken: ships and ports are owned by multinational companies. Modern maritime industries have, says Paine, been “both midwife and mirror” of globalisation, exerting a powerful influence on our lives. This is true today, and for Paine it is mariners who have “fostered cross-cultural interdependence” throughout human history.

But just as the transformative effects of maritime trade have been almost invisible in our time, the majority of us are terrestrial creatures rather than amphibian when it comes to our conception of history. Lincoln Paine offers a corrective to this, in a magnificently sweeping world history that takes us from the people of Oceania and concludes with the container. In contrast to most books on maritime history, the majority of The Sea and Civilisation covers the history of the world before Columbus sailed the ocean blue and at least as much of the narrative focuses on Asia as it does on Europe.

Paine does not undervalue the 500 years of Western superiority at sea. But he is wary of setting it up as a template to examine maritime history more generally or allowing it to encroach on the rest of the story. This is Paine’s great strength, for it gives a better perspective on the history British readers are familiar with, from Drake to Nelson. Some of the most illuminating chapters concern the growth of trade in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century.

Take, for example, the remains of a ship sunk off Belitung Island in the Java Sea around 826AD. It was built in the Persian Gulf from African mahogany; its keelson was made from wood imported from Zaire and the beams were Indian teak. Even more extraordinary was its cargo: 60,000 pieces of ceramic ware mass-produced in landlocked regions of China were stored in jars from Vietnam. They were made with acute awareness of the Persian market, with inscriptions from the Koran and geometrical designs. Indeed, the cobalt used for the blue colouring had been imported from Persia. There was no shortage of potters in Persia, but somehow the costs of production and even transportation over thousands of miles of hazardous water were low enough for Chinese merchants to undercut them.

Asia was, for Paine, the cradle of globalisation. The fortunes of distant empires exerted powerful forces that rippled across the integrated markets and trade routes of Asia. Its fabulous wealth attracted European seafarers and lust for the products of the East lured explorers across the Atlantic, only to discover America instead. The difference between Asia and Europe was that in the West state navies and the merchant marine became intertwined and, as a result, formidable. But that intimate relationship between state and commerce – the hallmark of European domination – was unknown for most of history. It has vanished in the 21st century, making the Asian experience of a thousand years ago startlingly relevant.

The Sea and Civilisation: a Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine


784pp, Atlantic, t £26 (PLUS £1.35 p&p) 0844 871 1515 (RRP £30, ebook £19.99)

by Bettany Hughes

JANUARY 23, 2014 / 

Before you embark on this book I’d advise considering what civilization means to you. Is it a shared way of being (the word derives from civitas—Latin for citizen)? Or is it something deeper; a compulsion that came before the word-idea, a yearning for more; a drive to experience what we do not know, to reach out beyond our immediate horizons? Lincoln Paine’s expansive survey of humanity’s relationship with the sea from 10,000 BC onwards bills itself as an alternative history of the world; it is more evidently a vigorously crafted compendium of the complex, technical ways we achieve our restless, expansionist ambitions.

A true expert, Paine offers up treats: Buddhist ships with Indian sails decorate cave walls in China’s Gansu province; Islamic rulers follow the law of counterbalance and up their maritime game after being raided by Danish Vikings in 844; the shift from shell-built to frame-built boats encourages a more hierarchical structure to boat-building, and therefore to trade, in late antiquity. Paine scorns “the mutable fiction of political borders” and drenches his pages with diverse, immersive detail; he rages against those who deny that tributaries and oceans are critical to the human story. Enjoy his obsessive passion and indulge the (off-putting) summaries at the beginning of each chapter and—inevitably in such an expansive survey—the odd sea-spray of inaccuracy.

Ninety per cent of global trade today is seaborne; in the UK 93 per cent of all supermarket food comes to us from across the waters. Since pre-history we have sung epic tales of the sea; no reason, yet, to stop.


ChinebLogThe Sea & Civilization impresses as a comprehensive maritime history

Posted on December 26th, 2013

One of the responsibilities we face here at Chine bLog is reviewing books related to traditional boats. We get no less than one request every… how long have we been doing this?… seven years. Even with this taxing set of demands, though, we agreed to accept the publisher Knopf‘s offer of a complimentary copy of a new book called “The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World” by Lincoln Paine. The Knopf representative was willing to work with our strict editorial policy of not writing about any subject until we got around to it, and sure enough, Mr. Paine’s work arrived within a few days.

We will confess, from the outset, being a bit unnerved by anything with “History of the World” in the title (and Mel Brooks not in the credits). Two connotations come to mind:

  1. A gigantic tome of numbing dense-ness that is two parts endurance for every one part education, or
  2. A coverage of the world where “the world” means the Mediterranean, Western Europe, and post-Columbus North America.

Happily “The Sea & Civilization” is neither. Mr. Paine packs a broad, well-organized overview into 600 readable, engaging pages (with some illustrations and a set of maps at the beginning.

Mr. Paine allayed our fears regarding the scope of the book right off the bat: chapter 1, “Taking to the Water” begins with its first section, “Oceana,” describing population of the Pacific and the technology that supported it in a fair manner that is consistent with scholarly work on the subject. Boom – you have our attention. He then moves, in his first chapter, to discuss early waterborne trade in South America and the Caribbean before giving due coverage to the traditional boats of North America, both the Arctic skin boats and the birch bark ones of the Northeast. Credit justly given. Next comes ancient Egypt, getting more play for its maritime exploits than we have seen before. From there, Mr. Paine is thankfully careful to balance Western advances with the developments in South, Southeast, and East Asia. The result is a fully credible world history.

Mr. Paine maintains a few interesting themes across all the eras and regions. Trade is of greatest importance to him, and he shows the many cases in which trade relationships led to cultural bridges. Military affairs in the maritime realm gets good attention, though the discussion is more about limitations of naval warfare than about huge changes in tides of battle, at least until he gets to the 20th century. We were pleased to see Mr. Paine try to weave boatbuilding styles and technologies into the work as another theme. It seems, though, that there is not much known about a great deal of the craft he covers, at least not to the level Mr. Paine was inclined to cite. We wished he’d engaged in a little more speculation of possibilities in some cases.

The only weakness of Mr. Paine’s book, in our view, is that he names so many place names around the world in such quick succession that it can be dizzyingly hard to follow. More detailed maps for each chapter might have helped; in general this is a reasonable cost of covering such a large swath of history in one book. We recommend the book highly, but know this is a drawback. Many thanks to Knopf for including Chine bLog in its outreach strategy.



Water world

By Alan Wallace Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Refocusing history is no small task but it’s one that Lincoln Paine — author of four previous books and numerous articles, reviews and lectures on maritime history — tackles with gusto in his new book.

“The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World” (Knopf) aims to move readers’ view of history toward one in which water, not land, is pre-eminent, and the maritime achievements of peoples and nations before Columbus’ 1492 voyage to the New World get the sort of attention long paid to Europe’s great age of exploration via sail. It’s a sweeping narrative, beginning with humanity’s first open-water voyages 50,000 years ago and continuing through the shipping-container revolution so vital to today’s global economy.

As a Wall Street Journal review of the book noted, few except those taking cruise vacations travel by sea today, yet 90 percent of world trade, by volume, is conducted via water. And as we’ve really only just begun to exploit offshore energy and mineral resources, the sea’s importance to civilization (and potential to spur international disputes, as is occurring in the waters off China today)continues to grow.

Paine makes clear that conventional history has shortchanged many who blazed watery trails that Europeans later would follow. He details the voyages made and trade routes established by Sumerian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Arab and Chinese mariners and shows that it was the South Pacific, not Europe, that was home to most of mankind’s earliest pioneering seafarers.

Presenting his narrative with plenty of context about the political, diplomatic and societal forces shaping maritime advances, Paine shows how seafaring has influenced the rise and fall of successive world powers, however big the known world was at the time, and has shaped civilization itself.

Once his narrative reaches the 1500s and beyond, when Europeans’ transoceanic exploration led to colonization of the New World and the building of empires based on sea power, Paine sheds new and different light on the development of America, the westward expansion of the United States and global industrialization. And in doing so, he brings home just how brief and recent that part of maritime history is when considered from the standpoint of maritime history as a whole.

It’s not just the history of trade, diplomacy and warfare; it’s also the history of language, culture, religion, technology and migration. Many readers are sure to be surprised by what early mariners managed to achieve but also by the wide-ranging ramifications of their feats.

Helping the reader keep track of so many people, places, innovations and events over the vast expanse of water and time that Paine’s narrative covers are plentiful illustrations, maps and photos. They enliven the book’s nearly 800 pages and make it easier for readers to picture in their minds how early mariners met successive challenges — and just how far they were willing to venture on risky voyages across a world that to them seemed far larger and much more daunting than our far smaller, much more easily traveled world seems to us.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

WSJBook Review: ‘The Sea and Civilization’ by Lincoln Paine

Hardly anyone in the West travels by water, but we still depend upon the sea.

Jan. 3, 2014 2:12 p.m. ET

‘I want to change the way you see the world,” says Lincoln Paine at the beginning of his history of mankind’s encounter with the sea. It’s a worthy goal and superbly realized. Most of us have almost forgotten about the sea, and very few of us have any reason to ponder its historical significance. Hardly anyone in the West travels by water except on that fake voyage, the cruise. The sea is merely a playground: for the mass on the beach; for the rich on a yacht. Few even earn a living from it. The once-great fisheries of the North Atlantic have been decimated. Ships’ crews are recruited elsewhere.

Fifty years ago, docks and wharves were at the heart of the West’s great cities. They heaved with the mass of bales and bags, swung ashore by cranes and derricks and manhandled by armies of stevedores. Today the docks have been banished or are eerily deserted, and it takes a great effort of the imagination—or perhaps a trip to the Indonesian archipelago—to recapture the fierceness with which the sea once gripped the lives, hopes and fears of all those who lived near the shore.

Yet, as Mr. Paine points out in “The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World,” we still depend upon the sea, and indeed our dependence is growing. Some 90% of the volume of world trade travels by sea. The container revolution of the 1950s and ’60s, brilliantly described in the last chapter of the book, has driven down the costs of seaborne transport by more than 80%: It is one of the keys to contemporary “globalization.” Anyone on a ferry or cruise ship in Northern Europe’s narrow seas will be astonished not just by the volume of maritime traffic but also by the forests of wind turbines and the ubiquitous oil and gas platforms that harvest energy from the sea. Almost certainly we are only at the pioneering stage of our exploitation of the seabed—vast new continents that await partition. Maritime disputes threaten the peace of East Asia.

Mr. Paine’s aim isn’t just to remind us of the importance of the sea but also to insist on its role as the pivot of world history. The big histories of the world have usually been written by landlubbers, for whom the sea is an empty space to be crossed. All the real action takes place ashore. No less striking has been the assumption among Western historians that the sea was of marginal interest until Europeans asserted their command of the oceans; that mastery of the seas was a uniquely European achievement and the secret of their global domination. On these and other delusions, Mr. Paine pours a bath of cold saltwater.

But “The Sea and Civilization” is a history, not a polemic: It is by the careful retelling of our experience of the sea, using an astonishing mass of the most up-to-date evidence, that Mr. Paine persuades us. He begins at the beginning—with the first experiments in “water-craft.” Far from shying away from the water as an alien element, mankind set out to exploit it for travel, food and trade from the earliest times. The first voyages across open water that we can trace were made 50,000 years ago. Voyages out of sight of land are at least 13,000 years old. And these pioneering endeavors took place not in Europe but in the South Pacific, a region into which Europeans scarcely penetrated before the later 18th century.

In successive chapters, the author traces the history of navigation, shipbuilding and seaborne exchange from ancient Egypt through the classical world, the early Arab seafarers, the Chinese (whose greatest seaman— Zheng He, the Chinese Capt. Cook—reached the African coast in the early 1400s), the Vikings and the medieval Mediterranean, before turning in the last third of the book to the sea’s “global age” after 1500. One of Mr. Paine’s achievements is to combine in each chapter a sharp eye for the telling detail of seafaring with the larger context of politics, diplomacy and social change in the region concerned.

Again and again he reminds us of the central role played by waterborne transport in the earliest civilizations. Archaeological evidence suggests that the invention of sails coincided with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt circa 3000 B.C., dependent as it was on the ease of transit both up and down the Nile. By 2500 B.C., Egypt was fully engaged in the seaborne trade of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Archaeology also suggests the importance of riverine and maritime navigation to the first literate civilization at Sumer in modern Iraq. By 2300 B.C. shipping connected Sumer with the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley. By the ninth century B.C., Phoenicians and Greeks had pioneered the creation of maritime empires in the Mediterranean. By the sixth century B.C., seaborne links between the north and south of what was to become China presaged the eventual emergence of a unified empire in 221 B.C. Indeed, China was to become as much a great waterborne empire (of canals and rivers) as was the British (of oceans and seas). In less skillful hands, the accumulation of detail might become overwhelming. But Mr. Paine studs his account with vivid descriptions, like that of Piraeus, the port of ancient Athens, with “its whiff of sea wrack and odors of goods and ships, the percussion of heavy cargoes, oars and rigging all in movement, and the accompanying chorus of human voices.”

It is thus no accident that for two-thirds of the book we hear relatively little of the maritime activities of Europeans, the “west-enders” on the backside of Eurasia, who faced a dark, un-crossable ocean. Compared with the sophistication and wealth of Middle or Eastern Eurasia—and the scale of their monarchies—post-Roman Europe was puny and poor. Heroic as they were, the Norsemen’s exploration of the North Atlantic yielded little profit or durable settlement. So Europe’s “age of discoveries” in the 15th and 16th centuries can only come as a surprise. Historians today are more cautious than we once were in making claims for a great “break-out” from Europe in the 1490s. Far from signaling the coming global triumph of the Europeans, it coincided with the consolidation of the powerful new empires of the Ottomans, the Safavids in Persia, the Mughals in India and (by the mid-17th century) the Qing in China. Yet by the early 18th century at the latest, European seamen dominated the long-distance trades in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, had reached China and Japan (where their access was strictly controlled), and even maintained a lonely annual shuttle between the Philippines and Mexico—the famous “Manila galleon.”

Mr. Paine is rightly wary of assigning any single cause to this astonishing shift in the world’s maritime balance. I see its roots in the mixing of two different navigational “skill-sets” from the early 1400s: those of the Mediterranean, with its tideless, almost landlocked, east-west orientation—and knowledge of Arab seamanship—and those of the North Atlantic, with its ocean swells and storms, its huge tides and currents, the varying depths of its continental shelf and the challenge that its north-south orientation posed to use of the compass (because of the magnetic variation from true north).

By the time of Columbus, European sailors had devised a suite of techniques—lead and line for depth-sounding, tide tables, an adjustable compass—and a range of ship and sail types that lent them a versatility unmatched by those from other maritime societies. Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, which was probably built on the Basque coast, combined the Mediterranean lateen-sail with the square-rigged sail of Northern Europe. With the rise of militarized mercantile states (Portugal, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands, among others), the acquisition of long-range colonies and the recruitment of slave labor, they lengthened their lead over other maritime peoples. The foundation was laid for just over a century of global domination, one abetted by the great leaps of industrialization: a mere speck of time in the period of this book.

Elegantly written and encyclopedic in scope, with an expert grasp of the demands of seamanship in every age, “The Sea and Civilization” deserves a wide readership. For landlocked historians, it will be a powerful stimulus to dip their toes—and perhaps their pens—in saltwater and for readers a forceful reminder that the urge to “go down to the sea in ships” has shaped civilizations and cultures in every period and in every part of the globe.

—Mr. Darwin’s most recent book is “Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain.”

—John Darwin
Updated: January 4, 2014 15:45 IST


A meticulous and systematic reconstruction of the maritime history of the world.

“I want to change the way you see the world,” declares Lincoln Paine in his magnum opus The Sea and Civilization. My interest in this “formidable” work is largely due to my interest in Tamil language and literature, in global maritime history and those of the erstwhile Tamil Kingdoms — the Chola, Chera and Pandyan nations — as well as my work related to climate, energy exchanges and such. The globalising influence of the Coromandel and Malabar coasts during the early millennia up through the middle-ages and beyond finds much space in Paine’s descriptions. It became clear to me that I must bring this great source book to the world of India.

We need a narrative of this sort in India where the parochial and regional descriptions of history often have overlooked some of the most important indigenous naval and commercial developments and voyages across the Indian Ocean to China and westward to the African, European and Mediterranean enclaves from the Coromandel and the Malabar Coasts.

H.G. Wells bemoaned the fact that the history of the world as written by the Europeans stood unconnected to happenings elsewhere. The art of selectively ascribing credit and glory to a few chosen civilisations is not peculiar to Europe. In India, much remains to be done in integrating knowledge, discoveries and achievements of the South into its national tapestry.

The Sea and Civilization meticulously and systematically reconstructs the maritime history of the world from diverse historic records, archaeology, contemporary travelogues, languages, literature, religious texts and folklore. In effect, Paine has catalogued and showcased the primacy of India’s coastal civilisations, as well as those of Southeast Asia, in shaping world history in significant measures. This includes the massive cultural impacts from the spread of languages, religions, art (visual and performance), fauna and flora, and, of course, commerce. The transmission of our modern number systems, various mathematical postulates and symbols such as the zero, infinity and pi among others to the Middle East and then on to Europe are known, prompting Einstein to comment, “India taught us to count”. The author describes the spread of Islam and the establishment of Muslim settlements in southern India and Southeast Asia including Rajendra Chola’s endowment for residences and mosques. The support and concessions offered by the Chola kings and the rulers of Srivijaya (the Malay state) to the Arab traders paved the way for all religions — disparate, fundamental, non-believing and secular — to co-exist in harmony.

Paine describes the robust trade routes with ships plying different sea routes from China to Baghdad where neither race nor religion seemed to have been an issue. Basra, for example, had every ethnicity represented in its groups of merchants, scholars, mendicants, pilgrims, labour, entertainers and plain folk from everywhere united by commerce and trade undertaken primarily by seafaring. The Baghdad geographer Al Yaqub believed that there was no obstacle to travel or trade between China and Tigris. Others considered the Persian Gulf and the islands of Socotra as the frontiers of the Indian Ocean. The schisms and inter-Arab/Muslim rivalries drove merchants to take a second and more reliable silk road by sea, from the southern coasts of India via Malaya, Sumatra, Java and then on to Ayuttathaya (Thailand) and China.

We learn from the chronicles of missionaries, church records and literature of the proselytising early Christians and Jesuits on all coastal areas of India. Buddhism under the seals of kings propagated the messages of the Buddha by land and by sea from Sri Lanka to China, Korea, Japan and in between. The Chera Prince Bodhi Dharman known as the Patriarch of the Chi’an [CHECK] (Zen of the Japanese) proceeded from Woriyur toward Kaviripoom Pattinam, the fabled Chola port to China, in the year 523 CE. Thus began the great Zen Buddhist traditions, the spread of Indian art and architecture and the martial arts originating from Kalaripayatthu of Cheralam, modern day Kerala.

Many ocean historians and those specialising in naval histories are revisiting and revising history in the light of new research and archaeological evidence from Mesopotamia, Mohenjo-daro, Indus Valley, from the East and from the ancient settlements of the Americas. These sources chronicle, confirm and remind us of the great and influential movements of peoples, flora and fauna across the world. Much remains to be explored, however, such as the Polynesian migration, the continuity of native cultures across the ice straits from Russia to Alaska and beyond and, in more recent times, the peopling of the Caribbean.

The art and science of sea travels and transportation of peoples, live fauna, flora and goods tells us the story of globalisation eons before it was a subject of business education. Indian products ranging from food and plantation crops to luxury goods, such as gold, silver, gemstones, silk, spices and incense; tiles, wood and indigo were the stuff of commerce and trade since before the Christian Century. The enormity of Roman gold expenditure for Indian luxury goods is said to have caused much dismay to Roman leaders of the time including Marcus Aurelius. Further references to the trade between India and the West are found in Periplus of the Erytherean Sea, Ptolemy’s Geography and in early Tamil literature among other records. The book makes considerable references to the Vedas, Puranas and Samhitas, to the Tamil epic Silappadikaram and works like Pattinapalai and Mathuraikaanci. We also know of various communities arriving by ships from Egypt, Greece, Rome and elsewhere loading and unloading goods, and living in well-appointed quarters in Poompuhar subject to justly laid-out customs, immigration and quarantine regulations and protocols.

In this book we get to see some of the beautiful and interesting plates without traversing the museums and libraries of the world. The book offers fascinating illustrations of a merchant ship in the Ajanta Caves dated to the first Century BCE, a gold Broighter boat of Northern Ireland, a Papyrus boat on the Nile, the vessel used by the Duke of Normandy in his campaign to take the English throne in 1066, passenger ships in China around 1125 and Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek and Roman ships of yesteryear. Also included is an interesting miniature painting of Noah’s Ark — by the Mughal illustrator Miskin — that includes pairs of animals except for humans; all male and no females! The extensive maps will take a complete course discipline to study them in their entirety.

The more we know about seas and civilisations, the more we know about ourselves and our environment. The ships that changed history such as the Santa Maria, the ships that transported slaves from Africa and bonded labour from India and China to the Americas and to the Indian Ocean Islands, the May Flower, the Queen Mary, the gunboats and war ships, the Black Ship of St. Francis Xavier, the Spanish Armada, and many other vessels as well as the modern aircraft ships, research vessels, cargo ships, cruise ships and explorers’ ships continue to shape our worlds. Then, there are those infamous pirate ships of the past and the present, the activist ships of Greenpeace, the human trafficking boats among others, which impact lives on Earth.

I had the opportunity to study, while advising Harvard University’s Committee on the Environment, the work of the multidisciplinary research vessels such as the Sagar Kanya, from Goa on the ‘aerosol, cloud and pollutant transport’ over the Indian Ocean created by large-scale mineral extraction, manufacturing and transportation activities in India and China and in between, thousands of miles away from any coast.

The ocean waves’ relentless embrace of the shores only to retreat into the open waters where energy exchanges constantly renew the dynamics of waves and wind is an all-encompassing study of life on this planet. We have the volcanic ashes of Mount St. Helen travelling to the Orient while Japanese tsunami debris are washed ashore on the coasts of the U.S. We are left to ponder the words of poet Mahakavi Bharathi who warned us against attempting to fence the oceans around us and cordon the skies above. Whether it is the Indian creation myth and metaphor of the Gods and demons churning the ocean for nectar or Hokusai’s ‘waves’ or Debussy’s La Mer, the oceans are the stuff of dreams and fantasy deeply inlaid in the human psyche. That oceans teach us, above all, about the unity of human existence on this planet seems to be the take away from The Sea and Civilization.

The Sea and Civilization; Lincoln Paine, Knopf Doubleday, Rs.2600. 

Foreign Affairs

In the Western imagination, seafaring began to influence the course of world history with the European discovery of the New World. During the “classic age of sail,” spanning the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the Western powers undertook their great voyages of discovery, linking distant regions and establishing European global supremacy. In this fascinating and beautifully written scholarly work, Paine steps back from this Eurocentric view to tell the story of maritime travel through the entire sweep of human history. For thousands of years, people have been launching themselves onto water to fish, trade, fight, and explore — and doing so in ways that have profoundly shaped human institutions and the rise and decline of civilizations. The narrative is more encyclopedic than thematic; Paine does not advance any explicit claims about the relationship between maritime power and world affairs. Nonetheless, with its richness of detail, the book does offer an eloquent vision of how the sea served as a path to the modern world.
—G. John Ikenberry
Foreign Affairs,  November/December 2013

Lundgren’s Book Lounge: “The Sea and Civilization” 

Though the earth is mostly covered by water much of human history has been written from a land-based perspective. The genius of Lincoln Paine’s majestic new history of the world, The Sea and Civilization, is to tell the story of world history by focusing on the explorations via ocean, river, lake and stream that have shaped much of our human story.

Refreshingly, Paine discredits the Eurocentric version of maritime history that animates much of what me might have been taught in school. Those accounts suggest that maritime exploration began with the Vikings, leading to Christopher Columbus and the era of European expansion. But as Paine points out, seafaring cultures worldwide predated the European explorers by thousands of years. Sails were being utilized by the Egyptian, Chinese and Mesopotamian cultures eons before the Scandinavians and other European cultures had even begun to turn their gaze toward the seas or the notion of wind-powered water voyages.

Paine lays out the central role that maritime forays have played in connecting different cultures and civilizations and their role in fostering economic relationships. Along the way he artfully leads up to the present and the crucial part that commercial shipping and naval warfare have played in shaping today’s geo-political world. Throughout Paine, author of four previous books and numerous articles on maritime history, enchants the reader with a style that is immensely engaging, erudite and driven by the author’s intellectual curiosity.

 The prodigious research at the heart of the book is never cloying but serves instead to enlighten and illuminate. At six hundred pages with an additional hundred pages of notes and bibliography, this is a book that asks an investment of time by its readers, but it is time spent in pure, rapturous reading pleasure.

—Bill Lundgren
ecember 5, 2013

 Publisher’s Weekly

Even though the Earth’s surface is 70% water, historical narratives are usually land-centered. Paine (Ships of the World) shifts emphasis from land to water in order to correct this imbalance, an approach that takes the reader through history via the seas. He devises a chronological spiral around the world, starting with a recounting of ancient times, before covering the same areas in medieval times, and so on up to the modern era. Paine’s highly detailed work encompasses a wide array of topics, from trade and the influence of the sea on warfare and political coalitions, to ship building techniques through the ages, to piracy and slavery. Of particular interest are the intricate alliances and shifting loyalties of ancient Mediterranean cultures, the outsized role of the relatively tiny Spice Islands, the impact the Vikings had on cultural exchange across coastal Europe, and the influence of religion on areas as diverse as trade and maritime law. Readers expecting a naval history will receive much more: a thorough history of the people, the ports, and the cultural activity taking place on the water. Paine has compiled an invaluable resource for salty dogs and land-lubbers alike. Photos, illus., & maps. Agent: John Wright, John Wright Literary Agency.

Publishers Weekly, starred review, 09/09/2013



Sensing that the maritime world is not as prominent in popular consciousness as formerly, Paine presents this ambitiously capacious maritime history of the globe. Visually, it spans from vessels recorded in primitive pictographs to modern photographs, and verbally it addresses every regional arena of mercantile and naval activity as it elevates awareness of seas and rivers as conduits between states and peoples throughout human history. Global in embrace Paine may be, but particular geographical areas, such as the Mediterranean Sea and the seas surrounding Asia, receive his primary attention. Discussing the posture of ancient civilizations such as Egypt and China toward the sea, Paine covers the waxing and waning of empires as evidenced in exchanges of goods and the ships that transported them. The emergence of Europe in global navigation, which Paine prefaces with Viking explorations and medieval commerce in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, was a phenomenon that he connects to preexisting Asian trading networks that drew Portugal, then other European nations, into building maritime empires. So comprehensive and knowledgeable a history as Paine’s offers a sturdy keel for any maritime history collection.

—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist, 9/15/2013