Maritime history begins in ancient times, for boats had long been employed, even by prehistoric travelers. Historical pictures of Phoenician ships show the progress of ancient sea travel, including merchant ships and warships. There are many Biblical accounts of ships, most famously that of Noah's Ark. Portrayals of the many perils of mariners are woven into myth and legend, from ancient Greek argonauts to Sinbad the Sailor in the tales of the Arabian Nights.
Historically, sailing-ships are the most common boats pictured, but boats were also propelled by oars, paddles or poles, steam power, or by combinations of these. Boat designs range from images of rafts to ironclad warships.
Exploration in the Age of Discovery was largely carried out by ship, as historical pictures attest. Columbus sailed to the New World, and only about two decades later the earth was circumnavigated by Magellan's expedition. Arctic explorers struggled with bitter conditions to seek a Northwest Passage via the Arctic Ocean, and all failed to find the sea route until the late 20th century, a testament to mariners' determination and daring.
Shipwrecks and dramatic sea rescues are commonly shown in historical pictures, as are navigation aids that attempted to prevent losses at sea. In ancient Alexandria the lighthouse Pharos was built to guide ships into its busy harbor, and other lighthouses played an important role in sea safety until recent times.
Pictures of historic seaports show they were important economic centers for much of recorded history. Historical images of cargo loaded on ships illustrate the cross-cultural contact that resulted from sea commerce. Of course, pirates took advantage of the treasures afloat!
With so many valuable goods asea on the oceans, a formal navy was developed to defend a nation's exports and imports. Naval battles became a specialized branch of warfare shown in historical images from Roman times to today.
Inland transportation by water was often easier than via forest trails and primitive roads on land. Historical pictures of canoes, flatboats, riverboats, and canals show the variety of historical waterways that made exploration and settlement possible in the interior of a continent.