Sea History - Sea power

In maritime history, sea power applies to economic as well as military dominance. Historically, goods were shipped, literally. Ancient merchant ships were pictured on the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to commercial goods, ships transported Roman legions to ports where they could maintain control over the Roman Empire. Historical pictures show ancient seaports such as ancient Alexandria were important centers of culture as well as trade. However, international trade often relied on overland caravans due to ignorance of water access to Asia, as well as fear of the unknown.

Historical pictures show the Age of Discovery was primarily about ships. Portuguese mariners made Portugal a world power when Vasco da Gama voyaged around Africa and opened the spice trade between Europe and India. Portugal was surpassed by Spain with Columbus's discovery of the New World, resulting in the conquest of Aztec Mexico and of Incan Peru. Other European maritime powers--prominently England, France, and Holland--quickly joined the race for colonial territory, which became a measure of a nation's wealth and power.

Exploration was fueled by the search for trade goods and trading partners. An example, shown in many historical images, was the North American fur trade, in which pelts of the beaver were specially prized. As colonization became established, historical images show other goods, such as tobacco, tea, and sugar, were shipped to Europe. Slaves, colonists, and supplies sailed from Africa and Europe to the Americas and the Caribbean. Australia, the Pacific islands, and locations around the Indian Ocean were visited by merchants and traders. Globalization of trade had begun.

To ensure the safety of its valuable maritime commerce, each trading nation developednaval power. In much of history, economic superiority depended on naval superiority, bringing pictures of naval warfare into prominence. After the Spanish Armada failed to break through the English fleet in 1588, the Royal Navy made England a maritime superpower. Britain's naval superiority supported the spread of English colonies on every continent except Antarctica, and naval strength protected British trade.

Whether English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Dutch, New World seaports were places of intense activity, seen in historical pictures, while inland towns were more isolated by surrounding forest and farmland. The Atlantic ports, such as Quebec, Boston, New Amsterdam--later named New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and Rio de Janeiro, were among the most important colonial cities in the Americas.

England's sea power was challenged by the newly independent United States in the War of 1812, largely a naval war as seen in historical pictures. American frigates, such as the USS Constitution, outfought or simply outran the British fleet. Victorious American naval commanders like Oliver H. Perry became national heroes. The US Navy developed into a global force during the 19th century, and during that time American ports bustled with cargo and passengers, including waves of immigrants who came by sea.

Exports and imports remained dependent on sea power until well into the 20th century, and even today merchant ships carry the bulk of international cargo. Historical images show the military importance of naval power in the late 19th century, notably the Spanish-American War which reduced the influence of Spain in the Caribbean and the Philippines.


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