National Geographic : 1944 Mar
A Key to the Classic Sea Was the Port of Delos THE island of Delos, the legendary birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, was a sacred site. Its strategic location at a crossing of sea routes through the eastern Mediterranean gave it great power. After the Persian Wars, the Greek cities of Asia and the Aegean organized a league to protect themselves against further Persian aggression, and all contributed to a fund which they placed under the protection of the Temple of Apollo at Delos. This fund later was transferred to Athens, since Athens was the dominant sea power, and went to build the Parthenon. The advantages of its location, which was favorable as regards winds and passages between the islands, assured it a continued prosperity that lasted down into Roman times. In the Hellenistic period-that is, from the early part of the third century B.c.-it was adorned by many elaborate houses of the rich merchants and many fine public buildings. Here came grain ships from Egypt and Syria. Merchants brought and exchanged their wares from the Black Sea ports; rich argosies came over from the Asia Minor coast, and as a free port Delos prospered in much the same way that other free ports have done in later times. The good natural harbor was improved by large moles. There were extensive quays to which vessels could be moored, and a few of the old mooring bitts of stone or marble have been found, although the harbor has for the most part become silted up. Across the narrow bay was another island, Rhenea, where there were also dwellings. To that island all women had to withdraw to give birth tochildren, foritwas sacrilege for anyone to. be born or to die onDelos. The picture is drawn asiffrom thedeck ofamerchant man putting out from the port, laden with dried figs, melons, and other fruits, and amphoras ofoilorwine. The steers man is guiding the steering oarwith asort ofwhipstaff. Near him, the ladder which was always carried instead of a gangplank has not yet been properly stowed. These ladders were always carriednear thestern oftheship, since it was customary to moorthe vessel with herstern tothe shore, just as small caiques arehandled now. Near by is a warship, with three banks ofoars. Her single mast is stepped, her yard squared off,and sheisrunning out of the harbor with a favorable breeze, assisted byher oarsmen. The three-pronged bronze beak shows clearly, and just above and behind it one ofthepainted eyes oftheship, always included so that itmight seeitsway. On a raised walk between thebanks ofoars isthestation of the "oar masters" (toicharchoi) and thetrieraules who gave time to the rowers byplaying onaflute. The captain, or governor, of the ship had acabin atthestern, and im mediately in front of thecabin aretwo steersmen, one to each of the large steeringoars. The sails could be brailed upifneed be,and theyards either sent down completely or"cockbilled." Aship usually carried two anchors, similar totheoldwooden stock anchor generally used until the last part ofthenineteenth century. Nearly all the ships seeninthe background aremerchant vessels with characteristicbows and pronounced sheer.