Chapter XI: The Varying Movement of Ancient Trade in Wheat
It is useful in our attempt to understand the economic facts that produced the Trojan War to regard it in relation to the later stages of history. The great principle is that the navigation and trade of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles must never be left under the control of any city strong enough to stop the passage.
The present chapter attempts to show that the forces which control the movements of trade in the Aegean and the Levant are always the same and that the varying facts of ancient times 1200 B.C. and 200 B.C. alike can best be judged by comparison with modern experience. The physical conditions of wind and sea are not more permanent than the conditions imposed by human nature and human needs.
The trade with the Black Sea exercised an influence on Greek history much greater than is generally recognised. The discovery of the Black Sea was equally epoch-making in early Greek history with the discovery of America in modern European history. One episode taken from the Hellenistic period forms the subject of this paper.
Polybius iv. 38. 4 describes this trade as it was carried down from the Pontus past Byzantium about 220 B.C.1 and his description has some remarkable features. He says that in respect of the necessaries of life the staple articles of trade were cattle and slaves. There were also brought down to the Mediterranean lands honey wax and salt fish in quantity which served the comfort of life. From the Greek seas and lands there were carried back to the Pontic lands oil and wine of all kinds; wheat was carried sometimes in one direction sometimes in the other according to need; the need presumably varied according to the character of the harvest in the respective countries and the price at which wheat could be sold in the respective markets. Polvbius merely states facts and not economic causes.
The distinction which Polvbius draws between necessaries and comforts does not in any proper sense correspond to our distinction between necessaries and luxuries. Luxuries were not in his mind or his classification. Luxuries also were transported from the Black Sea to Greece: e.g. carpets and beautiful articles of Oriental workmanship were brought from the eastern ports especially Trapezus. Bread was a necessary salt tunny fish or honey was a relish or comfort (ὄψον). Polybius thinks chiefly of food and his dichotomy is between articles without which life is impossible and those which make life more enjoyable. Wax and slaves are the only articles not serving as food that he mentions. His division corresponds roughly to our distinction between trade in bulk and trade in articles which were of great value in comparison with their weight.
There are some surprising features in this list. Live stock were carried cattle and slaves. That slaves are a necessary but fish a relish or mere comfort is typical of the ancient view. The slaves came largely from the Colchian or Scythian lands but Preller is right in suggesting2 that they were in part Cappadocian slaves brought to the Black Sea coast and shipped from such harbours as Sinope Amisos Trapezus.3 I may quote on this subject my friend Dr. Leaf who in a letter written early in 1921 asks where the cattle were grown that came down the Bosphorus for these must imply pastoral districts bordering on the Black Sea; and “the whole south coast is excluded as it is mountainous and forest-covered. The west and most of the north coast is deep soil corn-growing land not suitable tor pasture. The only region which seems likely is the Steppe country on the north-east Scythia in fact. If there was any considerable export of live beasts from thence is there no other trace of it than the one word in Polybius? As for the slaves the great source of them was I fancy the Circassian tribes ‘Colchis’ as ever since.”
There is little to add to Dr. Leaf's statement of the difficulties. Scythia was the great pastoral country but it does not follow from modern facts that the deep soil of the north and west coast of the Pontus was used at that time exclusively for wheat-growing. Grass would grow there as well as wheat; and the problem with barbarian or half-civilised peoples is to induce or force them to grow wheat to a larger extent than is needed for their own food. This problem used to be mentioned as an important factor in the produce of Anatolia about fifty years ago when I was beginning to know something about the country. The account given to me was that no Turkish village would grow more than it thought sufficient for its own food unless its inhabitants were in debt and had to face the problem of paying interest on loans.4 It was an unhealthy system liable to be much abused by money-lenders and in this economic fact and the human nature which caused it was based a growing feeling against the money-lending class who were mainly Christians. The problem of Anatolia and of the terrible massacres had its origin not in religion but in economic facts;5 and the solution of the problem has been interfered with to a certain extent by the well-intentioned efforts and kindness of charitable people who treated the problem as one of religious persecution and neglected the real cause. The Anatolian peasants were always ready to work but there was no work at their own home by which they could earn money and it was necessary for the young men to go to Smyrna or Constantinople to earn a few pounds by porterage or other simple work after which they returned to their own village. Any occasional work offered to them as in an extension of the railways or an archaeological enterprise was an economic boon to the country and the people.
Very similar was the situation among the ancient people of the south Russian lands. They preferred the pastoral life to agriculture and accordingly the rich corn-growing land was probably used to feed the cattle that were exported to the Greek lands where cattle could not be fed in sufficient number.
Dr. Leaf's suggestion about the slaves who were brought down the Bosphorus that they were Colchians and that the trade was the same which has existed throughout history until the present time when those slaves pass under the name of “Circassians” is interesting and instructive. He puts in a new light a fact which I had never rightly understood viz. that the trade in beautiful and dangerous Colchian women existed in ancient time; Medea is the prototype and the first known example of such women slaves princesses in their own country;6 but this trade would hardly be called a trade in necessaries even by the Greeks. The slaves in the Black Sea trade according to Polybius were necessaries and in any case the Colchians were only a small percentage of the total number. Colchian or Circassian women slaves were not numerous but they exercised an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. They were doubtless known popularly as “Scythian” a term used very vaguely by the Greeks.
The trade in live cattle7 is hardly in keeping with the current modern conception of the small size of the Greek trading-ships. We must be prepared to admit that in the maintenance of the Pontic trade the construction of ships was profoundly influenced and improved and that instead of the small ships of earlier time much larger ships were required and constructed. Lucian gives a remarkable description of the immense size of a ship engaged in the Egyptian corn trade which was by mischance and ill winds carried to the harbour of Piraeus in the earlier part of the second century A.D. There is no reason to think that the fabrication of such very large ships was due entirely to Roman skill and Roman needs. In all probability it was the Greek shipwrights that gradually learned through the centuries how to construct ships larger and larger until they had attained the skill to build one of such size as Lucian describes. Already in the year A.D. 57 St. Paul was carried from Myra towards Rome in a corn ship of Alexandria evidently one of the regular vessels engaged in the trade between Egypt and Rome. There were 279 people on board the vessel.8 While we are taking into consideration the character of this ship which was not intended to carry passengers but cargo and which undoubtedly was in the Roman imperial service engaged in provisioning Rome and managed according to the supreme orders of the imperial control of international (or rather inter-provincial) trade we must recognise that mere passengers would be very few on board and would be allowed only if they were connected with the imperial service. It was in this way that St. Paul (with his two friends Luke and Aristarchus masquerading as his attendants and slaves) was on board the ship with other prisoners who were being carried to the imperial city for trial or for punishment; but the vast majority of the 279 human beings on board the ship must have been employed in the navigation and constituted the regular crew; the prisoners were a mere handful say thirty to fifty at the outside with a few guards.9
Miss Ramsay points out to me two records of the transport of large animals: (1) in 430 B.C. a force of 300 cavalry was transported from the Piraeus to the north-east coast of Peloponnesus. As Thucydides says this is the first time that horses were carried on a great scale in ships.10 The important thing for our purpose is to observe that this represents a stage in development of freight-carrying by sea. It was a makeshift operation hurriedly executed by transforming existing ships and it was adapted to the quiet waters of the Saronic Gulf and to a very short voyage; but it was a step; and a navigating nation which makes one step is likely to make more progress. The hastily tinkered up triremes of 430 mark a stage: the vessels built for this special trade in cattle before 220 B.C. mark a much more advanced stage. Incidentally it is worthy of note that it was through the pressure of war that the first noteworthy step in live transport was taken by Greeks.
The Athenian experiment in the carrying of horses and cavalry by sea to operate at an unexpected point on the enemy coast looks like a new idea struck out in the pressure of war; but if so it shows that Europe then (as now) was unwilling to study or to learn from Asia.
(2) Herodotus vi. 95 mentions that the Persians used horse-transports to convey their cavalry from the Aleian Plain in Cilicia to Ionia and thence across the Icarian Sea from Samos by Naxos and Delos and other islands of the Cyclades to Marathon 490 B.C. It is a suggestion or Herodotus that this course was preferred to the coasting voyage along Thrace in order to avoid the danger of rounding Athos; but this suggestion may merely result from his failure to understand the Persian plan of campaign. Taking the facts as they are known and disregarding hypothetical explanation of the facts we may fairly say that inasmuch as the result was a sudden blow at an unexpected point on the enemy shore it implies an intended strategic plan conceived by the able Persian king. The terror of Athos had nothing to do with the transporting of the Persian cavalry from Cilicia to Samos; and it is not too wild a supposition that the easy voyage from Samos to Marathon island by island across that quiet summer sea was a scheme of war not due to fear of Mount Athos and the sudden fierce winds that sweep down from it on to the water.11
Rather the inference may fairly be drawn that the Phoenicians had worked into practice the idea of transporting live-stock by sea and that Darius had turned this device to his own purpose in war so that he might fall suddenly on the disunited and inharmonious parties which were struggling for power in Attica and of which one was acting in collusion with the Persians. In this case however the unexpectedness of the attack operated in favour of the Athenian patriots who had the opportunity of striking a decisive blow while the opposite party was still unprepared.
The invention of horse-transports (νῆες ἱππαγωγοί) was older than the Empire of Athens and like many other very important discoveries belongs to Asia e.g. the domestication of animals was probably or certainly achieved in Asia.
The character of this Pontic trade is illustrated by Strabo's description of the trade at Aquileia (as Miss Ramsay again points out to me). Aquileia was the centre and market for the exchange of products between the tribes on the Danube and the Italian merchants. The latter brought sea products and wine in wooden casks which they loaded on wagons and oil while the IIlyrian traders brought from the Danube regions slaves cattle for food and hides. There is one difference of course that the cattle at Aquileia were brought to market by a long land route while Polybius describes cattle which were carried by sea: but the point lies in this that the same articles are needed in the two cases and need creates a means for satisfying it by trade and exchange of commodities. Italy and the Greek lands generally were unsuited for growing cattle for the market and they had to seek this class of cattle from more suitable lands on the north-east. The wine from the Italian vine-growing lands was carried in wooden jars or casks to avoid breakage at sea and breakage would be quite as great a danger on the springless wagons on which they were loaded for the long land journey. There is no proof in this passage of Strabo that the oxen and slaves were carried by sea from Aquileia southward; but the general resemblance of the trade in the two cases is indubitable and in the face of this analogy the reading and meaning of θρέμματα cannot be doubted in Polybius.12
If it is admitted that the trade in cattle and slaves was conducted in larger ships than we have been accustomed to think about as used by the Greeks most of the other items mentioned by Polybius are what we should expect. The tunny fish has always been a staple food in the Greek lands. The young tunnies hatched out in the Sea of Azoff13 very quickly poured in enormous shoals towards the torrentis oslia Ponti and were caught in vast numbers and preserved. The staple food of the Athenian in the time of the Athenian Empire was bread made from wheat grown in South Russia with salt tunny as a relish.
The most remarkable feature in Polybius's account is that wheat is described as moving sometimes towards and sometimes away from the Pontus. This is in apparent contradiction with the facts of the fifth century B.C. The power of imperial Athens was founded upon the permanence and certainty of the trade on which that large and overgrown city depended for food.14 Hence the command of the peninsula of Gallipoli was a vital factor in the existence of Athens and in the Peloponnesian War (as it was in 1915 during the Great War when the failure to get command of that peninsula was a serious and almost fatal factor). An interesting side-light is thrown on this subject by the remarks of Herodotus vii. 147 that three corn ships coming down the Hellespont bound for Aegina and the Peloponnesus were held up by the bridge of boats thrown across it by Xerxes in preparation for his invasion of Greece in 480. Xerxes however allowed them to pass saying that they would in the long run be useful to him.
In those circumstances Pontic wheat moved only south past Byzantium. Now according to Polybius in 220 B.C. the situation of trade was changed in this respect since the fifth century. This is the problem and a wider survey of the character of trade and its variation through the centuries is necessary for the right consideration of the question: How could it ever be a paying operation to carry wheat north past Byzantium to the Black Sea coast lands?
My late friend Professor Sterrett of Cornell has in one of his earliest publications pointed out as a strange fact that in the “fabulously wealthy” valley of the Maeander it was occasionally necessary to import corn from Egypt.15 This ceases to seem strange when it is contemplated as an incident in the back-and-forward flow of trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. As has just been stated about 220 B.C. wheat was sometimes brought from the Black Sea to the Greek world and sometimes carried back from the Levant waters to the Black Sea lands; i.e. there was an uneasy balance of production and price. In the Roman period to which Professor Sterrett refers the emperors were charged with the regulation of inter-provincial trade throughout the entire Mediterranean world. Government regulation of trade in modern times has not proved very satisfactory (as e.g. since it came into operation during the Great War); but under the Roman Empire it seems to have worked well because there was one supreme head to pay the penalty if the regulation was unsuccessful. The Roman emperor had as his first duty to maintain a sufficient supply of food for the vast city of Rome and thereafter for Italy and the Empire.16
The explanation of the “strange fact” mentioned by Professor Sterrett is that in the Maeander valley in ordinary years greater profit was made by cultivating and selling abroad figs and other produce than by growing wheat. If we set apart as exceptional cases two overgrown cities Rome (with Italy) during the imperial period and Athens with Attica during the fifth century B.C. (when Athens was pursuing an imperialist policy) the ancient economic principle was that each country should grow enough food for the support of its own citizens and cultivate the rest of the land for purposes of trade and interchange of comforts and luxuries with other countries:17 e.g. the Maeander valley has always been renowned for its figs.18 These were grown not merely in sufficient quantity to supply the population of the valley and the hills around but also to export. Proof of such export is not always easy to obtain because ancient historians assumed the general economic situation as familiar to their readers and would have regarded it as beneath the dignity of history to discuss and tabulate the economic system of interchange of commodities. A story however which is told by Cicero shows that the figs of Asia Minor were exported to Italy already in the first century B.C. at a time when sea transport was very far from being so well managed as later under the Roman emperors and earlier under the various dynasties of Greek or half-Greek kings. Crassus passed through the streets of Brindisi on his way to the East; and after his defeat and death it was remembered that he had been there warned by Divine Providence not to embark on this journey (Cicero Div. ii. 40. 84): in the street he was met by a dealer in figs who was calling out his wares “Cauneas” i.e. figs of Caunus and the word “Cauneas” approached closely to the pronunciation of the three Latin words caue ne eas “do not go.”19
In ways like this we become aware of a trade in Asia Minor figs being conducted in the streets of an Italian town; and the same was the case with other products and delicacies in which certain districts abounded and in which other countries desired to participate.
Now in the Maeander valley fertile as it is the wheat harvest is not always up to the average; but in case of need there remained always the reserve of corn from the corn-producing countries Egypt and South Russia (Tunisia or Algeria was too distant). The produce of Egypt belonged to the private revenues of the emperor and the population of Egypt with the exception of the city Alexandria was practically composed of the servants (almost serfs) who cultivated the emperor's lands. By permission from the imperial administration part of the produce of Egypt (which was regularly required for the support of the immense city Rome) could be diverted to supply the deficiency in some other part of the Empire. This supposes a very highly developed system of exchange of produce and the imperial administration was engaged on a very great scale in regulating transmarine trade throughout the Empire.20 Many other facts might be marshalled to illustrate this general principle of imperial trade-control; but that becomes part of our present subject only because it tends to show how the wealth of Asia Minor under the Romans was maintained. The occasional failure of a wheat harvest in Asia Minor necessitating foreign supply does not prove poverty or even scarcity: it merely is an incident of the world market indicating the flow of produce through the Empire.
It must as I think be inferred from Polybius that the flow of trade in wheat had altered between 400 and 220 B.C. While imperial Athens was a very large city swollen in numbers by a large population of resident strangers metoikoi and the capital of a great Aegean Empire it drew supplies of corn steadily and regularly from South Russia.21 The voyage to Greece was easy; the current and the prevailing north winds carried the corn ships rapidly from the cold Euxine through the Straits to the quiet warm Aegean Sea where the winds are regular. But Athens must have diminished greatly in size during the two centuries that followed the Peloponnesian War. Its wealth was dissipated; it was no longer the great centre of trade; the foreign resident population gradually left it; Delos and Rhodes took its place as centres of exchange and shipping.
At the same time communication with Egypt was greatly stimulated. Several of the Ptolemies held possession for a time of parts of Asia Minor and fought with the Seleucid kings in Syria. According to the late Bishop Hicks an excellent authority there was probably at least one ship sailing every day from the East Aegean ports to Egypt in this period. There must have grown up a considerable export of grain from Egypt to the Aegean lands; and sometimes in cases of scarcity at some point in the Black Sea Egyptian wheat could compete even in the Pontic harbours with the produce of the north-east and north Pontic coasts.
It would appear that the wise and far-sighted policy of the Flavian emperors was anxious about the dependence of Italy for food on sea-borne corn and this led to the much-discussed Edict of Domitian a very able emperor (though not a safe companion for his entourage) discouraging or forbidding the cultivation of vines in Italy and ordering that the land should be devoted to growing corn. We do not know the details and especially we do not know how far proper attention was paid by that emperor to the quality of the land which was to be thus reserved for agriculture and its suitability for that purpose. We cannot say whether Domitian had regard to the fact that there is a great deal of hillside in Italy which is entirely unsuitable for corn and is admirably suited for vineyards. We do know however that there was included in the policy of the early Empire a general idea of developing the possible resources of Italy; schemes for reclaiming the marsh lands of Latium and Etruria were at least spoken about and Claudius reclaimed for agriculture the soil that was overlain by the Fucine lake. These little facts which are recorded almost by chance are the indications of a definite view and policy cherished by the State department of the imperial household in control of the emperor himself; but such details were reckoned beneath the dignity of history and are rarely alluded to by a lofty-minded historian like Tacitus. Statius Silvae ii. 2 has a wonderful description of the improvements made by a great estate-owner at Sorrento on his own land. We cannot suppose that this owner was a solitary example of his kind. The improvement of Italy for the livelihood of men was a guiding feature of imperial policy from the time when Virgil wrote the Fourth Eclogue (40 B.C.) until Statius.
We have alluded to the accidental way in which information has come down to us about economic facts. The old historians tell little about social economy. It is only by chance e.g. as having a certain bearing on the war of A.D. 69 that we learn how much a Roman regiment suffered from the close confinement and hardship of a long voyage on shipboard; a legion which had just arrived from Syria was a negligible quantity during that great contest. So it is with many of the really important things in ancient history. The historians record the vices or the virtues the defeats or the victories of kings and emperors and great generals but they leave unnoticed the things that really matter; and so e.g. we are indebted to a historian in another branch of history but of real insight Luke for the only record of the immensely important fact that a series of regular census taking place every fourteen years22 was instituted by Augustus (confirming and modifying the older Egyptian custom) and that this census system was extended to the Empire and we infer that the administration of the Empire was based on the collection and tabulation of statistics about the man power of the Empire. So absurd did this statement of Luke seem that it was the derision of all modern historians of the Empire and almost all theological writers except a tew who mourned over the difficulty introduced into the Bible by a statement like this. A chance allusion by Pliny to the record of the age of a very long-lived individual at Bologna as confirmed by the entries in successive census shows that the records were preserved and if they were preserved they must have been classified.
In the corn trade of the Levant world there must always have been uncertainty with regard to the coming harvest in the Pontic lands and in Egypt. The flow of wheat northwards or southwards depended on price; and as the Greeks are always bold and skilful readers of the commercial future much speculation was inevitable. Would it pay better to send corn north or south? The problem was a difficult one and early knowledge of the conditions in both the north and the south was necessary to detect when there was likely to be a chance of making money by carrying Egyptian corn so far. It must be remembered that the corn ships of Egypt had to contend with great difficulties. The voyage westward along the south coast of Asia Minor was always slow and difficult. The winds on the Mediterranean blow from the N.W. and W. and ships had to watch an opportunity of dodging along the coast from cape to cape as changes in the local breezes off- and on-shore permitted. The same prevalence of north-westerly winds in the open Mediterranean made it generally impossible to achieve the direct voyage north from Alexandria to the Karamanian coast by the west side of Cyprus although it is quite obvious from the maritime notices in the book of Acts and from general considerations that the ships were in the habit of running direct south from Lycia to Alexandria;23 just as we know that already in the first century A.D. the Roman corn ships ran direct in a few days from the Straits of Messina to Alexandria but often required months to achieve the return voyage wintering at Phoenix in Crete24 before risking the cross-sea voyage to Greece and Italy.
Under the Roman Empire as we shall see in the sequel the imperial administration regulated the flow of trade in this staple commodity but in the third and second centuries B.C. there was a comparatively free market and it was left to the traders themselves to perceive where their interest lay. The Rhodian power was great but there is no reason to think that the Rhodians had more than a commercial advantage due to skill and the favourable position of the island on the way between Egypt and the Aegean and Black Sea lands. Soon the Governments tried to regulate matters for the general good.
The Delian Confederacy seems to have been purely an association of mercantile States for their common advantage. Interchange of goods at those islands was convenient for the purpose of trade and they were also well situated to get early news from both directions. The dearth “throughout the whole Empire” mentioned in the Acts xi. 2725 and in a much misinterpreted inscription of Apollonia of Phrygia must have been due to failure of the harvest in all the great wheat-producing lands Egypt Africa and South Russia (not necessarily in the same year everywhere but about the same time under Claudius).26
According to Polybius then wheat (which must have been Egyptian) was carried up sometimes against the currents and the winds of the great salt river (Dardanelles and Bosphorus) into the Black Sea. The historian is not describing the trade within the Black Sea between different regions of its coasts. He is simply stating the tact that in some years it was a sound commercial proposition to carry up wheat through the Bosphorus past Byzantium into the Black Sea and in some years wheat was carried down. Doubtless with the natural advantages of South Russia with the winds and the currents to help navigation southwards it would usually be cheaper for the Greek colonies (as e.g. the Thracian Hexapolis and Ionipolis and Sinope) to purchase corn from South Russia and especially from the fertile lands of the Cimmerian Bosphorus; but in a year when Egypt produced an exceptionally large harvest and the east Pontic lands produced less than usual the problem was how to deal with it and we must assume on the authority of Polybius that in such a year the Egyptian corn could be sold cheaper than Black Sea corn in the Greek colonies near the entrance to the Thracian Bosphorus (ostia ponti). The whole problem then was one of a free market; and this would inevitably lead to speculation. The man who could detect early that Egyptian corn could beat Black Sea corn in those Greek colonies might make a large profit; but on the other hand no harvest is ever certain until it is garnered and the speculator might find that he incurred a loss when he attempted to sell forward Egyptian corn on the Black Sea coasts.
The navigation between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea is governed by the facts of wind and current. The Black Sea receives a very large supply of fresh water from the great rivers of southern Russia not to take into account such second- or third-class rivers as those of Asia Minor and the eastern coast the Sangarios Halys Lycos and Iris Phasis and so on. On the other hand the Mediterranean receives no rivers carrying a great body of fresh water. Even the Nile and the Maeander and the Peneus are to be compared rather with the third-class rivers that feed the Black Sea than with the great rivers. The Nile is sometimes so low that it is possible to walk across it. So the Halys carries little water to the Black Sea; it is indeed often said to be unfordable; but I have crossed by a known ford in June.27
The rivers of the Adriatic and the west Mediterranean Po Rhone etc. though larger in body of water need not be taken into account in respect of the Aegean level though they affect the surface currents of the west in conjunction with the slight change in level less than an inch generally produced by the tides.
Further there is a very large surface evaporation on the Aegean Sea which is exposed to the sun continuously for many months of the year. The Black Sea on the contrary is frequently enveloped in mist and surface evaporation is small. Hence there is a tendency in the Black Sea to reach a higher level than the Aegean and this difference in level however small must be counteracted by outflow from the Pontus through the Bosphorus to the Aegean.28
Moreover the Black Sea is on the surface decidedly fresher than the Aegean owing to the much greater amount of fresh water that it receives from the rivers and the deficiency in evaporation. The salt water being heavier lies at the bottom and the Salter water of the Aegean runs up the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to the Black Sea as a deep current at the bottom in order to counterbalance the lighter fresh water which lies on the surface of the Black Sea. The fresh water must necessarily flow southwards and the salt water northwards from the one sea to the other and this double flow is always going on in the effort of nature to restore equilibrium.
Through all these causes there exists a double-flowing movement of the water in that strange salt river that connects the Pontus with the Aegean Sea a deep river flowing up and a superficial river flowing down; in other words a current of fresher water flowing from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea at the surface and a current of heavier salt water in the reverse direction underneath; and this double salt-water river flows on continuously in the never-ending struggle of nature to attain a balance.
The superficial current varies in rapidity at different points. As it passes round some projecting cape it is concentrated in a strong current flowing as rapidly as six miles an hour or even more and this current is thrown across the Straits until it impinges on the opposite bank lower down. The first need for sailors therefore was to learn how the current flows and how to take advantage of it. There is a quaint example of misunderstanding of this current in the description given by Sir Walter Scott in Count Robert of Paris where he tells how the soldiers of the First Crusade after much trouble and negotiation with the Byzantine emperor were assisted to cross the Bosphorus into Asia. Starting from Constantinople the ships which were carrying them sailed up the Bosphorus some distance and then put across towards the Asian side. This course is due to the current which flows round a point on the European shore several miles above Constantinople and is there thrown across strongly towards the Asiatic side while on the European side below that point the southward flowing current is at a minimum or almost disappears. Even steamers have to pay attention to the current of the Bosphorus as all can see in the case of the small passenger vessels which ply between Stambul and Scutari on the Asiatic side; but to appreciate it properly one must take a boat or a sailing vessel and cross by such more primitive means. Sir Walter Scott depending upon the narrative of pilgrims who had taken part in the First Crusade understands on the analogy of the seas with which he was familiar in the North that this phenomenon is due to the tide and that the ships starting from the Golden Horn took advantage of the north-flowing tide to go up some distance towards the Black Sea and then with the turn of the tide came down towards the Asiatic shore.
Every fisherman on the Bosphorus knows the main facts regarding these currents because he is making an experiment every time he drops a line into the water. For twenty or thirty fathoms near the surface his bait is drifted down the straits; but when it reaches a lower depth it is carried up contrary to the surface current; and he can thus anchor his boat by lowering a weight which does not require to touch bottom. In some places he can even actually drift by the same means slowly upwards against the trend of the surface current.
No apology is needed for illustrating the military operations and the economic conditions of Greek history by those of modern or mediaeval war. The permanence and the inexorable nature of those conditions is thus established and illustrated. In my own personal experience I had to learn the facts by suffering. We were at Scutari for a few days on our homeward journey. On the day when we had to take the evening train from Constantinople to Buda-Pesth I went in the morning to the Imperial Museum in Stambul and in the later afternoon returned to Scutari and collected our impedimenta. Missing the steamer at Galata Bridge I engaged a rowing boat (as we often did from Scutari for mere pleasure in coming from Scutari to the city). There was some reluctance on the part of the boatmen but one man came forward asking double fare which after all was a small matter; and I was hurrying (as I thought). After 200 yards he turned back refusing the hire. I found a new man and tempted him being afraid of losing our train. He rowed up the European side a long way while I sat fuming with annoyance as time passed and urged him to cross and to hurry. When we had got well up stream the boatman turned across towards the Asiatic side and soon we got into trouble. The current was running down in a turbulent and rapid flow when we reached the middle of the Bosphorus and the light boat danced and tossed under the influence of wind and the strong current. ‘The next steamer from the Bridge to Scutari which I had despised passed us and nearly ran us down. We drifted rapidly down stream and at last I told the boatman to land anywhere as it was evident that he could not reach Scutari. I had to walk a long way to the hill-top where my wife was living at the American College for Women. No conveyance could be procured as drivers congregate near the landing-stage and I was approaching from the other side. However we caught the last steamer and the train in which our berths had been engaged and paid for. Thus I learned not to ignore the current of the Bosphorus.
Not merely is the current a cause of difficulty to ships attempting to pass from the Aegean to the Black Sea: the winds also are an even greater difficulty. From the colder regions of the Black Sea these blow very frequently down the course of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. Ships have to make their way against this prevalence of northerly breezes sometimes strong sometimes light. This difficulty continued to impede navigation until steamships came into use in the Mediterranean service and it was so great that a scheme was under consideration about 1850 to make a ship canal across the narrow isthmus at Bulair dividing the Aegean Sea from the Sea of Marmora until the introduction of steamers did away with the need for a canal.29
Until the introduction of steamships into the Black Sea trade these natural causes operated unchecked; especially square-rigged modern vessels were obliged to lie at anchor on the eastern (Asiatic) side above the entrance to the Dardanelles practically on the strand which is called “the Camp of the Greeks” waiting until the winds blowing down from the Black Sea should change for a day or two to a sirocco from the south. Fore-and-aft-rigged ships were able to make their way much better because they could frequently get round a projection in the coast ahead of them if the opposing wind shifted a point or two while square-rigged vessels must wait a greater change. There was a story current between 1850 and 1860 that on one occasion such a vessel had to lie for three months before it could make its way up the Dardanelles.
The conformation of the respective coasts necessitates this. The steep rocky shore on one side forces ships to lie on the other. It is hardly possible even to land at the southern end of the Gallipoli peninsula much less to lie up there.30 Accordingly Troy in one case Byzantium in the other was in a position to profit by the passing traders: up to a certain extent this was natural and legitimate. When Byzantium in 220 B.C. and Troy about 1200 tried to overtax the trade the Greek states for which this trade was necessary allied themselves to resist the exaction.
On the other hand in the Bosphorus at its southern end ships waiting for a wind must lie on the western (European) side in the Golden Horn or its entrance. They cannot lie at Chalcedon on the Asiatic side where the current sweeps rapid and strong past the high rocky peninsula and hence Chalcedon founded earlier than Byzantium was called “the city of the blind.” It missed all the advantages that result from the anchorage of ships and the consequent control of the trade.
Byzantium could levy a toll and make other profit from the crews during their stay. Chalcedon occupies a very strong position on rocky ground rising straight from the water and presented obvious advantages for the site of a first city in a strange land; but the founders were unable to foresee the advantages in the future of the other side which also offers an easily defensible situation on the narrow peninsula between the Golden Horn and the Propontis.