Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
H. Roger Grant
The Greek-owned merchant fleet remains the world’s largest, and while plenty of histories have been written about this fleet, there is a definite absence in the historiography about why the Greeks’ relation to the sea is unique, and how this fleet came into existence. The author argues that the Greek merchant fleet is a successful hybridization of a commercial middleman minority ethos born out of conditions in the Ottoman Empire and post-independence Greece, combined with the shipping skills of a littoral people who invested in this expertise.
To understand the how and why of the Greek merchant fleet, it is necessary to understand the political, economic, and geographic environment of the modern Greeks. This includes their insular, cohesive yet cosmopolitan ethno-religious identity rooted in the Ottoman Millet system, together with a nationalism nurtured in the commercial and shipping diaspora. Combined with a littoral homeland in the Aegean and Black Sea basins, and a quest for economic and political agency denied at home, resulted in a successful merchant shipping culture which survives to this day with the same key features.
The thesis includes a section on the island of Hydra as a prototype nautical island with a key heritage pedigree; its converted merchant ships helped Greece to win her political independence, and the island is the site of the oldest nautical academy in the world. Key diaspora commercial sites wherein commercial skills and foreign ideas, particularly nationalism, developed, form a key part of the discussion. The transition of the commercial merchant into an emphasis on shipping as an “ethnic specialty” also receives due attention. Finally, the carnage of World War Two and the horrific loss of tonnage and lives starts the final chapter, which then covers the rebound of the Greek fleet due to the decision to purchase excess wartime US tonnage. Combined with the skills of the Greek mariner and the commercial agility and cohesiveness of the shipowner class, resulted in Greeks topping the ship-owning charts in 1970, where they remain to this day.
Billinis, Alexander, "The Greek Merchant Marine: A Unique Combination of Nautical Skill and Commercial Savvy" (2022). All Theses. 3910.