>>>> Port of Rhodes <<<<
Three hundred and twenty-five miles North of Alexandria lay another great port which in the first part of the Hellenistic period, moved into a position of great wealth and significant commercial importance. This was accomplished by partially riding on Egypt’s Coattails, as it were. Rhodes had a fine geographic position near the center of the eastern Mediterranean trade routes, a large merchant marine, a powerful navy to protect it, and a business — minded aristocracy with ample capitol at its disposal. Most of the thousands of bushels of grain that the Ptolomies shipped out , as well as much of their other exports left Egypt in Rhodian vessels and proceeded to Rhodes for transshipment to their ultimate destinations. However, Rhodes’ commercial relations were not in any way limited to either Egypt or to freight charters. The island also had a large trade in wine as well as massive banking interests. The island was one vast vineyard and produced for export lavish quantities of cheap wine. The wine was shipped out in large clay shipping jars of a distinctive design, and modern day archaeologists have found the remains of literally thousands of these jars in ancient sites from the Black Sea to Sicily and as far away as Carthage. They also turn up in quantity , as one would expect, in the vicinity of Egypt and the Aegean Isles. However, many of these containers have also been found in southern Russia. Rhodian ships must have been busy in that area, ferrying in wine for return cargoes of grain to be distributed throughout the Greek world.
Wherever Rhodian cargoes went , the Rhodian bankers and agents followed: when for example a sheik of what is today Algeria decided to enter the international market with some of his surplus grain, he worked through a Rhodian agent. Nothing shows more clearly how crucial a role the island played in the international economic scene than what happened when, in 228 BC, a disastrous earthquake hit the island. All of the great powers and some of the smaller ones rushed in handsome amounts of aid. Ptolomy IV, in particular sent thirty-thousands tons of grain, he second largest shipment recorded in antiquity -- Rhodes was after all , his best customer. The island collected an annual return of one million drachmas from the 2% tax on all merchandise that went in and out of it’s harbor, five times what the port of Athens had netted from the same source two hundred years earlier.(1) It comes as no surprise that the first organized code of maritime law, one that still contains some seeds from which our present law of the sea has grown, was laid down and codified by the Rhodians.
--Lionel Casson, The Ancient Mariners, Seafarers and Sea fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times,” Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991
(To Be Continued)
(1) When a skipper steered his vessel into port he headed for the custom official’s station. There the ship was hailed and boarded by the customs officials who looked over his cargo, checked the evaluation of it and levied the 2% tax of the toll. Going and coming the ship paid this toll , even on transit goods headed for a further destination.