Trade and Ships
Delphi strained her eyes against the sun reflecting on the sea and tried to work out where the docks at Piraeus were.
Delphi had always liked Piraeus. She didn’t have much reason to go there, it being several miles away from the centre of Athens on the coast, but it was in many ways the reason for Athens’ wealth and prosperity. From Piraeus you could get on a boat and go anywhere in the world. Traders and visitors came from across the world to step off a boat in Piraeus before heading to the city. It was so important that Athens had even stretched their city walls all the way out to the docks, in an enormous stone hug.
As it was not true-Athens, Piraeus was a place that was much more accommodating to foreigners and non-citizens. Delphi was always fascinated by them. Some of them wore outlandish clothes or spoke with strange and confusing accents and languages. However, all of them had one thing in common when they arrived and that was the need for a decent bed, a half-decent meal and not at all decent company.
Delphi’s father hardly ever took her to Piraeus. It was not a place for children, he said. This, of course, had the effect of making Delphi want to go there as soon as possible.
Piraeus: Fact box
Piraeus was a major reason for Athens’ wealth and growth over the years. From the docks here, traders bought goods from all over the Mediterranean Sea, from Italy to Egypt and beyond. This meant it attracted exotic goods and wealth from all over Europe.
Ships were very important to the Athenians. Once, a general, named Themistocles, asked the Oracle of Delphi how they should protect the city. The oracle said they should build ‘wooden walls’. This was taken to mean they should build ships to protect the city – and they did! Over 200 triremes (ships with three rows of oars) were built. It was the power of the Athens navy that gave them such wealth and influence, as it meant that they could bully other cities into sending payment in return for protection. Of course, Poseidon, the god of the sea, was particularly worshipped here.
In fact, the docks were so important that in the 5th century, the Long Walls were built to connect the city of Athens to the docks at Piraeus, and to protect it from invasion. These walls stretched on for miles as you can see in the diagram at the top of the page!