“But the greatest marvel of all the things in the land after the city itself, to my mind is this which I am about to tell...”

With these words the Greek historian Herodotus, who visited the Persian Empire in the middle of 5th century BC, describes of the round boats on the river Tigris in Mesopotamia.

“194. But the greatest marvel of all the things in the land after the city itself, to my mind is this which I am about to tell: Their boats, those I mean which go down the river to Babylon, are round and all of leather: for they make ribs for them of willow which they cut in the land of the Armenians who dwell above the Assyrians, and round these they stretch hides which serve as a covering outside by way of hull, not making broad the stern nor gathering in the prow to a point, but making the boats round like a shield: and after that they stow the whole boat with straw and suffer it to be carried down the stream full of cargo; and for the most part these boats bring down casks of palm- wood202 filled with wine. The boat is kept straight by two steering- oars and two men standing upright, and the man inside pulls his oar while the man outside pushes.203 These vessels are made both of very large size and also smaller, the largest of them having a burden of as much as five thousand talents’ weight;204 and in each one there is a live ass, and in those of larger size several. So when they have arrived at Babylon in their voyage and have disposed of their cargo, they sell by auction the ribs of the boat and all the straw, but they pack the hides upon their asses and drive them off to Armenia: for up the stream of the river it is not possible by any means to sail, owing to the swiftness of the current; and for this reason they make their boats not of timber but of hides. Then when they have come back to the land of the Armenians, driving their asses with them, they make other boats in the same manner. 195. Such are their boats; and the following is the manner of dress which they use, namely a linen tunic reaching to the feet, and over this they put on another of wool, and then a white mantle thrown round, while they have shoes of a native fashion rather like the Bœotian slippers. They wear their hair long and bind their heads round with fillets,205 and they are anointed over the whole of their body with perfumes. Each man has a seal and a staff carved by hand, and on each staff is carved either an apple or a rose or a lily or an eagle or some other device, for it is not their custom to have a staff without a device upon it.”

The History of Herodotus

Translated into English by G. C. Macaulay

The University of Adelaide

Herodotus describes in his first book the Persian Empire during the Achaemenids dynasty. The Empire at that time reached the maximum territory expansion and was famous for the state organization and the road system. The most famous highway with a length of 2700 km was the Royal Road connecting the Royal city of Persepolis with Sardes the capital of Lydia near to the Aegean Sea coast.


Royal Road

It is probable the two merchants/sailors, after the demolition of their boat and the sale of the goods they traded, returned to Armenia from Babylon on foot covering a distance of about 1,000 km on the Royal Road in about 38 days.

Many goods were transported from Mediterranean Sea to Euphrates and Tigris River by land via Syria and then continue to the south by river transportation. In other words it was a combined transport by land and river, as it happens today where cargoes are carried from the inland to the river ports and then through the large rivers of Europe to the ports of North Sea.

The main goods were wine from Phoenicia area and metals in talantons (each talanton had a weight of 26 kg).

Herodotus reports that the big round boats could carry 5,000 talantons i.e. 130 MT, but is considered an exaggeration.

It is remarkable that these round boats are still in use by the locals in Tigris River under the name “GUFFA”.


The “Thalis o Milissios” is a purpose-built cable-laying steamship. She was built in 1909 at the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia for the account of the U.S.A. government. She was donated to the Greek State in 1947 and for 40 years was used for the restoration and expansion of the telecommunications network in the Aegean Sea.

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She is the oldest ship recorded in the Hellenic Shipping Registry and the oldest cable-layer in the world still operating with her original steam engines. Her gross tonnage is 476, while her length and beam are 51.26 meters and 10.34 meters respectively. The “Thalis o Milissios” was donated to the Aegean Maritime Museum by the Greek Telecommunications Organization (O.T.E.) in June 1991. A number of naval architects, engineers, former masters, and skilled technicians collaborated on the project of the vessel’s restoration to her original state.

She was also enriched with nautical instruments, historical exhibits and a small collection of telecommunications materials. The Greek State has designated her as “Floating Museum for scientific, cultural and educational purposes”.


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The “Evangelistria” is one of the last genuine Perama-type vessels. She was built on the island of Syros, by the renowned shipwright Mavrikos, for the account of the Myconian Captain Antonis Bonis. She has a cargo capacity of 90 tons, length of 20.15 meters and beam of 6.4 meters and a total sail of 220 square meters.

From her launch, up to sometime in the mid-70’s the “Evangelistria” served the needs of the Aegean islands functioning as a cargo vessel. From 1978 till 1988 she lay on the island of Syros, in a state of ruin. The Aegean Maritime Museum, in co-operation with specialists, started the restoration and repairs of the “Evangelistria” in 1988 and completed it in 1990. Today, she sails again in the Aegean Sea, in the same way she did when she was built. Because of the way that “Evangelistria” was constructed, she has been officially designated a vessel for the study of subjects relating to the history of the shipbuilding craft and naval ethnology. The late Peter Throckmorton, professor at the Oceanographic Centre of Nova University in Florida, sailed with the “Evangelistria” in order to study her and he claimed that a 3000-year-old tradition will end when the last Perama-type vessel is lost.


The Aegean Maritime Museum is a non-profit institution which was founded in 1985 on the island of Myconos. Its purpose is to collect study and promote Greek maritime history and tradition, in particular the evolution and activities of the merchant ship, mainly in the historic region of the Aegean Sea. The founder of the Μuseum, the Myconian George M. Dracopoulos, has been honored with the Athens Academy Award and with the World Ship Trust’s Award for Individual Achievement. The Aegean Maritime Museum is housed in a traditional 19th century Myconian building, which is located at the centre of the Town of Myconos.

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The building used to be the home of the legendary Master of the merchant ship “Enosis”, Nikolaos Sourmelis, who assisted the Cretans during their war of independence. The Museum’s collections allow the visitor to travel through time in Greek maritime history, on the seaways of the Aegean from ancient times to our days. Its exhibits include models of ships from the pre-Minoan period to this day, historical shipping documents, rare engravings and maps, ancient artifacts, navigational instruments, equipment and tools, as well as a collection of rare coins depicting nautical themes from the fifth century BC to the fifth century AD. In the Museum’s spacious green garden lie reproductions of ancient marble gravestones from the islands of Myconos and Delos, involving shipwrecks and sailors who were lost at sea.

The Institution’s library consists of more than 5.000 volumes of maritime content, a collection of manuscripts, photographs and is constantly updated with additional archival material. The Aegean Maritime Museum has also developed significant publishing activity including books, the Museum’s bulletin and a series of postcards, posters and informative leaflets.

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The Aegean Maritime Museum is also proud of its three “living” historical exhibits: The “Armenistis” lighthouse, the Perama-type sailing boat “Evangelistria” and the cable-laying steamship “Thalis o Milissios”. The Museum has rescued and restored these exhibits to operate as they were originally designed and built. The two vessels are presently berthed at the Hellenic Navy’s museum wharf at the Paleo Phaliro Marina.