Home ° 2017


North Africa: ° Algeria ° Egypt ° Libya ° Morocco ° Sudan
West Africa: ° Benin ° Cameroon ° Congo ° Cote d'Ivoire ° Gabon ° (Republic of the) Gambia ° Ghana ° Guinea ° Liberia ° Mauritania ° Mozambique ° Nigeria ° Sao Tome and Principe ° Senegal (Dakar) ° Sierra Leone
East Africa (The Horn of Africa): ° Djibouti ° Kenya ° Eritrea ° Madagascar ° Somalia ° Sudan ° Tanzania ° Zanzibar


Archaelogical evidence of pre-humans has been discovered in the Buya region of Eritrea, near Adi Keyh.

The discovery may be one of the oldest ever found, and is similar to the famous "Lucy" find. Evidence of human presence begins in the 8th millennium B.C., beginning with Pygmoid, Nilotic, Cushitic (the Afar) and Semitic (Tigrinya) peoples. In the sixth century B.C., Arabs spread to the coast of present day Eritrea, in search of ivory and slaves for trade with Persia and India. Their language evolved into Ge'ez, related to today's Amhara, still spoken by Christian priests in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

During the 3rd and 4th century AD, Eritrea was part of the kingdom of Axum which spread from Meroe in Sudan right across the Red Sea to Yemen. The capital of Axum was in the highlands of Tigray (now a province in Ethiopia), and the main port was at Adulis which is now called Zula in Eritrea. This Kingdom was based upon trade across the Red Sea and was founded by Semitic people originally from Arabia. Christianity was the predominant faith of Axum introduced through contact with traders throughout the region.

By the 6th century AD the Persian Empire expanded and with it went the expansion of Islam. In 710 AD Muslims destroyed Adulis and the ancient kingdom of Axum declined until it was reduced to a small Christian Enclave.

By the early 16th century, the Abyssinian Kingdom covered the Ethiopian highlands ruled by kings and peopled by Christian Tigrinyans and remaining fairly isolated. The community had little or no contact with the lowlands of the region which was home to predominantly Muslim communities. This period in Eritrea's history is contentious: Ethiopians claimed Eritrea had been an integral part of historic Ethiopia but though there are some common practices and religious beliefs between Eritreans and Ethiopia, these ties do not extend throughout Ethiopia. In fact, large parts of Eritrea, it would seem, were linked to other empires. The Ottoman Empire and Egypt had relations with the northern and eastern part of the country, and various Sudanic Empires to the west and north-west have had their influence.

Abyssinia was subject to the expansionism of the Egyptians and some European powers (French, Italian and British). In the early parts of the century, Ali Pasha invaded Sudan and gradually pushed on the Western Lowlands of present-day Eritrea. By mid-century, European interest in the area was increasing. The British had a consulate in Massawa, and the French already had a presence. Italian missionaries were established in Keren.

Partial Map of the Middle East, Horn of Africa and Persian Gulf. 1890s.

Partial Map of Middle East, Horn of Africa, Persian Gulf. 1890s.

Emperor Tewodros II, who ruled Abyssinia from 1855-68, also had to deal with rebel forces in Tigray and Shoa, who chose Ras Kassa as their ruler. Tewodros was defeated in 1868 after the British General Sir Robert Napier had landed in Zula to release the Consul and other prisoners held by the emperor. After Tewodros's defeat, Ras Kassa was crowned Emperor Yohannes IV in 1872. Yohannes's forces won a significant battle against the Egyptians at Gura in 1875. From this victory, Yohannes' foremost General, Ras Alula, became governor of the province of Hamasien and prince of Eritrea.

The first Italian mission in Abyssinia was at Adua in 1840, under Father Giuseppe Sapeto. He was the vehicle through which the Italian government brought up pieces of land near Assab, initially on behalf of the national Rubattino Shipping Company.

Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa. Political Biography. 1875-1897. Author Haggai Erlich.

But as the European "Scramble for Africa" gathered pace, the Italian government took over the land in 1882 and began to administer it directly. They also ousted the Egyptians from Massawa on the coast. However, expansion further inland soon led to clashes with Emperor Yohannes. In 1887, Ras Alula's forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the Italians at Dogali, forcing them to retreat.

This was a significant victory for Yohannes, who was also facing a number of other threats on different fronts at the same time - not only the Italians, but the Dervishes and Menelik, an increasingly disloyal general. Yohannes was eventually killed after being captured in battle against the Dervishes at Galabat. Following his death, Ras Alula withdrew to Tigray. This allowed Menelik to be named Yohannes successor in 1889 with substantial Italian backing, instead of the natural heir, Ras Mangasha.

The Italians then moved rapidly, taking Keren in July 1889 and Asmara one month later. Melenik had signed the Treaty of Uccialli with the Italians the same year, detailing the areas each controlled.

Just four years later, Melenik renounced the treaty over a dispute arising from further Italian expansionist attempts. After more military clashes and in the face of sizable Italian reinforcements, Melenik signed a peace treaty. Italy then began establishing colonial rule in the areas it controlled, as defined in the treaties with the Ethiopian emperor in 1900, 1902 and 1908.

Colonial Rule

The Italians initially used a system of indirect rule through local chiefs at the beginning of the 20th century. The first decade or so concentrated on expropriation of land from indigenous owners. The colonial power also embarked on the construction of the railway from Massawa to Asmara in 1909. Fascist rule in the 1920s and the spirit of 'Pax Italiana' gave a significant boost to the number of Italians in Eritrea, adding further to loss of land by the local population.

In 1935, Italy succeeded in over-running Abyssinia, and decreed that Eritrea, Italian Somali-land and Abyssinia were to be known as Italian East Africa. The development of regional transport links at this time round Asmara, Assab and Addis produced a rapid but short-lived economic boom.

However, there began to be clashes between Italian and British forces in 1940. Under General Platt, the British captured Agordat in 1941, Taking Keren and Asmara later that year. As Britain did not have the capacity to take over the full running of the territory, they left some Italian officials in place. One of the most significant changes under the British was the lifting of the color bar which the Italians had operated. Eritreans could now legally be employed as civil servants. In 1944, with the changing fortunes in world war II, Britain withdrew resources from Eritrea. The postwar years and economic recession led to comparatively high levels of urban unemployment and unrest.

Ethiopian Rule

When the British withdrew, the fate of Eritrea was left in the balance. It was known that the British favored partition - the north and west of Eritrea to Sudan, The rest to Ethiopia, which suited Haile Selassie. After initial presentations on the possible future of Eritrea, in 1949 the UN established a Commission of Inquiry with the task of finding out what Eritreans wanted for their own future. For a number of reasons, countries represented on the Commission could not agree on recommendations. The eventual decision to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1950 reflected the strategic interests of Western Powers, particularly the United States.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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