The historiography on Greek commercial shipping for the period prior to the mid-eighteenth century is quite limited. In general terms, the commercial and maritime activities of Greeks from the fall of Constantinople (1453) to the early eighteenth century are perceived as being of relatively minor importance and limited mostly to playing a subservient role to the trade networks of Western European countries struggling for supremacy in the Levant. Yet there are plenty of indications that Greeks were actually very active seamen at that time. This evidence is heterogeneous and by and large remains unexplored; as a consequence, we are not in a position to reach solid conclusions. In order to reach such general conclusions on Greek commercial shipping we require extensive research based on a substantial corpus of data. The aim of this paper is to systematise and assess sources that might be useful to this end.
The publication of selected archival records is a necessary precondition for the widening of the scope of Greek maritime history. Modern Greek historiography is marred by a lack of published sources. Although a great number of records have been published by Sathas and other such “generous“ scholars, the existing collections of Greek primary sources are small compared to known unpublished material. Moreover, they are not part of a series but constitute individual and fragmentary publications. Their shortcomings become even more conspicuous when compared to collections such as Monumenta Germaniae Histórica, Calendar of State Papers, Colección de documentos para la historia de España and Collection des documents inédits relatifs à l'histoire de France The absence of special publications of sources pertaining to economic history should also be stressed.
The quest for archival and bibliographical sources from which quantitative data on Greek maritime history can be obtained should be concerned with considerations of space and category. In the case of the former, we have to identify the vast geographic area, extending well beyond the boundaries of the modern Greek state, within which Greek seamen transported goods to and from the Levant.