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All Things Roman (History)
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Ishmael


In: Toronto
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The Ship of State

After I came up with this idea, I remembered a very interesting little detail.

At the heart of the Roman Capital was the Forum Romanum (The Roman Assembly-place). This was where the magistrates of the city were elected by the people in "The Well of the Commitia." The Well of the Commitia was a depression in the ground carved around in steps upon which the electorate could site or stand in elevated rows. At one end of the Well of the Commita was a podium and it was from the podium that the elected magistrates addressed the assembled people. The Romans had a name for this elevated Podium upon which their leaders stood. They called it "The Rostra."


Now Rostra is a real Latin word with a real meaning. It doesn't at all mean "podium" (though "Rostrum" is an English word that essentially means "podium" today). The Rostra, in Latin, is the fore-deck of a sailing ship.

So the Romans associated the seat of government with the elevated fore-deck of a sailing vessel where would have stood, presumably, the ship's Captain. Why would they do this when historians keep telling us that the Romans hated the sea and could not sail for shit?

Eggs and Chickens

Historians have an answer. They tell us that the Rostra received its name when the battering ram of a Carthaginian war-galley was fastened to it -- making the podium resemble a kind of ship's peak. That's a fine explanation but it does beg the question, "Why would it ever get into anybody's head to nail the battering ram of an enemy ship to the speaking platform above the Well of the Commitia??? It's not as though Romans went about fixing ships' peaks to all of their architecture.

No. I think it just as likely that the Rostra was always called the Rostra and someone fastened a ship's prow to it to underline the correspondance between this fore-deck of the ship of state and the fore-deck of a real sailing vessel -- a sailing vessel in which the captains were elected by the sailors: that is, a pirate ship.

Do Romans Really Make Poor Sailors?

And as for the Romans being terrible sailors, there comes a point when one must acknowledge that the proof is in the pudding. The fact of the matter is that, whenever the Romans fought a sea battle, they won. Every single time! They never once lost to a foreign enemy at sea. Even the much vaunted maritime power of Carthage fell to Roman attack vessels. Oh yes...the historians always explain this by telling us, with much authority, how the ingenious Romans "transformed a sea battle into a land battle" (this happens several times by the way in Roman history, always accompanied by the same descriptive qualification) as though no one ever heard of boarding parties before the Romans came up with the idea! Seems to me the Romans had no trouble at all on the ocean -- at least, a great many Romans had no trouble at all.

History's First Editors

But if this is how it all really happened -- that Rome was a city state, ruled by a King, until a bunch of pirates sacked it and liked it so much they stayed as rulers -- how did it all get expunged from the history books -- and for what reason?

Well...it turns out that at the very time that Rome began to write down its history, the greatest threat it was facing was from Pirates. Pirates were the hated enemy. Pirates were so loathsome they were crucified upon capture -- not even permitted survival as slaves. They were lower than slaves. Pure pirate scum.

Which might explain exactly why Romans started writing history at this very time. They were actually hastily engaged in re-writing it.

It suddenly became very important to write a history of Rome because lots of children were being raised on the story that Rome was founded by pirate scum and this could not be allowed to continue! After all, it couldn't be true. Everything had to be done to eliminate any connection between the Roman aristocracy and Piracy (much like the British Monarchy eliminated its German origins in World War One).

So one set of writers founded Rome in the solid-earth "blood and soil" traditions of Italy, with Romulus and Remus and she-wolves and all that -- and definitely no pirates. Another set figured they had to keep the boat parts in but definitely no pirates so the sailors became refugees from....ahhh....TROY! Yeah, Troy. That will do nicely.

Either way, the elites of Rome needed to feel proud of their origins -- descent from gods and all that -- they couldn't possibly have it known (to themselves, others, or progeny) that they were all the descendants of the worst form of human life on earth: disgusting, barbaric -- but democratic -- pirates.
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Mick Harper
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Your pirate theory sufficiently good to be adopted pro tem. I was reading about the jolly old rostrum just the other day and didn't twig. (Tut! Tut! sleeping on the job.) I have also just finished a book about the political significance of pirates (and other ne'er-do-wells) in the Atlantic (The Many-Headed Hydra) which is definitely worth a read even though the authors are stridently left-wing.

Actually I came to the conclusion that pirates were of no political significance but certainly Cap'n Bones and His Men were able to glide fairly seamlessly between being a strictly Shipborne Republic to being land-based mini-magnates.

One other little idea for your locker. The Etruscans were great traders but not, so I get the impression, great seafarers. So maybe the Etruscans used the Romans as their navy much as the Ottoman Empire used the Barbary pirates as their navy. (That should read "navy" throughout.) This would explain why the Romans had Etruscan kings early doors.

Come to think of it, wasn't there some idea about the Phoenicians being Solomon's navy? Certainly the Phoenicians acted in that capacity for the land-locked Persians.
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DPCrisp


In: Bedfordshire
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Again, v.v.interesting, Ish.

No. I think it just as likely that the Rostra was always called the Rostra and someone fastened a ship's prow to it

Sounds good to me. Do we know which way around the prow was fitted? If it was pointing away from the crowd, it would be an absolute dead give-away.

But if this is how it all really happened -- that Rome was a city state, ruled by a King, until a bunch of pirates sacked it and liked it so much they stayed as rulers
...
Cap'n Bones and His Men were able to glide fairly seamlessly between being a strictly Shipborne Republic to being land-based mini-magnates
.

This all smacks heavily of all the stuff about Alphabeticals that we've been going on about. The "technological froth" who swarm in to take over the place... We've never made a sharp distinction between warrior élites and commercial élites.

"Classic" pirates are thought of only as debauched and cruel thieves and murderers. Did they deserve that reputation? They established full-blown colonies in the Caribbean, but you took your honour and your life in your hands if you went there, apparently.

They operated outside the "civilised norms" and would have been feared and vilified no matter what they actually did. Perhaps we should think of pirates as aquatic barbarians in the broadest sense. {Aren't the Celts sometimes credited as the source of (some) Roman institutions? Call the seaborne Celts pirates, too?)

Look at the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

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A highly mobile "underclass"... always at odds with the sedentaries... "Pirates" by sea, "Romanies" by road...

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Isn't there a sort of democracy about all ships' crews? Maybe it's most apparent with pirates in the absence of a fixed agenda. A Royal Navy ship might have had its hierarchy and its orders 'passed down' to it; but hierarchy is not in itself incompatible with democracy; democratically elected leaders are then expected to get on with doing the leading; the captain and crew knew their interdependence; they were united in the face of the harshest possible conditions and worked on discipline and trust; and even the Royal Navy actually operated a meritocracy. Innit?

Press gangs were required to meet the sheer demand, but it's undeniable that the sea (or the road) just is in the blood for a lot of people.

(They still made war on pirates in colonial days, too.)

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Pirates got (literally) roasted in Japan, too. And they were sea-going, but not ocean-going, like the Romans (e.g. Caesar had to enlist local expertise to invade Britain). And they have a suspiciously Alphabetical past...

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I take it the Sea Peoples were just one bunch of pirates/warriors/traders... but historians do insist that people can only get about by migration!

---

What do pirates speak?
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Mick Harper
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What do pirates speak?

As I understand it, each country had its own pirates. The Spanish, the English, the Dutch and the French were all intermittently at war (plus had various trade exclusions) so the status of pirates would vary. One minute you're a "privateer" fighting for King and Country against the dastardly foreigner, the next minute you're a pirate, the scourge of the seven seas. But actually what you do, i.e. sail up to a ship with the wrong colour flag and plunder it, is just the same. Someone like Henry Morgan is Governor of Jamaica one minute, being hanged the next.

But all ships' crews of the period (merchant, navy, pirate) tended to be polyglot. Which presumably meant that the the language of the ship would be, say, English but the demotic would be some kind of simplified English i.e. a pidgin.

Latin of course, as is well known, is an Italian pidgin.
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Ishmael


In: Toronto
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More Evidence Against Official Republican History

Perhaps the strongest evidence against the official story is the very nature of Rome's constitution.

Just to give you all a brief rundown on the official story, Rome was supposedly originally ruled by Kings descended from Romulus -- the founder and first King of Rome who drew up its original boundaries. This monarchical period lasted from 753-509 BC.

In 509 BC (amazing how the date is so precise -- how is that I wonder?) the aristocracy expelled the Kings and set up the Republic -- a limited democracy where voting and political rights were limited to males and allotted by landholdings (the more land you owned, the more say you had in government) and class (the aristocrats -- patricians -- had privileges not afforded to the commoners -- plebians -- and interestingly, the reverse as well).

Now why is it I claim the Roman constitution argues against this scenario? It does so simply because the Roman constitution, like that of the U.K. today, was unwritten. The Romans never wrote down their system of governance or enacted it in law as a kind of lex ultamatum.

Now the only truly successful democratic revolution in history was the American Revolution. I maintain that the American Revolution succeeded because it occurred in a geographical context absent from any monarchical tradition, and populated by a highly radical population of entrepreneurs and social malcontents separated by great distance from the conservative elements of their larger society.

Nevertheless, the Americans realized that what they were attempting was so new, its only chance of survival was to establish in law what was not established in tradition. Thus, their first act was to write down their constitution and pass it into law as a kind of lex ultimatum: the greatest and most authoritative law.

By contrast, those nations with unwritten constitutions did not birth their systems of government in revolution. Unwritten constitutions are evolutionary in nature. Over great periods of time these systems embed themselves in traditions so ancient as to be rendered unquestionable.

The Romans had a phrase for "unquestionable traditions." The phrase was Mos Maiorum -- the way things have always been and always should be. The great conflicts that led to the death of the Republic were all fought over attempts to tamper with this Mos Maiorum. So sacrosanct were these traditions that men repeatedly pushed their nation into hopeless civil war (and many ended their lives in suicide) rather than permit any change being made. The Mos Maiorum was sacrosanct.

And yet, we are to believe that the Mos Maiorum was simply dreamed up by men like the first Brutus and his compatriots after they overthrew their Kings. These revolutionary radicals who invented an entirely new system of government (similar to, but obviously not derived from the democracy of Athens), expected such staid, fanatical conservatism of their own children that they never even bothered to write down or enact as law the rules by which this government they formed was to operate.

I find this unbelievable.

The Roman Constitution must have evolved over time. Moreover, its evolutionary period was likely so old that no one living even in the time of Brutus could remember when it had ever last been changed. Therefore, the Mos Maiorum was most likely imported to Rome from elsewhere and arrived with a group of people already well-versed in constitutional Republicanism.
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Mick Harper
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This has echoes of Solon, reputedly the author of the Laws of the Athenian Republic and also supposedly a real historical personage. (He of course takes us on to Atlantis, that other real/mythical lawyers' paradise.)

Ditto Moses.
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Ishmael


In: Toronto
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Who Were these Constitutionalists?

Who brought the Mos Maiorum to Rome?

Mick has pointed out that the original Kings of Rome as well as the Aristocratic Class were Etruscan. In fact, I have learned that many of the trappings of Roman government (the symbols of office and perhaps many of the offices themselves) date back to the Etruscans. Is it then not likely that this is truly where the Roman, unwritten constitution evolved?

Mick has proposed that the Etruscans were the land-dwelling original Romans and that the Romans-proper, in keeping with my pirate hypothesis, may have been a sea-faring invader. However, he has also pointed out that histories of the Etruscans which were written by Romans (including Claudius) have all disappeared and wonders if this might be a clue to something significant.

I have suggested that the primary concern of early Roman historians may have been the expunging of Roman origins in Piracy. So...if we unite my hypothesis with Mick's fact:

1) FACT: The Etruscans were the original founders of Rome but have been eliminated from History
2) HYPOTHESIS: The Romans originated in Piracy and expunged this fact from their history

We get:

3) HYPOTHESIS: The Etruscans were pirates and this fact was expunged from Roman History.
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Ishmael


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So what's the official line on the Etruscans?

Editors of the MSN Encarta Encyclopedia wrote: The Etruscans had enormous cultural, social, and political influence on early Rome. The origins of this seafaring people remain obscure, but most scholars now believe that the Etruscans brought their language, their religion, and their love of music and dance from the Near East to northern Italy. Their distinctive culture was further shaped in the Italian region of Tuscany, which bears their name. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761552589_2/Ancient_Rome.html
(Emphasis added)

So now we learn that the Etruscans were sea-farers. They were also said to be "traders" (by which we would imagine them middle-men or shipping magnates). But I do wonder if the evidence we have to suggest they were traders might also fit the hypothesis that they were pirates? Or at least that they were descended from Pirates -- or mixed a little piracy in with their trade?

Well...the latter is not ridiculous because...

Editors of the MSN Encarta Encyclopedia wrote: The Etruscan cities shared both language and culture and came together for religious festivals, but they were also rivals and sometimes had bitter disputes. This internal turbulence prevented the Etruscans from uniting against common enemies. A generation after the Romans expelled Tarquin the Proud, the last of their Etruscan kings, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily defeated the Etruscans in a sea battle at Cumae near Naples (474 bc). The Etruscans forever lost their outposts in southern Italy, and their civilization began a slow decline. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761552589_2/Ancient_Rome.html#endads
(Emphasis added)

So now we have a context for piracy -- or at least the existence of privateers. If the Etruscan cities were rival sea-born traders, it's reasonable to conclude that there was much in the way of sea-based trade interception -- where each city served as the operational base for traders tasked with capturing cargoes being shipped by other, rival cities.

Furthermore, when the Romans throw off the yoke of the Etruscan Kings, this may have been little more than the sucessful rebellion of an inland colony against its weakening sea-side overloards. Perhaps little changed, other than the gaining of independence? Or perhaps it was at this point that sea-based systems of governance applied to life onboard a vessel were adopted wholesale to the governance of the city.
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Ishmael


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Those Who Sail the Ship of State

DPCrisp wrote:
No. I think it just as likely that the Rostra was always called the Rostra and someone fastened a ship's prow to it

Sounds good to me. Do we know which way around the prow was fitted? If it was pointing away from the crowd, it would be an absolute dead give-away.


I cannot say for sure but I am almost certain that it faced the crowd. The image it would give is of that of a ship inside a circular harbour, pulled onto a sloping beach extending away and upward from the vessel, with the captain standing on the vessel's fore-peak to address an assembly of sailors standing on shore.

I also note the similarity between the word "rostrum" and the word "roster." Now, according to dictionary.com, my attempt to link these words is linguistically unsound -- but I franky don't believe them.

A "roster" is a list of names. Most aptly, a list of "military personel enrolled in a particular unit". However, my mind rebels against this generic reference to "military personel." Rather, I am reminded of my readings of Moby Dick and the Aubrey-Martin adventure tales (Master and Commander) where prospective sailors file past the ship's clerks, immediately upon walking up the gangway, to sign their names to a crew list which detailed not only their name but also their sea-rating, pay-rate and rank. I suspect the very idea of a roster originated with sailing vessels.

So if a "roster" is properly understood to be a list of sailors, detailing their names, abilities and ranks, if we find rosters associated with rostrums in Rome, it may suggest that Romans were possessed of a sea-faring heritage.
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Ishmael


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In fact, the association of a roster with the rostrum is a dark one in Roman History. During the tumultuous revolutionary period from Gauis Marius to Octavian, political murder became part of the culture of Rome, where one faction would take power and attempt to exile, kill or ruin its enemies. The names of these "enemies of the state" were compiled into what were called "proscription lists" and posted on the rostrum. So here we have a specific case where a roster (a list of names) was repeatedly affixed to a rostrum (the fore-peak of a sailing vessel). The choice to post these "rosters" on the "rostrum" suggests that the Romans associated lists of names (rosters) with sailing vessels (one part of which was the rostrum).

Now, both Webster's dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=roster) and Dictionary.com tell us that "roster" has nothing to do with "rostrum." They claim, believe it or not, that the word "roster" comes from the Dutch word for "rooster." How they reach this conclusion I cannot myself understand but I will make the attempt to explain.

Apparently, it stems from the word "gridiron" or "grid-iron" -- like a football field which is rectangular-shaped. The word gridiron suposedly comes from the "middle-English" word (lol) "gridire" (which we would rather express thusly: "was once spelled 'gridire'). That means the word gridiron has no known "origin." How does this relate to "roster?" Ok...well....a grid iron was a rectangular grate (like a grid) used to "roast" food. Thus, when a rooster was "roasted," it was held in a grated grid made of iron. From this, roosters ("roasters")were associated with grids. Because a "roster" is not just a list but a chart composed on a grid, where the name is one column, sea-rating is another, pay-rate another, and rank yet one more, a roster is a kind of grid. So, this grid was given the name "roster" because it was associated with the gridiron used to roast roosters.

Hmm....I leave it to you to decide whether this makes more sense than my idea: that the roster was a list of sailors compiled on the rostrum of a sailing vessel as each man stepped aboard.

And why would the "rostrum" of the ship be associated with such a list, rather than the main deck or galley or whatever? I suspect it has to do with the differences between how ancient and more modern vessels were boarded. As I stated above, the modern roster of sailers was composed on the main deck as each man stepped off the gangway onto the ship. Literally, he registered his name and submitted to interview with his first footstep upon the ship's deck. In the modern sailing ship, the gangway extended from a wharf or quay up to the side gunnels of the ship which placed the clerks in the mid-section of the vessel.

But ancient ships were boarded from the bow -- the fore-peak. The ships were hauled up on the shore and directly boarded from the beach. As each man stepped aboard, his first step fell upon the rostrum. There, he registered his name on the "rostrum list" - or "rostrum" for short (which, in English, was rendered as "roster" -- in fact -- I suspect the Latin word was pronounced "roster-um.").

Once we have the association established in fact, it becomes possible for it to be reversed: that the name for the fore-peak of a sailing ship was actually derived from the name for a list of names: that is, the word "rostrum" derives from "rostrum list."

In either case, if there is an association between roster and rostrum, we should expect that the "proscription lists" were not the first lists of names affixed to the Roman rostrum -- that there was a lengthy tradition of names being affixed to the rostrum.
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Ishmael


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As I have already mentioned, the Well of the Comitia was the place where the Roman people elected their representatives. Is it not likely then that a list of condidates was affixed to the rostra? I do know that the actual "voting booths" (actually, they were just baskets into which marked stones were dropped) were located directly beneath the rostra where any list of candidates affixed to the podium could easily be read by every voter. The voting took place with long lines of men, arranged in rows, filing down the long theatre of elevated steps (arranged like a classic Greek amphitheatre) toward these baskets where they dropped their stones to exit to the left or right of the Rostra.

One wonders if, aboard pirate ships, the ranks and compensation rates for various sailors were determined by a democratic vote that took place immediately before the vessel set sail. I can picture the ship beached in the middle of the harbour and all of the sailors gathered around. To the fore-peak of the ship is posted the roster of the ship's crew -- all those entitled to vote and all those vying for the various levels of command. The men, holding marked stones in their hands, filed down the beach toward the ship. Just before boarding, they dropped their stone into a basket. Once everyone was on board, the stone "tablets" were "tabulated" and the results of the election anounced. The vessel then set sail.

Look at the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

I suspect I am about to propose that the Roman aristocracy was Viking/Norman.
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Komorikid


In: Gold Coast, Australia
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Ish wrote:
The fact of the matter is that, whenever the Romans fought a sea battle, they won. Every single time! They never once lost to a foreign enemy at sea.


This is total rubbish. The Romans got their arses kicked by the Carthaginians all over the Med until the Roman captured a Carthaginian battle ship. The Roman navy was totally inferior to their enemy until this event. Once they were able to build a comparable navy they were equals at sea. The tipping point was using land base warfare at sea.

They were outclassed by the Venti in the Atlantic as well until the Venti fleet, which relied on sail power was becalmed. The Roman fleet which was oar powered was then able to ram the stationary Venti ships.

And as late as Julius Caesar they lost thousands of troops twice in the short 20 mile crossing of the English Channel without a shot being fired because of their inexperience in assessing local sailing conditions.

This is not the trademark of a superior maritime nation.
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TelMiles


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TheTeslarian wrote:
The design of sword used by Roman soldiers wasn't too good either...but by 'eck they were effective soldiers.

The Roman sword was perfectly adapted to the way they fought. It was made short so it could be used (mainly in a stabbing fashion) in a crowded battle.
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Komorikid


In: Gold Coast, Australia
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Does it not seem enigmatic that all the written languages came from seafarers? Phoenician, Punic, Ogham, Runic, Greek, Etruscan, Latin and Gothic. All I suspect were various forms of Maritime Trading Languages.

The interrelationship of these Alphabets is very interesting as well.
Starting from the westernmost Ogham .... to the north it is related to Runic in style and content. To the south it is related to Phoenician as examples of script in a combination of both are found in North Africa and as far west as mainland America.

Runic is related to Gothic in style and content and Gothic shares both Runic and Greek letters. Punic is a later form of Phoenician. Greek is derived from Phoenician. Etruscan is a combination of Phoenician and Greek and Latin is I believe the FIRST land-based language derived from both Etruscan and Gothic.

That's right, Gothic was one of the oldest alphabets known.
Seafarers don't just sail on the seas they sail up and down rivers and the Danube, Volga and Dnieper are massive waterways that link the Baltic and Central Europe with the Med via the Black Sea and the Middle East via the Caspian Sea.
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AJMorton



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Perhaps the written languages of those who never took to the sea died out and are currently lost to us. If that were the case, it would appear to our modern eyes that all written languages belong to seafarers.

However, one cannot help but notice that seafarers and written language go largely hand-in-hand. The earliest we know of, Mesopotamian Cuneiform, is thought to be almost entirely dedicated to trade. Since the Mesos were at home on the water (Mesopotamia means 'between two rivers) it stands to reason that you are correct in your observation.
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