Early Modern Maritime Heroes: Idols of the Sea

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This chapter focuses on how early modern history and culture explored and debated, and redefined, the role of the maritime hero and what was meant by heroism at sea. Questions about who and what qualified as heroic are particularly central in this period of history since, for Europeans, there was a substantial increase in voyaging and exploration, especially to distant regions. In turn, maritime activities and achievements became key cultural markers of, and justifications for, Europeans’ beliefs about the superiority of their value systems, and their physical and mental characteristics. These beliefs have left enduring historical legacies, since the success of European seaborne activities inaugurated what has been popularly termed the ‘Age of Empire’ whereby Europe’s maritime and colonial empires came to dominate geo-politics globally, and underpinned the development of the nineteenth-century theory of ‘Great man’ history, where the impact of exceptional men (aka ‘heroes’) continues to dictate cultural narratives. Though it is beyond the remit of the essay to address in detail or dismantle these historiographical legacies, it is essential to acknowledge their persistent cultural influence, even as the chapter explores some of the early modern ideologies and values that contributed to that ascendancy.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Marine and Maritime Worlds, 1400-1800
EditorsClaire Jowitt, Craig Lambert, Steve Mentz
PublisherRoutledge Press
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2020

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