The fall of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. By that time sea trade had already been taken over by the Venetians, Genoese and other strong maritime powers on the Italian peninsula, which were able, with the financial backing of the wealthy houses of the West or with state subsidies, to build and equip the costly galleys and galleasses.
The islands of the Aegean were gradually conquered, and it needed about two centuries after the fall of Constantinople for Turkish domination over them to be complete. Consequently maritime trade in certain parts of the Aegean continued its course for a long period of time, with more freedom but on a more limited scale, mainly with small vessels, which the Greeks constructed under great difficulties.
The subsequent disputes over possession of the islands and control of the Aegean sea among the great powers of the time (Venetians, Russians, Turks, Franks, Dutch and Anglo-Saxons) in the end proved advantageous for the Greek merchantman, particularly from the l8th c. Each of these powers, wishing to have control of the Aegean, which was a vital area between East and West, endeavoured to win the collaboration of the inhabitants of the islands and coasts, in order to exploit the knowledge and experience of those seamen for their own advantage, and especially of the island seamen, whom they regarded as the best in the known world.
The shipbuilding craft of the Greeks continued in certain parts to play an important role throughout the Turkish domination. At first small kaikia were built, and later on large karavia, especially in the pre-Revolutionary period (end of 18th - early l9th c.), by which time particularly favourable conditions for the Greeks in the maritime trade had been created.
Moreover, the French Revolution (1789) and the Napoleon Wars gave the Aegean islanders the chance to take advantage of the decline in French commerce and to extend their voyages as far as Spain to take the place of the French merchantmen. They even found opportunities to set up in competition for the sea trade and to displace the Westerners in some parts of the Mediterranean. Hydra, Spetses, Psara and other Greek islands acquired great wealth at this time from maritime transport and so were able to build large merchantmen, which were also suitably armed for defence and raids and to show their colours in all the harbours of Christendom. They carried grain, various other products and raw materials from Turkey to Italy, the Adriatic, France and Spain, and even beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. In 1804 three ships from Hydra crossed the Atlantic and arrived at Montevideo, where they sold their cargoes of wine, and returned with cargoes of hides. The profits from the commercial ventures of the islanders were considerable. It was said that on their return from every voyage the ships brought back not ballast but silver and gold.
The six years 1808 -1814 were a "golden period" for Greek Shipping. At that time large Greek Merchant Houses were formed and flourished in Syros, Chios, Constantinople, Odessa, Trieste, Marseilles and London, as well as in different Spanish and Italian ports. Pouqueville mentions that, from the profits of these six years, on Hydra alone, 40 new ships were built. He also says that in 1813 the islands of Hydra, Spetses, Psara, Mykonos, Kastelorizo, Skopelos, Kasos, Symi, Santorini and Andros together with Galaxidi and other Greek ports possessed a total of 615 merchant ships, with a tonnage of 153,580 tons, 17,526 men and 5,878 cannon. The Greek merchant fleet continued to grow even after the six-year period and by 1816 numbered about 700 ships and 18,000 men.
The Revolution of 1821 for Greek Independence from the Turkish rule found the Greek merchant fleet ready for the struggle. The merchantmen were automatically converted into warships and began action against the Turkish conqueror. In his famous speech on the Pnyx in 1836 Kolokotronis said "the grain ships fought the King" (meaning the Sultan). The 18,000 sailors manning the merchant ships, who had acquired useful experience in the course of blockade-running and repelling pirate attacks, were ready for war when the uprising began, and threw themselves into the struggle with great courage, writing pages of glory in Greek Nautical History with their achievements. Without the merchant fleet the War of Independence would probably never have been able to succeed.
The events that followed in the course of the Greek War of Independence stirred the interest of the Western world and turned public opinion in favour of the Greek Cause. The three great Powers intervened, and in 1827 the naval battle of Navarino took place.
In order to complete the picture so far given in this review of Aegean Nautical History it is necessary to mention briefly the influence exerted by another important factor on the maritime trade and the people of this region during the periods we have referred to.