Maritime author dies at 94

The New York TimesJuly 26, 2009 

— Dr. Lionel Casson, who melded his mastery of classical literature with the findings of underwater archaeology in scholarly but accessible books about the history of ancient seafaring, from the primitive dory to the vast armadas of the Roman Empire, died July 18 in Manhattan. He was 94.

The cause was pneumonia, his daughter Andrea Casson said.

Drawing from an array of sources -- the writings of the historian Thucydides and the speeches of Demosthenes; cargo manifests kept by unknown captains; images of ships on sculptures; timbers taken from sunken vessels -- Casson's gracefully written books traced the trade routes that bound the ancient world and described the early evolution of shipbuilding and naval warfare.

Particularly useful as sources for Casson were carefully time-stamped amphorae, the earthenware freight containers of antiquity that carried products like honey, olive oil, wine, frankincense and myrrh from port to port.

Casson, a professor of classics at New York University from 1961 to 1979, wrote 23 books on Greek and Latin literature and the maritime history of the ancient Western world.

In one of his best-known works, "The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times" (Macmillan, 1959), he wrote of the Egyptians, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans and how they ventured from timid voyages hugging the coasts to bold dashes across open seas.

Casson did not limit himself to ancient maritime history. His 1964 book "Illustrated History of Ships and Boats" (Doubleday) traces water travel up through the days of steel-skinned nuclear submarines.

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