My understanding is that women sailed on sail powered ships (caravels) such as the Mayflower. On the other hand, I have read few accounts of women sailing on earlier, oar-driven ships such as triremes or galleys. (OK, Cleopatra did at the Battle of Actium, but she was Cleopatra.)

When did women start sailing as passengers on ships in meaningful numbers? Was it when wind-driven ships meant that it was no longer necessary for everyone to row their own weight, or was there an earlier dividing line?

This question relates to ocean-going vessels, and not ships on rivers or near the shore. (In the game, "Civilization," a trireme (rowed boat) has a 50-50 chance of sinking if not adjacent to the shore. Admittedly, this is a game, but it illustrates a point that rowed vessels might not be considered safe enough for women on oceans.)


When I refer to "women" on ocean-going ships, I do not include female slaves (who had no choice in the matter). And women who were the "wives of governors" would be included under the heading of "Cleopatra." So "women" in this context would refer to "middle class" women (neither rulers nor slaves) travelling on their own account.

  • 1
    When you talk about "sailling on" presumably you're talking about being part of the active crew and not just as passengers?
    – Steve Bird
    Mar 2, 2017 at 15:16
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    Maybe it is more about the difference between ships for settlers/passengers and ships for war or trade. Tourism or large move of settlers were maybe not common in ancient times.
    – Greg
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:01
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    I had always imagined that when the Greeks were colonizing the Mediterranean that they were bringing entire households along (wives, children and servants), I don't have evidence of that tho.
    – AllInOne
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:38
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    I assume you want a little more than the trivial answer: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesia#History Mar 2, 2017 at 18:53
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    I am fairly certain there are known cases of Romans bringing spouses when they went off to govern a province. I am near certain Roman sailing vessels could carry significant non-crew personnel. Navel combat of that era was all about ramming and boarding enemy ships. If you are boarding other ships, you presumably have to plan on not all your marines returning, which implies that the crew needed to move the boat is significantly lower than the number of people it could carry.
    – user15620
    Mar 2, 2017 at 21:11


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