Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
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The era of the Great Geographical Discoveries (XV-XVII centuries) rapidly expanded the world known to Europeans. One of the most important roles in it was played by a certain prince, who did not make any special travels.

What paradoxical nickname did he get?

The answer is a little later.




The man invented a lot of devices to facilitate his work. So long ago that in most cases it is no longer possible to establish the specific author of this or that invention. Most likely, each of these devices had an author, moreover, one – the research institute did not exist then.

But we will never know who invented the first great simple mechanism – the wheel. This is not a simple borrowing from nature – there are no analogues to the wheel in it and cannot be. The first finds of the wheel date back to the 5th millennium BC. and made on the territory of modern Romania.

Finding its inventor is so inconceivable that the phrase “Who invented the wheel?” turned into a comic meme and even became the name of the film. Nevertheless, an Australian lawyer contrived to patent it, immediately receiving the Ig Nobel Prize for this, which he shared with the Australian Patent Office. Now no one can do this – there is a patent …

If someone wants to say that it is easier than ever and everyone has it, remind him of the huge and powerful empire of the Incas – the wheel was practically not used there: in the mountains it is more convenient not to roll a wheelbarrow, but to carry a stretcher. But the Inca empire existed for several centuries …




In addition to the wheel, ancient scientists found other simple mechanisms. An inclined plane appeared with two modifications – a wedge and a screw, a lever that also had two additional varieties – a gate and a block, a little later – a piston. Well, the wheel – it was the first even then.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Types of simple mechanisms

The lever and the screw were already described by a very specific person – the Syracusean Archimedes. With their help, he invented a bunch of war machines that protected Syracuse from the Romans. He obviously had assistants, no co-authors. The great Archimedes and no one else.

Perhaps he even came up with a way to concentrate the sun’s rays on Roman ships and burn them. Who confirms the possibility of this, who refutes, experiments with repetition of this sometimes work out, sometimes not – but how could literary men just invent such a thing?

By the way, who came up with such a useful, widespread and well-known device like a ship? The Greeks knew perfectly well who exactly – Prometheus, of course! He showed the numbers to people, taught them to read and write, and invented medicines, and “flax-winged ships running on the sea” …

Time passed, and, as the example of Archimedes shows, other inventors appeared, besides Prometheus. Daedalus, of course, is a legend, but there are also real people – I remembered, for example, The Spoon of Diocles, a device for pulling an arrow out of a wound. It turns out that there was its creator, Diocles!




Colleagues always strive to come together to exchange information. And scientists were no exception. Earlier than others, a team of like-minded people gathered around him, perhaps, Pythagoras. True, most of all he resembled a totalitarian sect, in which Pythagoras was considered something like a god and was presented as the author of all discoveries, including the famous Pythagorean pants.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?

The Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle were more perfect – these were already at least schools with an active exchange of thoughts both between the teacher and students, and between members of the pedagogical team. But joint scientific work then was something unusual, and the Greek contempt for applied sciences did not disappear anywhere – no inventions were made there.

But there are cases when it was no longer possible to do without a large number of applied engineers – for example, in the engineering troops, which appeared 1000 years before the birth of Christ among the Assyrians, and in the army of Alexander the Great were one of its most important components.

We even know the name of the chief engineer of the army of Alexander – Diadis Pelleos. It is he who is credited with the invention of mobile towers for storming cities and battering rams on wheels. Did he invent everything himself? It is unlikely – there were thousands of engineers, obviously someone was helping him.

Diadis supplied his towers with an assault bridge with a spike or a hook at the end to cling to the wall of the enemy city. A little later, a similar device, called the “crow” by the Romans, began to be used in the Roman navy. It means that ideas began to be generalized, written down and borrowed.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Boarding “crow”




As you can see, it cannot be said that the educated people did not contact – such people are doomed to seek each other’s society. In ancient Egypt, they even had a special patron god named Thoth, who bestowed his protection on libraries, scientists and officials.

Egyptian priests, and before them their Babylonian predecessors, gathered in temples, clearly exchanged views and ideas, as a result of which they achieved considerable success in astronomy – for example, they determined how long a year lasts. Don’t laugh – it seems simple now …

But the largest collection of scientists in the ancient world arose, although in Egypt, but at the behest of the Hellenistic rulers, the descendants of the Macedonians. In honor of the nine muses, it got the name “museion” – the word museum is from there. For the scientists living there, funds were allocated from the treasury for living and doing science. What is this, the first research institute? More likely no than yes.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
This is what the musieon looked like

The difference was that scientists, firstly, did not work on common projects – each did his own thing, perhaps informing colleagues about his work, and secondly, the ancient contempt of scientists for artisans still prevented them from doing something utilitarian useful.

Even Heron of Alexandria, who created something like a vending machine for selling water (only not carbonated, but consecrated), defended himself by his sacred appointment from accusations of handicraft. And his only practically important invention – Aeolian Ball, a prototype of a steam turbine – for centuries was considered a useless toy, and nothing else.




With such an attitude towards science, it is not surprising that the most technologically advanced and complex unit of ancient times used by man – a ship – was improving very slowly. The courts of the Ancient and New Kingdoms created by the ancient Egyptians differ very little.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Egyptian ship XXV century BC

This is quite surprising – after all, more than a thousand years have passed! But the changes are minimal, and even the sea vessels of the Egyptians are too similar to the river vessels that arose earlier, although the navigation conditions in the Red and Mediterranean Seas are completely different from those in the quiet Nile – they swim somehow, and okay!

Nevertheless, Egyptian ships have already entered the oceans. They managed to get to the places that they called the country of Punt – now there are Ethiopia and Somalia. Even the ships of that time were enough to regularly carry gold, valuable ebony and incense from the country of Punt.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
The Country of Punt

The ships of the Hellenes were not particularly more developed than the Egyptians – the people, mainly coastal and insular, who could not do without ships. In general, they were just large multi-oar boats, at first located in a single row – like on a modern boat.




However, ancient ships also developed and changed for the better. Thirty-oared triacons already during the Trojan War (judging by the excavations, it was in fact, and not one) began to be replaced by fifty-oar pentekontors – the same, but somewhat larger.

They began to use in addition to oars and a sail – usually with a fair wind, otherwise it was simply removed. They just didn’t lower it, but raise it – the sail would fold to the upper yard and sink if the wind again became favorable. However, the oars continued to be the main mover.

To move faster, there must be more oars. To do this, they began to arrange them in two rows (diers, biremes), and then in three, having received a trireme, the most typical Greek warship of the times of the Greco-Persian and Peloponnesian wars. Most likely, the Phoenicians were the first to think of this – tireless seafarers and active merchants.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Greek Trier

But with navigation it was not easy – ships mostly moved near the coast, going out to the open sea was considered dangerous. Phoenician ships made quite distant voyages – for example, they circled Africa in a few years – but only in view of the coast.

Sailing with such navigation to the American continent and even to the numerous oceanic islands was extremely difficult. But not entirely impossible: in Brazil they found an inscription made by the Phoenicians that they sacrificed one of the sailors here to Baal in order to return home. They did not return – then they found the ship. It just came in a storm …

Only the Vikings at the end of the 1st millennium managed to discover Iceland and Greenland – they could already navigate by the stars and possessed a mysterious “sun stone” that allowed them to see the sun even through the clouds (most likely, it is tourmaline or Icelandic spar, which polarizes light). Maybe it’s just that the Vikings were crazy and were not afraid of anything?


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The years passed. Antiquity ended, the Middle Ages were slowly returning the lost cultural heritage of Rome. But the problems in the world have not disappeared – they have simply changed. Earlier, the silver of the west flowed to the east for silk – the fabric from which fleas slide was very much appreciated by medieval muddies. And now Eastern spices were pumping out silver from Europe.

The point was not only that they infinitely diversified the taste of food – by the way, for this they were loved even too much: the doses of spices used in the kitchen of that time sometimes exceeded ours at times. But no less important was the fact that the smell of spicy meat did not make the eater think that before the invention of the refrigerator it was still half a millennium, and the meat was a little stale …

Their way to Europe was long: from the Far East on Arab ships along the shores of the Indian Ocean to Arab merchants, then to the main intermediaries, Venice and Genoa, and from there they were distributed throughout the continent. And each link in this chain requires its share!

Little Portugal, at the far end of Europe from the spice islands, was infinitely far from this trade chain. The ocean is nearby, and there is practically nowhere to swim – except perhaps to the neighbors with whom it was not always possible to live in peace. Why does it need seas at all?

On the one hand, the information of the ancients that Africa is just a huge island that you can go around and get to fabulous spices remained known. On the other hand, the great Ptolemy himself said that beyond the equator the ocean boils, and it is impossible to swim there. Whom to believe?




After the death of the king, his title usually passes to the eldest son. The second is already a kind of reserve, the chances of the third are negligible. It happens that such situation pushes the younger sons to do bad things. In Turkey, the sultan, for example, killed all his younger brothers after the coronation – there was such a law …

But, firstly, the morals in Portugal were milder, and secondly, the third son of the Portuguese king John I, Enrique, was a worthy and decent person who honored the moral code of the builders of feudalism. Already at the age of 20, he fought bravely at the capture of Ceuta and was knighted.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Enrique’s coat of arms

The prince still had to fight, but his interests were not limited to this. Soon he became the commander of the Portuguese Order of Christ, replacing the disbanded Order of the Knights Templar there and oriented, like the Knights Templar, towards colonial expansion. That’s the point for the fleet …

However, the successes of the Portuguese navigators at that time were quite modest. Located on the territory of present-day Morocco, not far from Portugal, Cape Bojador was considered the border of reach – it was said that beyond it the sea was teeming with monsters, and the ships’ gear would catch fire there.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Cape Bojador




Now the solution to this problem – to develop shipbuilding and navigation in every possible way – seems to be the only possible way. But in the Middle Ages, when even the universities studied the world from textbooks written 1,500 years ago, it was a decisive step.

Nevertheless, Prince Enrique settled on the extreme southwestern point of Portugal and all of Europe – Cape Sagres. Soon a whole town arose there, which received the name Vila do Infante (House of the Prince), and began to gather specialists there who could help the fleet.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Cape and fortress Sagres

Through the efforts of his brother Pedro, a traveler who traveled all over Europe at that time, a library arose there. Having invited the best sailors from Italy there, Prince Enrique set up there an astronomical observatory, a naval arsenal and the world’s first sailing school.

He was able to attract the best astronomers, cartographers, navigators and shipbuilders in the world of that time. The most accurate and detailed maps of that time were compiled there. He actively used the means of the Order of Christ for this, assigning awards for cruising range.




Basically, Prince Enrique created the world’s first industry research institute dedicated to the issue of sea travel. The number of specialists involved in the work turned into quality, cooperation was established between them, and success was not long in coming.

Naturally, for successful voyages, the best of the ships that existed at that time were needed – in any case, better than those on which the captains of earlier times could not go around Cape Bojador, and then in their own defense they lied about all sorts of non-existent horrors.

Then there were already small fishing or merchant ships with Latin oblique sails, which were called caravels. In the documents of the middle of the XIII century, it is indicated that the smallest duty is levied on the caravel – other ships are considered more productive.

But caravels are maneuverable and walk well against the wind. The builders of Prince Enrique made them significantly larger and somewhat wider, which increased their stability and allowed more supplies to be taken on board. For sailing around Africa, they turned out to be more convenient than other ships.




The efforts of the Infante Enrique were not in vain. In 1420, an expedition sent by him discovered the island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean, on which the first Portuguese port outside the European continent soon emerged. And in 1427, its sailors discovered and began to develop the Azores.

Travel to Africa has also become successful. The first expeditions were to Cape Bojador (having reached it, they turned just in case – what if the monsters there just want to eat?). But in 1434, Gilles Eannish rounded the terrible cape, and no one ate him – he even brought the roses growing beyond the cape.

In 1444-1446 alone, more than 40 Portuguese ships left the port of Lagos. The prince ordered the compilation of thorough maps of the explored areas, new expeditions knew about the achievements of their predecessors. In 1444, the Cape Verde Islands were discovered near Senegal.

The discoveries were no longer purely costly – they began to pay off. Gold reclaimed there began to be brought from West Africa. Another export item also appeared – black slaves. For the slaves, however, we do not praise Enrique and will not even believe that he wanted to baptize them and set them free …




Fate is generally a great mockery. Prince Enrique left this world in 1460 and did not see the main successes of his mission. Only in 1488 did Bartolomeu Dias reach the Cape of Good Hope – the southern edge of Africa. And in 1498 Vasco da Gama reached the shores of India by this way.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Vasco da Gama

Portuguese sailors mastered not only the way to India. Soon after the discovery by the Genoese in the Spanish service Christopher Columbus of America and the Portuguese were noted on this continent – in 1500 the Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil.

To prevent conflict between the Catholic powers, the Pope approved a treaty between Spain and Portugal, according to which ALL new lands to the west of a certain meridian will be Spanish, and to the east – Portuguese.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
The division of the world between Spain and Portugal

Thus, the Pope approved the division of practically the entire previously undiscovered world between the two countries, one of which, Portugal, was only three times larger in area than the Odessa region. It was a heroic moment in the history of Portugal, and the memory of it has survived to this day.

These are the results of the organization by the active Prince Enrique of the world’s first specialized scientific institution. Who now dares to argue that such organizations are effective enough? True, I had to show perseverance and insistence …




So by what nickname has Prince Enrique been known since about the 19th century?

Considering that he never sailed the seas further than Ceuta, this is quite paradoxical. Now he is called Henrique o Navegador – Enrique the Navigator.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Enrique the Navigator




Don’t get too carried away with bureaucratic formalities. So this Australian got a patent for a wheel, wasted time on bureaucratic formalities – and what is the use of it? Only people made fun of …

According to the Greek Lucian, Archimedes burned Roman ships. The MIT students did it, the Mythbusters didn’t. Believe Lucian or not? Think for yourself …

For millennia, the Egyptians built the same ships. Well, they couldn’t figure out how to improve them? No – they just had enough … Difficult tasks are useful in and of themselves.

Ptolemy wrote that the sea is boiling at the equator – and for hundreds of years no one checked it, they took their word for it. Unverified information is more dangerous than many think …

How is it so – they called the navigator a man who himself sailed nothing at all? And they named it correctly! Indeed, thanks to him, many people have swum thousands and thousands of kilometers. If the essence is conveyed, the facts are powerless.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Learn to Make Long Travels?
Coin for the 500th anniversary of the death of Enrique



All illustrations from open sources

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