Stemming from mythology, the sea has always been a subject of fascination in Greek culture, and maritime activities such as trade, colonization, and warfare have played a significant role in molding Greek civilization. Though Sparta was the stalwart of military prowess during the classical period, when it came to naval dominance and dedication to maritime activities, Athens stood unparalleled compared to other city-states (Haas 1985, 29). The navy was the backbone of the Athenian empire as it allowed Athens to exert political power and prosper economically. The evolution of the Athenian navy can be broken down into three phases: its feeble beginnings, the height of its power during the second Persian war and the aftermath, and its demise in the Peloponnesian war.
Thucydides stated that Corinth was the first great naval power of Greece around the seventh century B.C. and attributed this to Corinth's location at an isthmus, between central Greece and the Peloponnesus. Because of its strategic placement, Corinth was able to develop advanced trade relationships with both its Greek neighbors and foreigners such as Egyptians and Phoenicians (Ciocco 2010, 30-32). Not only did Corinth develop a powerful trade system, it also established around six colonies throughout the Aegean to bolster trade and increase revenue. Corinth's foreign policy objectives of trade and colony formation demonstrated its need for a strong navy. Corinth derived its wealth and power from commerce and its colonies, so it created a strong, militaristic navy to protect its trade routes from piracy and to control its colonies (Haas 1985, 37). This is in stark contrast to Athens at the time, which had vastly different foreign policy objectives. Since Athens didn't have an international trade system nor did it have to control a half-dozen colonies, it had a smaller fleet, and the two primary vessels it possessed were far less militaristic than those of Corinth.