Medieval docks

I've some historical questions about Medieval Mediterranean ports:

You're a captain. You arrive in port with a cargo load of goods to sell.
I assume:
a) you store your wares in a customs house to await the levied tax.
b) you then move your goods to a warehouse and try to sell them.
Is this true? Or do you leave the goods on the boat for all of this?

Assuming A & B are true, above, if I were the owner of either warehouse, would I live on the property? If so, where, above it or next to it? Or would I live elsewhere and just hire a 24 hour guard? And how far from the actual peer would these warehouses be?

I invite your thoughts,

You sell your stuff at the quayside, unless you have a warehouse. Remember that holding back goods so that the market does not fill and reduce your price is witholding, which is a sin and is illegal in much of Christendom, particularly for edible items, but also for the raw materials for craftsmen.

You do not ship your goods to a customs house, because that's too much work for everyone, usually. You are asssessed as your cargo is landed.

You do not live at your warehouse.

Some towns didn't have docks, so the goods had to be transferred onto little boats and unloaded from there. Docks were an innovation that made one of these transfers unnecessary.

Yup. As an example, Barcelona, one of the main trading cities in Spain did not have a dock at the time, but the stuuff was landed on the beach by boats that ferried it from/towards the ships.


These boats are often called "lighters", btw.

Thank you all for the responses.

I am surprised to hear that Barcelona didn't have docks at the time. Goodness!

I have recently read a long treatise on Muslim Iberian traders, and the book does mention that customs houses were in use. I got the impression that these were separate warehouses where goods were stored awaiting assessment. I'll have to look it up again when I return home next week. But I seem to recall mention, for example, that christian traders would sometimes have their cargoes held for a time while their muslim counterparts were doing business. Again, I may be wrong.

I believe I've mentioned on this forum before that I'm starting a saga set in Palma (on Majorca), because the players want to do a port-city urban saga. They have decided to set their covenant on the waterfront (one of the Companions is a ship's captain), and that their source of (minor) income is a warehouse. I"m trying to come up with a plausible reason for everything they want to be there. They're not too worried about it, but I need it all to make some sort of mythic logical sense, or I'll go crazy.

I've discussed the main vis source here:
It will be a fountain on the warehouse grounds, of Roman origin. One thing I'm concerned with... Would there even realistically BE a fountain on the waterfront?

So hypothetically:
The characters run a warehouse on the waterfront of Palma. They will be living there... and I guess this will just have to be out of the ordinary. Story seeds there, i suppose, as people take notice of this oddity. How many streets back from the waterfront could these warehouses be, hypothetically?
I'm trying to decide if it'll be a customs house or a storage warehouse, thus the origin of this post. I'll probably go with storage.

I'm working on the starting story now, and will be posting in the next few days to see if it holds up. I hope you'll all take a look.

(Timothy, in what book is your article on magical aura pockets within a city?)

Look at the Jerbiton section of HoH:S for those magical auras. There's a little section describing them and discussing finding them.


Screw 'realistically'. It's a magic fountain and a source of Vis. Realistically, the cult of Mercury would put a magic fountain wherever the fountain could be beneficial. If a mundane fountain there doesn't make sense, that doesn't mean a magic fountain wouldn't. More interesting that way I think. :slight_smile:

Hermetic explorer 1: "That's an odd place for a fountain. Makes no sense."
Hermetic explorer 2: "Your right. It must be valuable for some other reason. Could be trapped. Check it for Vis, I'll stand here behind this boulder."

Why not? Actually, access to fresh water - usually through wells accessing cisterns - is one of the things you want in a port. That was true in roman times too. Once you have that, you only need a patron who wanted to show off to get a fountain. Absolutely realistic.

My "realistic" question came from wondering if fresh water wells would be that close to the shore.... I know next to nothing about geology and hydrology.....

I've decided that the covenant site will be an old Talyot temple ( Mercurians eventually built a temple on the site. This was torn down, and the stone used elsewhere in the city. All that remains are the mercurian outer walls and the fountain. A mundane warehouse was then built on the site. Site has a magic aura of 2, with one of the side effects being that goods stored there do not seem decompose.

I'm thinking that if the players choose to research the site a bit, they'll discover that if they rebuild parts of the temple (using sacred architecture from M:re) they'll be able to raise and control a powerful harbor spirit, and the magic aura will increase. Thoughts on this? Perhaps a story could involve going around the city and reclaiming sacred stones from different buildings....

If the area outside the port is higher ground, and it rains often enough for an underground aquifer or a simple lake or stream from the hills, it is quite plausible for a fountain to be fully functional close to the sea shore all year long.

Its watersource doesnt have to be "straight down" either. It may be getting the water from somewhere further from shore.

However thereĀ“s nothing in itself that prevents a fresh water well near the shore.

It's less important to "be" realistic than to "feel" realistic to your players.

The Romans (and to a lesser extent, medieval engineering) had some very impressive hydro-works (even if some was inherited) - tho' anything like this ran by gravity and not "pumps". But so long as a water source is (or could be) higher than the fountain (or no one asks too many questions), you should be able to achieve what you want.

And/or you can just state that they are natural artesian springs - which, combined with a magical world, could happen almost anywhere.

Yes, and Roman engineers constructed aqueducts to transport fresh water over long distances. These were routinely on the order of 20-50 km long (and some longer). Aqueducts were also used (and built) in the medieval period.

A number of cities also have canals that connect them to freshwater sources (and other towns). Sometimes the canals flow underground within the city, and are used as fresh water sources within the town.

This was actually done for centures after the romans, in Paris to mention an city way into the napoleonic era, but in time water pipes wereused rather then aqueducts or underground canals cut in the bedrock. And the water was run to fountains all over the city for the citizens to get their watern from. In varying degrees of cleanliness.

Since salt waer is heavier than drinking water, there is usually a lentil-shaped body of drinking water above the salt water. It is refreshed by precipitation (which may fall inland, depending on the position and angle of a level that can carry water, called aquifer, which often means stones bigger than >2mm on top of a level with stones <0,002mm, the latter being too close together for water to go between).
Anyway, if you use more water than the natural "refill", the lentil of drinking water shrinks and the water becomes salty - end of well. Even in antiquity this process could be reversed, but it means pumping immense quantities of drinking water INTO the well, so a drinking water body can reform.

PS: I do believe that your game can be played without the information in my post.

For an example that is not just realistic but also real, the (port) city of Venice had, and still has, a number of wells drawing fresh water from underground cisterns, many of them going back all the way to medieval times (not Roman times - Venice was essentially uninhabited swampland until the 5th-6th century or so).

A good description of how they worked can be found at ... e1295.html
It's in Italian, but google can get you a translation that, although not worth a D- in an English class, does manage to get the information across: ... l=it&tl=en

Note that these wells in most (all?) cases do not draw from underground springs, they are just ingenious mechanisms for storing and filtering rainwater. In this regard Venice is probably "as bad as it gets" in terms of hydrology, being a seaport built on sand / mud in swampy land at sea level; so if this was done then and there, Romans (who where phenomenally skilled engineers) could probably have done it anywhere.