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Aphrodite of Milos  


(16th century – 19th century AD)

Pilots' accessories, Folk Museum of Milos

We do not precisely know when the profession of Pilots developed, but relative reports already exist since the 16th century AD.
Initially the pilots were experienced sailors knowledgeable of weather conditions, straits, reefs, port entries, bays of safety and boat keels.
They quickly developed into skilled professionals, ranked as ‘apprentice’, ‘third’, ‘second’, and ‘first’ the most experienced. Essential was the knowledge of at least one foreign language, the most widespread being English and French.

Milos, found at the crossroads between the West and the East, North Africa, Smyrna and Istanbul, was the first outpost for both commercial and naval boats travelling from Europe.
There they stopped for supplies, information and in search of a pilot, who was essential for their sail in unknown waters.
The pilots were stationed in the Castle of Milos. From there they observed the sea with simple telescopes and whenever a boat was entering the harbour they descended to the port of Adamas to negotiate with the captain.

View of the port entry from Kastro

The consul of the country in need of a pilot often mediated the negotiations and it was not rare that consuls were also pilots. Whenever an approaching boat was seeking a pilot she raised a special language flag and fired cannonades.
The pilots had to present certificates of eligibility and letters of recommendation provided by the boat captain at the end of each trip.  They also had to settle their compensation, which was either based on a daily wage or a fixed amount depending on the duration of the trip.
On her return the boat always stopped at the port of Milos. The pilots were quarantined on the lazaret at the entry of the harbour, and only afterwards they were allowed to disembark.
Pilots were engaged on a trip according to their priority in the waiting queue.

Apart from the wage, the pilots ensured an additional income by trading objects scarce on the island. The mansions of the Castle acquired tableware from England, china and mirrors from Venice, golden jewellery from Malta, silk and copperware from the East.
It was an active profession that for many centuries supported the economy of the island, especially after the depopulation of Old Chora, and greatly contributed to the cultural and political development of the island.

Pilots' simple telescopes, Folk Museum of Milos

At the end of the 19th c. with the evolution of the steamboat, the improvement of the naval means -map, compass etc.- and since the boats coming from Europe engaged their pilots in Malta, the profession was no longer required.
Some of the pilots then relocated at the Suez Canal and the remainder became sailors.

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