How did a ship from the Dubrovnik Republic change the English language and even had the great William Shakespeare using it in his play? Dubrovnik was a republic built around trade and maritime ventures. In the early days of the Republic in the 16th century the city could count on a fleet that held up to 200 ships, by the 18th century this had grown to 300 ships.
Such was the reputation of Dubrovnik as a city of sailors and shipbuilding that there was a phrase at the time top describe a ship constructed to last the ravages of time “Built in the Dubrovnik way.” There were even two sailors from the republic chosen to be part of the Columbus crew of 1492, Martin de Araguis and Pedro de Arague.
And by far the most famous ship to come out of the Dubrovnik shipyards was the so called Argosy. And here is where Shakespeare and the English influence comes into play. One of the Republics’ trade partners was Great Britain. Ships would dock in Margate, Southampton and Portsmouth and the ships were so much larger than the other ships in port that the locals would be impressed and used the word argosy, which is a distortion of the word Ragusa the original name of Dubrovnik.
The word became so well-used that over time it was used to describe a large merchant sailing ship. And in the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare used the same word to describe wide, wooden ships which would sail across the Mediterranean. The word had stuck in the English language. And still today the Oxford English Dictionary describes argosy as “A large merchant ship, originally one from Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) or Venice.”
Check out more from our series From the Archives