Fifth Empire Company



The Fifth Empire Company is a sail cargo cooperative. Our mission is to ship sustainably produced goods by sustainable means. These are the dawning days of what we hope to grow into an empire of environmentally friendly trade - facillitating cultural exchange and connecting sustainable industries by offering a viable alternative to commercial freight.


We are the antithesis of mass production, mass transport, mass culture; we are all about the small scale, the local, the hand made, the one-of-a-kind. Our cooperative is founded on the principle of sustainable degrowth, which means renouncing the paradigm of infinite economic growth in favour of solving problems and fulfilling needs on a local level. This means downscaling industries, challenging prevailing worldviews and rethinking technologies, new and old, in order to find an equilibrium that allows humanity to live within its means. See DEGROWTH for more inforation on the subject.


We believe that sustainably made products with stories worth telling can change the world. These are the types of products that the Fifth Empire Company sets out to discover. The journey from producer to consumer is by far the most important journey a product will ever make, and yet it is not a story often told. Shipping methods are rarely given much consideration when we choose which products to buy. Whether we like it or not, we all rely on some deus ex machina to move our goods across the world in their billions. It is by far the most unglamorous part of the process, but it goes unwitnessed and is therefore easily overlooked.

Our project seeks to make the way a product is shipped as important as the way it is produced. Just as mass production and mass shipping go hand-in-hand, hand-made ought to mean hand-transported too. Producers mindful of environmental issues ought to be able to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability by employing alternatives to harmful commercial shipping; producers and consumers alike ought to be able to ensure that, when it comes to the transportation of their goods, the means align with their morals.

The Fifth Empire Company will accomplish this not merely by transporting items, but by taking them on a journey - from the hand of the maker, through our hands to yours - an unbroken chain of stewardship over an object, from its origins to its final destination, leaving no aspect of its story untold. To us, shipping is more than just moving goods - it has the power to connect people, times, places and things. We intend to make the way a product is shipped into a story worth telling, and we believe the right stories have the power to change the world.


The aims of the Fifth Empire Shipping Company are defined as follows:

  • To inspire new thinking about our society and the direction in which it is headed by reflecting upon its origins and its context within history, and to promote the expression of these insights through the arts.

  • To spread awareness of the unsustainable nature of current commercial shipping practices and demonstrate the feasibility of alternative solutions.

  • To reverse the decline of Europe’s traditional skills, tools, arts and artisanal ways of working and to perpetuate them through practice, documentation and publication; and to promote the utilisation of these skills as part of a movement towards sustainable methods of production and self-perpetuating industries.

  • To encourage cultural self-awareness and engender a philosophy of conscious consumption, thereby contributing to the shift in zeitgeist necessary for a sustainable future for Europe and humanity as a whole.

  • To promote and support small-scale producers, artists and artisans who represent Europe’s diverse and distinctive cultural values, and help them to find a place in the modern world through trade and public engagement, with the aim of preserving local crafts and cultural customs threatened by popular culture, globalisation and consumerism.


We are currently in our first phase. We have aquired a small ship ‐ Raconteur. She is the storyteller who will tell the story of what the Fifth Empire could be. We will use her as proof of concept to gather funds for a larger vessel. We are also in the process of building up a network of artists and artisans whose principles align with our own (see JOIN US! for information about how to join our network or become involved). We eventually hope to be able grow this network into trade routes that will move cargo throughout Europe by sail.


The Fifth Empire Company is based in Portugal and founded on Portuguese ideas and ideals (see 'What is the Fifth Empire?' below), but we also have a presence in the UK.


Pity him who lives at home,
Contented with his lot,
Without a dream on which to stretch his wings,
And draw him from
The homeliest ember of his hearth!

Pity him who is happy!
He lives because life lasts.
Nothing in his soul speaks deeper
than the ancient law-
Life is but a passage to the grave.

Eras upon eras, tallied in time,
Which ticks in eras.
To be discontent is to be a man.
May blind fate be cowed
By the vision within the soul!

And so it is, the four bygone
Ages of being that dreamed
The world might be a stage,
For the clear day, that in the darkness
of the barren night began.

Greece, Rome, Chrissendom,
Europe - the four march on,
To where all ages go.
Who will live the truth,
For which Don Sebastian died?

In ‘Mensagem’, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa alludes to the fallen empires of Europe past: the collapse of Greece and Rome, the crumbled Christian Empire of the centuries that succeeded them, and the ‘European Empire’ of today, which like all others must eventually face its own decline. What follows them, according to Pessoa, is the ‘Fifth Empire’.

The Fifth Empire is not a territorial, religious or economic empire like those that came before, but rather an intellectual one with no material basis - an empire of the spirit. It is the idealistic culmination of all the merits and accomplishments of past and present eras and represents an incipient conceptual change in the fabric of society - a change which leads to an era of peace, rationality and cultural maturation, ensuring a stable future for mankind. In order to attain this ideal, Pessoa indicates that humanity must learn from its past mistakes and reinvent itself in a way that can be indefinitely sustained.

He goes on to imply that Portugal, as the ‘face of Europe that looks to the future of the past’, has a key part to play in this vision. The Fifth Empire is heralded by the return of King Sebastian, who represents Portugal’s capacity to dream and likewise the dreamer’s ability to improve reality. Portugal, according to Pessoa, has the ability to bring about the vital change in mores necessary to achieve a society not destined to repeat the errors of the past.

Likewise, Portugal lies at the heart of this project. Its position between Europe and the Atlantic, its strong seafaring culture, maritime heritage and, of course, its historic role at the forefront of the Age of Discovery, make it the natural home of a project that endeavours to cultivate ‘Fifth Empire’ inspired ideals of sustainability in a ‘Fourth Empire’ Europe.


To make a donation, please visit the DONATE page. Alternatively if you have useful skills or materials which you would like to offer to the project, please contact us directly at


We encourage you to contact us directly at We love hearing from people and will do our best to respond as quickly as possible. Alternatively if you are interested in joining our network of artists and artisans see JOIN US!.