The earliest known historical references to cargo insurance date back to the time of the Phoenicians.
At first, merchants began managing risk through Reduction. Rather than load each of four ships headed to a similar destination with the entire cargo of different individual owners, 25-pct of each owner's cargo was placed on each ship. In this manner, the loss of any one ship would not result in any owner's total loss.
The concept of Sharing risk through General Average was developed by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago. Under General Average, those whose cargo survives a voyage are assessed to repay the loss of another shipper whose cargo may have been jettisoned or lost for the protection of the vessel and the load remaining.
During the British Empire individuals began insuring the risk to cargo of voyages. Voyages were written on a board in Lloyd's coffeehouse in London. Individuals willing to assume a portion of a voyage's risk would write their names under that voyage, and the percentage of the risk they were willing to accept. Thus the term "Underwriter."