Thursday, February 26, 2009

To empolemo Byzantino Byzantium at War

To empolemo Byzantino - Byzantium at War

Edited by Nicolas Oikonomides

(Athens: Institute for Byzantine Studies, 1997)

This volume contains 14 articles dealing with Byzantine military history. The articles come in three languages: English, French and Greek. We are republishing three articles from this volume:

Christides, Vassilios, Military Intelligence in Arabo-Byzantine Naval Warfare (PDF file)

Dennis, George T., The Byzantines in Battle (PDF file)

Haldon, John, The Organisation and Support of an Expeditionary Force: Manpower and Logistics in the Middle Byzantine Period

Other articles from this volume include:

Dargon, Gilbert, Apprivoiser la guerre: Byzantins et Arabes ennemis intimes

Kazhdan, Alexander, Terminology of Warfare in the History of Niketas Choniates: Contingents and Battles

Magdalino, Paul, The Byzantine Army and the Land: From Stratiotikon Ktema to Military Pronoia

Sullivan, Denis, Tenth Century Byzantine Offensive Siege Warfare: Instructional Prescriptions and Historical Practice

Zuckerman, Constantin, Les Hongrois au pays de Lebedia: Une nouvelle puissance aux confins de Byzance et de la Khazarie ca 836-889

We thank Professor Evangelos Chrysos of the Institute for Byzantine Studies at the National Hellenic Research Foundation for his permission to republish these articles.

via To empolemo Byzantino Byzantium at War.

Bremen Piracy and Scottish Periphery

Bremen Piracy and Scottish Periphery: The North Sea World in the 1440s

By David Ditchburn

from: Ships, Guns and Bibles in the North Sea and Baltic States, c.1350-c.1700 (2000)

Bremen and Hamburg were the eyes through which medieval Saxony viewed the North Sea. The two cities were not only the joint centres of a metropolitan archbishopric whose jurisdiction originally stretched across Scandinavia as well as northern Germany; they were also great commercial centres. Hamburg was to play a leading role in that amorphous federation of merchants and towns, the Hansa, which came to dominate the later medieval trade of the Baltic and North Sea worlds. Initially, however, commercial pre-eminence lay with the more westerly of the two towns. Indeed, as early as the eleventh century, the chronicler Adam of Bremen claimed that the merchants of the whole world congregated in Bremen.1 Although such a comment was laced more with local pride than statistical rigour, the city did develop into a bustling port, internationally famous from the thirteenth century for its manufacture of beer, with a population of perhaps 15,000 on the eve of the Black Death.2

via Bremen Piracy and Scottish Periphery.

Foundations of Venetian Naval Strategy from Pietro II Orseolo to the Battle of Zonchio

Foundations of Venetian Naval Strategy from Pietro II Orseolo to the Battle of Zonchio

1000 - 1500

by John E. Dotson

from Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies v. 32 (2001)

For Venetians during the Middle Ages the sea was life. The prosperity, the very existence, of the Republic depended upon seaborne commerce. That commerce was inherently peaceful and prospered best in times of peace and stability. It was also competitive and aroused passions of jealousy and greed. Venetian commerce needed to be protected from predators, and Venetians, too, were often willing to use force to extend the scope of, and gain advantage for, their trade. War and trade were very often closely interlinked activities.

via Foundations of Venetian Naval Strategy from Pietro II Orseolo to the Battle of Zonchio.

Mamluk Studies Review

Mamluk Studies Review

Mamluk Studies Review is a biannual refereed journal published by the Middle East Documentation Center devoted to the study of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria (648-922/1250-1517). It appears in January and July. The goals of Mamluk Studies Review are to take stock of scholarship devoted to the Mamluk era, nurture communication within the field, and to promote further research by encouraging the critical discussion of all aspects of this important medieval Islamic polity.


Humphreys, R. Stephen, Ayyubids, Mamluks, and the Latin East in the Thirteenth Century - from volume 2 (1998)

Fuess, Albrecht, Rotting Ships and Razed Harbors: The Naval Policy of the Mamluks - from volume 5 (2001)

Chevedden, Paul E., Black Camels and Blazing Bolts: The Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet in the Mamluk Army - from volume 8:1 (2004)

Book Reviews

Reuven Amitai-Preiss, Mongol and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1260-1281 - reviewed by John E. Woods

Shai Har-El, Struggle for Domination in the Middle East: The Ottoman-Mamluk War, 1485-1491 - reviewed by W.W. Clifford

Linda S. Northrup, From Slave to Sultan: The Career of al-Mansur Qalawun and the Consolidation of Mamluk Rule in Egypt and Syria (678-689 AH / 1279-1290 AD) - reviewed by Robert Irwin

Yaacov Lev (ed.), War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th - 15th Centuries - reviewed by W.W. Clifford

via Mamluk Studies Review.

Glimpses from the Cairo Geniza on the Mongol Invasions

Glimpses from the Cairo Geniza on Naval Warfare in the Mediterranean and on the Mongol Invasions

By S.D. Goitien

Studi Orientalistic in onore di Levi Della Vida

Volume 1


Glimpses from the Cairo Geniza on Naval Warfare in the Mediterranean and on the Mongol Invasions

(PDF file)

via Glimpses from the Cairo Geniza o.

Acta Viennensia Ottomanica

Acta Viennensia Ottomanica

Edited by Markus Kohbach, Gisela Prochaska-Eisl, and Claudia Romer

Vienna: Im Selbrstverlag des Instituts fur Orientalistik, 1999

A collection of over forty articles on the history of the Ottoman Empire, ranging from the medieval period to the 20th century. Most of the articles are in English, but also include French, German and other languages. We thank the authors for their permission to republish the following articles.

Turkish Raids in Friuli at the End of the Fifteenth Century, by Maria Pia Pedani (PDF file)

The Byzantine-Turkish Frontier, c.1250-1300, by Keith Hopwood (PDF file)

Other medieval articles in this book include:

Beans for a cough, lion's gall for a laugh: The poet and physician Ahmedi's materia medica as a mirror of the state of the art around 1400 in Anatolia, by Edith G. Amrbos

Istanbul in Divan Poetry, 1453-1600, by Hatice Aynur

Sultan Bayezid II as the only legitimate pretender to the Ottoman throne, by Istvan Nyitrai

via Acta Viennensia Ottomanica.

Ships and Fleets in Anglo-French warfare, 1337-1360

Ships and Fleets in Anglo-French warfare, 1337-1360

By Timothy J. Runyan

from: American Neptune v.46 (1986)

The most consuming military and naval conflict of later medieval Europe was the Hundred Years' War. Beginning in 1337 and continuing until 1453 this struggle involved most of the states of western Europe although the principals were England and France. Edward III claimed the French throne by right of inheritance intending to remove the newly established Valois dynasty as usurpers. Dynastic claims or consequent ties of vassalage, however, were not the precipitating factors in the outbreak of war. Researchers over the past few decades have emphasized much more strongly the role of England's possessions in France, especially Gascony, to explain the origins of the war.1 This approach recognizes the economic and strategic importance of English possessions and control in France as compelling factors in Edward III's decision to initiate the conflict. French encroachments and claims on Gascony and other English possessions struck at the heart of Edward's state - a kingdom which was transmarine.2

via Ships and Fleets in Anglo.

English Logistics and military administration 871-1066:The Impact of the Viking Wars

By Richard Abels

King Harold Godwineson is remembered as one of the great `losers' in history, the man who provided William the Bastard with the opportunity to earn a more flattering sobriquet. Harold's defeat at Hastings has obscured not only the very real military talents that earned him victories over formidable Welsh and Viking opponents bur, more importantly, the sophistication of the military organization chat he and other late Anglo-Saxon kings possessed. Scholars have not sufficiently appreciated Harold's logistical accomplishments in the summer and autumn of 1066. Learning of William's invasion plans. Harold summoned in May a massive naval and land force, characterized in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as "larger than any king had assembled before in this country." He billeted his troops along the southern coast of England and harbored his fleet throughout the summer and early autumn on the Isle of Wight, awaiting William's move.1 Finally, on 8 September, at least two months after the army and fleet had been assembled, provisions finally ran out and the troops returned home. Almost immediately thereafter Harold learned of the invasion of Harald Hardrada, hurriedly assembled a new army and forced marched it some 200 miles along the Great North Road to Stamford Bridge, then, after a hard fought and bloody victory, he forced marched the survivors south to confront William at Hastings.2

via English Logistics and military administration.

Book: Medieval Ships and Warfare

Edited by Susan Rose, Open University, UK
The International Library of Essays on Military History

This collection of essays and articles from a wide range of journals is intended to make more accessible to students and scholars some of the most important writing in English in this field from the 1950s to the present day. The volume draws attention to work on both the design and the use of ships in warfare in the period c.1000-c.1500. The collection deals with both the Mediterranean and northern waters in this period and not only makes clear what work has been done in this field but indicates areas where more research is needed.

Contents Series preface; Introduction; Part I North Western Europe: Ships and Boats: Issues of Technology and Evidence: Documentary sources and the medieval ship: some aspects of the evidence, Ian Friel; English galleys 1272–1377, J.T. Tinniswood; The building of the Lyme galley, 1294–1296, Ian Friel; Bayonne and the king's ships, 1204–1420, Susan Rose. Piracy and Pirates: John Crabbe: Flemish pirate, merchant and adventurer, Henry S. Lucas; Henry IV and the English privateers, Stephen P. Pistono; Piracy or policy: the crisis in the Channel, 1400–1403, C.J. Ford. Fleets and Warfare: The Battle of Damme – 1213, F.W. Brooks; God, leadership, Flemings and archery: contemporary perceptions of victory and defeat at the Battle of Sluys, 1340, Kelly De Vries; The effects of the Battle of Sluys upon the administration of English naval impressment, 1340–1343, J.S. Kepler; The naval service of the Cinque Ports, N.A.M. Rodger; The Earl of Warwick's domination of the Channel and the naval dimension of the Wars of the Roses, 1456–1460, Colin Richmond. Part II The Mediterranean: Islam versus Christendom: the naval dimension, 1000–1600, Susan Rose. The Islamic Powers: The Fatimid navy during the early crusades, 1099–1124, William Hamblin; The Mamluks and naval power: a phase of the struggle between Islam and Christian Europe, David Ayalon; The place of Saladin in the naval history of the Mediterranean sea in the middle ages, A.S. Ehrenkreutz; Piracy as an Islamic-Christian interface in the 13th century, Robert I. Burns; Rotting ships and razed harbors: the naval policy of the Mamluks, Albrecht Fuess. Iberia: The naval battles of Roger of Lauria, John H. Pryor; The Catalan fleet and Moorish sea-power (1337–1344), J.A Robson; Ships of the 13th-century Catalan navy, Lawrence V. Mott; The warships of the kings of Aragon and their fighting tactics during the 13th and 14th centuries AD, Frederico Foerster Laures; Reportage representation and reality: the extent to which chronicle accounts and contemporary illustrations can be relied upon when discussing the tactics used in medieval galley warfare, Susan Rose; The lexicon of naval tactics in Ramon Muntaner's Crònica, William Sayers. Genoa and Venice: Naval strategy in the first Genoese-Venetian war, 1257–1270, John E. Dotson; Fleet operations in the first Genoese- Venetian War, 1264–66, John E. Dotson; Foundations of Venetian naval strategy from Pietro II Orseolo to the Battle of Zonchio, 1000–1500, John E. Dotson; Name index.

About the Editor Susan Rose is from the Department of History at the Open University, UK. ASHGATE

Book Review of War at Sea in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

John B. Hattendorf, Richard W. Unger, eds. War at Sea in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Woodbridge and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2003. xiv + 276 pp. $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85115-903-4.

Reviewed by Marguerite Ragnow (Department of History, Center for Early Modern History, University of Minnesota)
Published on H-Atlantic (June, 2004)

Toward a Theory of Medieval Naval Power

It may come as a surprise to some readers that the possibility of developing a theory of medieval naval power exists at all, much less that a collection of essays has been published to that end. Little attention has been paid by medieval historians in recent years to the development and use of aquatic craft, whether for commercial or military purposes, in comparison with the tremendous amount of ink spilt to further the project of medieval history generally, and this despite new technologies that have increased our knowledge exponentially through the recovery of artifacts. Military and maritime historians have begun to redress this lacuna, but as Hattendorf and Unger point out in the preface to War at Sea in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a general reappraisal of the use of armed force at sea is needed. This collection of sixteen essays, which developed from discussions at a 1997 American Historical Association meeting and, more directly, from a 2000 conference on maritime history sponsored by the Fondaço Oriente in Portugal, makes a valuable contribution toward that end.

Advances in technological development, most particularly advances in military technology, are among the many factors considered by historians to have contributed to the rise of the West in the early modern era. The relationship between this technical advancement and social development is often thought to be reciprocal, even symbiotic. In the late-nineteenth century, German military historian Hans Delbrück was one of the first to address the interaction of military development and social change. He emphasized the relationship of strategy to policy, shifting historical focus from the fighting of war to the making of war.[1] In the same vein, the work of the nineteenth-century naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890), became a classic study on the interaction of military technology and economic development. His work influenced many twentieth-century scholars, who have effectively linked developments in maritime technology with those in the production and use of firearms to explain Europe's expansion during the early modern era, and especially its commercial dominance of other regions throughout the world. As John Hattendorf's perceptive introduction adumbrates, historians of medieval naval and maritime history have applied Mahan's theories to less effect.

Mahan based his theory, that naval power was necessary to advance commercial interests and that its most effective use was to reduce the enemy's capacity to make war at sea, almost entirely on eighteenth-century relationships between maritime trade, naval force, and government support of colonial empires. He was not interested in looking back to earlier periods in search of the historical roots of what he observed for the eighteenth century; Mahan was much more concerned with looking forward to develop new naval strategies. However, rather than dismiss Mahan out of hand, despite or perhaps because of his dominance of Anglo-American naval theory over the past century, the editors of War at Sea chose to juxtapose the essays in this volume against Mahan and current thinking about him and his theories. In particular, they consider how historians might usefully apply the questions Mahan raised to develop a better understanding of naval power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Editors John Hattendorf and Richard Unger, themselves among the leading authorities on this topic, assembled fourteen experts in medieval or early modern maritime and naval history charged to re-evaluate for the Middle Ages and Renaissance "the topics of force, power and the sea, the roots, functions, and the concept of naval power," "taking the older literature as a starting point or foil" (p. xii). The resulting essays advance our understanding of medieval sea power in interesting and important ways.

Parts 1 and 2 examine northern and southern Europe respectively between the tenth and sixteenth centuries. This organization preserves the conventional view that northern Europe lagged behind the south in almost every respect. At the same time, it does make comparisons relatively easy, especially if one is interested in how both economic and geographic considerations affected technological development in each region. Within these essays, the eleventh century emerges as a significant transitional period in naval development, as it has similarly been identified for other aspects of medieval life. Of particular interest is John Pryor's examination of Byzantine fleets under the Macedonian emperors in the tenth and early eleventh centuries. His command of sources not readily available or not translated from the Greek underpins a technical study of the design and operation of dromons during this period, ranging from the water requirements of the crew to the disappearance of the waterline ram. He reaches the same conclusion for the Middle Ages that John Guilmartin reached for the sixteenth century: Mahan's strategic theories are inapplicable to the pre-modern Mediterranean.[2]

Part 3, which examines the sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, confirms that this period was one of significant change in naval organization and policy fueled by concurrent changes in state organization and advances in military and maritime technologies. As Nicholas Rodger states in his essay on the "new" Atlantic: "Important emphasis, however, is given to the strong relationship between domestic interests and overseas expansion and its implications for naval organization and warfare. In the sixteenth century, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and northern Europe collided" (p. 241). The essays in this section examine the transition from the medieval to the early modern world, engaging accepted naval theory more directly than do those essays addressing the earlier medieval period. Jan Glete's examination of sixteenth-century naval power in the Baltic explains the importance of technological change to the development of strong naval administrations in Denmark-Norway and Sweden at a time when the naval strength of the Hanse towns was waning. Rodger offers an insightful examination of the different forms of naval organization existing prior to the seventeenth century and the advent of Mahan's modern navy. His insistance that it is a mistake to clothe pre-modern maritime history in "modern dress" is one that Richard Unger continues in his conclusion.

It is Unger's conclusion and Hattendorf's introduction that make this volume a must-read. Hattendorf's perceptive analysis of the state of the question is redrawn by Unger to incorporate the new work presented here. Rather than summarize the contributors' conclusions, Unger attempts to create a new framework for medieval naval power that links it to the unique political structures of the Middle Ages. Most useful are the connections he makes that cross the chronological and geographical boundaries reinforced by the volume's organization. Although this collection does not, in the end, accomplish its goal of constructing a theory of medieval naval power, it takes some giant leaps in that direction.

Practically, the volume suffers from its lack of a bibliography, although kudos go to the publisher for using footnotes rather than endnotes. There is a list of illustrations that includes several maps, but it does not, unfortunately, mention the useful tables also present. As in many essay collections, the topics not covered are regrettable: the development of French naval forces, the naval actions of the crusading orders and the Hanseatic League, and all developments of non-Christian sea power during this period, among others. Nevertheless, this is a volume that will prove useful to scholars at every level, and which also could be used in the classroom. In the best of all possible worlds, it will lead scholars to re-imagining the Middle Ages and Renaissance as a period in which maritime activity, including naval power, played an important role.


[1]. Hans Delbrueck, History of the Art of War within the Framework of Political History 4 vols., trans. Walter J. Renfroe Jr. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1975-85); originally published as Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte (Berlin, 1900-36).

[2]. John F. Guilmartin, Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the Sixteenth Century (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975). Readers are directed to Pryor's forthcoming book, with Elizabeth Jeffreys: The Byzantine Navy: Evolution of the Ships and their Capabilities.


For centuries the pentecontor, the 'fifty-man' ship with a single bank of oars, was the standard Mediterranean warship. This vessel was very long and slender, expensive to build, hard to manoeuvre and not very seaworthy, especially when using the great technological innovation of ninth-century naval warfare, the ram. The ram, a heavy beam sheathed in bronze and attached to the keel under the water-line, first appears in art in about 850 BC.

It seems to have been a Greek invention. With the addition of the ram, the ship itself became an instrument of war, rather than just transport or a platform for warriors. A well-trained crew could rapidly bring their ship about to ram the relatively unprotected stern or side of an enemy vessel, then back water to let water in, swaluping the enemy craft: unballasted lightweight fighting ships were actually too buoyant to sink. A clever crew could even hope to shear off the enemy's oars with their vessel, passing close beside the opposing ship and pulling in their own oars at the last second. Their victims would be left unable to manoeuvre.

Rams in Battle
The first recorded battle won by ships using rams was in 535 BC, but they must have seen service well before that time. In this battle, the Phocaeans (inhabitants of a Greek city-state who had resettled in Italy) met a combined Carthaginian-Etruscan fleet twice the size of their own off the coast of Sardinia. The Phocaeans won the day, thanks to a very high level of training that enabled the whole fleet to penetrate through the enemy line, then swivel and ram the sterns of enemy ships. This manoeuvre - the diekplous or 'breakthrough' - is one of the two main naval manoeuvres made possible with the ram. The other, the periplous ('sailing around'), was easier, running ships around the enemy's flank to take his line from the rear.

Use of a ram puts a premium on speed sufficient to penetrate an enemy hull while avoiding the enemy's own rams. But how to increase speed? The only source of power available during battles was human muscles. An ambitious ruler could not simply increase muscle power by increasing the length of his ships to contain more oarsmen. The pentecontor was already disproportionately long and correspondingly unseaworthy. So already in the eighth century BC, there was experimentation with adding a second level of oars, creating a bireme, a two-level vessel in which two oars could operate in the same length of ship. The oldest picture of a bireme is an Assyrian relief from Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh, dating to 701 BC. The new ships were at least one-third shorter and more compact and sturdier than single-banked galleys, while having the same amount of muscle power available to move them in the water. From the bireme it was a short step to the trireme, a three-banked ship rowed with one man to an oar, seated in three ranks: in the hull, at the deck level and on an outrigger that projected from the gunwales over the water. The trireme, with 170 rowers propelling it at speeds of up to 10 knots for short periods, became the dominant battle ship of the ancient world. The Olympias, a very impressive replica trireme built in 1987, has demonstrated the great manoeuvrability and power of these vessels. The replica is seaworthy under both sail and oar, and can travel for hours at 4 knots, with half the crew rowing at a time. It can execute a 180-degree turn in one minute, with a turning arc no wider than two and a half ship lengths. Clearly this was a ship to be feared.

Little use was made of this innovative technology for a long time, however. The problem was cost. It is very expensive to build and outfit a trireme; even more expensive was paying the wages of the rowers. The oarsmen required months of intensive training to be able to work as a team. Contrary to popular fiction, these rowers were almost never slaves, both because the oarsmen might be required to fight and because it was simply too expensive to buy and maintain slaves for occasional naval use. Instead the crews of warships were recruited from among the poorer citizens, who were unable to afford the heavy equipment required for infantry fighting or the time away from their regular work, unless they received wages. Between the cost of the ships and the cost of the rowers, only a developed state with strong economic organization could maintain a fleet. In the Mediterranean, political structures which had sufficiently developed to support a navy did not exist anywhere except Egypt and Syria before about 500 BC.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The standard Byzantine warship that employed both sails and oars. A typical 10th-century dromon had two banks of oars employing 200 rowers, in addition to a battering ram on the prow, and enough heavily armored marines to board an enemy ship if necessary. In other words, it looked and acted very much like the bireme of classical Greece. However, from the late seventh century on, the prow was a bronze-tipped siphon for discharging Byzantine napalm, the famous Greek Fire that proved decisive in so many battles. Hides and lead sheathing protected the ship’s sides against enemy incendiaries. Also new was a wooden tower amidships that allowed catapults and archers to launch stones, arrows, and other antipersonnel devices.


There are few images more representative of the Mediterranean Sea in the Early Middle Ages than that of the famous Byzantine war galley known as the dromon. At sea, the succession of the dromon to the Roman bireme liburna and its predecessors, especially the Greek trieres, has been presented in the conventional historiography of the maritime history of the Mediterranean as marking a transition from Rome to Byzantium. Similarly, the succession of the Western galea to the dromon in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries has been presented as marking a transition from the Early Middle Ages to the High Middle Ages in so far as the maritime history of the Mediterranean is concerned.

Behind this conventional presentation lie two intellectual assumptions which have underpinned the historiography. The first is that specific ship types, known by different names, existed in different chronological periods, or in different civilizations, and that these had distinctive construction features which either can be ascertained or, if they cannot be ascertained, would be able to be ascertained if sufficient evidence were available. The second assumption is that when the writers of ancient and medieval texts used terms such as trieres, liburna, dromon, or galea, they actually intended to refer to such specific ship types because these names were applied to the ship types by their contemporaries. Therefore, if a new name began to be used in the texts from a certain period, this reflects the fact that a new type of ship appeared in that period. Conversely, if a name faded from use in the texts in a certain period, then this indicates that the type of ship to which it referred had disappeared. It has been assumed that there were definite relationships between the words and the physical objects to which they referred, relationships which were both stable over long periods of time and also consistent in usage from place to place and person to person at any one time.

In certain periods Byzantines certainly referred to galleys by the term dromon, and also by chelandion and other terms, but did they always really intend that their use of these terms should actually designate specific galley types with distinctive design characteristics?

On the one hand, maritime historians know well that throughout history gradual evolution has almost invariably been the norm in so far as ship design is concerned. There has very rarely been any sudden technological innovation which has produced a distinctive new ship type overnight. Even submarines and aircraft carriers were developed gradually as new features were experimented with. Ship types have never remained static and fixed in design over time. They have always evolved slowly as generation after generation has progressively refined them and adapted them to changing circumstances. The evolutionary norm has been that eventually changes have become so marked that the ships have become distinctive new types which can be distinguished from their progenitors. Sometimes a previous name or term for a ship type has been taken into a new technological context; for example, the medieval Italian galeone for a small galley eventually became galleon for sailing ships of the sixteenth century. Sometimes a term for a ship type has been replaced by another term; for example, the Scandinavian knörr, which evolved in England into the Anglo- Norman buss. This being the case, we are led to consider whether “a” distinctive Byzantine warship, known as a dromon, ever actually existed at any time or whether, in fact, different forms of galleys over many centuries were referred to by Byzantines and others by the name dromon? There is no reason per se why the same term used in, say, the sixth century and the tenth, should not have been used with reference to quite different ship types. There is no reason, per se, why the same name should not have continued in use even if the construction features of the ships had changed dramatically.

On the other hand, when we examine texts which use terms such as dromon for ships, the reality for us lies in the texts and terms themselves. In most cases, we cannot see beyond the terms and cannot know whether two authors using the same term, even in the same time period, really had the same type of ship in mind. The same would true of the use of terminology in different geographical regions. Was a ship referred to as a chelandion in Byzantine South Italy in the tenth century really the same as that which was referred to by the same name in Constantinople? Futhermore, in most cases we cannot even know whether authors really even intended to refer to any specific ship type by their use of such terms. Indeed, in many cases, collateral evidence suggests that their use of them was no more specific than is that of “yacht” in our own time: a term which began with a specific reference to a seventeenth-century Dutch ship but which has since been applied to almost any kind of sailing pleasure craft. The popular use of “battleship” is another case in point. The word is correctly used for first-rate capital ships of the modern era of iron ships but is frequently used in popular literature with many other references. Nelson’s Victory, for example, is often referred to as a “battleship”; whereas, she was properly a “first-rate ship of the line”. Only if we had texts which empirically described the construction or operation of galleys referred to as dromones at any particular time could we be confident that we were being informed about actual ships in contemporary use, but even then only for that time and place and for those texts.

We have then approached the reality of “the” Byzantine dromon from alternative perspectives. On the one hand, from the sixth to the twelfth centuries, Byzantines and others certainly referred to some kinds of war galleys by the name dromo2n. On the other hand, real war galleys certainly existed. But, what did contemporaries intend their terminology to signify and what can we know of the physical objects to which they referred? Beyond that, with what degree of confidence can we use their texts to research the construction characteristics of the galleys and the ways in which they may have evolved over time?

Monday, February 23, 2009

ISLAMIC DESIGN - Boats and Ships

The Hariri Ship, the first known picture of an Arab sailing vessel.

The traditional boats of the Gulf are obviously neither Islamic in any way nor are they elements of Gulf architecture. However, they seem to me to have so much in common with traditional Gulf architecture and the way of life prior to development irrevocably changed the life of Qataris. In this sense I see boats being as important as the traditional architecture, and I feel that they should be looked at in parallel with land-based architecture.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Charles V meets with the Bey of Tunis, 1535. Both Habsburg and Ottoman power in North Africa depended in part on agreements with local clients. Here the size of the Imperial expedition of 1535 is apparent. Note the lines of galleys in the bay to the upper right - projecting power across the Mediterranean took enormous resources.

The Ottoman sultan, especially after the conquest of Mameluke Egypt in 1517 (during the first year of King Charles's reign), enjoyed his own growing influence along the central North African coast. The sultan's most successful client was Khayr ad-Din, the Barbary pirate better known as Barbarossa for his red beard. Fearful of the growing Spanish influence which threatened his corsairing, in 1518 Barbarossa pledged himself to the sultan Selim and in return received a title and military aid. With a large galley fleet and a mixed army of Maghrebis, Christian renegades, Moorish refugees from Spain and Turkish adventurers, Khayr ad-Din seized Algiers (1529) and Tunis (1534) from local Muslim rulers. In 1533 Süleyman made the pirate his high admiral with all the substantial resources of the Galata dockyards at Constantinople. Barbarossa continued to plague the shores and shipping of Christian Europe until his death in 1546. These were not insubstantial raids, threatening only unlucky fishermen and villagers, but major acts of war. In 1543, his most spectacular year, Barbarossa first sacked Reggio Calabria (for the second time) and then, cooperating with the sultan's French allies, the city of Nice (a possession of the Spanish-allied Duke of Savoy). The war in North Africa and on the waters of the western Mediterranean thus became a confrontation between the emperor Charles and the sultan Süleyman.

In Charles's first Mediterranean offensive he personally led the great invasion fleet and 25,000-man army that sailed from Barcelona to take Tunis in 1535, a direct response to Barbarossa's seizure of the city the previous year. The fortified island of Goletta off Tunis became one of the principal Spanish forts of the Maghreb, and the southernmost position of a Habsburg cordon stretching down from Naples, Sicily and Malta to block further Ottoman expansion. Süleyman replied to the loss of Tunis with a planned invasion of Italy in 1537, landing a preliminary force of horse under the command of an Italian renegade to scour the countryside of Apulia. To secure his crossing to Italy Süleyman first laid siege to the Venetian fortress of Corfu, extensively protected by massive new-style fortifications. The Turkish besiegers proved incapable of reducing the Venetian citadel, and the entire operation had to be abandoned. The next year Charles continued the Spanish offensive, his Genoese admiral Andrea Doria taking Castelnuovo (now Herceg Novi) in Montenegro. In the late summer of 1539 Barbarossa retook Castelnuovo at a tremendous cost of life. Neither power could successfully bridge the straits of Otranto.

In 1541 Charles directed an enormous fleet against Algiers, a twin to his successful operation against Tunis in 1535. Again the emperor was personally in command, and success looked certain: Barbarossa was in the eastern Mediterranean; the janissary garrison tiny. But soon after disembarking a tremendous three-day gale utterly wrecked the supporting Spanish fleet, and the invading force (reduced to eating their horses) had to be evacuated. For almost ten years following this Spanish disaster there were no major land operations in the Mediterranean.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The original drawings of this galley are from Traitté de la construction des galères a French book written in 1691, although the drawings you hold in this product are completely original. For more information about the galley you can consult the wikipedia ( Galley). Below you can find a brief excerpt:

A galley (from Greek .a.ea - galea) is an ancient ship which can be propelled entirely by human oarsmen, used for warfare and trade. Oars are known from at least the time of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Many galleys had masts and sails for use when the winds were favourable.

Various types of galleys dominated naval warfare in the Mediterranean Sea from the time of Homer to the development of effective naval gunnery around the 15th and 16th centuries. Galleys fought in the wars of ancient Persia, Greece, Carthage and Rome until the 4th century. After the fall of the Roman Empire galleys remained in use to a lesser extent by the Byzantine Navy and other successors of the Roman Empire, and by new Muslim states. Medieval Mediterranean states, notably the Italian maritime republics including Venice, Pisa, and Genoa, used galleys until the ocean-going man-of-war made them obsolete. The Battle of Lepanto (1571) was one of the largest naval battles in which galleys played the principal part. Galleys continued in mainstream use until the introduction of broadside sailing ships of war into the Mediterranean in the 17th Century, and continued to be used in minor roles until the advent of steam propulsion.


Thursday, February 19, 2009


Genoese Dromone 11th Century

Genoese Trader 12th Century

The trajectory of naval warfare in the Mediterranean had some similarities with that in the north: a power vacuum at the start of our period, in which new contenders arose and disputed mastery of the sea. By C.1100 the naval war against Islam had already been won by Christians. Westerners were masters of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, southern Italy, and the coasts of Palestine and Syria. The difficulty of dominating the Mediterranean from its eastern end had also affected Byzantine sea power. Byzantium was already in the process of being reduced to minor importance as a naval power by comparison with some rivals further west.

The Egyptian Fatimid fleet, which had once been a formidable force is almost unmentioned in the records after the first decade of the 1100s: it continued to exist, and could put up to seventy galleys at sea in the mid-twelfth century, but it became confined to a largely defensive role. By 1110, the crusaders held almost all the Levantine ports; thereafter, the operation of Egyptian galleys against Christian shipping was practically limited to home coasts: they had virtually no friendly ports to the north in which to water. Turkish naval power, which would be invincible by the end of our period, had hardly been foreshadowed. In the 1090s Syrian collaborators provided free-lance Seljuk war-chiefs with ships that briefly seized Lesbos and Chios and even threatened Constantinople; but the crusades forced the Seljuks back; the coasts were not recovered for Islam for another hundred years or so. The crusader states depended on long and apparently vulnerable communications by sea along lanes that led back to the central and western Mediterranean. Yet they were hardly jeopardized by seaborne counter-attack. Saladin created a navy of sixty galleys almost from nothing in the 1170s, but he used it conservatively and with patchy success until it was captured almost in its entirety by the fleet of the Third Crusade at Acre in 1191.

The Christian reconquest of the Mediterranean had been effected, in part, by collaboration among Christian powers. Venetian, Pisan, Genoese, and Byzantine ships acted together to establish and supply the crusader states of the Levant in their early years. Successful allies, however, usually fall out. Relative security from credal enemies left the victors free to fight among themselves. The twelfth century was an era of open competition in the Mediterranean for the control of trade, by means which included violence, between powers in uneasy equipoise. In the twelfth century, Sicily was perhaps the strongest of them. It maintained the only permanent navy west of the twenty-second meridian, but the extinction of its Norman dynasty in 1194 marked the end of its potential for maritime empire. Pisa was a major naval power of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries: its war against Amalfi in 1135-7 effectively dashed all prospect of that port emerging as an imperial metropolis; and the contribution of its ships, with those of Genoa, was decisive in the destruction of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily; but Pisa made a poor choice of allies in thirteenth-century wars and, after a series of setbacks which left it isolated, at the battle of Meloria in 1284 it suffered a blow at Genoese hands from which its navy never recovered. So many prisoners were taken that 'to see Pisans', it was said, 'you must go to Genoa.'

Three rivals stood the course of these wars: the Genoese and Venetian republics and the House of Barcelona. At different times and in overlapping areas of the Mediterranean, all three established seaborne 'empires'-zones of preponderance or control over favoured routes and coasts. The possibilities were demonstrated in 1204, when Constantinople fell to a mixed host of Westerners and Venice carved a maritime empire out of the spoils. The Republic became mistress of 'one quarter and one half of a quarter' of Byzantine territory. At first, Genoa responded with energetic corsair warfare, which had effectively failed when the peace settlement of 1218 nominally restored to Genoese merchants the right to live and trade in Constantinople. In practice, however, they remained victims of the Venetian hegemony until 1261, when Byzantine irredentists recaptured Constantinople and the uneasy parity of the Genoese and Venetian traders was restored.

Genoa acquired an empire of its own-albeit one much less tightly centralized than that of Venice: it comprised, at first, an autonomous merchant quarter in Constantinople and scattered settlements along the northern shore of the Black Sea, ruled by a representative of the Genoese government. By Byzantine grants of 1267 and 1304, the alum-producing island of Chios became the fief of a Genoese family. Around the middle of the fourteenth century its status was transformed by the intrusion of direct rule from Genoa. The Aegean was effectively divided between Genoese and Venetian spheres. Venice dominated the route to Constantinople via the Dalmatian coast and the Ionian Islands, whereas Genoa controlled an alternative route by way of Chios and the eastern shore.

Eastern Mediterranean rivalry between Genoa and Venice was paralleled in some ways in the western rivalry between Genoa and the dominions of the House of Barcelona. Catalans were relative latecomers to the arena. They enjoyed privileged natural access to the entire strategic springboard of the western Mediterranean-the island bases, the Maghribi ports; but while the islands were in the unfriendly hands of Muslim emirs, they were trapped by the anti-clockwise flow of the coastal currents. But by 1229 the power of the count-kings of Barcelona and Aragon and the wealth of their merchant subjects had developed to the point where they could raise enough ships and a large enough host to attempt conquest. By representing the venture as a holy war, Jaume I was able to induce the landlubber aristocracy of Aragon to take part in the campaign. Once Majorca was in his hands, Ibiza and Formentera fell with relative ease. The island-empire was extended in the 1280s and 129os, when Minorca and Sicily were conquered. In the 1320s an aggressive imperial policy reduced parts of Sardinia to precarious obedience.

Meanwhile, vassals of members of the House of Barcelona made conquests even further east, in Jarbah, Qarqanah, and parts of mainland Greece. The impression of a growing maritime empire, reaching out towards the east-perhaps to the Holy Land, perhaps to the spice trade, perhaps both was reinforced by the propaganda of count-kings who represented themselves as crusaders. The easterly vassal-states were, however, only nominally Catalan in character and, for most of the time, tenuously linked by juridical ties with the other dominions of the House of Barcelona. Catalan naval operations in the eastern Mediterranean were made in alliance with Venice or Genoa and were generally determined by western Mediterranean strategic considerations. If the island-conquests of the House of Barcelona stretched eastward, towards the lands of saints and spices, they also strewed the way south, towards the Maghrib, the land of gold. They were strategic points d'appui of economic warfare across the African trade routes of other trading states. From 1271 onwards, at intervals over a period of about a century, the naval strength of the count-kings was used in part to exact a series of favourable commercial treaties governing access to the major ports from Ceuta to Tunis.

Of the well integrated Catalan world, the easternmost part, from the 1280s, was Sicily. For the count-king Pere II its conquest was a chivalresque adventure in dynastic self-aggrandisement; for his merchant-subjects, it was the key to a well-stocked granary, a way-station to the eastern Mediterranean and, above all, a screen for the lucrative Barbary trade, which terminated in Maghribi ports. Normally ruled by a cadet-line of the House of Barcelona, the island was vaunted as 'the head and protectress of all the Catalans', a vital part of the outworks of Catalonia's medieval trade. Had Sardinia become fully part of the Catalan system the western Mediterranean would have been a 'Catalan lake'. But indigenous resistance, prolonged for over a century, forced repeated concessions to Genoa and Pisa. The Catalans paid heavily for what was, in effect, a political and commercial condominium. By a cheaper policy-without acquiring sovereign conquests further afield than Corsica-Genoa ended with a greater share of western Mediterranean trade than her Catalan rivals.

Thus, between them, Venice, Genoa, and a Spanish state established a sort of armed equilibrium-a surface tension which covered the Mediterranean. It was broken at the end of our period by the eruption of a new maritime power. The Turkish vocation for the sea did not spring suddenly and fully armed into existence. From the early fourteenth century, pirate-nests on the Levantine shores of the Mediterranean were run by Turkish chieftains, some of whom allegedly had fleets of hundreds of vessels at their command. The greater the extent of coastline conquered by their land forces, as Ottoman imperialism stole west, the greater the opportunities for Turkish-operated corsairs to stay at sea, with access to watering-stations and supplies from on shore. Throughout the fourteenth century, however, these were unambitious enterprises, limited to small ships and hit-and-run tactics.

From the 1390s, the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I began to build up a permanent fleet of his own, but without embracing a radically different strategy from the independent operators who preceded him. Set-piece battles usually occurred in spite of Turkish intentions and resulted in Turkish defeats. As late as 1466, a Venetian merchant in Constantinople claimed that for a successful engagement Turkish ships needed to outnumber Venetians by four or five to one. By that date, however, Ottoman investment in naval strength was probably higher than that of any Christian state. The far-seeing sultans, Mehmed I and Bayezid II, realized that the momentum of their conquests by land had to be supported-if it were to continue-by power at sea. After the long generations of experiment without success in set-piece battles, Bayezid's navy humiliated that of Venice in the war of 1499-1503. Never, since Romans reluctantly took to the sea against Carthage, had a naval vocation been so successfully embraced by so unlikely a power. The balance of naval strength between Christendom and Islam, as it had lasted for four hundred years, was reversed, at least in the eastern Mediterranean, and a new era can properly be said to have begun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A Viking anchor. Crude but effective, it consists of a large rock between a forked branch and is held in place by a wooden post.

We have an account, dating from around 1200, of the building of a great ship by Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway, near Trondheim in 998.

The winter after King Olaf came from Halogaland he had a great vessel built which was larger than any ship in the country and of which the frames can still be seen there. The keel that rested upon the grass was seventy-four ells [about 120 feet] long. Thorberg Skaffhog was the name of the man in charge of making the stem and stern of the vessel but there were many others, some to fell wood, some to shape it, some to make nails, some to carry timber. All that was used was very carefully chosen. The ship was long and broad and high-sided and strongly timbered. While they were planking the ship, it happened that Thorberg had to go home to his farm on urgent business and he stayed there a long time. The ship was planked up on both sides when he returned. That same evening the king went out with Thorberg to see how the vessel looked and everybody said that so large and beautiful a ship of war had never been seen before. Then the king returned to the town. Early next morning the king returned to the ship with Thorberg. The carpenters were standing doing nothing. The king asked them why they were doing that. They replied that the ship was spoilt and that somebody had gone from stem to stern and cut one deep notch after another down one side of the planking. When the king came nearer and saw that this was so, he immediately said that the man who had damaged the ship out of envy should die if he were found out, 'And the man who can tell me who it was will get great rewards from me.'

Then Thorberg said, 'I will tell you king who did it: I did it.'

The king replied: 'You must restore it to the same condition as before or you will pay for it with your life.'

Then Thorberg went and smoothed the ship's side until all the notches had disappeared. Then the king and all who were there declared that the ship was much handsomer on the side which Thorberg had cut, and the king asked him to shape it on both sides and gave him great thanks for the improvement. Afterwards Thorberg was the master-builder of the ship until she was finished. The ship was a dragon, built like the one the king had captured in Halogaland but this one was much larger and more carefully made in all her parts. The king called this ship Long Serpent and the other Short Serpent. The Long Serpent had thirty-four benches for rowers. The prow and the stern were covered in gilding and the freeboard was as great as in ocean-going ships. This ship was the best and most costly one ever built in Norway.

The picture is fascinating. The great ship is built on the orders of the king. It is constructed on the grass and, apparently, completed in the winter. The shipbuilder is clearly highly skilled but he is also a farmer with other business to attend to. His relationship with the king seems to be one of easy familiarity but he clearly enjoys the respect of the workforce. The completed ship is the object of great popular admiration.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The Viking ship was perfectly adapted to the needs of these hardy adventurers. Swift, with a draught shallow enough to enter rivers and creeks, it gave the Vikings the same advantage of mobility over their opponents and victims as the camels of the Bedouin and the ponies of the Turks did over theirs.

The name Vikings has an immediate resonance for most people in the English-speaking world. Whereas the Huns, Arabs and Mongols seem to belong to the ‘other’, remote and inaccessible in both their culture and geographical location, the image of the Vikings is clear enough. They are part of the folk memory of western culture that has been handed down from generation to generation. And what an image it is: the Viking warrior, often with his horned helmet (for which, sadly, there is no real historical evidence) stands on the shore, sword in hand, his ship pulled up on the beach behind. There is probably a burning monastery in the background and booty being carried down to the ships. In fact, of course, the reality was much more complex: Vikings as farmers, Vikings as merchants, Vikings as explorers were just as typical as Vikings as pirates.

The origins of the name Viking are obscure but the Old Norse word meant ‘fighting at sea’ while the sea raider and robber was called a Viking. People of the Viking age used many different words, Northman (or Normans), Danes, or, further east among the Slavs, Rus, another name of obscure origin. For the historian of warfare, however, the term Viking conveniently describes the extraordinarily effective fighter who dominated the northern seas and the coastlands from the end of the eighth century until around 1066.
To understand the military success of the Vikings, we must turn first to their ships because it was these which gave them the technological advantage, the Viking equivalent, so to speak, of the mounted archery of the steppe nomad. Viking ships came in many different shapes and sizes but there was a clear distinction between warships and cargo or trading ships. All Viking ships were clinker-built, with overlapping planks nailed on to a wooden framework. This style of shipbuilding became standard in northern Europe but it marked a major departure from the classical Mediterranean tradition of shipbuilding, where the planks were joined edge to edge by grooved joints and where there was no interior frame at all. The hulls were usually made of oak but pine was used for the masts and spars. The Viking method of building produced ships which were light and strong but also flexible, so that they could ride and bend with the seas. On the replica of the Gokstad ship, which was sailed across the Atlantic in 1893, it was noted that the keel would rise and fall by up to 2 em (3/4 inch)and the gunwales twist up to 15 em (6 inches) out of true.

The warships were superbly designed for their function. These were the famous longships, often called snekkja in Viking times. These could be powered both by oars and sails. The oars enabled them to operate in confined spaces or against the wind while sails made it possible for long voyages in the open sea to be undertaken. They were steered by a large oar attached on the starboard (that is, the steering-board) side to the stern. This steering-board projected below the level of the keel, to give it greater pull, but could be raised when the ship entered shallow waters. Ships would also have had iron anchors or anchors with iron flukes and wooden stocks. Fragments of anchor chains have also been found. These would allow ships to be moored away from land so the crew could rest, safe from their enemies. A reconstruction of one of the Roskilde ships has shown that it could make 9 knots under sail and 5 knots when being rowed, as fast as any vessels constructed before the age of steam. The reconstructed Gokstad ship reached 10 knots and more on its transatlantic voyage. These speeds suggest, in theory at least, that the crossing from western Denmark to eastern England could take less than forty-eight hours and the passage from Norway to Iceland could be made in three days. Of course conditions would seldom have been ideal and most voyages would have taken longer, with ships struggling against the prevailing winds and being blown off course. The passage from Denmark to England might equally have taken four days’ continuous rowing, or at least a week allowing for rest periods. Even so, these timings imply that it was not a very ambitious voyage and could be temptingly easy once news spread about the wealth of England and the lack of defences.

A second vital design feature was the very shallow draught of at least some of these ships. The same Roskilde ship had a draught of no more than 18 inches when fully laden. Because of the design of the hull and the keel, this seems to have been achieved without any loss of stability. It enabled them to bring their ships right up rivers such as the Loire, which were much too shallow and filled with sand-bars to allow more conventional navigation. They may also have been able to escape from pursuit by larger vessels by skimming through shallow waters.

As might be expected, the ships varied greatly in size. The small warship reconstructed on the basis of the Roskilde finds was 57 feet long and 8 feet wide. It carried a crew of twenty-six oarsmen and there may also have been a captain or steersman on board. Another of the Roskilde ships, not so well preserved, was much larger, probably just under 100 feet long and 13 feet wide. By analogy, it might have had spaces for fifty oarsmen. The Gokstad ship had spaces for sixteen oarsmen on each side and the coloured shields they attached to the outside of the boat were recovered in its excavation. In all these cases the numbers of oarsmen may have been supplemented by other warriors.
Ships were often described according to the number of oarsmen they could hold. The smallest ships were so narrow that one man could hold two oars, one on each side. Larger ships were described by the number of benches they carried for two oarsmen. The standard ship specified in ship-levies was the twenty bencher, i.e. forty oarsmen, but ships of up to thirty benches are recorded.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pharos of Alexandria

Pharos (Salvador Dali)


Taking the name of the long narrow island on which it stood, the Pharos of Alexandria was the most famous lighthouse of antiquity. Situated on a high mound at the end of a long peninsula, 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the city, it was a technological marvel and formed the prototype of the modern lighthouse. Since the sixth century a.d. (when it replaced the walls of Babylon) it has been listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In 323 b.c. Alexander the Great died in Babylon, leaving no heir. Forty years of conflict followed as his generals fought for control of the vast Macedonian Empire. By 280 b.c. three major dynasties emerged: the Seleucids in Asia, Asia Minor, and Palestine; the Antigonids in Macedonia and Greece; and the Ptolemies in Egypt, the wealthiest and most enduring of all, who would reach their peak under Ptolemy II Philadelphos (reigned 285–246 b.c.). His capital was the grand city of Alexandria, designed by Dinocrates, personal architect to Alexander. Around 290 b.c., because of the dangerous sandbanks in the approaches to Alexandria’s harbor, Ptolemy I Soter initiated plans for a lighthouse. The work was incomplete when he died five years later. In 281 his son Ptolemy II Philadelphos commissioned the engineer Sostratus of Cnidus to build a great lighthouse on the eastern point of the island of Pharos, reached across a causeway named the Heptastadion. There is a tradition that structural and other calculations were made at the famous Alexandrian library.

Hellenistic accounts like those of Strabo and Pliny the Elder describe a tower faced with glistening white marble, crowned with a bronze mirror whose reflection of the sun could be seen 35 miles (56 kilometers) off shore. Apocryphal accounts claim the mirror was also a secret weapon used to burn enemy ships at sea. Indeed, most descriptions are sketchy, and popular images of the Pharos have been based on an interpretation of coins, terra-cottas, and mosaics published by Herman Thiersch in 1909. The most detailed description of the Pharos was made in 1166 by the Arab traveler Abou-Haggag Al-Andaloussi (to whom Thiersch did not have access), portraying a structure composed of three battered tiers: the lowest was square, 183 feet (56 meters) high, with a cylindrical core; the middle was a 90-foot-high (27.5-meter) octagon with a side length of 60 feet (18.3 meters); and the third was a cylinder 24 feet (7.3 meters) in height. There are few accounts of the interior of the great tower, except to say that it had many rooms and corridors. Fuel for the nightly bonfire was mechanically lifted through an internal shaft. The fire could be seen for about 100 miles (160 kilometers).

Including the foundation pedestal, the lighthouse soared to about 384 feet (117 meters). A wide spiral ramp gave access to the top, where there was a huge statue, possibly representing either Alexander the Great or Ptolemy I Soter in the role of Helios, the sun god. Some later accounts identify the figure as Poseidon, but more recent scholarship suggests it was Zeus Soter (Zeus the Savior). Still others believe there were statues of Castor and Pollux. Whatever its subject matter, the sculpture took the total height above 440 feet (135 meters), about as high as a forty-story office building. The Pharos was the second-tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower was constructed 2,000 years later. The monument was dedicated to Ptolemy Soter and his wife Berenice, and an inscription read, “Sostratus, the son of Dexiphanes, the Cnidian, dedicated this to the Savior Gods, on behalf of those who sail the seas.”

The Pharos served the mariners of the Mediterranean for about 1,500 years. In a.d. 642, the Arabs conquered Egypt and moved their capital to Cairo. In 796 the upper story of the lighthouse collapsed. Later, Sultan Ibn Touloun (reigned 868–884) built a mosque on the partly ruined tower. In the middle of the tenth century, an earthquake shook Alexandria and caused another 72 feet (22 meters) of masonry to fall. Despite frequent and sometimes extensive repairs being undertaken by the Arabs, earthquakes continued to have a cumulative effect: no fewer than twenty between 1303 and 1323 meant that the Pharos finally toppled some time before 1349. By then Al-Malik-an-Nasir had begun to build a similar lighthouse beside it but the project was halted at his death. Around 1480 the Egyptian Mameluke Sultan Qait Bey built a fortress over its ruins, using its stones for walls.

In the early 1990s the Egyptian government began building a breakwater to protect the fortress from storms. The project was postponed while archeologists from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the French Centre d’Études Alexandrines searched the harbor. Since 1996 they have found over 2,000 objects, columns, capitals, thirty sphinxes, and—most significantly—two colossal statues (one of Ptolemy I and another of a female torso) scattered over more than 5 acres (2 hectares) of the seabed near Alexandria. It is believed that the finds include the ruins of the fabled Pharos.
In September 1998 the U.S.$70 million Alexandria 21st Century Project was announced by the Fondation Internationale Pierre Cardin, claiming the support of UNESCO and proposing to build a 475-foot-high (145-meter) glass-covered concrete lighthouse on the site of the original Pharos. Happily, it came to very little.

Further reading
Clayton, Peter, and Martin Price. 1988. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. London: Routledge.
Cox, Reg, and Neil Morris. 1996. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Parsippany, NJ: Silver Burdett.
Sly, Dorothy I. 1996. Philo’s Alexandria. London: Routledge.

The First Boats

The design of the earliest boats is open to debate. They could have been dugout canoes, bark canoes, or animal skin boats. Dugouts were made from a single log. A large hollow area was burned and carved out of a tree trunk permitting a passenger to be seated. Planks added to the sides to keep out water may have been the inspiration for plank construction. Wooden outriggers added to the right or left side of canoes were a later innovation that helped prevent capsizing. Animal skins were also used in early forms of boats. Sewn hides were stretched over a wooden frame, sewn together, and sealed with pitch. Such a boat was light and easy to carry. Surviving Assyrian relief carvings from 700 BC show skin covered boats being used to transport chariots across the Euphrates River.

Many early boat innovations originated in Egypt. The Nile flowed north but the prevailing winds blew south. The wide and peaceful Nile was thus a natural water highway, encouraging the use of boats. The Egyptians are credited with inventing sails. They used first plants or leafy branches to catch the wind. By 3500 BC they were employing a square sail, probably woven of reeds and set on a single vertical mast placed in the bow. Between 2200 BC and 1900 BC the position of the mast migrated from the bow to amidships. This made it possible to drive the boat forward using cross winds, not just tail winds. The need to transport large stone blocks down river for monument building may have spurred the conversion from reed boats to wooden plank hulls.

The transition from the paddle to the oar took place in Egypt around 2500 BC. The oar had several advantages over the paddle and permitted both the size and speed of vessels to increase. The oar was secured to the boat, giving the oarsman more leverage. It also permitted multiple rowers to be placed side-by-side manning a single oar, although this innovation was not adopted until centuries later. The deck of the traditional paddle boat needed to be low to the waterline so the paddles could reach the water. This restriction had limited the overall size, height, and displacement of boats of that time. Long oars made larger boats possible.

Oversized oars dipped into the water near the rear of the boat were used to steer. This early rudder was first simply held by the helmsman and not connected to the boat. Large vessels of the time had as many as five steering oars.

Ship Construction
Exploration of more than 30 ancient wrecks found around the Mediterranean revealed that the ancient ship builders started from the outside and built in, rather than starting from the inside and building out, as is done today. Rather than build a frame and then add planking, the ancients build a frame first and stiffened it with inside supports. Mortises (wide holes) were drilled into the edges of hull planks and a wooden tenon (plug) was inserted into the mortises of two adjacent planks. The tenon was half inside each plank and held in place by wooden dowels that went through the planks and tenons. Swelling of the planks, dowels, and tenons sealed the joints without need for caulking. The frame was then stiffened with cross bracing and decks.

The oldest sailing ship of mortise and tenon construction is a wreck from 1350 BC found off the coast of Asia Minor. The earliest record of sailing ships is a tomb painting from Thebes dating to 1400 BC. This painting shows merchant sailing ships from the Levant arriving in Egypt. The ships are being unloaded down gangplanks from the ship to the beach.

Merchant Ships
Greek and Phoenician sea trading blossomed in the Eastern Mediterranean starting around 900 BC. Both groups established colonies around the Mediterranean and built trading empires. The Phoenicians were perhaps the finest sailors of antiquity, certainly ranging as far as Britain for the crucial metal tin. There is some evidence that Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa and perhaps reached the Americas.

Phoenician ships had hulls of a broad beam and were rounded at both stem and stern. They usually carried a carved horse’s head on the prow. Greek writers called these ships "tubs" for their shape or "horses" because of their figurehead.

The early sails had a boom across the bottom, as used by the Egyptians on the relatively peaceful Nile. By the sixth century, the broad, loose-footed square sail was in general use on the open sea where it was more practical. The evidence of an Etruscan tomb painting from Tarquinia, Italy, circa early fifth century BC, shows merchant ships were using two masts and a foresail by that time.

By at least the fifth century BC, merchant ships of 400 ton capacity were carrying the large bulk cargoes in the Mediterranean. Modern merchant ships larger than this were not built until the nineteenth century AD. The most important bulk cargoes at this time were grain, wine, and olive oil.
The largest known merchant ship of ancient times was built for Hiero II, king of Syracuse 270-215 BC, to carry grain from Egypt. It carried three masts and required a bilge pump designed by the famous ancient engineer Archimedes. The cargo on its maiden voyage included 60,000 measures of grain, 10,000 jars of preserved Sicilian fish, 20,000 talents of wood, and 20,000 talents of miscellaneous goods. This cargo weighed 2,000 tons by modern estimates. In the event that the king wished to accompany a voyage, the ship was also equipped with luxury accommodations, including cabins with mosaic floors, promenades decorated with plants, a gymnasium, a bath room fitted with copper tubs and marble basins, a library, and a chapel to Aphrodite.


Appearance of the Cog (which is probably what the White Ship was an early example of) in the beginning of the XII Century was an important milestone in shipbuilding. Crusaders used them for their marches to the Holy Land, merchants of the Hanza union transported goods from Palestine and Africa to Europe. Cogs took part in all naval battles during the following three centuries

The year 1120 saw one of the most significant shipwrecks in English history; a tragedy that cost the lives of the flower of English nobility and would eventually plunge the nation into two decades of chaos and misrule – a period that has become known as The Anarchy. The heir to the throne of England and hundreds of scions of noble families perished when the White Ship, one of the most advanced vessels of the time, was lost with all hands. Its wreck and the potentially priceless cargo (in terms of historical and material value) it carried have never been located.

Between two kingdoms
Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, England was ruled by the dukes of Normandy. As overlords of two lands divided by the English Channel, it was routine for the Norman kings of England to shuttle back and forth between their dominions as they sought to preserve their territories on the Continent and in Britain. In 1120, Henry I, third of the Norman kings of England and youngest son of William the Conqueror, had been forced to travel to Normandy to confront the King of France, Louis VI. Accompanying him was his heir and only legitimate son, 17-yearold William Adelin. ‘Adelin’ is a latter-day rendering of ‘Atheling’ (the Saxon term for king) – he was named William the Atheling to show how the royal houses of the Saxons and Normans were unified in his person.
Henry had successfully resolved his dispute with Louis, gaining recognition for his son as the de facto Duke of Normandy, and was returning to England via the Norman port of Barfleur, from where his father had embarked for the invasion of England less than 60 years previously. The mood of the party was festive, especially since young William was habitually accompanied by a kind of ‘youth court’ – a youthful mirror version of his father’s court, which included many of the most important heirs and offspring of the noble houses of England and Normandy. With the party were his own half-brother and sister – Henry I was the most prolific father of illegitimate children in the history of the English monarchy. Despite this, William was his only legitimate son (one of only two legitimate children), and was therefore absolutely central to Henry’s dynastic ambitions.

Le Blanche Nef
On 25 November Henry was preparing to embark at Barfleur when he was approached by Thomas FitzStephen, master of the Blanche Nef, or White Ship, a fine new vessel of the highest specifications. FitzStephen’s father Airard had captained the Mora, the flagship of William the Conqueror’s invasion fleet, and now he himself begged William’s son for the honour of bearing him across the Channel in his splendid ship. Henry declined, as his own travel arrangements were already well in hand, but suggested that FitzStephen could carry his son, William Adelin, and his company. Henry boarded his own ship and departed not long afterwards, safely making the passage back to England.
Meanwhile William and his companions were feasting and drinking prodigiously, and their own departure was delayed while all the available casks of wine in port were loaded onto the White Ship. Once aboard, the partying continued, with the captain and crew apparently joining in. The company grew so inebriated that when a party of clerics led by the Bishop of Coutance arrived they were driven off with howls of derision. At least one of the passengers disembarked at this time: Stephen of Blois – possibly as a result of an attack of diarrhoea, or possibly because of an attack of common sense given the carryings on. It was a decision that would have fateful consequences.

Disaster strikes
By the time the White Ship was ready to depart everyone aboard was roaring drunk and night had fallen. On board were around 300 people, including 140 noblemen and at least 18 noblewomen. In relative terms, the Channel crossing was not especially dangerous – Henry had done it many times, while his father had made the crossing 17 times as king. But in the 12th century naval technology was still crude, and any sea journey was dangerous, particularly with a drunken crew, captain and pilot. To make matters worse, young William was keen to catch up with his father and get home first, and insisted that FitzStephen take the quickest route home.

This was to prove fatal. The correct route to take out of Barfleur harbour was to the south, avoiding dangerous shoals, after which the vessel would swing north towards England. The ship’s drunken pilot tried to cut corners by heading directly north, but succeeded only in driving the ship onto a rock called the Quilleboeuf, about 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) out of the harbour.

The ship began to sink, but all was not lost for William. He was quickly hustled aboard the only ‘lifeboat’, but as he was rowed to safety he heard the piteous cries of his half-sister, Matilda, Countess of Peche, imploring him not to abandon her. William ordered the boat to turn back, but as it neared the sinking ship it was overwhelmed by the number of people who tried to climb aboard and it too was lost.

This at least was the tale told by a butcher of Rouen named Berthold, who had only gone aboard to chase up a debt. He clung to one of the masts that projected above the waves, and was rescued the next morning. He was the sole survivor: few people of that era could swim, and in the dark, amidst the waves and strong currents, a watery grave was inevitable. When the news reached England none of the barons or high officers of the court dared to tell the king; it was left to a child to tell him the terrible tidings. It is said that he fainted away, and that he never smiled again.

The lost generation
The impact on the world of power politics in north-western Europe must have been tremendous, not to mention the personal toll on bereaved parents. The feeling that might have been prevalent is well captured by Winston Churchill in his account of the disaster in A History of the English Speaking People:

Two men remained afloat, the ship’s butcher and a knight. ‘Where is the Prince?’ asked the knight above the waves. ‘All are drowned,’ replied the butcher. ‘Then,’ said the knight, ‘all is lost for England,’ and threw up his hands [thereby casting himself into the waves].

The disaster has been likened to the sinking of the Titanic, which carried many rich and important people and had a colossal impact on Edwardian Britain. A more modern parallel might be the Thames’ Marchioness disaster of 1989.

For 12th-century England the sinking of the White Ship was to have grim consequences. Despite his extra-marital fecundity, Henry was unable to produce another legitimate male heir. Although he forced his barons to swear allegiance to his legitimate daughter, also called Matilda, the idea of a female ruler simply would not wash with the medieval mindset. When Henry died in 1135 most of the English barons promptly ignored their oaths and acclaimed Stephen of Blois, Matilda’s cousin and the same man who had so fortuitously stepped off the White Ship before it sailed to disaster, as king. Matilda was able to rally some support and attempted to reclaim the crown, plunging the country into nearly 20 years of civil war. It was a lawless and unstable time, when, in the memorable words of the contemporary Peterborough Chronicle, ‘Crist and alle his sayntes slept.’

12th-century treasure trove
The wreck of the White Ship represents a potential gold mine of archaeological and material significance. William Adelin and his party would have been richly caparisoned and loaded with jewels. He would probably have been accompanied by a considerable treasury of plates, goblets and other loot. Discovering this today would amount to a unique record of courtly life in the early 12th century. The ship itself would also be of tremendous importance. As the cutting edge of naval technology it could reveal fascinating insights into the evolution of ship-building, from the longships used by William the Conqueror to the medieval galleons with their high fore and rear castles.
The real issue, however, is whether there might be anything of the wreck or its contents left. Some, if not most, of the treasure aboard was probably salvaged at the time. The strong currents and tides in the area may well have washed away much of the rest. It is known, for instance, that many of the bodies were swept away to be cast ashore along the coast of Normandy for weeks afterwards. Possibly the same forces may have done considerable damage to the wreck, while shipworms and other aquatic organisms would have reduced the wooden parts of the ship unless it was quickly covered in preserving silt.

In other words, the prospects for significant salvage are not great, but the potential archaeological interest makes even a slim chance worth pursuing. Despite this, and despite the apparent agreement of all sources that it is known where the ship was wrecked, there is no record of anyone having mounted a search or exploratory dive. The local conditions would make such an undertaking difficult and perhaps dangerous, but with modern technology such as side-scan sonar and ROVs it is worth at least a preliminary investigation. Perhaps, lying in a sandy hollow beneath a sheltering rock, the bejewelled bones of William Adelin himself await discovery.