Wednesday, February 11, 2009


galia grosse late Fourteenth Century
By Susan Rose
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the sources of evidence for naval warfare in the Mediterranean are both more copious and more reliable than those for the earlier period. Not only are there chronicle sources but also two of the major players in the field of war at sea at this time, the city states of Genoa and Venice, had well organised and sophisticated bureaucracies whose records have survived in quite large quantities. There are gaps caused by unpredictable events like the fires in the sixteenth century in the Doge’s Palace in Venice, where the archives were stored, but much remains. There are also more personal papers, memoirs and reports which allow a clearer view of the intentions or orders of commanders even if the fog of war still hangs thickly over the events of many battles.

Considering the extent of war at sea at the beginning of this period in the Mediterranean, we can perhaps distinguish two theatres of operations, the eastern and the western. The former was dominated by the deadly rivalry for control of the enormously lucrative trade to the East between Venice and Genoa. The latter saw not only the hardly less bitter rivalry between Genoa, Pisa and Aragon for control of trade routes and also the islands in the western Mediterranean, but also the conflicts, sometimes pursued in open warfare and sometimes in ill-defined piratical exploits, involving the Moors of Granada and the Maghreb and the Christian rulers of Iberia. These were never, of course, entirely separate but such a division makes it easier to discuss the unstable and shifting political background to encounters at sea. Later, in the fifteenth century, the growing menace to Christian states of the new naval power of the Ottoman Empire overshadows all other conflicts. This can be presented as a collision between two religions but it was also a conflict between an expanding political entity and others whose powers were declining, and a conflict with an important economic element.

Venice and Genoa
The two states which are our particular concern at this period, Venice and Genoa, were alike in that both lived by trade and both had a republican form of government but were unlike in many other ways. In each state there was a general awareness of how closely the fortunes of the city and its inhabitants were bound up with the sea. In the normal course of events, sea-borne trade was the root of this perception and the origin of each city’s wealth but, in an era when the division between commercial and naval shipping was not clearly drawn, war at sea also figured largely in the concerns of the citizens. In the detail of the organisation of trade, shipping and war at sea, however, the differences between the two are marked. In Venice it is noticeable that, by the middle of the thirteenth century the organisation of a fleet whether for commercial or warlike purposes, was a public matter;1 the protection and promotion of Venetian interests, which were widely construed to include the economic interests of the city state, was accepted as the responsibility of the Signoria. It is also noticeable that once a fleet had been organised and dispatched to trade or to deal with the enemy that the authorities in Venice did their utmost to keep themselves informed of what was going on and even attempted to control events, despite the distances sometimes involved and the difficulties of communication with vessels at sea.2 In Genoa, it seems that individual ship-owners and commanders had a much freer hand especially in the conduct of trading voyages. There was no system like that of the Venetian muda or galleys running on predetermined routes to a time-table or the Venetian war galley patrols and escorts to trading ships.3

In some ways it might seem surprising that Venice and Genoa became such bitter rivals that the tension between them which had built up since the First Crusade erupted into open war on four occasions between 1253– 1381. Each had arguably a ‘sphere of influence’ in home waters, the Adriatic for Venice and the Tyrrenhian Sea for the Genoese. War with Aragon in the case of Genoa or with the power that controlled the Dalmatian coast in the case of Venice might seem a more natural consequence of the confined geographical position and the restless energy of each state. Each was involved in war with its near neighbours but no conflicts were as hard fought as those involving each other. The origins of the rivalry lay in trade; the trade with the Levant, Romania and the Black Sea which by the thirteenth century was extremely lucrative. The Venetians had first acquired extensive privileges in Constantinople by making a crucial bargain with the Byzantine Emperor in 1082. In return for aid to the Greeks against the incursions into the mainland of the Empire of Robert Guiscard from Sicily, their position as merchants in Constantinople was assured. The Genoese, on their part, had used the opportunity of the First Crusade to establish themselves on the route to the Holy Land and within its ports. Their fleet had given valuable assistance during the taking of Antioch and in 1104 a treaty between the Genoese and Baldwin I king of Jerusalem allowed them tax exemptions and property rights in the port towns of Jaffa, Arsuf, Caeserea and Acre. As the merchants from each city strove to increase their influence with their trading partners and extend their trading networks they had no wish to give way to their rivals but rather wished to oust them from the area. Thus the rivalry spread from the ports of Outremer to Constantinople, and to the islands and ports in the Aegean, the Black Sea and elsewhere where these merchants wished to establish trading bases or negotiate for exclusive privileges with the local rulers.4

The success of the fleet commanded by Domenico Michiel off Askelon in 11235 from this point of view could be interpreted as an attempt to undermine the dominant position of the Genoese in Outremer. Similarly at the end of the twelfth century the good relations between the Byzantine Empire and Venice deteriorated as the Venetian fleet sacked Greek islands in the Aegean and the Emperor retaliated by arresting Venetians in Constantinople and seizing their property. In the Fourth Crusade the Venetians stand accused of using the Crusaders’ need for ships provided by them, to ensure the diversion of the Crusade to Constantinople, the sack of the city and the eventual establishment of the Latin Empire in the east. After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders the Venetians acquired not only booty, including the bronze horses which have for so long adorned the façade of San Marco, but the right to three eighths of the city. Their colony there, soon numbered in thousands, was clustered round the port area. Elsewhere in Romania (as the Empire was always called) the Venetians concentrated on consolidating their hold on Crete and establishing bases on the island of Negroponte and the towns of Modon and Coron in the Morea soon known as the ‘two eyes of the Republic’. These territorial acquisitions made sense as commercial and naval bases by which trade routes could be controlled and the operations of patrolling galleys supported. It is not surprising to find the Genoese, after these events, emerging as allies of the dispossessed Greek imperial family. They were eventually bound by treaty in 1260 to support Michael Paleologus in his ultimately successful bid for the throne with a force of 50 galleys, and founded their own colony at Pera just outside the walls of Constantinople.

The tension between the rival merchant republics first flared into open warfare in 1257. The murder of a Genoese by a Venetian in Acre, the main port and trading centre of Outremer, led to rioting in the town between the two groups. When the Venetian muda arrived it included war galleys as well as trading ships and forced its way into the harbour apparently breaking the chain across the entrance. A large Genoese fleet, including as many as 50 galleys, arrived off the town in the next sailing season and the Venetians commanded by Lorenzo Tiepolo came out to give battle. The action which ensued was the first in a series of encounters between the ships of the two city states which was to last for over 100 years.6

Are there any common features to these encounters which can contribute to our understanding of naval warfare? As far as the first Genoese-Venetian war goes John Dotson is of the opinion that it reveals a good grasp of the possibilities of attaining something akin to Mahan’s concept of control of the sea among the naval commanders of both states. He does not deny that control of the sea in the conventional sense associated for example, with the British navy in the nineteenth century, was impossible for fleets largely composed of galleys, which cannot stay long at sea without putting into port for supplies of food and water for the crew. He does point out, however, that the patterns of prevailing winds and currents in the Mediterranean, combined with the fact that sailing was virtually confined to the summer months between April and October, meant that ships on trading voyages could be reliably found at certain ‘pinch points’ on their routes at well known times.7 The effect of this was that an opposing fleet need only be ‘on station’ for a short time to have a good chance of taking a high proportion of the enemy’s trading vessels. Since trade was, as has been said, of vital importance to both states, a successful action like this was not just commerce raiding but a severe blow to the losing state’s security. Interpreted like this the fact that the admirals of the Genoese fleet showed ‘either a fatal timidity or an utter clumsiness’8 in their handling of their forces in large-scale galley actions loses importance. The Venetians defeated a larger force of Genoese galleys off Acre in 1258, near Settepozzi (Spetsai) in 1263 and Trapani in 1266. The Genoese, however, managed to take a large nef and three galleys of the Venetians off Abydos, laden with the proceeds of a year’s trade with the Black Sea ports in 1262. In 1263 some of the Genoese survivors of the battle of Settepozzo redeemed their honour by capturing four Venetian traders off Malvasia. In the following year, the Genoese admiral Simone Grillo, by setting up an elaborate ruse which tricked the Venetians into thinking his fleet had gone east when in fact it was cruising off Durazzo in the southern Adriatic, captured all the galleys in the Venetian fleet returning from Constantinople. Only the Roccafortis, a large sailing round ship, escaped. In 1266 Obertino Doria hoped to capture the entire Venetian muda from Romania off Modon but was driven away by the very heavy escort of armed galleys with the traders. With their war galleys tied down by escort duties to their own convoys, the Venetians, in their turn could pose little threat to Genoese traders.9

Details of the formal galley actions rely on chronicle accounts whose accuracy may be doubtful but which do cast doubt on the leadership of the Genoese fleet. At Settepozzi only a portion of the Genoese fleet engaged the enemy; Lane ascribes this to the fact that the admirals were wary of endangering the investment of the contractors responsible for fitting out the galleys. At Trapani the Venetians apparently caused such panic in the Genoese galleys that many of the crews leapt overboard and tried desperately to save themselves by swimming for the shore. There may be much truth in the wry comments of Iacopo da Varagine, archbishop of Genoa from 1292, who described the crews as not Genoese but Lombards, unskilled in seafaring, inexperienced in sea battles, in fact useless at fighting and completely ignorant of ship handling.10

The two succeeding episodes in this long running conflict, that from 1294– 9 and that from 1350– 5, usually known as the Second and Third Venetian Genoese Wars have very similar strategic and tactical profiles. By 1294 the Genoese had established themselves with admirable drive and energy as the dominant force as western traders in Romania. The fall of Acre to the Mamluks, extinguishing the last remnants of the Crusader kingdom on the mainland of the Levant, had made it even more essential for merchant powers to maintain good relations with Byzantium and other rulers in the trading zone which now extended right into the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. As well as their secure base at Pera adjacent to Constantinople the Genoese also had colonies at Caffa in the Crimea and Tana on the Sea of Azov. In the Aegean Chios was in their control. The Venetians had re-established themselves in Constantinople and had the valuable bases in the Aegean and Peloponnese already mentioned as well as Crete. Other islands in the Aegean were ruled by Venetian noble houses but were not part of the territory of the Serenissima. Each state had an undoubted desire to eliminate its rival and secure for itself all the rewards of the trade in silks, spices, slaves, and other goods on which its prosperity depended. In 1294 the Genoese caught the Venetian muda for Armenia off the port of Lajazzo and captured the bulk of the fleet and the goods it carried. Four years later near the island of Curzola just to the north of Ragusa11 the Genoese commander Lampa Doria had the better of an encounter between c.90 Venetian and c.80 Genoese galleys taking what were said to be thousands of prisoners. During this whole period each side preyed extensively on the other’s commercial shipping, actions which might now be called piratical but which at the time were seen as legitimate and expected. By 1299 divisions in the ruling oligarchy in Genoa led them to make a peace treaty, in effect no more than a temporary truce, with Venice. The real issue of rivalry for trade in Romania was left unresolved.

In 1350 the ostensible casus belli seems very similar. The intermittent, opportunistic taking of vulnerable vessels and their cargoes by both sides flared into a more serious conflict when a Venetian fleet of armed galleys sent east under the command of Marco Ruzzini to deal with a quarrel over trading rights at Tana caught about 14 Genoese galleys in the harbour of Castro near Negroponte and took ten. The Genoese response was to dispatch in the following year a fleet of some 64 galleys under the command of Paganino Doria to the Aegean. The Venetians meanwhile, who had had difficulty in manning Ruzzini’s fleet because of the aftermath of the Black Death had made alliances with Aragon and the Byzantine Emperor John Cantacuzenus thus creating a fleet of potentially more than 60 galleys, (40 of their own, 12 Catalan-Aragonese, eight Greek in Venetian pay, 12 Greek funded by the Emperor). Their commander Niccolo Pisani was initially at a disadvantage because the Genoese found him at sea before he had joined up with his allies. He retired to Negroponte and successfully held off the Genoese until the Catalans arrived. Doria sailed for his base at Pera leaving the allied vessels uncertain as to their next move. With winter now upon them it might have been expected that there would be no attempt at any engagement until the spring brought calmer seas. However, in February 1352 the allied fleet appeared in the Bosphorus intending to join up with the Greeks in the Golden Horn. The Genoese left the shelter of Pera to prevent this and a long hard-fought action resulted leading to the withdrawal of the Venetians and Catalans. Pisani got his revenge the following year when he destroyed a Genoese fleet off Alghero in Sardinia, supporting the Aragonese invasion of the island. Yet still the tit for tat continued; Pisani’s victory at Alghero did not prevent Doria taking a new fleet to the Aegean where it did much damage to Venetian shipping. Pisani followed them but eventually received orders from Venice to avoid battle with Doria since he was now outnumbered and a peace treaty was in the offing. Pisani chose Porto Longo, a small anchorage near Modon as his winter base. Doria appeared offshore and not having the same inhibitions against fighting as Pisani challenged him to come out. Pisani refused but after a Genoese galley had evaded the guard ships at the harbour mouth a confused engagement followed in which all the Venetian ships were taken and Pisani and many others made prisoner.

If we take this succession of naval engagements, some common features do emerge. First of all despite the apparently crushing nature of many naval encounters they could have remarkably few lasting effects. The battle of Porto Longo was followed by a peace treaty which merely bound both Genoese and Venetians to cease trading to Tana for three years and exhorted them to cease attacks on each other’s shipping. The equally crushing Venetian defeat at Curzola had no long-term benefits for Genoa while the Venetian victory at Alghero was beneficial to Aragon but did little to advance Venetian war aims. Lane in fact concludes that, ‘the outcome of Venetian-Genoese rivalry was not to depend on superiority in seamanship or naval operations’. This was almost irrelevant beside what he sees as the deciding factor, ‘their relative skill’ in ‘social organisation’. In his view the Venetian Republic, for all its faults, was a more robust society than Genoa where factional rivalries were often out of control. It is also the case, despite the wider range of sources available, that it is difficult to find reliable accounts of the events of a battle which might allow one to better understand the tactics employed by either side. 

Chronicles can be very terse; the Annales Genuenses merely says of the battle of the Bosphorus, ‘in these parts there was a battle two miles off Constantinople and the Genoese were victorious with their galleys’. The description of Porto Longo is equally brief concentrating on the lack of Genoese casualties and the number and rank of the prisoners and giving as much space to the celebration of the victory in Genoa as to the battle itself. Other chroniclers have apparently longer accounts but are in effect ‘padding out’ the little hard information available. Iacopo de Varagine exults in the Genoese victory at Lajazzo but spends some time comparing it with the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Assyrians. As any reading of either chronicles or secondary material soon makes clear there is virtually never any agreement about the number of vessels involved between the different sources. There are, however, administrative sources which may not give details of the battles but which do make much clearer the costs involved, the logistical problems and sometimes also the orders given to the commanders. In relation to the battle of the Bosphorus three account books or registers exist in the Genoese State Archives which relate to this engagement; one is the register of the treasurers of Paganino Doria’s fleet, Dario Imperiale and Domenico di Villanucio who seem to have made up most of the register while based at Pera. The other two are examples of the individual accounts kept by the scribes or pursers of particular galleys; one dated from 14 June 1351–13 August 1352, comes from Doria’s own vessel; the other comes from the galley commanded by Simone Lecavalla.12 In the Venetian State Archives the decisions and decrees of the Senate, or Consiglio dei Rogati, can be found in registers from the beginning of the fourteenth century; these include the directions sent to fleet commanders and instructions relating to the manning and provisioning of the galleys.13 These sources allow a clearer picture of the difficulties facing galley commanders at this period. Doria by the time he reached Pera after his unsuccessful attempt to lay siege to Negroponte had a pressing need for supplies especially biscotti or biscuit, the hard baked, long-lasting carbohydrate staple foodstuff of galleymen. He needed both grain and flour and facilities to bake this product. Grain came in from Caffa and elsewhere; this was ground in mills belonging to the Turkish emir who ruled the south side of the straits. Biscuit was baked in, among other places, Bulgaria. Balard has in fact calculated that 56 per cent of the cost of the whole campaign went on provisions.14 The accounts also allow some view of the difficulties in manning galleys, while the register from Lecavalla’s ship, because it usually records her whereabouts, allows a reasonably accurate picture to be gained of the course she followed. As a scouting galley charged with trying to keep track of the enemy she scoured the seas; thus before the battle itself, in December 1351, this galley sailed more or less continually up and down the Sea of Marmara from Cap Greco south of Gallipoli to Erekli. She came into Pera from 12–14 December and went as far west as Tenedos on 21 December, returning to Pera itself on 28 December. She remained there for most of January and February but after the battle again began her patrolling, eventually finding the enemy galleys at anchor in Trapanon (Tarabaya) on the Bosphorus on 4 March 1352.15 A further light on the problems of galley fleets is also shed by a report in the Genoese archives relating to the galley of Nicolini Piconi. This left Genoa on 6 November 1351 with the intention of joining Doria’s forces but got no further than Calabria where the crew mutinied saying that, ‘no way ’ would they go to Romania or obey the express orders of the Commune. By 8 January 1352 the galley had returned to Genoa where the officers made every effort to exonerate themselves of any guilt for the turn of events.16

The Venetian registers give a very clear view of the nervousness in Venice over the situation in Romania before the outbreak of war even if silent on the war itself. As early as April 1349, the Senate required all the captains of Venetian armed galleys in those waters, the Venetian authorities in Constantinople and the consul at Tana to consult together about the damage done to Venetian merchants and their goods by the Genoese.17 The problem of manning the galleys is made clear not only by the permission given to galley captains to recruit men in Dalmatian ports but also by the issue of a decree to be read out on the Rialto which gave details of the better diet to be offered to galleymen, including four meals a day, good bread, and meat three times a week on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.18 In March 1350 Venetian ships were forbidden to go to Caffa or Pera for fear of Genoese attacks.19 By June even though ambassadors had been appointed to negotiate with the Genoese for an end to violence in Romania, which the Senate saw as damaging ‘to the whole world’20 as well as to their interests, the Arsenal was also ordered to speed up the preparation of galleys. Far from appearing as aggressive the predominant tone of these registers and the entries for 1351– 2 is one of caution. The Senate’s main concern was to keep trade flowing as freely as possible provided this could be done without running undue risks. Their watchwords seem to be ‘safety ’ and ‘caution’ with negotiation always preferred to battle.

When war broke out again between the Venetians and the Genoese in 1378, there seemed at first little reason to suppose that it would differ from the earlier conflicts of which it could be seen as a continuation. The immediate cause of hostilities was a quarrel over the right to control Tenedos, an island in a strategic position at the mouth of the Dardenelles which, as a fortified galley base, could control access to Constantinople and the Black Sea. This seems very comparable to earlier disputes over Tana or even Acre. This time, however, the Genoese made alliances with Hungary, which was in dispute with Venice over the control of the coast of Dalmatia and Padua, a city which had no wish to be absorbed into Venetian territory on the terra firma. These states were well placed to surround and blockade Venetian territory even if the city itself still remained impregnable in the lagoon. The Venetians trusted in their sea defences and put their fleet under the command of Vettor Pisani, nephew of Niccolo a well-liked and experienced leader. The initial mistake of the Venetians seems to have been to allow the Genoese fleet to get access to the gulf of Venice, in practice normally barred to all armed vessels save those of the Serenissima. Pisani, after a highly successful cruise off Genoa itself, where he took many prisoners, brought his galleys back up the Adriatic with the intention of basing them for the winter at Pola in Istria.21 This anchorage had been suggested by the Senate as well-placed for the protection of the mude on the final stages of their return voyages. In the spring of 1379, when the fleet was in the middle of being re-supplied and with some of the galleys beached for repairs, the Genoese appeared off the harbour mouth offering battle. The Venetians, who had a force of 16 galie sotil and five galie grosse, though only 16 were ready to put to sea at once, took up the challenge thinking the enemy had only 14 vessels. They were unaware that a further 10 were out of sight behind a headland. Once battle was joined confusion reigned. Pisani grappled and boarded the galley of the Genoese commander who was killed but when the five remaining Venetian galleys put to sea they found themselves facing the 10 hidden Genoese galleys and fled. Pisani judging the situation hopeless joined them leaving 15 Venetian galleys in Genoese hands with all their crews whom Chinazzo describes as ‘the flower of the seamen of Venice’. It is reasonable to suppose that the five galleys who fled from the scene were the galie grosse, perhaps laden with merchandise and booty. Certainly they are described as those that Pisani had a duty to protect. By any standards this was a disaster for the Venetians; not only had they lost a considerable number of ships and their experienced crews but a victorious enemy fleet was at the head of the gulf within striking distance of the city itself. Pisani got back safely to the city only to be thrown into prison by the exasperated Senate. In the debates among the Rogati over his punishment a considerable number felt he deserved the death penalty (technically the punishment for galley commanders who fled during a battle), though he was in fact imprisoned and declared ineligible for any future office.

The extreme danger which faced the Serenissima was soon clear. With no galley fleet of any substance to oppose them, (the only other force of Venetian galleys had been sent west to the Tyrennhian Sea under the command of Carlo Zeno) the Genoese were able to blockade Venice with the help of their allies and take Chioggia in August 1379. Chinazzo’s chronicle provides ample evidence of the seriousness of the situation for the people of Venice and also of the way the whole community responded to the challenge to its very existence. From the point of view of a naval historian several aspects of this situation from 1379 to its resolution in the defeat of the Genoese in late 1380 need emphasis. Most obviously Venice could only be secure while her ships in effect controlled the waters of the gulf. Important though the more distant bases and trade routes were to her prosperity, the need to keep adequate forces nearer home could not be ignored. Carlo Zeno and his forces returned eventually to Venice in January 1380 after a very successful series of raids on Genoese bases and commerce but their presence in the city was of even greater importance. Equally for Venice successful war at sea had an important element of community support. After the fall of Chioggia when the city seemed to be staring starvation in the face, Pisani was released from prison and restored to the command of a force of six galleys. He was received by ecstatic crowds in the Piazza and was overwhelmed with eager recruits when he sat, as was the custom, in the Piazzetta enrolling his crews. Important as the galley force was, Pisani then devoted most of his attention to isolating the Genoese forces at Chioggia by blocking the major waterways through the lagoon leaving open only the shallow winding routes used by small vessels whose masters had local knowledge. We must not exaggerate, however, the influence that naval forces could have on the final outcome of a conflict.

The Genoese on Chioggia surrendered in June 1380 because they themselves had been besieged and were running out of supplies. For this blockade of an island site in the watery landscape of the lagoon ships, boats, vessels of all kinds were essential but the engagements between the protagonists were in essence infantry encounters with some credit also going to the increased use of artillery. It can be argued, however, that the failure of the fleet to protect Venice allowed the Genoese to seize Chioggia and that more determined and successful use of a galley fleet eventually cleared most of their vessels from the Adriatic after they had left the island itself, thus demonstrating both the advantages of well used naval power and the penalties of failure. The treaty, however, which ended hostilities, was due as much to the use of skilled negotiators by Venice and the internal situation in Genoa as any victory; it was enough for the city to have survived.22

The terms of the treaty, although granting important concessions to the king of Hungary in Dalmatia, left the conflict with Genoa over trading bases in Romania as unresolved as ever; Tenedos was not to be fortified and neither Venetians nor Genoese were to trade with Tana for two years. From the long term strategic point of view, minor tinkering like this with the conditions under which each state operated in the area was almost irrelevant. While they had been locked in rivalry, preying on each other’s commerce and undermining the financial stability of their own state as much as that of their rival by incurring the enormous expenses of galley warfare, Ottoman power in the region had been steadily increasing. By the end of the fifteenth century, the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Empire at sea as on land was of profound importance for the future of the eastern Mediterranean.

Venetians and Turks
The seeming inevitability of the advance of Turkish power in the Balkans was made plain to the rulers of Europe by the crushing defeat of a crusading army, mainly made up of French and Hungarian contingents, at Nicopolis in 1396. Most Bulgarian and Serb lands were now ruled by the Ottomans with the Byzantine Empire confined to small areas around their cities of Salonica and Constantinople. At first this confirmation of the establishment of a major new power in the area seemed to have little influence on the rivalries of naval powers. Venice benefited from extending her rule over coastal towns which sought her protection rather than that of the declining Empire. In this way Venice became the ruler of Durazzo and Scutari in Albania, Lepanto, Patras, Argos, Nauplia and even briefly Athens. To many Venetians an important reason for undertaking the task of governing these places was to prevent them falling into the hands of the Genoese, who were still seen as hostile to Venice. In Lane’s view, Venice was able to recover her dominant position in trade in the Levant and enjoy the prosperity this brought, not because of her ‘command of the seas’ or the superiority of her galley fleet but because the Turkish advance in the West was halted by the need to deal with the forces of Tamerlane in Central Asia.23 In the first years of the fifteenth century, therefore, naval warfare in the eastern Mediterranean, apart from the continuing problem of widespread, low-level commerce raiding, consisted largely of shows of force by both Venice and Genoa each intending to overawe the other. Documents from the archives of both Genoa and Venice reveal clearly the degree of mutual suspicion which existed.24 Throughout 1403 the Venetian Senate was authorising its galley captains to keep a close eye on the Genoese fleet which, or so the Senate believed, had sailed from Genoa. Carlo Zeno, who was now captain general of the Gulf, was given special permission to pursue his own course rather than one prescribed by the Senate for this purpose. 

He was also given permission to take any Genoese property or vessels if they did harm to the property of Venetians to the value of more than 10,000 ducats. This was the sum of the damage already suffered by merchants in Rhodes and Cyprus which was the subject of negotiations.25 Later in June 1404, the news of a fleet of three cogs and two galleys being prepared in Genoa, led the Senate to forbid the ships of Pietro Contarini and Fantino Pisani from leaving Venice till 8 July when they might expect to have more information and be able to make better arrangements for the vessels’ security. A month later in Genoa one Niccolo da Moneglia was given permission by the governor of the city to take reprisals against Venetian ships. The most revealing of this series of documents is the deposition of Costantino Lercari taken in February 1407 when the Genoese authorities were investigating the loss of three of their galleys, part of the expedition of Marshall Boucicaut, off Modon in 1404. Lercari was the patronus of the galley on which Boucicaut sailed and therefore was an eyewitness of the events he describes. From his account, on one level relations between the cities were cordial. He describes the Venetian fleet coming out to meet the Genoese with every sign of honour and the two fleets then sailing together into the harbour and anchoring together. He himself was then involved in discussions with Carlo Zeno, the Venetian leader on the possibility of some joint action presumably against the Turks, though the details of this are not made clear. Zeno declined on the grounds that he could not exceed the very tightly drawn terms of his commission from the Signoria, making the remark that his ‘lordship did not give such long reins to its captains as was the custom of the Genoese’. The Genoese then left Modon but the seeming amity did not last with both sides becoming suspicious of the other; Lercari in fact has a story that the Venetian bailus in Nicosia was sending the Saracenos (the Turks) news of the Genoese movements. Finally when the Genoese wished to go into Zonchio to take on water, Zeno refused to let them enter the port and appeared with all his galleys ready for battle with lances and crossbows to hand. Boucicault then ordered his men also to arm but not to strike the first blow. When the Venetians attacked with cannon (bombardis) and crossbows battle was joined and in the ensuing melee the Genoese lost three galleys.

The use of cannon in fact is probably the most significant feature of this encounter almost the last in this area between the rival cities. As the century progressed the ability to deploy artillery was increasingly the deciding factor in war at sea. This did not only mean guns mounted onboard ships but shore batteries which could greatly hinder the use of galleys and other vessels to support or bring relief to the besieged in coastal towns. This was made abundantly clear during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Venetian galleys were unable to contribute effectively to the defence of the city because of the weight of the Turkish onshore guns deployed against them. The fall of the Byzantine Empire stimulated the development of an Ottoman navy. Using the port and dockyard facilities which had long been in existence in or near the city and largely Greek seamen and shipwrights the Ottoman Empire came to dominate the waters of the eastern Mediterranean as it already dominated the land. The Venetians who, with the Knights of St John from Rhodes, the only other naval power of consequence active in these waters, were faced with a new and aggressive opponent; an opponent who, unlike the Genoese, controlled the greater part of the interior of the Balkans. Venetian bases in the area, without which the operation of galleys was more or less impossible, were vulnerable to attacks both from the sea and from the land. The predominantly amphibious character of naval warfare which is clear from the beginning of our period perhaps became even more noticeable in the second half of the fifteenth century, with battles fought in close conjunction with the taking of port towns and their hinterland.

It should not be assumed, however, that the Venetians were particularly eager to fight the Turks or saw themselves primarily as the protectors of western Christendom. On the contrary their aim was to maintain as good relations as possible with the Ottomans consistent with maintaining their position as merchants and control of their bases, particularly Negroponte and those in the Morea.26 At first also the Turkish fleet seemed to present little danger to the experienced galley captains of Venice. Pietro Loredano succeeded in destroying the bulk of their ships in their base at Gallipoli in 1416 and the Venetian bases in the Morea, Modon and Coron were extensively refortified.27 The decision of the Sultan Mohammed II to mount an attack on Negroponte in person, however, was a direct assault on Venetian interests and brought forth an energetic response from the Signoria. From early February 1470 orders were flying from the Senate to the Arsenal to prepare supplies, particularly of the essential biscotti as well as munitions, for the galleys going to the defence of Negroponte. Reinforcements were sought from Corfu in March and other galleys were to cruise off Dalmatia for fear of the extension of the conflict, particularly a possible attack on Durazzo. An order was even given to a galley going east from Pola that it was to make all speed for Negroponte not even putting into port to take on water. By June, when the Turkish fleet was known to have put to sea the Senate issued a general order that all vessels ready to sail, even including the galleys of the muda to Flanders, should make for the island. The details of the preliminaries to the engagement itself are recounted in a letter from a Venetian galley soarcomito (commander) Geronimo Longo to members of his family.28 He describes the Turkish fleet as enormous, over 300 ships including 108 galleys, ‘the sea looked like a wood’. He also mentions that the Turkish artillery was different from and superior to that of the Venetians and that their vessels were also better under sail than those of Venice, (he speaks of a mizzen sail) and had larger crews. Before the Venetian fleet came to the town of Negroponte, which was under siege by Mohammed II himself, the two fleets manouevred off the islands but no battle ensued, possibly because of unfavourable winds. In Longo’s view the Venetians needed to have 100 great galleys, 70 lighter, faster galie sottil, and 10 to 15 great ships if they were to have a chance of defeating the Turks in a set piece encounter. The actual events at Negroponte were a disaster for Venice. The fleet at first retreated to Crete where a council was held on what to do (the Venetian fleet, said to include 52 galleys and 18 nave was heavily outnumbered if Longo’s figures are to be believed). A return to Negroponte was agreed, where they found the Turks had built a boat bridge from the mainland to allow the besiegers easy access to the defences. The fleet sailed up to the bridge but, although the defenders were encouraged by their arrival, the Venetians again drew off for a further conference. This was the crucial moment; should an attempt be made to break through the bridge despite the Turkish guns defending the crossing? At least one galley captain was prepared to try with the wind and current with him, but the wind dropped. This seems to imply that the galleys would not be under oars but sailing so that all the crew could be employed in hurling missiles at the enemy. As night was coming on this would have been a hazardous undertaking. In the morning when the Venetians made another approach to the town they found that it had fallen to the Turks in the night. Da Canal, the Venetian captain-general, made further attempts to find the Turkish fleet among the islands and to engage them; he also tried to retake the lost island but when news of the disaster reached Venice in August he was stripped of his office and ordered to be sent back in disgrace.

The loss of Negroponte was a severe blow to the Serenissima. Anonymous poets excoriated da Canal for his failure to relieve Negroponte or pointed out how dangerous the situation was with the Turks, now ‘signori del mare’. The Senate seemed more confused; on the one hand it ordered the new captain general, Piero Mocenigo, in October to save money by decommissioning old galleys and on the other it issued draconian letters threatening very severe punishment to any galley captain who did not obey orders. Our fleet must be returned to its former integrity, they demanded. The old certainties of galley warfare certainly no longer seemed sufficient. Could these vessels in fact any longer serve a useful purpose at a siege if the enemy possessed artillery? Guns were mounted on galleys but it was hard to bring them to bear on a target and galleys themselves could be holed by shore based batteries or set on fire by hot or flammable shot.29 Pepper argues that ‘Venetian reliance on naval defence became increasingly misguided as Ottoman naval and artillery strength improved dramatically ’,30 at this period, but it is hard to see what other alternative existed. The fortifications of towns like Modon could be improved but communication with Venice and supplies and reinforcements depended on keeping open the sea routes. At sea a well-led galley fleet was the most effective force available.

All these factors seemed to come together in what has become known as ‘the deplorable battle of Zonchio’.31 Immediately after the fall of Negroponte the Venetians seemed to have shrugged off their loss; the Turkish fleet sailed back in safety to its bases in the Bosphorus but offered no opposition to Venetian ships raiding in the Aegean. The war at sea had become something of a sideshow to both states more concerned with internal politics, events on land and in the case of Venice the state of trade, than the deployment of war fleets. In the spring of 1499, however, the Venetian authorities were greatly alarmed by the news that the Sultan was preparing a large fleet in the arsenals on the Bosphorus. This could only be intended for use either against the Knights of St John on Rhodes or the remaining Venetian possessions in the Morea. The Signoria had good intelligence of these worrying developments provided by Andrea Gritti, the bailo or head of the Venetian merchant community in Constantinople who sent frequent coded reports back to Venice.32 By May the Senate was clearly worried about the ‘present circumstances’33 and making strenuous efforts to prepare round ships and supplies especially biscotti for the defence of Venetian interests off the Morea and in the Ionian Sea. Antonio Grimani, although reluctant to serve, had already been made captain general of the Sea in April and had left with a force of galleys on the 28 April. The fleet cruised uneasily off Modon and received news that the Turkish armada was at sea in late June. Its most probable destination was Lepanto already besieged by Turkish land forces. The fleets first came in sight of each other a month later between 24 and 28 July. Battle was eventually joined on 12 August off Zonchio (Navarino). The events of the battle are unusually well recorded. Not only is there a full account in Sanuto’s diaries34 but one of the galley captains present at the fight wrote notes of his experience later written up in the sixteenth century as the Annali Veneti dell’ anno 1457 al 1500. These Annali seem to have been rearranged by their first editor but even so have the immediacy that can only come from an eye-witness account. There is also a large and beautiful near contemporary woodcut, made in Venice, which purports to show the most dramatic episode in the battle. From the Turkish point of view, the battle is also described by Haji Kahlifeh, whose account, written a considerable time after the battle, has been published under the title, The History of the Maritime Wars of the Turks. The outline of events is not in dispute. Grimani had set out an order of battle which seems to have depended on the initial attack being carried out by his great sailing ships and the great galleys. Relying on the usual afternoon onshore wind of these waters, these would attack the Turkish fleet, which was hugging the shore, from seaward (this was only prudence on the part of the Turkish commanders since their main purpose was to deliver the necessary artillery train safely to the siege of Lepanto). As the trumpets sounded the advance, a squadron of light galleys joined Grimani’s force from Corfu led by Andrea Loredano who had the reputation of being a dashing and popular commander. His arrival was greeted with enthusiastic shouts of his name from the galleymen who seem to have had no very good opinion of Grimani. Loredano went on board the Pandora the largest of the Venetian round ships and with another commanded by Albano Armer attacked the largest Turkish ship believed to be commanded by Kemal Ali (or Camali to the Venetians), a notorious corsair long hunted unsuccessfully by the Venetian galley patrols.35 The three vessels became grappled together. A fire broke out on the Turkish ship which spread to the others and soon all were in flames.36 

There was no general fleet engagement and contact was broken off. The interpretation and explanation of these events has proved to be less easy. Many contemporaries had no doubts on the matter; Grimani was an ineffectual commander, who owed his position more to his political skills and wealth than his experience of leadership. His orders, full of defects according to Malipiero, had been disobeyed by majority of the galley captains. He fully deserved punishment by the Signoria for neglect of duty, as did his insubordinate galley commanders. Sanuto described the galley crews shouting, ‘hang them, hang them’ when they realised that the galleys were not joining the fray. Malipiero called his fellow commanders dogs and said that the crews shouted, ‘attack, attack’. Grimani did return to Venice to face imprisonment and exile but perhaps placing all the blame on his shoulders is unfair. In his full analysis of this battle Lane suggests three further causes for the poor showing of Venetian naval forces in this engagement: the difficulty in ‘combining for effective battle action round ships great galleys and light galleys’: the difficulty in forcing officers who owed their positions to election within the Signoria to obey orders: the difficulty in recruiting suitably experienced crewmen in sufficient numbers.37 

Clearly these arguments have much to recommend them. Even in the somewhat confused accounts that we have of the battle it is clear that there was a need for defining more precisely the role of the large sailing vessels and for using more effectively the speed and mobility of the galie sottil. The use of both cannon and an early form of musket (schioppo), undoubtedly served to increase the noise and terror of the battle while adequate defensive tactics do not seem to have been worked out. Grimani was expected, as were all Venetian commanders, to hold a council with his officers before battle was joined to work out the plan, almost command by committee. This may have tended to lessen his personal authority. Certainly the unexpected and probably unwelcome arrival of Loredano served to undermine what remained. The question of crews was certainly a long term problem. Venice at this date still had crews of free men not convicts chained to their benches. Even allowing for heavy recruitment in Dalmatia, Corfu and Crete, and the inclusion of landsmen from Lombardy, Lane still estimates that Grimani’s fleet may have included more than one tenth of the men of military age from the Venetian lagoons. According to our sources, however, there was no lack of an aggressive spirit among the galleymen at the battle itself even if the Lombards were of questionable quality.

It should also not be forgotten that, as emerges clearly from Malipiero’s Annali, the battle of Zonchio was part of a series of actions not an isolated engagement. The two fleets had been shadowing each other since the beginning of July and were to continue to be in contact after Zonchio itself until the end of August. In a second engagement on 20 August, the Venetians had been joined by French reinforcements and made strenuous attempts to prevent the Turkish fleet sailing north up the coast towards Lepanto. They prepared fire ships which caused no damage to the enemy but which may have served to lure them from the safety of their anchorage the following day. The great galleys then mounted a bombardment of the Turks but after about two hours when ready to press home the attack and board the enemy the Turks disengaged and made for the safety of Castel Tornese. On the 22 and 25 August there were further skirmishes off Cape Papas in the last of which the Venetians did manage to take 10 galie sottil form the Turkish rear and inflict heavy casualties. These do not seem like the actions of a completely demoralised fleet nor a totally incompetent commander. It seems at least arguable, however, that Grimani’s problems may not only have included those discussed by Lane but also the fact that he was facing an enemy which was more concerned to deliver heavy artillery successfully to the Turkish army outside Lepanto than win a fleet action. They therefore refused battle or broke off action whenever possible. From the Turkish point of view this made sense. The Venetians could not successfully defend their coastal bases if their hinterland was in enemy hands. Establishing greater control over the mainland would ensure that enclaves like Modon and Coron would soon be removed from Venetian control and in Turkish hands. In fact by 1502 Venice had lost all its bases in the Morea.

The end of the fifteenth century in the eastern Mediterranean, therefore, is perhaps a crucial moment in the history of naval warfare. On the one hand the strategic situation was in the middle of great change. A new power, the Ottoman Empire, had emerged which had strength in depth on land as well a sea and which could threaten the declining power of Venice whenever it chose.38 Venice might maintain itself in the Ionian Islands and in Crete and Cyprus for some time but did not have the means to damage seriously the interests of its opponent. Its former rival Genoa now had no further interest as a naval power in the area. The nature of naval warfare was also on the brink of change. The sailing great ship, as opposed to the galley, was demonstrating its usefulness in battle particularly as a platform on which to mount guns. The use of artillery was not yet fully exploited in a naval context but had progressed beyond the point of merely creating uproar and confusion. A ‘ship killing’ weapon was available even if the boarding action still remained the expected end to a naval engagement.

The western Mediterranean
Did the strategic balance and the mode of naval warfare show similar signs of change in the western Mediterranean? Here as in the earlier period the ships of the rulers of Aragon-Catalonia and of Castile confronted those of the Muslim rulers of the Maghreb and of Granada in the waters adjacent to the Straits of Gibraltar. A complicating factor, however, was the rivalry which existed between Genoa and Aragon for control of bases in the western Mediterranean particularly the island of Sardinia while the king of Aragon also wished to reincorporate the kingdom of Majorca into his territories depossessing the cadet branch of his family. The rulers of Aragon, particularly Peter III the Ceremonious, can be seen as understanding the importance of seapower to the successful control of their scattered dominions. Robson has described this as, ‘at once the index and the guarantee of national prosperity ’.39 In a letter to his heir John in 1380, Peter himself wrote, ‘If we lose Sardinia, you can be sure that Majorca will be lost too’.40

The importance of an effective navy to these possessions of the house of Aragon largely lay in keeping open lines of communication and transporting land forces. Genoa and to a lesser extent Pisa, both of which had claims to Sardinia, and which had exerted some control in coastal areas, had access to probably as many ships as Aragon-Catalonia with experienced captains and crews. It was, however much more difficult for them to raise large land forces than Aragon and this was perhaps the factor which led to the Aragonese crown achieving an albeit imperfect control of the turbulent island in 1323–4. In the same way when Peter took Majorca from his cousin James III in 1343 galleys were needed as transports and were not involved in action at sea. The importance of Majorca to Aragon was undoubtedly as a convenient and well-placed port, dominating trade routes to the south. Sardinia had more natural resources as well as a strategic position on routes east but by attempting to take control of the island the Aragonese had greatly provoked their maritime rivals the Genoese. Thus within the Christian community of the western Mediterranean there were tensions and hostilities. As Genoese relations with Aragon deteriorated so their friendship with Castile grew, often supplying, if for a price, both ships and crews to serve the king. These inter-communal rivalries may perhaps explain why piracy and raiding both officially sanctioned and unauthorised seem to have been somewhat more prevalent in these waters than in the Levant. In an extreme situation, however, when the Christian rulers of Iberia faced a real threat from the Moors these quarrelling powers could co-operate.

This is seen most clearly in the period 1337–44 when war broke out between the Moors of Granada and Morocco and the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon-Catalonia. The rapid advance of the Reconquista in the thirteenth century had left the Muslims in Iberia confined to Granada but a successful thrust across the Straits of Gibraltar by the Merinid king of Morocco could rapidly reverse this situation as had happened earlier in the days of the Alomhades. The news that such an incursion was being prepared in the Maghreb greatly alarmed Alfonso XI of Castile who turned for help to his fellow rulers particularly Peter III whose southernmost possession, Valencia, was as much at risk as the lands of Alfonso. The alliance was concluded with a treaty signed in April 1339. From the naval point of view the most important aspect of the war which followed was the siege of Algeciras by the combined forces of Castile and Aragon. This involved the use of galleys as a blockading force, something which, as has already been pointed out, was a difficult operation for which these vessels were in many ways ill-suited. The need for supplies for the crew, especially water for the oarsmen, was always pressing. By the mid fourteenth century the Aragonese naval ordinances of the Admiral Bernat de Cabrera stipulated that the normal complement of a galley should include 156 oarsmen, 30 crossbowmen, and 30 ‘others’ including the officers, a total of 223 men. There was also a need for a crew to have some respite from time at sea; there was little shelter in a galley for the majority of the crew, making keeping station in poor weather an ordeal. Despite these problems the original treaty of 1339 laid down that the Castilians should provide 20 armed galleys between May and September and eight during the winter. The Aragonese fleet was originally intended to be half this size but Peter III agreed to fit out 15 armed galleys when the Castilians increased their commitment to 30. The immediate result was that 11 vessels from Valencia and Barcelona went south to join the Castilians in the Straits in July 1339. If, allowing for some slippage in the manning scales laid down above, we calculate that each had a crew of some 200 men, around 8000 men had to be provided for.41 The nearest Castilian base was in the Guadalquivir river while, of course, supplies from Aragon involved a much longer journey. The difficulties are plain and it betokens a high degree of effective organization that the allies managed to keep a galley fleet in the Straits for a prolonged period.42 Its size varied from time to time and the relative contributions from the allies but the attempted blockade was never completely abandoned. The most dangerous period from the Christian point of view was the summer of 1340 following the Moorish victory over the Castilian galleys in April of that year. Some 35 vessels were sunk by the Moors including 28 galleys. The Aragonese could not send fresh forces until well into the autumn nor could the Genoese from whom Alfonso hired replacements. The victory of the Christian forces on land at Salado in October ensured the failure of the Moorish incursion into Iberia but the siege of Algeciras continued until March 1344. The sea blockade was essential to this and it can be argued that the whole campaign is a clear demonstration of the advantages of naval forces, well-led and deployed with conviction. Neither Aragon nor Castile had quite as many galleys available to their rulers as has sometimes been claimed. The Castilian forces in the south in particular after 1340 were largely in fact composed of Genoese ships and crews. It is also clear that the naval forces of the Moors of Morocco were considerable and formidable in a battle, but to some extent by 1344 the balance of power had shifted in favour of the Christian powers as far as formal galley actions went. This did not, however imply that the waters of the western Mediterranean could be described as peaceful or safe for many traders. Piracy or the guerre de course continued to be a problem throughout the fifteenth century.

Perhaps because of the availability of judicial, royal and local sources dealing with this matter, there are a number of studies discussing it in some detail. El Victorial, the life of Pero Niño, a Castilian noble, the foster brother of king Henry III, written by his standard bearer, which is a classic of early literature in Spanish, also provides much personal detail of the exploits of an individual corsair. From these sources it is clear how widespread and how intractable the problem was. In September 1401 king Martin I of Aragon wrote to the king of Castile praising him for taking action against pirates and corsairs, ‘who go by sea robbing and stealing all they can not less from our vassals and friends than from strangers and yours and our enemies’. Within six months he was again writing to the king complaining bitterly that a man previously welcomed at the Catalan court, and in the Castilian royal service had taken at sea and spoiled a galley and two galiots carrying ambassadors as well as the goods of Valencian merchants and demanding compensation and the punishment of the perpetrator. The archives of Valencia, which include both complaints against pirates and licences to corsairs allow some attempt at quantifying the effects of commerce raiding, both official and ‘private enterprise’ on the relations between states and on trade itself. The guerre de course is characterised by one writer as allowing, ‘states which did not always have the means, to carry on a maritime war without assuming the costs’.43 The identity of those who preyed on others at sea was extremely diverse. 

They could be Moors from North Africa or Granada, Genoese, Portuguese, Castilians, Catalans, Provencals, Basques; in fact from any state, even quite distant ones, which had seafarers among its citizens. Generally speaking in the opinion of Borras, the Muslim raiders at the beginning of the century tended to be in small ill-found boats preying on coastal traders or even fishermen. Those from Genoa were in large vessels lying in wait for wealthy traders with cargoes of expensive goods. Certainly there was a direct linkage to the political situation at any one time. During the internecine war between Barcelona and Valencia in 1467–72 the incidence of attacks by Catalans and their supporters on Valencian traders reached a peak. At the very end of the century corsairs from Valencia preyed on French shipping as part of the reaction to the French invasion of Italy. At any one time a high proportion of cases involved Muslim privateers; as well as the small scale attackers already mentioned, large fleets could be raised in North Africa including the squadron from Tunis which razed Benidorm to the ground in 1447. An individual city could attempt to protect its merchants and their ships by organising convoys, having watch towers on the coast, sending warnings about the presence of raiders to neighbouring towns, or even owning or renting a ‘municipal’ war galley. These measures could contain the problem but never succeeded in eliminating it.

The career as a Mediterranean privateer of Don Pero Niño perhaps allows us to understand why this was so. He was of impeccable social standing, the close friend of Henry III of Castile, and in many ways a hero of chivalry. He gained his reputation in the Castilian war against Portugal and, with no experience of naval matters at all, was put in command of an expedition, ostensibly against the depredations of corsairs, by the king in 1404. In three voyages he covered the coasts of the western Mediterranean from Seville to Corsica, Sardinia and Tunis. As expeditions to suppress robbery at sea these were futile. By February 1405 the king of Aragon was furiously demanding restitution from Castile for goods seized by Niño the property of merchants from Barcelona and Mallorca. When Niño chased corsair vessels into Marseilles in the summer of 1404 he found they were in the service of Benedict XIII, the anti-pope, who was supported by Castile. Niño was royally entertained by Benedict but quite unable to act against the corsairs who included a Castilian, Juan de Castrillo. An attack on the galleys of the ruler of Tunis, who was rumoured to be preparing a war fleet, had a degree of success but cannot really be considered as an attack on corsairs. In fact on the return voyage to Cartagena the chronicler laments that they could not find any Moorish ships only many from Aragon. The problem was that one ruler’s legitimate corsair was another ruler’s pirate and that all rulers found the guerre de course a relatively cheap and easy way of attacking their enemies. Truces and other alliances tended to be of short duration so that the definition of an ‘enemy ’ changed frequently. A certain level of commerce raiding, though potentially disastrous for an individual, could be accepted between states and was so common that it can almost be called an accepted risk. For the corsair and his crew, of course, the practice could be indeed rewarding. All Niño’s men were well pleased, we are told, when the spoils of their voyage were divided.

Naval warfare in the western Mediterranean, therefore, lacks the strategic importance that did attach to some aspects of naval action in the eastern part of the sea. The Reconquista was advanced by warfare on land with the outcome of sea battles not greatly affecting the final victory of Ferdinand and Isabella. The rivalry for trade routes, ports and political power which divided the Christian nations of the area, however, made it almost impossible for them to combine their forces against a common enemy. The blockade of Algeciras is one of the few examples of an alliance even between neighbouring states, resulting in naval action, which was sustained over a relatively long period. Much more typical of the area is the commerce raiding described above. As Borras has said, ‘Many ship-owners … decided to alternate commercial voyages with expeditions as corsairs against enemies of the king, the faith or, what was worse, any ship which was within their reach’. All the states of the region, irrespective of their religious loyalty, preyed at times on the vessels of others for reasons which went from personal greed to political advantage. The typical encounter was not a set piece galley action but a skirmish where the smaller vessel usually had no alternative to surrender but precipitate flight.

1 The law code of 1255 contains the provision that ships bound for Romania should gather off San Niccolo on the Lido by the 15 August. They would return in the following spring. Such fleets were known as the muda.
2 The Regeste of the Senate preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Venice contain the commissions of the commanders of galley fleets which often give precise directions concerning ports of call and the need to send and receive letters from the Senate and the policy to be pursued. A typical example is ASV Regeste, Senato Miste, 1377–81 (Copie 36) ff. 65r–66v, 8 September 1377.
3 A. Agosto in his introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of documents relating to relations between Venice and Genoa at this period makes the point very strongly that in Genoa private interests tended to drive state policy. Mostra Documentaria Genova e Venezia tra i Secoli XII e XIV, Archivio di Stato di Genova and Comunedi Genova, 1984.
4 F.C. Lane notes that the Venetians fought wars not to gain territory but to ‘effect political arrangements which would be disadvantageous to rival sea powers … and which would gain them trading privileges permitting commercial expansion into new areas’. Venice: A Maritime Republic, London and Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973, p. 27.
5 See above, p. 36.
6 The treaty which ended the war of Chioggia was signed in 1381. This did not mark the complete end of all hostilities between the ships of the two states, for example the skirmish off Modon in 1404 between galleys commanded by Carlo Zeno for the Venetians and Marshall Boucicault for the Genoese. F. Surdich, Genova e Venezia fra tre e quattrocento, Genova, Fratelli Bozzi, 1970, contains a documentary appendix dealing with this encounter especially pp. 217–23 containing the deposition of Constantino Lercari who was present.
7 J. Dotson, ‘Naval Strategy in the First Genoese-Venetian War, 1257–1270’, American Neptune, 46, 1986, pp. 84–7.
8 J. Dotson, ‘Naval Strategy in the First Genoese-Venetian War ’, p. 88.
9 J. Dotson, op. cit., p. 89.
10 G. Monleone (ed.), Iacopo Varagine e la sua Chronica di Genova dalle origine al MCCXCVII, Roma, Tipografia del Senato, 1941, 3 vols, p. 96.
11 Modern Dubrovnik.
12 These documents are fully described in M. Balard, ‘A propos de la Bataille du Bosphore: l’expedition gênoise de Paganino Doria a Constantinople (1351–1352)’, no. II in La Mer Noire et la Romanie Gênoise XIII-XV siècles, London, Variorum Reprints, 1989.
13 Two volumes of Le Deliberazioni del Consiglio dei Rogati (Senato) serie ‘Mixtorum’, edited by R. Cessi and P. Sambin have been published by the Deputazione di Storia Patria per la Venezia, vol. I ,1960, vol. II ,1961. Volume I includes material for 1300–3 and volume II March 1332– February 1335. The registers for the missing years were burnt in the sixteenth century fire. Registers for later years exist in MS in the State Archives; from 1400 the records were divided into two series, ordinary and Segreti and from 1440 three, Senato Mar, including all maritime matters, Senato Terra, all matters to do with mainland Venice, the terra firma, and Senato Secreta, all matters to do with all internal and external politics.
14 M. Balard, op. cit., pp. 445–6 and 455.
15 M. Balard, op. cit., Document 1, pp. 461–7 prints the log of Lecavalla’s galley for this expedition.
16 A.S.G. Antico Comune, registro n. 360.
17 A.S.V. Senato Misto Copie Regestro 1349–1353, Book XXV, 13 April, ff. 22v–23r.
18 A.S.V. op. cit., Book XXV, ff. 56v-57r.
19 A.S.V. op. cit., Book XXVI, f. 17r.
20 A.S.V. op. cit., Book XXVI,. f. 56v.
21 The details of the following account of events in Venice and Chioggia comes from the Chronica de la Guerra da Veniciani a Zenovesi, written by Daniele di Chinazzo. Chinazzo was an apothecary and owner of a spice store in Treviso, his home town. He was in Venice for the duration of the war of Chioggia being an eyewitness of the fall of the town to the Genoese. In the opinion of the editor the chronicle is a genuine expression of popular sentiment during the war. Daniele di Chinazzo, Chronica de la Guerra da Veniciani a Zenovesi, (ed. V. Lazzarini), Venezia, A spese della deputazione di storia patria per le Venezie, 1958.
22 The Treaty of Turin signed in 1381.
23 F.C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic, p. 199.
24 A selection of these documents has been published by F. Surdich as an appendix to Genova e Venezia fra tre e quattrocento, Collana Stroica de Fonti e Studi, Genova, Fratelli Bozzi, 1970.
25 F. Surdich, op. cit., p. 172.
26 As Lane (Venice: A Maritime Republic) remarks (p. 235), ‘Venice counted among her political necessities not only the preservation of her colonies but the continuation of her commerce’.
27 S. Pepper, ‘Fortress and fleet: the defence of Venice’s mainland Greek colonies in the late fifteenth century ’, in D.S. Chambers, C.H. Clough and M.E. Mallett (eds), War, Culture and Society in Renaissance Venice, London, The Hambledon Press, 1993, pp. 30–8.
28 The letter is included in, Dannali Veneti dal anno 1457 al 1500 del Senatore Domenico Malipiero, (ed. F. Longo), Florence, 1843, vol. I, p. 50.
29 The cannon on a galley were mounted on the bow and, in effect, were aimed by steering for the target.
30 S. Pepper, ‘Fortress and fleet: the defence of Venice’s mainland Greek colonies’, p. 40.
31 This is the title of an article published by L. Fincati, ‘La deplorabile battaglia del Zonchio, 1499’, in Rivista Marittima for 1883 and in Archivio Veneto, xxv, 1883.
32 J.C. Davis, ‘Shipping and spying in the early career of a Venetian doge 1496–1502’, Studi Veneziani, XVI, 1974, pp. 97–108.
33 ‘le occurentie di presenti tempi’, ASV, Senato Mar, Regeste 14, 1493–99, f. 181v.
34 M. Sanudo, I diarii di Marino Sanuto, Bologna, Forni Editori, 1969–70, pp. 1122–6 and 1130–8.
35 The commander of this ship may have been a Turkish ghazi, (corsair) in the service of the Sultan called Burak Reis. J.F. Guilmartin, Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the Sixteenth Century’, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 86.
36 Khalifeh states that the Turks were using burning pitch to attack the Venetians but were unable to control the weapon.
37 F.C. Lane, ‘Naval actions and fleet organisation, 1499–1502’ in B.G. Kohl and R.C. Mueller (eds), Studies in Venetian Social and Economic History, London, Variorum Reprints, 1987, VIII, p. 162.
38 A.C. Hess states categorically that after Zonchio, ‘the Ottomans had achieved naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean’. ‘The evolution of the Ottoman seaborne empire in the age of the oceanic discoveries, 1453–1525’, American Historical Review, 74, 1970, p. 1906.
39 J.A. Robson, ‘The Catalan fleet and Moorish seapower (1337–1344)’, English Historical Review, 74, 1959, p. 386.
40 V. Salaverti I Roca, Cerdena y la expansion mediterranea de la Corona de Aragon 1297–1314, 2 vols, Madrid, 1956, vol. I, pp. 213–4, n. 37. quoted in D. Albulafia, The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms 1200–1500, London, Longman, 1997, p. 172.
41 Galleymen needed a diet with a very high calorific value to function effectively.
42 The Aragonese commander, Pere de Moncada, wrote wearily to Peter III at the end of 1341 when he had been ordered to stay in the Straits with his fleet, ‘it seems that those who attended to the letters you have sent neither knew nor were thinking of what it feels like here at sea’. Canellas, ‘Aragon y la empresa del estrecho’. doc. 13, pp. 63–4, quoted in J.A. Robson, ‘The Catalan fleet and Moorish sea-power ’, p. 403.
43 J. Guiral-Hadziiossif, Valence, Port Mediterranéen au XV siècle, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, p. 97.

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