Monday, October 26, 2009

Chinese Paddle-wheel ships


A Chinese naval paddleboat of the twelfth century, propelled by muscle power rather than steam. This kind of vessel was for use on the inland waterways and lakes of China. The attention of the Chinese authorities was generally directed towards maintaining the vast internal economic and military networks. The concept of the paddleboat was known in the Roman Empire, but it was impractical for general use in the Mediterranean.

During the Song Dynasty there was also great amount of attention given to the building of efficient automotive vessels known as paddle wheel craft. The latter had been known in China perhaps since the 5th century, and certainly by the Tang Dynasty in 784 with the successful paddle wheel warship design of Li Gao. In 1134 the Deputy Transport Commissioner of Zhejiang, Wu Ge, had paddle wheel warships constructed with a total of nine wheels and others with thirteen wheels. However, there were paddle wheel ships in the Song that were so large that 12 wheels were featured on each side of the vessel. In 1135 the famous general Yue Fei (1103–1142) ambushed a force of rebels under Yang Yao, entangling their paddle wheel craft by filling a lake with floating weeds and rotting logs, thus allowing them to board their ships and gain a strategic victory. In 1161, gunpowder bombs and paddle wheel crafts were used effectively by the Song Chinese in the Battle of Tangdao and the Battle of Caishi against the Jurchen Jin Dynasty, who made an unsuccessful invasion of the Southern Song along the Yangtze River. In 1183 the Nanjing naval commander Chen Tang was given a reward for constructing ninety paddle wheel craft and other warships. In 1176, Emperor Xiaozong of Song (r. 1162–1189) issued an imperial order to the Nanjing official Guo Gang (who desired to convert damaged paddle wheel craft into junk ships and galleys) not to limit the number of paddle wheel craft in the navy's dockyards, since he had high esteem for the fast assault craft that won the Chinese victory at Caishi. However, paddle wheel craft found other uses besides effective assaults in warfare. The Arab or Persian Commissioner of Merchant Shipping for Quanzhou, the Muslim Pu Shougeng (who served from 1250–1275) noted that paddle wheel ships were also used by the Chinese as tugboats for towing.

Navigation and Ships in China


This picture of a medieval Chinese war junk distorts many of the key features to give a dramatic effect, but it does illustrate the multiple decks, the highly responsive rigging and steering systems, including a stern rudder controlled by a tiller and a lateral auxiliary steering oar.

It was the increasing number of guns on the European warships of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that were to make them particularly effective against the ships and coastal fortifications of the Orient. The Chinese, for example, had long used artillery in warfare, but they did not employ large guns on their ship.

The seas of the Far East are far more windswept than the Mediterranean, so the use of paddles and oars as methods of propulsion did not override the importance of sails. The earliest clear evidence of the use of fore and aft sails in China dates to the third century ad, but it seems likely that they were developed well before then, and simple, square sails may have been in use some two thousand years earlier. The long coastline of China, punctuated by several major river estuaries, of which the Yangtze is the longest and broadest, gave rise to a myriad of seafaring communities. By the end of the first millennium ad they had evolved a variety of ships for use in both coastal and long-distance seafaring. The fruits of their experience produced the characteristic Chinese sailing ship, usually called the junk (from the word jonq used by Arab sources), which was suitable for both high seas and broad rivers like the Yangtze.

From the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ad we have vivid descriptions of harbours thronged with seagoing ships by the Venetian traveller Marco Polo (1254–1324) and the widely travelled Arab geographer Ibn Battuta (1304–77). By combining European and Chinese written accounts with artistic and archaeological evidence we can put together a picture of the typical large trading vessels of fourteenth century China. They were plank-built from pine or fir, using iron fastenings and a variety of caulkings, and they had internal, watertight bulkheads. They were equipped with from four to six masts and a complex set of sails made from both canvas and matting, stiffened with battens. The hull was gently curved, rather than entirely flat, but there was no keel and the stern ended in a broad vertical board, or transom, which easily accommodated a stern rudder, attached to a post. This latter invention seems to date from as early as the fourth century AD. The stern rudder, when combined with pivoted sails, which were much easier to adjust to the strength and direction of the wind than the standard riggings of the Arab and Western traditions, and other technical innovations, such as the drop-keel, or dagger board, enabled Chinese mariners to sail their junks very close to the wind and make very quick, precise changes in direction.

The political and economic efforts of two dynasties, the Sui (581–617) and the T’ang (618–907), laid the basis for an imperial expansion which resulted in Sung China (960–1279) emerging as the dominant power in the Far East on both land and sea. Chinese naval power was not primarily directed towards the high seas, however, and the expansion of commercial contacts was largely in the hands of enterprising private traders, who often had to contend with an imperial authority that was extremely wary of foreign contacts. To a large extent this can be blamed on the persistent problem of invasions from the steppes.

In the reign of the early Ming emperor Yung-le (1403–24), when China was recovering from the internal disruption and economic problems of Mongol rule, there was a brief period of maritime imperialism, exemplified by the voyages of Cheng Ho (1371–1433). Cheng Ho was a Muslim from southern China who was entrusted with a series of expeditions that were a combination of military and diplomatic missions, intended to assert the prestige and power of China in the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia. They involved some 200 large vessels crewed by nearly 30,000 men – sailors, soldiers, diplomats, scholars and traders. The impact of these voyages was dramatic. Chinese naval power was demonstrated at a time when piracy, particularly from Japan, was a growing problem. China’s economic position in the region was enhanced and the imperial court was inundated with rich gifts, embassies from distant peoples, all anxious to better their trading prospects. Yet the successors of Yung-le did not follow up his initiative and attempt to push the boundaries of political power outwards to the fringes of the commercial networks that China was linked into. Instead, again in response to the enormous pressure of incursions on their northern frontiers, they reverted to the defensive, inward-looking posture on both land and sea that had characterized earlier dynasties. External seafarers were still welcome at Chinese ports and there were many Chinese who traded overseas and settled in South-east Asia and India.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crews of the Byzantine Fleets


By John H. Pryor

In spite of the fact that some crews in Byzantine fleets at various times were well regarded, for example the Mardaites of the theme of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, there is little evidence to suggest that, in general, Byzantine seamen were so skilled that this gave Byzantine fleets any edge over their opponents. It is true that Byzantine squadrons managed to defeat the Russians on all occasions when they attacked Constantinople: in 860, probably in 907 under Oleg of Kiev, in 941 under Igor, and in 1043 under Jaroslav. A fleet also defeated the Russians on the Danube in 972. However, rather than being attributable to any qualities of Byzantine seamen, these victories were due to the triple advantages of Greek Fire, dromons and chelandia being much larger than the Norse river boats of the Russians, and (except in 972) being able to fight in home waters against an enemy far from home. The last is true also of the defeat of the Muslim assaults on Constantinople in 674–80 and in 717–18. In both cases, it was the advantage of home waters against the disadvantage of campaigning hundreds of miles from sources of supplies, the problems faced by the Muslims of surviving on campaign through the winter, and Greek Fire that proved decisive. The same is probably true of the victories over the fleets of Thomas the Slav in 822–3.

In general, the record of Byzantine fleets from the seventh to the tenth centuries was hardly impressive. To be sure, they did achieve some notable victories: the defeat of the Tunisians off Syracuse in 827–8, the defeat of a Muslim fleet under Abū Dīnār off Cape Chelidonia in 842, the victory of Nikētas Ooryphas over the Cretans in the Gulf of Corinth in 879 and of Nasar over the Tunisians off Punta Stilo in 880, the victory of Himerios on the day of St Thomas (6 October), probably in 905, the defeat of Leo of Tripoli off Lemnos in 921–2, the victory of Basil Hexamilitēs over the fleet of Tarsos in 956, and the defeat of an Egyptian squadron off Cyprus in 963. Against that record, however, have to be balanced many disastrous defeats: of Constans II at the battle of the masts off Phoeinix in 655, of Theophilos, the stratēgos of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, off Attaleia in 790, a defeat off Thasos in 839, the defeat of Constantine Condomytēs off Syracuse in 859, the annihilation of a fleet off Milazzo in 888, a defeat off Messina in 901, the disastrous defeat of Himerios north of Chios in 911, the defeat of a Byzantine expedition in the Straits of Messina in 965, and of fleets off Tripoli in 975 and 998.

Although the tide of Byzantine naval success ebbed and flowed over the centuries, as other circumstances dictated, nothing suggests that the quality of the Empire’s seamen was in any way decisive. Indeed, there are occasional pieces of evidence that suggest that all was not always happy in the fleets. Some time between 823 and 825, John Echimos, the ‘deputy governor’, (ek prosōpou), the acting stratēgos, of the theme of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, confiscated the properties of seamen of the fleet. After he had become a monk and taken the name Antony, later to become St Antony the Younger, he was interrogated as to his reasons for doing so on the orders of the new emperor, Theophilos (829–42). According to the author of his Life, his explanation was that they had been partisans of Thomas the Slav in his rebellion of 821–3 and were ‘hostile to Christians’, thus implying that they were iconoclasts, and that he had confiscated their property and given it to supporters of Theophilos’ father, Michael II (820–9). In spite of this explanation, the emperor initially imprisoned him and had him interrogated, suggesting that there was more to the story and that he rejected the explanation. The fleet of the Kibyrrhaiōtai had, indeed, joined Thomas the Slav, as it was also later to join the rebellions of Bardas Sklēros in 976–9 and Bardas Phōkas in 987–9, and it is clear that, at times, there must have been serious disaffection in what was the front-line fleet of the Empire in the ninth and tenth centuries.

In 880, the expedition sent under the command of Nasar, the droungarios touploimou, to counter an attack in the Ionian sea by a Muslim fleet from Tunisia was forced to a temporary halt at Methōnē by the desertion of a large part of the crews. Why they deserted is unknown, but we can be fairly sure that it was not a simple question of their having ‘lost their nerve’, as the Vita Basilii suggested.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

OARS, SAILS AND GUNS: THE ENGLISH AND WAR AT SEA, c.1200–c.1500 Part II


A multi-deck Carrack had three masts with the different sails: to the foresail: and mainmasts (by the first and by the second) - straight lines, and on the last third mizzensail to mast there was the slanting Latin sail, which facilitated maneuvering. The patrolmen or pointers were located on the mastheads with the reserve armament.




Light naval gun of 1492. Such canons were aboard the ships of the squadron of Columbus. They were fastened to the ring mounts (a). Each canon had several powder chambers with the carry-rings for the breeches (b), which were charged and stored separately in the barrel. The opening of breech-chamber shut the wad: (c), whereas the shot (d) they rolled into the barrel, into which before this they put a wad so that the shot would not roll away. Then in front of the barrel powder chamber [s] the shot was locked in firmly with the aid of the wedge (e). Two arcs on the swivel served for the elevation of the barrel of gun (f). The technology of the production of such canon was labor-consuming and complex. They forged barrels from the iron bars, they were welded and iron belts were put around them.


By Ian Friel
Unlike medieval France, with its impressive galley dockyards at Rouen and elsewhere, medieval England lacked anything like a standing navy. One or more officials of the royal household, assisted by others appointed on an ad hoc basis when the pressure of work required it, essentially undertook the management of the king’s ships. From the 1330s the clerk, later keeper, of the king’s ships, an administrator and finance officer rather than an operational commander, normally ran the ships.16 The king’s ships were far from being a navy in the modern sense of the word, although it was recognised by Crown and commoners alike that they did have some function in the defence of the kingdom and of English shipping, as well as in the prosecution of war. Although fleets of royal ships were sometimes quite large – particularly those of John and Henry V – few medieval English monarchs had the financial resources to keep a large fleet in being for very long. Royal fleets tended to be built up rapidly in times of need, and then demobilised or sold off after the crisis had passed. For instance, after Henry V died in 1422 most of his ships were quickly sold off to help settle his debts. The king’s sea and land campaigns had removed the threat of French sea-borne attack and there was no longer seen to be any need for a large royal fleet.17

The uses to which the medieval king’s ships were put were also not always ‘naval’ ones, even in time of war. Henry V, for example, revived the royal fleet in order to help pursue his ambition to take the throne of France. The fleet rose in number from seven usable vessels in July 1413, to twenty-seven by March 1417, and at its height in 1420, the king owned something like thirty-six ships. The accounts of the clerk of the king’s ships for 1413–22 show that twenty-nine of the king’s ships were used at one time or another in naval operations, such as invasion fleets or sea-keeping patrols, but that seventeen also went on merchant voyages, most of them carrying wine from Bordeaux, although a few went further afield to Prussia and Portugal.18 It is possible that the ships on the Bordeaux run went as convoy escorts, but the crew sizes on these enterprises were generally smaller than those for war operations. The main reason for sending the ships seems to have been monetary. Henry’s one-masted sailing ships were used on these voyages and on the face of it they were profitable. Between September 1413 and June 1416, twelve ships completed twenty-six trading voyages, which netted the very large sum of £2055 in freight payments from merchants. The proceeds were ploughed into the financing of the royal ships. However, if one subtracts the costs of crew wages and victuals from this figure, the profit reduces to £400 and the whole enterprise may well have been run at a loss, as £968 was spent on the upkeep of the twelve ships over this period, much of which must have been necessitated by the rigours of the voyages. The deficit was even greater than this as one 220-ton ship, the Cog John, was wrecked off Brittany during a Bordeaux voyage. Nevertheless, the fact that these voyages continued suggests that contemporaries saw them as successful.19

The king’s ships had a multiplicity of uses, but they were seldom intended to be much of a combat force by themselves. Medieval English naval expeditions, large and small, relied on using conscripted merchant ships and other vessels belonging to English owners. As far as one can make out, impressment commands were generally obeyed, although at times they caused serious interruptions to sea-borne trade. Merchant vessels were essential for moving troops, horses and stores, and with the addition of fighting castles, if they did not already have them, could be converted into warships. Although we do not know the full size of the English merchant fleet at any point in the Middle Ages, musters for royal fleets do give us some notion of the numbers of vessels used by English merchants. Edward III used the largest recorded fleets in the 1340s, with 440 ships mobilised for carrying an army to Brittany in 1342 and at least 750 vessels used in the king’s voyage to Normandy in 1346. The Black Death of 1348–50, which killed a large portion of the population of Europe, inevitably reduced the shipping resources of every kingdom, leaving fewer mariners to man ships and less demand for shipping. Despite chronicle accounts of Henry V using a fleet of 1500 ships for his 1415 invasion of France, there is little evidence to back this up, and financial records suggest that English fleets were smaller than they had been in the 1340s. Given the fact that the Black Death and later epidemics had substantially reduced the English population by the early fifteenth century, this is not very surprising.20 English rulers also intermittently hired vessels from friendly foreign powers for use as both transports and combat vessels. In 1417, for example, twenty foreign ships were hired for use in sea patrols, and over fifty more served as transports.21

The records of the customs at Bordeaux, an English possession until 1453, give a good idea of the changing sizes of English merchant ships in the late Middle Ages. The Bordeaux wine ton of 252 gallons was the principal container used in the port and the wine trade inevitably used some of the larger contemporary bulk-carriers. As an employer of shipping, the trade seems to have been at its peak in the early fourteenth century. For example, in the three months between late June and Michaelmas 1303, there were 271 wine shipments from Bordeaux. Fifty-five of these shipments were carried in ships capable of carrying between 150 and 250 tons, and in the following year one shipment even reached 303 tons. The tonnage lading figures, although variable, are a good guide to the actual as opposed to alleged carrying capacities of ships. By the 1350s, after the Black Death, English ships in the 150 ton-plus range were much rarer, a situation that persisted into the early decades of the fifteenth century. However, there was also a sharp increase in the numbers of these ships by the 1440s, and the appearance of vessels in the 200 ton-plus range. One ship calling at Bordeaux in 1444–45 was even able to load 380 tons of wine, perhaps the largest cargo of any English-built merchant ship in the Middle Ages. The ship in question was the Grace de Dieu, built on the Yorkshire coast in 1439, which later ended up as a derelict royal warship on the river Hamble in the 1480s. A muster of ships in 1450–1 for an expedition confirms that the English at this time possessed significant numbers of large merchant ships. Out of sixty-three vessels collected, eighteen were between 200 and 400 tons’ burden. Between the 1420s and the 1450s the English merchant fleet seems to have had more large vessels than it was to have for another century and a half or so. It is ironic that the English government of the time lacked the finance and other capabilities to make effective use of this shipping in the revived war with the French Crown.22

Significant numbers of non-royal ships were also private warships, used by pirates and privateers, and were of great value to the Crown in times of war. This fact served to undermine royal efforts to curb piracy. Some of the biggest pirates, like the notorious John Hawleys of Dartmouth, father and son (1370s to 1430s) were important men, powerful and honoured in their own localities, and too useful to the Crown to ever suffer much for their piratical activities. Pirates favoured speedy oared balingers and barges, and John Hawley the Younger even presented one of his vessels, the balinger Craccher, to Henry V. The masters of royal ships could be pirates. John William, who rose to be the master of the great ship Jesus, had committed at least one act of piracy when he had earlier worked for John Hawley as master of the Craccher. Some monarchs, such as Henry IV, seem to have used privateering campaigns as a means of exerting pressure on enemies without the risks of open war.23

What did technology mean in all of this? Actual shipbuilding for the English Crown in the Middle Ages concentrated on the construction of oared fighting ships, rather than sailing vessels. The former were probably much less easy to come by than the latter, and certainly few people but the king would have been able to crew and operate the sorts of big galleys constructed for Kings John and Edward I. Even in Henry V’s time, the actual construction of ships for the Crown was restricted to four ‘great ships’ (super-large, clinker-built carracks) and eight balingers or barges.24 Purchase played very little part in Henry V’s ship procurement ‘process’: at least seventeen of the twenty-eight other sailing ships acquired by the Crown in this period were prizes. Later in the century, in the time of Henry VII in the 1480s and 1490s, the four new ships built for the king were two carracks and two oared barks. Any other vessels were acquired by alternative means.

The shipbuilding industry that built these vessels was ‘civilian’ in nature. Despite some naval base or dockyard construction in the time of John and Henry V, there were no specialised warship building yards in the sense of those that existed in the eighteenth century. The Crown had to rely on the dispersed and somewhat disorganised English shipbuilding industry for what construction and maintenance work it required. The industry worked entirely in clinker construction until the mid-fifteenth century, and its gradual conversion to carvel construction from about the 1450s still lacks a complete explanation, although factors such as lower costs (less iron, more wood, fewer specialist workers required) and improved hull serviceability may well have played a part. This, however, was a general change for shipping of all types, and it is clear that not all English warships were being built carvel-fashion until the early decades of the sixteenth century.25

Changes in English ship rig may have been fostered by the royal fleet.  Certainly Henry V’s fleet changed rapidly from having no two-masters in 1415 to a situation in 1420 where it had one apparent three-master and eleven two-masters, of which four were English-built. Five of the two-masters were former Genoese carracks. Two other ships were possibly from Spain and one from Bayonne. Certainly the ‘new’ two-masted technology was available in other parts of northern Europe at about the same time, but there is clear evidence of its rapid adoption for ships of the English royal fleet, apparently to improve large sailing ships and long, low balingers.26

The four ‘great ships’ built for Henry V between 1413 and 1420 represented another major innovation. It was not unusual for an English monarch to have a single large sailing ship as a prestige piece. King John had had a ‘great ship’ called Dieulabeneie, and Richard II and Henry IV had had the 300-ton Trinity, for example. The first of Henry V’s great ships was a rebuild, at about 400 tons, of the old Trinity, renamed the Trinity Royal. The second, the Holigost, was a rebuild of a large Spanish ship, but the biggest ones, the 1000-ton Jesus and the 1400-ton Grace Dieu were constructed from scratch. As a group, the great ships appear to have been clinker-built versions of Mediterranean carracks. Certainly the Genoese carracks hired by the French at this time represented a major threat to English naval forces. The great ships were different in size and scale from earlier large royal ships, and represented a trend in English and other north European warship building that can be traced into the sixteenth century and beyond. The large war carracks were potent symbols of royal power. They carried as many people as a large village. The Jesus had a crew of 201. The tall, heavily manned ships were perceived to be of great use in the form of sea warfare that was resolved by boarding actions. It is difficult to point to the use of such carracks as being particularly decisive, but it should be noted that both the Holigost and the Trinity Royal were in the thick of the fighting in the battle of Harfleur in 1416, a battle which not only saw the capture of three large carracks, but also resulted in an English victory.27

As discussed above, guns appear to have had very little effect on the nature of naval warfare in northern Europe before the sixteenth century. However, if this was entirely the case, one does wonder why there was a sudden sharp increase in the numbers of guns carried on English warships in the latter part of the fifteenth century. There must have been a perception that larger numbers of guns made a warship more effective. Although the bulk of these were small, anti-personnel swivel guns, this does not mean that they were mere popguns. In a boarding action, the 600-ton Regent would have been able to fire fifty or more such weapons at an enemy ship alongside, and the relatively quick reloading time for a small breech-loader could have meant that the fire from the ship was able to devastate any open decks or perhaps even penetrate light superstructure. For people who believed in the reality of hell, the noise and smoke alone could have been very daunting. Although it may not merit the title of an ‘armament revolution’, the rising use of gunpowder weapons on sailing warships in the second half of the fifteenth century was a real phenomenon, one that served to make the ship a deadlier instrument of war. However, it was a phenomenon that had probably already reached its limits by 1500. Until the invention of the lidded gun port in the early sixteenth century, it was not possible to mount guns in any numbers below the castle or the weather deck. This in turn limited the size of weapons that could be used, as a large battery of heavy guns could pose major stability problems. Once the lidded gun port and the gunroom were developed, it became easier to carry heavy guns, as these could go below the weather deck, lowering the vessel’s centre of gravity. The ship-borne heavy gun eventually became a destroyer of ships, but the techniques and tactics required to make this possible were not fully developed until the seventeenth century. The rise of the ship-borne gun in the fifteenth century was in the context of existing tactics. It made ‘red war yet redder’ rather than revolutionised it.28

Changing maritime technology did transform the ways in which the English waged war at sea in the Middle Ages, but the transformations in England seem to have been matched by those in other countries. England kept up with new developments, and perhaps led the way in some, but prevailing medieval economic and technological conditions made it impossible for anyone to maintain a decisive technological margin for very long. Superiority in numbers and the ability to raise fleets when needed seem to have mattered more, giving the English a sufficient edge over their naval opponents in Wales, Scotland and France. Although French forces were able to stage many devastating raids on the English coastline during the Hundred Years War, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries French armies were never able to invade England. By contrast, the English were able to invade France on a number of occasions, culminating in Henry V’s conquest of northern France and his recognition as heir to the French throne. However, medieval England’s wars were ultimately won or lost on land. The only way in which the English could gain even partial control of the English Channel was to conquer Normandy, which was achieved, briefly, between 1419 and 1450. The English naval forces could never have won the long series of conflicts between England and her enemies in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries but they were effective enough to make it possible for the English Crown to undertake periodic sea-borne offensives against those enemies. Without English medieval sea power, disorganised and ramshackle as it sometimes was, there would have been no Hundred Years War and all the terrors that went with it.

16 Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, 128–30 and 158–9.
17 Susan Rose, ed., The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings and the Accounts and Inventories of William Soper, Keeper of the King’s Ships, 1422–1427 . Navy Records Society 123 (London, 1982), 52.
18 PRO E364/54, E364/59 and E364/61, passim.
19 PRO E364/54 D, m.2r – F, m.2v, passim, and E364/59 F, m.2r.
23 J. C. Appleby, ‘Devon Privateering from Early Times to 1688’, in M. Duffy et al., eds, The New Maritime History of Devon, vol. I: From Early Times to the Late Eighteenth Century (London, 1992), 91; Rose, The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings, 42, 245 and 250; C. J. Ford, ‘Piracy or Policy: The Crisis in the Channel, 1400–1403’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series 29 (1979), 63–78.
24 Rose, The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings, 245–52.
25 Friel, The Good Ship, 39–67 and 170–80.
26 Rose, The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings, 245–52.
27 PRO E101/42/39; Carr Laughton, ‘Naval Accounts’, 74.
28 Thomas Hardy, ‘Channel Firing’.

OARS, SAILS AND GUNS: THE ENGLISH AND WAR AT SEA, c.1200–c.1500 Part I


The warships in the North in 12th century obtained the second mast. On the mast, which stands nearer to the bow with the small inclination forward, was fastened the sail, which made possible for vessel to sail in the crosswind. On such vessels had a large enough deck they could transport horses.


By Ian Friel
This is a survey which focuses on technological change and war at sea as seen through the evidence of English sources. England was a regional naval power in northern Europe between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. For much of this period, the main enemies were France, and, to a lesser extent, Scotland and the Welsh princes. The French, Scottish and Welsh wars meant that the operations of English ships at war were restricted mostly to the waters around the British Isles and to the coasts between northern Spain and the Low Countries. The demands on English naval forces were limited compared to what would come after the mid-seventeenth century.

The shipping resources available to English governments in this period varied considerably. Although royally owned ships were generally at the core of major naval operations, at no time before the seventeenth century was the government able to undertake major naval expeditions without using substantial numbers of ships owned by commoners. Medieval English governments for the most part also lacked naval dockyards and had to rely on the ‘civilian’ shipbuilding industry to supply some of its vessels. This means that the financial accounts and other records of medieval English naval activity are also important sources for the history of English merchant shipping and for the general history of maritime technology. The technology of naval warfare changed for England in the later Middle Ages. How much the development of ships and guns changed practice at sea is difficult to assess but certainly the effects contributed to the evolution of standing naval forces.

Until the fourteenth century, oared vessels provided a major part of the striking power in English war fleets. The English called them ‘galleys’. As far as we can make out, these were clinker-built vessels with a double-ended hull form, carrying a single square sail. Until the late thirteenth century, or perhaps slightly before, they were steered by a side- or quarter-rudder alone, although it is apparent that by the 1290s stern rudders were also fitted to some big English galleys. It is also clear that by the 1290s, if not earlier, some had fighting castles at the bow, stern and masthead.1 All this said, there is still much that is not known about them. Were they Anglicised descendants of Viking drakkar, or did they derive ultimately from the big oared warships built for King Alfred of Wessex in the late 890s?2 Only archaeology can help to answer that question now.

The term ‘galley’ declined in English usage in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Even by the early fifteenth century, the English were tending to use ‘galley’ to designate Mediterranean-style vessels. From the second half of the fourteenth century to the late fifteenth century most English oared fighting ships were called balingers or barges, or, latterly, ‘barks’.3 These were also clinker-built oared fighting ships, indistinguishable in their recorded written details from the earlier galleys (apart, in the fifteenth century, from changes in rig), whatever they actually looked like. Some of these oared fighting vessels could be very big. In the early thirteenth century, King John had galleys with at least seventy rowers, and out of eight galleys built for Edward I in the 1290s, five had one hundred oars or more. As late as 1401, a hundred-oar balinger was built for Henry IV.4 Oared fighting ships remained part of the English naval inventory right into the sixteenth century, although their status and numbers changed. The first English-based navy of any significance to be created after the Norman Conquest was built up by kings Richard I and John in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, to fight the French king. The loss of the Duchy of Normandy to France in 1204 placed an important seafaring region in the hands of an enemy, accentuating the need for naval forces. In 1206, John had forty-seven galleys on station at ports from King’s Lynn to Gloucester, plus another five in Ireland, a massive royal fleet for the Middle Ages. He also had sailing ships of various sizes but the galleys were clearly the principal combat arms.5 Oared fighting ships needed large crews and this probably limited their ability to stay at sea. Their great military advantage was a tactical one: they could move independently of the wind in combat. Long-distance travel under oars was probably never much of an option, but one should not exclude the possibility that such feats did take place. There is little doubt that the English Crown made much use of oared craft between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. Contemporary financial accounts record the purchase of large numbers of oars, and the crews of galleys, barges and balingers were generally much larger than those of sailing vessels of equivalent tonnage, because of the need to have enough men to work the oars. Analysis of surviving tonnage and crew data for English royal ships between 1399 and 1422 suggests a sharp disparity between the crew sizes of oared and sailing vessels of the same tonnage, with oared vessels on average having nearly twice as many men for a given tonnage.6

That said, it is evident that by the early fifteenth century, sailing ships had supplanted oared craft as the main striking force in English war fleets. The growing size of sailing vessels, and the adoption of fighting castles, may well have been one reason for the downgrading of the oared vessel in English service. The Danish archaeologist Ole Crumlin Pedersen has put forward the hypothesis that the introduction of fighting castles from the late twelfth century onwards (they are first depicted on a seal of 1199) was perhaps originally developed to give oared craft an edge in combat against higher-sided sail-driven ships like the cog. Cogs and their like of course acquired castles, re-establishing their height advantage. Although other scholars, such as Jan Bill, have challenged this hypothesis, it remains a possibility.7 Height and crew size were crucial advantages in medieval sea warfare, and it is likely that large, castle-equipped sailing ships could only have been defeated, in most cases, by ships of similar type. This helped to undermine the value of the galley and similar oared vessels as a primary type of warship in late medieval northern Europe, at least in English service. Certainly by the time of King Henry V (1413–22), there had been a decisive shift in the composition of English royal naval forces. Oared balingers and barges were still important, but more as reconnaissance and patrol craft. For example, Henry V’s personal fleet was probably at its peak strength, if not peak numbers, in about March 1417. It then had twenty-seven operational vessels with an estimated total tonnage of 6400 tons with 600 tons of this being estimated since the tonnages of one carrack and four balingers are unknown. Eleven of the twenty-seven vessels were oared balingers, but they only made up about 10 per cent of the total tonnage. The other approximately 90 per cent consisted of sailing ships. The English naval victories at Harfleur in 1416 and off the Chef de Caux in 1417 involved the capture of seven very large Genoese carracks, something that would have been very difficult if not impossible for oared ships alone as the carracks enjoyed a substantial height advantage over oared warships. There can be little doubt that these two victories were chiefly gained by sailing ships.8 In fifteenth-century English war fleets the oared vessel seems to have been an important auxiliary craft, but never much more than that.9

Until the early fifteenth century, English ships, like those elsewhere in northern Europe, used the common north European one-masted rig with a single square sail. This rig was exported to the Mediterranean in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries along with the hull form of the cog. In the fourteenth century Mediterranean sailors added a smaller lateen mizzen to this rig to help make the new, large ship-type, the cocha, called a carrack by the English and other northerners, more manoeuvrable.

The earliest-known English record of a two-master dates from 1410, when a two-masted Genoese carrack captured by pirates was acquired by King Henry IV. The English Crown began using and building two-masted vessels in the years 1416 and 1417, probably learning about the technology from captured ships and seamen. The purpose-built two-masters were either large sailing ships or long, low balingers, which were perhaps perceived to benefit from the improved manoeuvrability. It seems that the 1400-ton great ship Grace Dieu, completed in 1418, had three masts, although the precise arrangement is unknown. However, it is clear that in the 1430s an English royal balinger was rebuilt as a three-master, with a small square-rigged foresail to help improve its handling. It is possible that the square-rigged foremast was an English invention, but such developments could hardly be kept secret. By the 1450s and 1460s the three-masted square-rig was spreading across both northern and southern Europe and undergoing development. The result was a handier ship, undoubtedly much better suited to the rigours of transoceanic travel than the old one-masters would have been. As such, the three-master became one of the major instruments of oceanic colonisation and conquest, along with other types like the Portuguese caravel.10

The Portuguese, whether willingly or not, were also significant in the transmission of southern skeleton-building technology to northern Europe between the 1430s and 1450s. The new type was generally called a carvel by northerners, after the ‘caravel’. The first known English-built carvel, Sir John Howard’s Edward, was constructed in the 1460s. By the early decades of the sixteenth century the technique was being used for the construction of major English war carracks.11 These two epoch-making technological developments in sail plan and hull construction transformed the nature of European shipping and made European transoceanic enterprise feasible, but their precise effect on naval warfare is less easy to chart. The new rig made ships more manoeuvrable, but it became a general standard, not something that conferred a special tactical advantage on any one power. Skeleton construction later made possible the creation of lidded gun ports and gunrooms, but that did not come until the sixteenth century.12

The first recorded shipboard gun was a small weapon, used for firing lead pellets and quarrels or crossbow bolts, bought for the English royal ship All Hallows Cog in 1337 or 1338. Guns seem to have remained relatively unimportant in English sea warfare until the fifteenth century. Of the thirty or so ships possessed by Henry V between 1413 and 1422, only about half had guns and the total of actual weapons did not exceed forty-two. The most heavily armed ship was the 760-ton ‘great ship’ Holigost, with seven guns. Where their material is stated, the guns were almost invariably made of iron, although in 1411 a barge of Henry IV’s had both an iron gun and a bronze one. The weapons were called both ‘cannons’ and ‘guns’ although the terms were seldom used interchangeably for the weaponry of the same ship, perhaps hinting at technical differences. The guns were breach-loaders, often with two or even three separate powder-chambers apiece, to speed reloading. We do not know if these were wheeled cannon or swivel guns.

Surviving English ship inventories are rare between the early 1420s and the late 1470s and there are no royal ship inventories between the mid-1430s and the mid-1480s. This is unfortunate as major developments in rig and ship-borne gunnery took place in this period. For one thing it is clear that between the 1420s and the 1480s a revolution had occurred in the provision and use of shipboard guns. Although overshadowed by the introduction of lidded gun ports in the sixteenth century, it was clearly one of the major stages in the development of the warship, and comparatively little is known about it.13

Records of the 1470s and 1480s reveal that significant increases had taken place in the numbers of ship-borne guns since the 1420s. In the late 1470s Sir John Howard owned two private warships, the George Howard and Edward Howard. They carried, respectively, 16 and 15 wrought-iron breech-loading ‘bombards’. A few years later, in 1485, a royal ship, the Mary of the Tower, had 48 guns and 11 chambers, plus 12 hakbushes, a crude form of musket. Another royal vessel, the Martin Garsia, had 30 guns, 86 chambers, 100 gunstones, that is, round shot made of stone, and 300 tampions or shot wads. The two largest of Henry VII’s ships, the 1000-ton Regent and the 600-ton Sovereign, built in the 1480s, carried prodigious numbers of guns. The 1495 inventory of the Sovereign lists 130 guns of three types, serpentines of iron and bronze and stone guns, all breech-loaders, and all mounted on swivels, called ‘miches’, rather than carriages. These technological changes were complemented by changes in personnel. Gunners began to appear as separate specialists aboard English warships in the 1470s, and were common on large warships by the 1490s.14

Despite the increasing numbers of guns, there is no sign that they had much effect on English naval tactics before the sixteenth century. All late-fifteenth century English warships carried large numbers of bills, bows and other hand weapons, arms that were used to fight the boarding actions that still decided the outcome of any naval battle. There is no reason to believe that the English had much notion of the effective use of stand-off gunnery until well into the sixteenth century. Famously, both the Regent and the French warship La Cordeliere were destroyed when both caught fire during a boarding action in 1512. Swivel guns of the type which bristled from ships in the 1490s would have been only useful as anti-personnel weapons. It is possible that one reason for their use in large numbers was that it was anticipated that a significant number would be unreliable. Twenty-nine of the Regent’s guns were lost in unspecified ways in the 1497 English campaign against Scotland.15 Heavy ship-borne guns that could sink other vessels only began to make their appearance in north European waters in the early sixteenth century. For most contemporary seafarers the aim in battle was to capture an enemy ship, not sink it, if at all possible. A captured ship could be a valuable prize, and surviving officers could be ransomed. A sunken ship might mean one less enemy vessel, but it was otherwise no use to anyone.
1 Ian Friel, The Good Ship: Ships, Shipbuilding and Technology in England, 1200–1520 (London, 1995), 39–115, passim.
2 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, trans. Michael Swanton (London, 1996), 90.
3 Dorothy Burwash, English Merchant Shipping 1460–1540 (Newton Abbot, 1969), 103 ff.
4 L. G. Carr Laughton, ‘Naval Accounts for 1209–1211’, Mariner’s Mirror, 28 (1942),74–7; Friel, The Good Ship, 113.
5 N. A. M. Rodger, The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain, Volume I: 660–1649 (London, 1997), 45–54.
6 Ian Friel, ‘Documentary Sources and the Medieval Ship: Some Aspects of the Evidence’, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 12 (1983), 55.
7 Ole Crumlin Pedersen, ‘The Vikings and Hanseatic Merchants’, in G. Bass, ed., A History of Seafaring Based on Underwater Archaeology (London, 1972), 181–204.
8 Public Records Office E364/59, passim; Friel, The Good Ship, 151–2; Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, 143–4.
9 N. A. M. Rodger, ‘The Development of Broadside Gunnery 1450–1650’, Mariner’s Mirror, 82 (1996), 301–24.
10 Friel, The Good Ship, 84–109 and 157–70.
11 Ibid., 170–80.
12 Cf. Rodger, ‘Broadside Gunnery’.
13 Friel, The Good Ship, 150–6.
14 PRO C76/163, m.6; Michael Oppenheim, ed., Naval Account and Inventories in the Reign of Henry VII 1495–7, Navy Records Society 8 (London, 1896), 38, 50, 69, 194–5, 261 and 339–44; Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, 160–1.
15 Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, 170; Oppenheim, Naval Accounts, vol. 8, 279.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Egyptian– New Kingdom Period – THE SEA PEOPLES



The term Sea Peoples is used collectively in the inscriptions on the temple walls at Karnak and Medinet Habu to describe the confederation of peoples or tribes who attacked Egypt during the reigns of Merenptah and Ramesses III. They are also mentioned in cuneiform records, Greek legends, and in the Great Papyrus Harris, the most extensive state archive ever discovered in Egypt, which most likely formed part of the king’s funerary temple archive. It was probably compiled by order of Ramesses IV to record the benefactions that his father, Ramesses III, had bestowed upon the god’s temples and to list the events of his reign. It was apparently written on the day of his death to ensure that he was accepted by the gods in his afterlife.

The Sea Peoples probably came from different homelands in Asia and were forced, perhaps by hunger and other factors, to exert increasing pressure at first against the Hittite kingdom, which was overwhelmed, and then against the coastal area of Syria/Palestine. Finally, they reached Egypt but were repulsed by the Pharaoh’s troops, although some remained and settled in the Delta and in Palestine. Other groups probably established themselves in the Mediterranean lands and islands. Some of their names are similar to, and have therefore been tentatively identified with, later peoples who lived in this area.

The Akawasha
One group, the Akawasha, supported the Libyans in attacking Egypt in year 5 of Merenptah’s reign. They are not represented in Egyptian temple reliefs, but inscriptions indicate that they were circumcised because their hands rather than their genitals were amputated and piled up for presentation to the Egyptian king when the count was made of his slain enemies (presumably only complete parts—hands or genitals— were counted). There is a theory that the Akawasha may have been the Achaeans (Mycenaean Greeks); the similarity of the names “Achaean” and “Akawasha” has led to this tentative identification. But if this is true the evidence that the Akawasha were circumcised is surprising since there is no other indication that the Greeks were circumcised.

Similarly, it has been suggested that the Denen may be the Danoi of Homer’s Illiad and that the Lukka were possibly the Lycians who lived on the south coast of Asia Minor.

The Peleset
The Peleset, who fought against Ramesses III, have been tentatively identified as migrants who, perhaps in two or three stages, migrated into Palestine where they became the Philistines. They are shown in the Egyptian temple wall scenes as clean shaven, wearing a paneled kilt decorated with tassels and a chest protector made of a ribbed corselet or of horizontal strip bandages of linen. On their heads there is a circle of upright reeds or leather strips, and they carry spears and sometimes a rapier sword and circular shield.

They brought their families and possessions in wooden carts with solid wheels (Anatolian in origin) drawn by humpback cattle (such as those bred in Anatolia but not in the Aegean or Palestine). Thus, the Peleset must have had close associations with Anatolia, and they also seem to have had some connection with the Akawasha.

Theories about their homeland include the suggestion of Caphtor (because of biblical references), which can perhaps be identified with Crete or, less probably, with Cilicia in Asia Minor. Crete or Caphtor may only have been places they visited en route, however, and their place of origin may lie elsewhere. The Peleset and the Tjekker (who also finally settled in Palestine where they worked as sea pirates out of the ports) are shown in the Egyptian reliefs wearing feathered headdresses and carrying round shields.
The Teresh and Sheklesh
The Teresh or Tursha appear in the same scenes with beards and pointed kilts with tassels. Strips of linen or leather were bandaged around their chests to protect them, and they carried a pair of spears or a khepesh sword. They were circumcised and may have been the Tyrsenoi (ancestors of the Etruscans), although no evidence yet supports such an early date for the arrival of the Etruscans in their later homeland. It is possible, however, that the Teresh first traveled elsewhere, only reaching this destination much later. In appearance the Teresh resemble the Sheklesh. Like the Sherden, Akawasha, and Teresh the Sheklesh were circumcised (their hands rather than their genitals thus appear in the representation of the enemy count delivered to the Egyptian king). Archaeological evidence in Sicily indicates the arrival of newcomers at the time when the Sheklesh were seeking a new home in the Mediterranean, and it is possible that, as the Sicels, they now reached this island and established themselves there.

The Sherden
The Sherden, first mentioned in Egyptian records in the reign of Amenhotep III, were described as pirates; they served as mercenaries in the Egyptian army from Dynasty 18 onward and were rewarded by gifts of land for their service. In the conflicts with Ramesses III they fought both for and against the Egyptians, and later they were numbered among the pharaoh’s bodyguard. Egyptian temple reliefs show them with distinctive helmets with a large knob or disk at the apex and projecting bull’s horns. They carried round shields and two-edged swords.

They had a history as seafarers or pirates but were also probably associated with particular locations. Cyprus was perhaps their original homeland where bronze working was well established, but they may have moved on to Sardinia (according to the earliest Phoenician inscription found on the island, the name of Sardinia was “Shardan”). One theory identifies the Sherden with the bronze-working people who apparently arrived suddenly on the island between 1400 and 1200 BC and are known to have constructed the local nuraghi (stone towers). Bronze statuettes found on the island depict figures with round shields and horned helmets (but without disks) similar to the appearance of the Sherden. Also, on the neighboring island of Corsica, tombstone scenes depict warriors with banded corselets, daggers, and helmets.

The origins and eventual destinations of the Sea Peoples remain obscure, but they had a radical and far-reaching impact on the political and historical map of the area. It was a feature of their relationship with the Egyptians that some groups of Sea Peoples fought both for and against them. Although Egypt was successful in repelling their attacks, the arrival of these people probably marked the beginning of the Egyptians’ slow and almost imperceptible decline.

The Egyptian Navy IV – New Kingdom Period – Sea Battles


From earliest times the Egyptians engaged in naval conflict. The famous Gebel el-Arak knife, which was found in Egypt and dates to the Predynastic Period, has scenes carved on its ivory handle that depict some kind of armed conflict in which a sea battle is fought out between two different types of ships. This may represent an attempt to invade Egypt, or one stage in a conflict for which one possible entry route would have been across the Red Sea and into the Eastern Desert before passing into the upper part of the Nile Valley.

There were later naval conflicts between vessels and their crews, for example, when the Egyptians captured two Syrian ships during the fifth campaign of Tuthmosis III. In the later years of the New Kingdom, however, the Egyptians fought classic sea battles against an enemy referred to as the “Sea Peoples” in the inscribed records of the conflicts preserved on the temple walls at Karnak and Medinet Habu. They were a confederation of peoples or tribes who attacked Egypt during the reigns of Merenptah and Ramesses III. They probably came from several different homelands, but after the turn of the thirteenth century they were apparently driven southward, perhaps by hunger and displacement. Some groups, however, were known in earlier times, and one— the Sherden—fought as Egyptian mercenaries in the reign of Amenhotep III.

Some Sea Peoples fought as allies of the Hittites against Ramesses II and his troops at the Battle of Kadesh. It was their increased and repeated pressure, however, together with Assyrian attacks, that eventually overthrew the Hittite kingdom. The Sea Peoples then attacked Cyprus and the coastal cities of Syria before moving down through Palestine and joining Libyan tribes to form a coalition that attacked Egypt from the west. They intended to invade the Egyptian coast and then to establish a new homeland in Palestine and the Egyptian Delta. They brought their families and possessions with them, transported in oxdrawn carts. Ramesses III finally defeated them when he blocked their entry by land into Egypt by deploying his garrisons in Palestine; simultaneously, he destroyed their fleet in a sea battle fought in one of the mouths of the Nile.

During the earlier reign of Ramesses II the Sea Peoples had been pressing down into Asia, the Aegean area, and Libya, while a coalition of Libyan tribes—the Tjemehu, Tjehenu, Meshwesh, and Libu—were possibly driven by hunger to invade and settle in Egypt. Ramesses II dealt with these incursions by building a series of forts along the western coast road, but the threat was renewed during the reign of his son Merenptah.

After the long reign of Ramesses II, his thirteenth son Merenptah was faced with several major crises. In year 5 of his reign (c.1231 BC) there was an attempted Libyan invasion. Driven by hunger to raid the western Delta, a coalition of Libyan tribes (the Libu, Kehek, and Meshwesh) joined forces with the Sea Peoples who now approached Egypt from the Aegean Islands and the eastern Mediterranean seeking new homes. They included the Sherden, Sheklesh, Lukka, Tursha, and Akawasha, and they brought their families, cattle, and personal possessions with them.

This coalition, led by a Libyan prince, engaged the Egyptians just northwest of Memphis. Merenptah mobilized his army and after a six-hour battle achieved complete victory. The Egyptians recorded that they took over 9,000 prisoners and large quantities of booty; they also killed many of their enemies, and the Libyan prince fled back to his own people in disgrace.

This conflict is recorded in several Egyptian sources, including inscriptions in the Temple of Karnak and on a stela from Athribis and the famous Israel Stela. This granite stela usurped from Amenhotep III was set up in Merenptah’s funerary temple at Thebes.

The danger posed by the Sea Peoples was temporarily halted, but under Ramesses III it reached a climax. He was the last great warrior king of Egypt although he was forced to pursue a defensive rather than an active policy. In year 5 of his reign he faced a coalition including the Libyan tribes of Sped, Libu, and Meshwesh who were again seeking land in the Delta. The king completely defeated them and took captives who were forced to become laborers in Egypt.

In year 8, however, there was an even greater threat when a confederation of Sea Peoples (including the Sheklesh, Sherden, and Weshwesh, who all occur in earlier records, and the new groups known as Peleset, Tjekker, and Denen) attacked Egypt. They planned to settle in Syria, Palestine, and the Egyptian Delta and once again brought their families, possessions, and ox carts.

This time the action involved a double attack mounted from the sea and land; one group marched down the Syrian coast, accompanied by their families, while a considerable fleet escorted them offshore. Ramesses III mobilized his garrisons in Palestine to hold off the land attack while he prepared his main troops in Egypt. At the same time the Egyptian fleet trapped the enemy ships in one of the mouths of the Nile and destroyed them. In the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu there is an important record, preserved in wall reliefs and inscriptions, of his conflict with these enemies. Details of this victory are recorded in the scenes rather than the inscriptions, providing a unique depiction of a naval battle. Various stages of the engagement are shown in one picture: Egyptian soldiers attack the enemy from the deck of their ship while opposite them an enemy vessel is held in the vice of grappling irons. Its crew is in disarray, and two fall into the water. Another enemy ship is attacked by a shower of arrows shot from the land. The inscriptions record that a net was prepared to trap the enemy. When they entered the river mouths they were caught in it and butchered to death.

These pictorial representations show the Egyptian fleet returning home with numerous bound captives; one seeks to escape but is taken by a soldier on the bank. Thus, the invaders were utterly defeated and the incursions of the Sea Peoples were arrested. Some of the attackers such as the Meshwesh managed to remain in Egypt, however, and became soldiers for the Egyptians. Eventually they were rewarded for their services with gifts of land, and a descendant of this group became the founder of Dynasty 22. Other tribes—the Peleset and Tjekker—remained and settled in Palestine where they eventually supplanted Egyptian sovereignty.

Ramesses III faced a final conflict in year 11 when he again defeated a Libyan coalition of Libu, Meshwesh, and five other unnamed tribes who tried to overrun the Delta. Supported by his forces at the frontier forts, the king engaged in a land battle and expelled the coalition, killing more than 2,000 and taking many prisoners and much booty. The commander of the Meshwesh was captured and killed. The danger of direct invasion by these people was thus eliminated, but their arrival in the region had a profound effect on Egypt and her neighbors.

The Egyptian Navy III – New Kingdom Period – Ships and Seafaring


The famous Royal Ship of King Cheops (fourth dynasty ruler of the Old Kingdom), more formally known as Khufu, is a perfect example of a papyriform boat. Discovered around 1954, the Royal Ship is still considered to be one of the world’s most outstanding archaeological artifacts. The ancient boat had been dismantled into 651 separate parts, and its nearly perfectly preserved timbers were found in 13 scrupulously arranged layers that were buried in a sealed boat pit which was carved into the Giza plateau’s limestone bedrock. It took years for the boat to be painstakingly reassembled, primarily by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities’ chief restorer, Ahmed Youssef Moustafa (later known as Hag Ahmed Youssef). Once completed, the Royal Ship measured approximately 150 feet in length. The timbers were made of Lebanese cedar while the pegs and other small parts were made from native acacias, sycamores and sidders.
Cedar was not new to the Egypt of Cheops' time - it had been found in predynastic graves, indicating to modern archaeologists that trade had occurred with Lebanon at least as far back as the end of the fourth millennium BC. Egyptians had what has been termed as an "emotional need" for trade with Lebanon because of that country’s large supply of the invaluable resinous woods and oils so necessary in Egyptian funerary customs. Trade with Lebanon had to be conducted over water, because the Egyptians had neither wheeled transportation nor heavy draft animals, and the brutal desert regions through which they would have had to travel hosted hostile tribes.  
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Ships used by the Egyptians have aroused great interest. Sources for our knowledge include inscriptions, detailed representations on tomb walls, pottery model boats placed in tombs, and rare examples of original ships such as the solar bark found at Giza. A technical vocabulary has also survived with details of the various types of boats and their equipment.

The Egyptians were skillful sailors and navigators who had extensive experience with the Nile, canals, lakes, and the sea. The earliest boats were papyrus skiffs for Nile transport, but even in predynastic times elaborate ships with oars and cabins were being built, and there was early trade with other lands. Evidence suggests that a variety of craft were developed for different purposes: There were squat transport ships incurved at prow and stern: long ships; funerary barks to transport the dead across the Nile to the necropolis or to make the journey to Abydos, sacred city of Osiris, or for sailing in the heavens; and barges to transport animals, corn, or stone.

In the New Kingdom, specialist warships were built and several innovations were introduced. After that time, the fleet did not alter much until Dynasty 26 (c.600 BC) when new features were introduced by the Greek and Phoenician mercenaries whom the Egyptians employed. In the New Kingdom, however, the so-called Knpwt (Byblos) ships and Keftiu (Cretan) ships played their part in the Egyptian navy. The Byblos ships may have been specially built in Egypt to go to Byblos on the Syrian coast, or this term may refer to some ships that were made at Byblos and other Syrian coastal towns. It is possible that these were modeled on ships that were captured by Tuthmosis III during his Syrian campaigns and subsequently used as the nucleus and prototype for his own navy. Although it is known that two Syrian ships were captured during his fifth campaign, however, these were probably taken for their cargoes rather than as technical prototypes. Even before the reign of Tuthmosis III the Egyptians had been sailing along the Red Sea to Punt for centuries; they had a long established reputation as excellent seafarers and traders, and they had constructed wooden seagoing ships since early times. It is likely that the name “Byblos ship” indicated its use for traveling to Byblos rather than its place of origin. Also, the Keftiu ship (often translated as “Cretan ship”) was probably the term for a type of vessel rather than any reference to its place of origin or source of influence.

Pits resembling the shape of boats have been found in early cemeteries alongside some royal tombs. These were probably the predecessors of the famous pits discovered in 1954 adjacent to Cheops’s pyramid at Giza. One of these pits has been opened and the contents carefully removed and reconstructed by staff from the Cairo Museum. The pit contained a boat, dismantled into pieces for burial in antiquity, that is now housed in a glass museum alongside the Great Pyramid. Over 130 feet long and made of carved pieces of cedar bonded with small cords, this complete vessel is one of the great sights in Egypt. The second pit will be opened in due course and may contain a similar bark.

The purpose of these funerary vessels is uncertain. One explanation is that they were included among the royal funerary equipment to provide the king with the means to sail the celestial sea in the company of the gods during his afterlife. They may have been funerary barks, however, used to transport the king’s body to his burial place on his last journey. The Giza example provides evidence of great skill in shipbuilding techniques early in the Old Kingdom.

During the Pharaonic Period boats were used for religious and funerary purposes, transporting festival crowds and funerals; for the transport of cargo around the empire (which stretched from Syria to Nubia) and beyond to Punt via the Red Sea; and for military exploits both to fight the enemy and to support the army by transporting soldiers and equipment. There were permanent dockyards inside Egypt as well as at Byblos on the Syrian coast where ships were built for Egyptian campaigns. Wood from Egypt and imported timbers from Lebanon, sent via Byblos, were used in the Delta dockyards.

The ships, sometimes 200 feet in length, were well built and had decks and cabins. In earliest times several large planks lain on each other were held together by pegs or ropes and then caulked with resin. Oars used to propel these vessels were arranged in a bank on either side; in the stern a single oar was mounted to act as a rudder, or two large oars were placed in the fork of the stern posts, and one or the other was raised by means of a rope to steer the ship. The vessel also had a trapezoidal sail.

Within Egypt and Nubia the Egyptian troops were transported by boat. In Egypt’s relations with its northern neighbors the Syrian coastal town of Byblos was of great importance, and Egypt’s close association with its inhabitants from Dynasty 2 down to the Ptolemaic Period was only interrupted when Egypt faced internal problems. Coniferous woods were imported from Byblos and environs (sea pine and parasol pine) and also from northern Lebanon (firs and cedars). The rulers of Byblos not only traded with the Egyptians but provided them with support and ships for their military campaigns.

Sea journeys were also undertaken to the land of Punt. This district, known as the “Terraces of Incense” or the “God’s Land,” was where the Egyptians sought incense for use in their temples. Egypt’s relations with Punt, which probably go back to the early dynastic period, may have involved some military coercion on the part of the Egyptians rather than reflecting a true trading partnership between equals.

The Egyptians were clearly excellent sailors both on the Nile and when they traveled to other lands. Their greatest naval victories over their enemies occurred not abroad, however, but when they were forced to protect the mouths of the Delta against the Sea Peoples and their allies in the late New Kingdom.

The Egyptian Navy II – New Kingdom Period – Organization



Most information about the organization of the royal navy comes from the Nauri Decree and various biographies of officials. These indicate that the recruits (w’w) were professional sailors, often the sons of military families. They usually served on warships. At first they were assigned to training crews directed by a standard-bearer of a training crew of rowers, and then they progressed to join the crew of a ship. No exact information is available about the number in each crew, but this appears to have varied from ship to ship. Scenes in some tombs at Thebes show the sailors clothed in special leather loin cloths (two kinds apparently existed).

On board the sailors were responsible to the commander of rowers; his superior was the standard-bearer. Navigation, however, was under the control of the ship’s captain and the captain’s mates. Their overseer, the chief of ship’s captains, probably commanded several ships. Above the standard-bearer was the commander of troops, a title usually held by older men; this seems to have been an appointment with land-based duties rather than active seagoing duties. At the pinnacle of the naval hierarchy were the admirals, responsible to the commander in chief (the crown prince), who in turn answered directly to the king. Promotion could be either to a higher rank or to a larger ship, and sometimes a man was transferred from a ship to an army regiment. In some inscriptions it is not always clear if the text refers to a ship or to a regiment.

Conditions of service for soldiers and sailors must have varied greatly, and some literary texts describe the miseries of their lives. In contrast to the tough physical conditions they often had to endure, however, there were compensations. In the New Kingdom they enjoyed many rewards including access to booty from campaigns, income from their estates, exemption from taxes, and in some cases royal rewards of gold for their bravery.

The army and navy eventually included both Egyptian professional fighters and foreign mercenaries such as Nubians, Syro-Palestinians, and, toward the end of the New Kingdom, Libyans and Sea Peoples.

The Egyptian Navy I – New Kingdom Period - Overview


A stone relief from Hatshepsut's temple shows the quarter rudder of an ancient Egyptian Punt ship. Archaeologists and ship designers based their replica ship design on historical images as well as artifacts from the caves at Wadi Gawasis.


The navy was an extension of the army. Its main role was to transport troops and supplies over long distances, although on rare occasions it engaged in active warfare. The sailors were not actually a separate force but acted as soldiers at sea. The two services were so closely associated that an individual could be promoted from the army to the navy and vice versa. During Dynasty 18 the navy played an important role in the Syrian campaigns, when Egypt was establishing and consolidating an empire, and again in Dynasty 20 when the Egyptians repelled the Sea Peoples and their allies. Essentially, however, in wartime the navy was regarded as a transport service for the army and a means of maintaining the bases that the army had set up; in peacetime it made a significant contribution to the development of trading links.

Inscriptional evidence provides useful details about the navy. The record left by Kamose, the Theban prince who helped to expel the Hyksos, relates that vessels were used as mobile bases for military operations in driving out the Hyksos. A wall relief in the Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu also indicates that ships were used for fighting as well as for transport. There is also the personal account of Ahmose, son of Ebana, in his tomb at el-Kab, describing his service in the navy during the early part of Dynasty 18. Reliefs in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri, Thebes, provide a vivid, illustrated account of the great expedition to Punt via the Red Sea, which occurred during this queen’s reign. The Gebel Barkal stela is inscribed with the information that ships were built every year at Byblos on the Syrian coast and sent with other tribute to Egypt. Thus, the Egyptians were able to take possession of a regular supply of excellent vessels even though their own country was deficient in building timber.

Byblos also played an important part in supplying the boats that Tuthmosis III took overland to cross the river Euphrates in his campaigns against the Mitannians. He also used ships during his sixth campaign to Syria/Palestine to transport some of his troops to the coastal area, and in his next campaign he sailed along the coastal cities of Phoenicia where he proceeded from one harbor to the next, subduing them and demanding supplies for his troops for their next onslaught. Subsequently, these harbors were regularly inspected and equipped to ensure that they would provide support for the king when he marched inland to extend his attacks against the Mitannians. Even when Egypt’s power declined in the late Dynasty 18, these Syrian ports still apparently flourished.

In addition to these coastal bases, the Egyptians also developed their naval center at home. One dockyard called Perw-nefer was built near Memphis and was probably the chief port and naval base during the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II in Dynasty 18. Ships sailed to Palestine and Syria from this port. There is also inscriptional information (the Edict of Horemheb, Nauri Decree of Sethos I, and Elephantine Decree of Ramesses III) regarding the legal rights possessed by fleets belonging to temples or private individuals.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

IBERIAN NAVAL POWER 1000–1650 part I


By Lawrence V. Mott

At the beginning of the eleventh century, one would have assumed the future naval power of the Iberian Peninsula would be the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Christian kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and the counties of Catalonia, were small entities restricted to the northern portion of the peninsula, while the kingdom of Portugal did not yet exist. The Caliphate of Cordoba on the other hand had a highly developed naval organisation, due in large part to the Viking raids of 844. In that year a fleet of approximately a hundred longships attacked and sacked Lisbon, Seville, Cadiz, Medina Sidonia, and Algeciras. They were eventually driven off, but the raids had made an impact on the Muslim government. The response was to establish permanent arsenals and squadrons at the coastal cities along with a series of coastal watchtowers. When the Vikings returned in 859 they found the Caliphate to be a much tougher opponent and, though able to sack Algeciras, they suffered a series of defeats that discouraged them from ever returning in force.

By 1000 a sophisticated naval administration had developed in the caliphate headed by the amir al-bahr, who was responsible for the administration of the port squadrons and the arsenals. As such the admiral was responsible for the security of the entire coastline. The breakup of the caliphate in 1002 saw the office of the amir al-bahr disappear, although it would reappear under the later Muslim administrations of the Almoravids and the following Almohads. This administration would be absorbed when Castile finally captured Seville in 1248 and would form the basis for its naval administration.

Compared to this centralised approach to naval warfare, the Christian kingdoms relied on a rather ad hoc system in which the defence of the northern coast was left to local ports. Part of the reason for this was that Castile and Aragon were occupied with expanding their kingdoms southward on the peninsula. However, by the twelfth century both kingdoms were beginning to augment their naval presence primarily in a response to their growing maritime commerce and the problem of endemic piracy. The line between piracy and commerce was often blurred and merchants often preferred to use galleys, which could quickly switch to an offensive posture when a target of opportunity presented itself.

Whereas the use of the galley for commerce and warfare had a long history in the Mediterranean, it was also the preferred warship in the Bay of Biscay at this time. In 1120 the bishop of Santiago de Compostella hired a Genoese shipwright to build two bireme galleys at the local arsenal to combat Muslim pirates. Muslim pirates operating on the north coast were a continuing problem in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but this was somewhat diminished by the establishment of the kingdom of Portugal and the fall of their base at Lisbon in 1147. The galley would remain the preferred warship in the Atlantic well into the fourteenth century. The most common warship in the major battles fought between Castile and Portugal in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was the galley, though by the thirteenth century the northern ports of Galicia and the Basque region were beginning to use armed keels, clinker-built ships based on Viking construction techniques. While primarily a merchant vessel, a keel could be quickly transformed into a warship with the addition of light castles fore and aft. In the siege of Seville in 1248 these northern vessels were used to blockade the Guadalquivir River to prevent Muslim vessels from relieving the city.

The twelfth century saw the expansion of the naval power of Castile, Aragon and Portugal, but these nascent naval powers were not dominant in any sense. Aragon was rapidly expanding its maritime presence in the Mediterranean following its merging with Catalonia in 1137. In an attempt to stamp out the endemic piracy emanating from the Balearic Islands, the count of Barcelona enlisted the help of Pisa in an expedition against the islands. Likewise the short-lived conquest of Almería in 1147 by a combined force from Castile and Aragon relied heavily on Genoese ships. The Portuguese, while having some success at sea against Muslim forces, still did not have a fleet sufficient to threaten them effectively. In 1182 the Portuguese attacked Ceuta with twenty-one galleys, but were overwhelmed by a defending Muslim fleet of fifty-four vessels. All of these states were relying heavily on private vessels for naval operations. While for specific undertakings the monarchies might build some vessels, none of them maintained a royal fleet. In large part this was due to the fact that the states had not consolidated their territories or authority, nor had they the fiscal mechanisms to maintain a permanent fleet.

The thirteenth century would see a number of profound changes in how naval warfare was conducted and organised. Much of the change was brought about by the consolidation of the territorial boundaries of Portugal, Castile and Aragon by the mid-thirteenth century. By 1251 Alfonso III of Portugal had expelled the Muslims from the Algarve, while Castile had captured Seville in 1248 and the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. The result of this expansion was that Castile found itself in possession of two significant coastlines separated by the sometimes hostile kingdom of Portugal. Aragon had expanded rapidly also, first by capturing Mallorca in 1229 and then by the complete conquest of Valencia in 1245. By 1250 the Crown of Aragon controlled the eastern seaboard of the Iberian Peninsula as well as the strategic island of Mallorca. The rapid expansion of all the kingdoms and decreasing open territory also meant that they would soon be involved in naval operations against each other as well as against the Muslims. By the second half of the thirteenth century these monarchies began to solidify their power and authority with attempts to regulate maritime trade and to control and monopolise maritime violence along their coasts. It is no coincidence then that the first state naval organisations began to appear at this time and while they had much in common, they also differed substantially. In a sense, the problems with financing and political authority encountered by these nascent organisations were precursors of the difficulties that would bedevil the Spanish monarchy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Aragon by the second half of the thirteenth century had expanded its interests to North Africa, and in doing so had come into direct conflict with Angevin pretensions for control of the Mediterranean. When the Aragonese invaded and captured Sicily in 1282 they obtained a strategic location and, more importantly, absorbed a naval administration dating back to the Norman period. For a period of thirteen years Aragon was able to operate a permanent royal fleet on a year-round basis. The reason this was sustainable was that the Crown of Aragon was able to establish a centralised naval organisation under the control of the office of the admiral. The old Norman and Hohenstaufen administrations provided an organisation and network of arsenals capable of maintaining a fleet. More importantly, Sicily had an established system of taxes for supporting the fleet so that the crown did not have rely on Iberian sources for funding, which would have been problematic at best. The result was that, until the Aragonese left Sicily by treaty in 1295, the Catalan-Aragonese fleet was one of the most effective naval units in the Mediterranean.

The Crown of Aragon also had the additional asset of an established maritime community in Catalonia that designed and built warships for the fleet. The result was the design of galleys with particularly high forecastles and poops to accommodate and protect the deadly accurate Catalan crossbowmen. This enabled the fleet to engage the much larger Angevin fleet, which used galleys with low bulwarks, and to defeat it on a consistent basis. The Catalan community also provided experienced commanders to the fleet. The combination of the Sicilian and Catalan maritime communities, organised under the control of a central naval authority, proved highly effective and was one factor contributing to the collapse of French ambitions in the Mediterranean during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. However, when the Catalan-Aragonese fleet left in 1295, the system essentially collapsed. The Sicilians lost most of the officer corps and the amphibious units. For the Crown of Aragon it was an issue of finances. From 1285 until 1348 the Crown was constrained by the union of Aragon and Valencia, which restricted the king’s ability to impose any new taxes. This political fragmentation ensured that the Crown would not be able to introduce fleet taxes in any form. Without consistent funding for the fleet, the centralised organisation developed in Sicily could not be maintained in Aragon. The office of the admiral would remain, but it only controlled the Arsenal and ships at Barcelona and did not have the overarching control of the other ports of the kingdom as it had in Sicily. The Catalan fleet was still a force to be reckoned with as the Genoese discovered in the loss of their fleet while fighting for the control of Sardinia in 1353. In 1382 the Catalans would defeat a Milanese fleet, ensuring that Sicily stayed in the Aragonese sphere of influence. However, the inability to impose a fleet tax and a small population base would constrict Catalan-Aragonese naval power.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Battle of Arginusae, (406 b.c.)


Peloponnesian War era triremes.

Largest naval battle pitting one Greek fleet against another. It occurred during the Peloponnesian War. In the spring of 406 b.c. the Athenian general Conon was trapped in the harbor of Mytilene on Lesbos by the Spartan nauarch (admiral) Callicratidas but managed to get word of his predicament to Athens. In 30 days the Athenians readied a fleet of 110 ships, financed in part by melting down gold statues from the Acropolis; to man the oars they recruited everyone of military age, from cavalrymen to slaves. Combined with allied ships at Samos, the fleet numbered more than 150 triremes.

Callicratidas left 50 triremes at Mytilene to maintain the blockade and with 120 ships sailed south to intercept the new fleet. The two fleets met near the Arginusae Islands, off the coast of Asia Minor about eight sea miles from the southeastern tip of Lesbos. The Athenian fleet was larger, but the Athenian crews were less experienced than those of the Peloponnesian fleet.

We have two narratives of the battle, by Xenophon and Diodorus Siculus, which differ on some points. Xenophon describes the Athenian disposition in some detail; they adopted a defensive posture because of the inferior seamanship of the Athenian crews. Diodorus includes the Arginusae Islands in the Athenian line of battle. The accounts of the battle itself are sketchy and do not adequately explain why the Athenians won. The turning point came with the death of the Spartan commander Callicratidas. Xenophon’s statement that he fell into the water and disappeared when his ship rammed another is generally accepted; Diodorus says he was cut down when his flagship was boarded. The Athenians won a solid victory: their enemies lost at least 70 of 120 triremes, including 9 of the 10 Spartan ships, while the Athenians lost only 25 ships. The Spartans abandoned their blockade of Conon, who was then free to join the rest of the Athenian fleet. For a period after the battle the Peloponnesian naval forces in the Aegean were too weak to challenge the Athenians.

Either for failing to rescue the Athenians on the sinking ships after the battle, or for failing to bury the Athenian dead, the eight victorious generals were removed from office and put on trial. Victims of demagoguery, the six generals who had returned to Athens were condemned to death.

Alcibiades (c. 460–404 b.c.)


Flamboyant Athenian admiral during the 431–404 b.c. Peloponnesian War. His ambition, aristocratic lineage, great wealth, and remarkable good looks marked Alcibiades for leadership. Early in the war he participated as an infantryman in the siege of Potidaea and fought on horseback at the battle of Delium. According to Athenian tradition, in the former battle his friend, the philosopher Socrates, saved his life, and in the latter conflict Alcibiades returned the favor by protecting Socrates during the Athenian retreat.

During the Peace of Nicias, which ended the first phase of the Peloponnesian War in 421 b.c., Alcibiades advocated an aggressive policy toward Sparta. Elected general in 416 b.c., he took part in the infamous attack on the small island state of Melos and the resulting atrocities. In the following year he successfully argued for a daring military expedition to Sicily and sailed as one of its commanders.

Unfortunately, his implication in the scandalous sacrilegious activities that had marred the departure of the expedition led to his recall before the fleet reached Sicily.

Fearing prosecution in Athens, Alcibiades himself guaranteed the expedition’s failure when he defected to the Spartans and advised them on how to blunt the Athenian assault on Sicily and penetrate Athenian home defenses. By these actions he severely weakened Athens.

Serving with the Spartan fleet in 413–411 b.c., Alcibiades encouraged an oligarchic revolution at Athens but then cast his lot with the democratic government in exile, which elected him admiral. His brilliant naval victory against the Spartans at Cyzicus allowed him to return to Athens in 408 b.c. and accept an extraordinary naval command. But in 406 b.c. the defeat of his fleet at Notion in his absence led to his final exile from Athens.

Despite this rejection, in 405 b.c. Alcibiades visited the Athenian fleet on the Hellespont to warn them of their precarious position, but his advice was not trusted. This set the scene for the destruction of the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami in the final battle of the Peloponnesian War. Shortly thereafter, Alcibiades died in an ambush in Phrygia, killed either by the Spartans or by a family in revenge for his seduction of one of their women