Tuesday, December 21, 2010


After Actium, as we have seen, Augustus concentrated his ships at two bases, Misenum and Ravenna, to watch the western and eastern Mediterranean. These two ports continued to be the chief bases of the Roman fleets for three centuries or more. Under the Empire, the fleets had, we may think, not much to do. Little is heard about piracy or other seaborne hazards. The ships served to transport troops to new postings, and protect the grain supply to the city.

Detachments from both Misenum and Ravenna were based in Rome, to handle the awnings at theatres and amphitheatres there. The overall manpower of both fleets remained at a high level, with about 10,000 sailors at each base. Under Augustus and his immediate successors the fleets were commanded by equestrian officers, often ex-legionary tribunes, and later by freedmen of the Emperor’s household. But after AD 70 the commands were integrated into the equestrian civil service, and became two of the most senior posts; the Elder Pliny, encyclopaedist, naturalist and a senior procurator in the government service, was prefect of the fleet at Misenum when he lost his life in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.18 Professional admirals in the Hellenistic mould, briefly renascent in the Civil Wars of the Late Republic, are not heard of again, nor (with very few exceptions) are the squadrons of the eastern dynasts; these were incorporated along with the kingdoms and principalities into the Roman system. Control of a fleet no longer required any professional skills in seafaring, or a particular interest in naval warfare; administrative competence was the only expertise demanded. Detached squadrons on the Rhine, Danube and the English Channel played a more serious role in the maintenance of security in the frontier context. Here again their commanders were equestrians in the course of a procuratorial career.

The fleets’ manpower was drawn from free-born provincials, like the auxiliaries; slaves were not used, as in popular modern tradition. The Ravenna fleet drew a substantial number of men from the Balkan provinces and Pannonia, the Misenum fleet from Sardinia, Corsica, Africa and Egypt. No experience of sailing, or a home on the coast, were deemed of special importance in the selection of men, any more than in modern navies. The men served 26 years (one year more than the legionaries and auxiliaries), receiving—like the latter —citizenship and regularisation of marriage on discharge. From the time of Vespasian sailors began to use Latin names, and this general improvement in status is marked also by the award, probably made under Domitian, of the title praetoria to both main fleets, indicating an acceptance of their role in the central defence of the Emperor’s position. The title matches the cohortes praetoriae of the imperial bodyguard. The civil war of AD 68–69 saw the creation of legio I Adiutrix from the fleet at Misenum, and legio II Adiutrix from Ravenna; the latter saw service under Agricola in Britain. The title Adiutrix indicates that they were envisaged at first as offering ‘Support’ or ‘Assistance’ to the regular forces. It seems that founder members of both legions remained non-citizens until discharge, but fresh drafts were drawn from the normal sources thereafter so that they were quickly assimilated.

After Actium we hear no more of legions serving on shipboard, presumably because the military presence of such heavily armed infantry was deemed no longer necessary.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


A painting by Agostino Tassi or Buonamico (1565-1644) shows a ship under construction at the leading Tuscan port of Livomo. The painting illustrates the large quantities of wood required for shipbuilding, and the immensity of the task posed by the construction of large warships using largely unmechanized processes. The capital investment required was formidable, but ships generally had a life of only twenty to thirty years.

Naval warfare entailed a commitment of resources which was often greater than that required for warfare on land. The failure of Philip II's huge and costly attempt to mount an invasion of England in the summer of 1588, and of subsequent expeditions, both Spanish and English, demonstrate the limits of sixteenth-century seapower.

The wooden warship equipped with cannon, whether driven by sails, muscle-power, or both, was the single most costly, powerful, and technologically advanced weapons system of the entire early modem period. The construction, equipment, manning, supply, and maintenance of a fleet required considerable financial and logistical efforts. Warships and equipment were durable, a heavy capital investment requiring maintenance; they therefore demanded not only technologically advanced yards for their construction, but also permanent institutions to manage them.

Warships provided effective mobile artillery platforms, and an individual vessel might carry the heavy firepower capacity comparable to that of an entire army. The trading wealth unlocked by the 'Age of Discoveries' encouraged the development of naval power to both protect and attack long-distance trade routes. Warships were also the most effective means of attacking distant hostile bases. In European waters, the strategic commitments of many powers involved maritime links, as for example between Spain and both Italy and the Low Countries, or Sweden and the eastern Baltic.

The sixteenth century saw the establishment and growth of state navies and the greatly increased use of heavy guns in sailing warships: heavy guns were carried in the Baltic from the early 1510s, and by English and French warships in the same period. Carvel building (the edge-joining of hull planks over frames) began to replace clinker (overlapped planks) construction in about 1500, contributing significantly to the development of hulls which were stronger and better able to carry heavy guns. Also, their sizes grew: there were warships of up to 2,000 tons (2,032 tonnes) displacement from early in the century. The English Henry Grace d Dieu (also known as Great Harry) had a 15 14 specification of 186 guns and 1,500 tons (1,524 tonnes) deadweight. The French, Scottish, Maltese, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, Lubeck, and Portuguese navies all included ships of comparable size during the course of the century.

Medieval naval warfare had been dominated by boarding, and this continued to play a role. The rising importance of firepower, however, led to a shift towards standoff tactics in which ships did not come into direct contact and boarding became impossible. The Portuguese were the first systematically to exploit heavy guns to fight standoff actions against superior enemies, a development often incorrectly claimed for the English at the time of the Armada. In northern Europe, the shift towards stand-off tactics can be seen by contrasting the Anglo-French war of 1512-14, in which the fleets fought in the Channel in the traditional fashion, with the gunnery duel in which they engaged off Portsmouth in 1545. This shift had important implications for naval battle tactics - though truly effective ways of deploying naval firepower were not found until the next century - and it further encouraged the development of warships primarily as artillery platforms. Forged-iron guns were dangerously unreliable, while the manufacture of large cast-iron weapons was beyond the technological scope of the period, but from mid-century firepower was increased by the development of large guns cast instead from lighter, more durable, and workable 'brass' (actually bronze). Simultaneously, improvements in gunpowder increased their range.

Reale De France Galley

Lateen rigged galleys like this one were the backbone of Louis XIV's Mediterranean fleet. The "Reale" in the name means that the ship belonged to the king.  She carried 8,000 square feet of sail and 427 oarsmen. Because of her low hull, water swamped her deck even in slight seas. Reale De France model ship kit by Corel features double plank-on-bulkhead construction in beech and walnut with pre-cut wooden parts. Decorated by the famous sculptor Pierre Puget, some of the stern ornaments are displayed in the Musée de la Marine in Paris which holds the original plans and many documents about the ship.Stern ornamentation is gilded cast metal. Other decorations are etched brass. Armament includes five cannon and eleven turned brass falconets. Rigging is supplied in five diameters. Also included are 59 pre-shaped oars, cloth sails, and silk-screened flags. Thirteen sheets of detailed plans plus instruction book show you how build a magnificent replica that's almost four feet long.




Sunday, November 28, 2010

Zheng He

According to ancient Chinese sources, Zheng He commanded seven expeditions. The 1405 expedition consisted of 27,800 men and a fleet of 62 treasure ships supported by approximately 190 smaller ships. The fleet included:
·                     Treasure ships, used by the commander of the fleet and his deputies (nine-masted, about 126.73 metres (416 ft) long and 51.84 metres (170 ft) wide), according to later writers. Such dimension is more or less the shape of a football field. The treasure ships purportedly can carry as much as 1,500 tons. By way of comparison, a modern ship of about 1,200 tons is 60 meters (200 ft) long, and the ships Christopher Columbussailed to the New World in 1492 were about 70-100 tons and 17 meter (55 ft) long.
·                     Horse ships, carrying tribute goods and repair material for the fleet (eight-masted, about 103 m (339 ft) long and 42 m (138 ft) wide).
·                     Supply ships, containing staple for the crew (seven-masted, about 78 m (257 ft) long and 35 m (115 ft) wide).
·                     Troop transports, six-masted, about 67 m (220 ft) long and 25 m (83 ft) wide.
·                     Fuchuan warships, five-masted, about 50 m (165 ft) long.
·                     Patrol boats, eight-oared, about 37 m (120 ft) long.
·                     Water tankers, with 1 month supply of fresh water.
Six more expeditions took place, from 1407 to 1433, with fleets of comparable size.
Trade in the Indian Ocean was decentralized and cooperative. Commercial interest prevailed over political authorities.
Strait of Malacca was the meeting point between Indian Ocean and South China Sea, between the Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra. The Kingdom of Siam gained control of the upper Malay Peninsula, while the Java-based Kingdom of Majapathi ruled over the lower portion of the peninsula and most of Sumatra. Majapahit was not strong enough to stop the Chinese pirates that were affecting trade in this region. In the 1407, the Chinese government sent a fleet and smashed the pirates.
The city of Alden (Arabia) had a double advantage: enough rainfall to supply drinking water to a large population and to grow grain for export and to be a convenient stopover for trade between India and the Persian Gulf, East Africa, and Egypt.

Knights of Malta – 18th Century Galleys

From... "Admiral Satan, The Life and Campaigns of Suffren" describing the Knights of Malta as a training corps for the French navy

In the Mediterranean, one of the primary occupations of the galleys was suppression of the North African pirates. "the oar powered Galliot was the best instrument since it could navigate calm, shallow and sheltered waters, and was not dependent upon the wind"

Economy was another motivator.. "A small squadron of sailing ships had been built.... but it was a crippling burden to the treasury" (of Malta)

I don't think the major powers used the galleys against each other except as prestige 'toys" and for harbor defence. The rowing and sailing corps were independent until the late 1740s. The death of the Grand Prior of France, Jean-Phillipe d'Orleans, allowed the unification of the French Navy.. and essentially the demise of the galleys as a serious force. "Most of the galley officers retired and only 28 transferred to service under sail" (including Suffren)

The galley fleet at Malta did provide the aristocracy a means of establishing rank seniority in the French Navy.... service in the Maltese fleet was valued and recognized by the French navy... and young aristocrats could be entered into Maltese service as children, acquiring seniority from the time of entry! (ages 7 and 8 for the Suffren brothers)

They were too narrow to mount broadside guns and therefore lacked the power of massed artillery. Against a grounded or becalmed sailing ship they could gain favorable position but were limited in their bow mounted firepower. Ramming a sailing vessel from astern or ahead would produce a glancing blow.... from abeam against a battery would be suicidal. Pursue and board would be the most likely tactic... against smaller Islamic vessels.

There is an excellent book: "FIGHTING SHIPS AND PRISONS The Mediterranean Galleys of France in the Age of Louis XIV" by Paul W. Bamford Copyright 1973 University of Minnesota, LC # 72-92334, ISBN 0-8166-0655-2.

It is well worth tracking down through your library. You are right on as to the worth of the Galley Fleet. It and its shore establishment constituted a primary component of the French Prison System well into the Napoleonic Era. It is useful to remember that patronage of Malta and the Galley Fleet represented an important part of Louis' activities in support of the Catholic Church. The Chaplains were very important officers on the ships. The number of war-like sorties was next to nothing in spite of the theoretical uses they could be put to. The most important voyages were those to deliver ambassadors. While the number of prisoners from both France and the other continental countries (small German states) who paid to have France keep their prisoners was swelling far beyond the needs of the fleet, French representatives were busy buying Muslim slaves to send to the oars.

While only a few officers were incorporated into the sailing fleet at the end of the separate galley fleet, the galleys lingered on. I suspect the extraordinary level of venality of the galley fleet afloat and ashore had more of a cross-over to the sailing fleet than is generally recognized. If nothing else, the association of a major component of the national naval establishment in the public mind with unjust imprisonment for life under cruel conditions, was a handicap to the navy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Korean-Japanese Wars (1592–1593 and 1597–1598)

After the successful unification of Japan, Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi made two attempts to seize Korea as the first step in a Japanese conquest of China. Japanese defeats at sea, however, made the maintenance of supply lines between Kyushu and Japanese bridgeheads in southern Korea increasingly difficult, and the campaigns were eventually abandoned.

In the first campaign Hideyoshi landed some 160,000 men in southern Korea, his army advancing north with relative ease. The Japanese suffered reverses at sea, however, under Korean naval units commanded by Yi Sun Sin. In the summer and autumn of 1592 Yi’s navy won some 10 engagements around the southern coast of Korea between Sach’on and Pusan. The largest of these were the 8 July Battle of Hansan-do and 10 July Battle of Angolp’o. At Hansan-do the Japanese had 36 large vessels and 14 medium-sized ships, as well as a large number of junks. Yi sent six ships to lure out the Japanese and then destroyed one of the three formations of the Japanese fleet. He then chased the Japanese to nearby Angolp’o, where he again got them to come out for a full attack and trapped them. In these two battles the Japanese lost some 59 ships. Yi’s fleet continued to blockade the Japanese base at Pusan until the end of the first campaign.

In the second campaign the Japanese navy gained an initial victory. In the 15 July 1597 Battle of Koje-do, the Koreans lost 160 ships and its commander Won Kyun was killed in action. The Koreans were forced to abandon their base on Hansan-do and pull back to the west.

This victory enabled the 140,000-strong Japanese landing force to advance, but it provoked a Chinese intervention and consequently a stalemate on land. In an attempt to support the land forces, the Japanese fleet sailed into the Yellow Sea through Myongnyang Strait, where the Koreans under Yi Sun Sin intercepted it. In the Battle of Myongnyang, 16 September 1597, Yi checked the Japanese advance at sea, and the campaign again reverted to a stalemate. Japanese land forces were besieged in coastal strongholds such as Sunch’on, Sach’on, Pusan, and Ulsan.

This strategic stalemate and Hideyoshi’s death on 18 August 1598 caused Japanese to withdraw its land forces from southern Korea. The last naval battle in the campaign took place during this process. The Japanese garrison at Sunch’on was under blockade by the Chinese squadron under Ch’en Lin and the Korean fleet led by Yi Sun Sin. The Battle of Noryang, 18 November 1598, occurred when a Japanese fleet led by the Shimazu clan tried to break through the blockade. Although the Shimazu fleet was severely damaged by the combined Chinese-Korean fleet, the Japanese Sunch’on garrison was evacuated. Yi Sun Sin was killed in the battle.

Throughout the two campaigns, in contrast to the fighting on land, the Korean navy was always superior. This was in part because of the splendid leadership of Admiral Yi Sun Sin, who nearly always led the entire Korean fleet. In contrast, the Japanese fleet lacked strong leadership and was little better than a combination of small coastal/inland water navies. The Koreans also enjoyed a technological advantage in the form of their armored Kobukson (turtle ships). These formed the core of the Korean fleet and inflicted serious damage on the Japanese fleet. The Korean victories at sea constantly threatened the Japanese supply lines and were one of the major causes of Japan’s abandonment of the campaign.

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Eckert, Carter J., et al. Korea Old and New: A History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan. Vol. 4. Early Modern Japan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Turnbull, S. R. Samurai: A Military History. New York: Macmillan, 1977.

Battle of Cnidus, (394 b.c.)

Naval battle that ended Spartan hegemony in the Aegean Sea after the Peloponnesian War. Harassed by a Spartan-led expeditionary army operating in western Asia Minor, the Persian satrap Pharnabazus persuaded King Artaxerxes II to equip a fleet and appoint Conon as admiral in 397 b.c. When four mainland Greek cities (Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and Argos) started a war with Sparta in 395 b.c. with Persian encouragement, the Spartan King Agesilaus was forced to lead the army in Asia Minor back to Greece in the summer of 394 b.c. At about the same time, Agesilaus’s brother-in-law, the nauarch Peisander, met the Persian fleet in a battle off the south coast of the Reşadiye Peninsula near the city of Cnidus (then located near modern Datça). Peisander’s fleet of 85 triremes faced an enemy fleet of 80 Phoenician ships, 10 Cilician ships, and perhaps 80 Greek ships.

We have two brief descriptions of the battle, by Xenophon and Diodorus Siculus. According to Xenophon, Conon’s Greek ships were posted in front of Pharnabazus’s Phoenician ships. Peisander’s allies soon fled or were driven ashore, and he himself died in the fighting. According to Diodorus, Conon captured 50 triremes and took 500 prisoners, the rest getting back safely to Cnidus. News of the disaster reached Agesilaus about the time of the solar eclipse of 14 August 394 b.c.

The impact of the battle was dramatic, destroying Sparta’s naval supremacy and leading to the wholesale defection of Aegean and Anatolian Greek city-states from the Spartan alliance. Athens tried to reverse the verdict of the Peloponnesian War, rebuilding the fortifications demolished in 404 b.c. and seeking to reassert its authority over its former empire.

Hornblower, Simon. “Persia.” In The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 6, The Fourth Century B.C., 2d ed., ed. D. M. Lewis et al., 45–96. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Seager, Robin. “The Corinthian War.” In The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 6, The Fourth Century B.C., 2d ed., ed. D. M. Lewis et al., 97–119. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Navy of Venice

The Venetian Arsenal was the biggest and more efficient shipyard of the Renaissance, and the reason why Venice was capable of standing up to the Turks for three hundred years and seven wars.

San Lorenzo (?) galleasse in an illustration by eslovac artist Avor. It is based in a Venetian engraving. It is probably the galleasse of Antonio Bragadino that has sunk a Turkish galley. Next to it we can see another galleasse, and behind the galleys of the Christian line, that probably were not using the sail. At the far back we can see the Turkish watch tower at Point Scropha. The morning was clear, although the smoke from the cannons rose over the fleet.

Situated on islands in a lagoon at the northern extremity of the Adriatic Sea, the Republic of Venice depended upon sea power for prosperity and survival. Founded during the collapse of the Roman Empire, Venice retained ties with the Byzantine Empire and resisted incorporation into the medieval Germanic Holy Roman Empire.

In the age of the Crusades Venice battled both Muslim powers and Italian rivals. With its fleets Venice defeated the attempt of the Normans of the Two Sicilies to dominate the Byzantine Empire. Then in 1204 it diverted the Fourth Crusade to the conquest of Constantinople. Venice enjoyed a favored position in the eastern trade, which it generally maintained even after the Byzantines recovered Constantinople.

The need for specialized war galleys caused Venice in 1104 to establish a government-run arsenal and develop Europe’s first regular navy. The patricians who dominated Venice willingly captained its galleys and fleets. To control the Adriatic and the sea routes to the east, Venice established strongholds on the Dalmatian coast, Corfu, and the Greek coast, and colonized Crete and several Aegean islands. In 1480 Venice acquired Cyprus.

Venice emerged victorious in its struggle with Genoa and Padua over the eastern trade in the War of Chioggia of 1379–1381, in which the Venetians mounted for the first time cannon on their galleys. Threats from Milan drove Venice to acquire a mainland empire that stretched from Padua to Bergamo. Piracy remained a perpetual problem.

Under a supreme Captain General of the Sea, Venice’s fleet was organized into squadrons for operations against Uskoks (Dalmatian pirates), patrol of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas from Corfu under the Captain of the Gulf, and defense of Crete and Cyprus. As many as 50 galleys might have been operational at any time.

Extra hulls were mothballed in the arsenal, and for a major war 200 galleys might have become operational. While the elite volunteered to command, seamen and rowers came to be conscripted throughout the Venetian Empire, and marine infantry were hired from the Italian mainland or Germany. In 1545, as wages rose, Venice turned to convicts (but never slaves) to row its galleys. Cristoforo da Canal provided a treatise on administration and tactics, Della milizia marittima, which was written around 1550 and published in 1930.
In the fifteenth century the expanding Ottoman Empire, which captured Constantinople in 1453, posed Venice’s greatest challenge. Periods of peace and trade were interrupted by sharp wars. In August 1499 the Ottomans won the Battle of Zonchio and began to pick off Venetian strongholds in the Aegean and Greece. The 25–28 October 1538 Battle of Prevesa, fought in alliance with Genoa and Spain, proved another setback.

Venice resumed its precarious but lucrative peace with the Ottomans until the Ottomans demanded Cyprus in 1570. Through the pope, Venice forged an alliance that included Spain and most of Italy. Venice provided over half of the galleys and six galleasses in the allies’ victory of 7 October 1571 at Lepanto. By then Cyprus had fallen, though Crete was saved. Venice, whose aims differed from Spain’s, made peace with the Ottomans in 1573 and returned to trade.

In the same years piracy had burgeoned in the Mediterranean. It was committed not only by Uskoks (egged on by the Austrian Hapsburgs) and Barbary corsairs, but even by English and Dutch rovers, who operated from Barbary and marauded in large, well-gunned sailing ships. Venice’s former allies also proved a threat: the Knights of Malta disapproved of Venice’s trading with the Turks and attacked its shipping, and the Spanish viceroy of Naples waged in 1617–1620 an undeclared naval war against the Republic.

In 1645 the Turks invaded Crete to begin the War of Candia (1645–1669), which was named for the long siege of its capital. The Venetian navy that opposed them mustered over 60 galleys, four galleasses, and, in an admission of the gun-power of sailing ships, three dozen galleons. Venice won most of the naval battles, among them two in the Dardanelles in 1665 and 1666, but the Turks conquered Crete.

By the end of the seventeenth century, small states such as Venice could no longer match the greater states, which now had the requisite administrative structures to wage war on a giant scale. Having made a humiliating peace with the Turks in 1718, Venice eased its naval efforts, maintaining only minimal forces afloat. War expenses drastically increased the public debt, while neutrality in Europe’s constant dynastic conflicts enriched Venetian merchant shipping. The perennial threat from Barbary, despite the payment of tribute, led to renewed naval building in the 1780s. In 1792 Venice had four ships of the line and six frigates on patrol off Tunisia. But in 1797 Napoléon Bonaparte toppled the Republic, ending forever its independence. Its remaining war fleet was appropriated by France.

Lane, Frederic C. Venice: A Maritime Republic. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.
Tenenti, Alberto. Piracy and the Decline of Venice, 1580–1615. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.
Wiel, Alethea J. The Navy of Venice. London: J. Murray, 1910.

Battle of Curzola (Korčula), (7 September 1298)

The greatest naval battle fought between Genoa and Venice. At war with Venice since 1294, the Genoese sent an armada of more than 90 galleys into the Adriatic in the summer of 1298 under the command of Lamba Doria. The armada was missing some galleys because of a storm, and most of the fleet proceeded up the Dalmatian coast to the island of Curzola (Korčula), then a feudal possession of the Venetian noble family Zorzi. The Genoese captured and burned the city of Curzola on 5 September 1298. Meanwhile, the Venetians, learning of the Genoese intrusion, had sent a fleet commanded by Andrea Dandolo. When the opposing fleets came into visual contact late on 6 September, the Venetian galleys probably outnumbered the Genoese 96 to 76.

The battle began early on Sunday, 7 September, and seems to have been fought in the channel between the island and the mainland, to the southeast of the city of Curzola. The Venetians, facing southeast, had the morning sun in their eyes. The battle lasted until the afternoon and was marked by heavy casualties on both sides. The Venetians had the advantage initially, capturing 10 Genoese galleys, but later the Genoese were able to take advantage of disorder in the Venetian line and gain a decisive victory. Nearly the entire Venetian fleet was captured or destroyed, except for a dozen galleys that escaped. Andrea Dandolo, the defeated commander, either died in the battle or afterwards as a prisoner (either of fever or suicide). The war ended with the peace treaty of 25 May 1299.

According to a tradition first recorded in 1553 and usually accepted, Marco Polo was taken prisoner in this battle; it was during his imprisonment in Genoa that he dictated his account of his travels.

Caro, Georg. Genua und die Mächte am Mittelmeer, 1257–1311. Vol. 2. Halle an der Salle, Germany: Max Niemeyer, 1899.
Lane, Frederic C. Venice: A Maritime Republic. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973
Manfroni, Camillo. Storia della Marina Italiana dal trattato di Ninfeo alla caduta di Costantinopoli (1261–1453). Leghorn, Italy: Reale Accademia Navale, 1902.
Polo, Marco. The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East. Trans. and ed. Sir Henry Yule. 3d ed. Revised by Henri Cordier. London: John Murray, 1903.

The Medieval Galley

Russian Galley 1720
The history of medieval naval warfare is the history of the galley. Since ancient times, battles at sea have taken place largely on the decks of ships and were fought much like land battles, with hand-to-hand combat. Medieval naval battles usually followed a similar pattern. First, smaller, more maneuverable ships would pin down the enemy fleet. Then the larger, more heavily armed galleys would attack, initially firing missiles and then ramming or grappling the enemy vessel in order to board it. Blasts of lime were often fired to blind the enemy and were then followed by volleys of stones. One of the most dreaded tactics was to fling onto the enemy ship what was known as Greek fire, a substance that, once ignited, was inextinguishable in water. Crossbows, lances, bows and arrows, and, by the late Middle Ages, guns and cannons served as well at sea as on land. However, the ship itself was the most powerful weapon, often determining the outcome of a naval battle. The warship at sea was likened to the warhorse on land and, like the warhorse, the warship was bred for fighting.

Equipped with sails for distance and oars for maneuverability, the medieval galley was ideally suited for the purpose of war. Medieval variations on the classical galley were many. The dromon, developed by the Byzantines, was a large galley that utilized one or two tiers of oars, a square sail set on a single mast, and a stern-hung rudder. In times of war, the dromon could carry troops, weapons, supplies, and cavalry horses, as well as engage in sea battles when necessary. The beam of the dromon permitted mounted cannons in the bow of the ship, which could be fired directly ahead of the vessel. A variation on the dromon was the Italian galley, which had one level of oars with two or three oarsmen to each rowing bench, a total of approximately 120 oarsmen. The Italian galley was manned by about fifty soldiers and typically had a large catapult mounted on a platform on the front deck.

The galleas was another variation on the galley. Developed by the Venetians, the galleas had a gun deck, oars, and two to three masts. The triangular lateen sails, adopted from those of the Arab dhows, permitted the galleas to sail nearly straight into the wind, impossible with square sails. Sailors armed with crossbows and lances could fight on the ships’ decks.

The last major naval battle in which galleys were employed was the Battle of Lepanto II, fought off the coast of southwestern Greece on October 7, 1571, between the Ottoman Turks, under the command of Ali Pala (died 1616), and the Christian forces, under the command of Don Juan de Austria (1547-1578), half-brother of King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598). The Turks’ 273 ships (210 were galleys) and the Christians’ 276 ships (208 were galleys) faced off in long lines across from one another, with the Christian forces hemming in the Muslim forces. Don Juan skillfully placed his most heavily armed galleys in the center of the line and his smaller, more maneuverable galleys on the outside, where they could dominate the flanks. The massive and heavily armed Christian galleys eventually triumphed over the lighter and less armed Arab ships, giving naval supremacy to the Christian forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Battle of Lepanto was the last major naval battle in which galleys were employed, and it was the first major naval battle in which guns and gunpowder played the decisive role. From this point on, guns and cannons would be increasingly important in naval warfare.

Although the galley was the vessel of choice in the Mediterranean Sea for more than four millennia, it was a typically unstable ship, particularly in rough waters. Maneuverability during battle was provided by oars, rather than by the sails, which had to be lowered during battles to prevent the enemy from tearing or setting fire to them. Despite their shortcomings, however, various forms of galleys continued to be employed in the Mediterranean until 1717 and in the Baltic Sea until 1809. In an effort to produce a more seaworthy craft, medieval shipbuilders turned to other designs for seagoing vessels.

Syrian-Roman War (192–189 B.C.E.)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Syria (Seleucids) vs. Rome (with Rhodes and Pergamum)
DECLARATION: Rome on Syria, 192 B.C.E.
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Syria wanted Rome’s compliance in the conquests of its ally Aetolia.
OUTCOME: Rome attacked a Syrian fleet, triggering a war that proved disastrous for the Syrians, who lost their seaports and became landlocked.
Syrian forces, 75,000; Roman-Pergamenian forces, 40,000
Following the defeat of Macedonia at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197, during the Second MACEDONIAN WAR, the Aetolians of central Greece jockeyed for position to take Macedonia’s place as the dominant state in Greece. After attacking the allies of Rome among the Greek states, they appealed to Syrian king Antiochus III (the Great; 242–187 B.C.E.) to intervene with Rome on their behalf.

Taking this as an invitation from the Aetolian League to invade Greece, Antiochus sailed with an army of 10,000 across the Aegean in 192 and was met by a Roman army at Thermopylae. Under the leadership of M. Acilius Glabrio (d. 152 B.C.E.), the Roman forces defeated Antiochus, who fled with the remainder of his forces back to Ephesus. However, the naval fleets of Rhodes and Pergamum collaborated with the Romans against Antiochus’s navy, winning three victories at sea, first at a location between Ionia and Chios (191 B.C.E.), then at Eurymedon and Myonessus, both in 190 B.C.E. The Romans capitalized on these triumphs by invading Asia Minor with an army under the command of two great generals, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (237–183 B.C.E.) and his brother Lucius Cornelius Scipio (fl. second century). They met the Syrians at the Battle of Magnesia near Smyrna in December 190. After initial gains, Antiochus III made a serious tactical blunder by pursuing a flank of the Roman cavalry too far, laying himself open to encirclement by another Roman flank. This infantry force destroyed most of the Syrian army. As a result, Syria gave up all of its coastal territories, surrendered all but 10 of its warships, gave up its war elephants, and agreed to pay a heavy indemnity. Landlocked, Syria’s power was greatly diminished.

Further reading: John D. Grainger, Roman War of Antiochos the Great (Boston: Brill Academic, 2002); Susan Sherwin-White and Amelie Kuhrt, From Samarkhand to Sardis: A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


1: Alaman warrior
This reconstruction follows the rich graves of the Rhine border and the descriptions of the ancient authors. Ammianus describes long, thick hair dyed red with natural substances. The narrow, long-sleeved woollen tunic is decorated with trim in red-purple silk. Note his woollen close-fitting trousers, and typical Germanic boots copied from specimens found in Marx-Etzel. The shield is brightly painted, copied from the insignia of an Alamanic tribe, the Bucinobantes, recruited as auxilium palatinum into the Roman army. We illustrate a typical Germanic javelin or angon (jaculum); other weapons might include a throwing axe or francisca tucked into the belt, and a yew-wood Germanic bow about 2m (6ft 6in) long.

2: Roman officer of the Rhine Fleet
He wears an iron helmet of Ausburg-Pfersee type, sheathed in gilded silver. His imposing muscled armour might have mobile shoulder-guards, and shows lappets around the lower abdomen. It is worn over a thoracomacus of felt lined with cotton or coarse silk, and the pteryges hanging from the waist are like those represented on the I lias Ambrosiana, fringed with dark purple. According to Vegetius the marines and sailors of the lusoriae or exploratoriae scaphae were dressed completely in venefus-colour, i.e. sea-blue. His clothing, especially the sagum and the bracae, presents a mixed Romano-Germanic style, as was usual on the limes.

3: Romano-Germanic naval scout
Apart from his ridged Sassanian-style helmet, copied from the Worms specimen, his whole armament and clothing is mainly Germanic in fashion, although his military belt in Kerbschnitt style and the shield pattern are typical of the late Roman limitanei along the Rhine and Danube frontiers.

4: Roman classiarius of the Rhine Fleet
This marine is reconstructed after the Lyon seal that shows the city of Mainz, but supplemented with other archaeological details. The ridge-style helmet from Augst fits well with the classiarius helmet visible on the Ham mosaic, furnished with a red crest. His simple mail armour is worn over a leather jerkin of the same shape; a recent interpretation of the Thorsberg find by German archaeologists suggests that silvered clasps were used for shoulder fastenings while small hooks were used for fastening the breast. The sleeved tunic is made of an undyed wool-linen mix and decorated with typical orbiculi and segmenta of the late Empire. His weapons are a culter venatorius and a sword, here copied from the Idesheim specimen, and a light javelin (verutum).

Provincial Fleets, to defend the frontiers and support the legions in the different provinciae, were soon added. One of the first and strategically most important was the Rhine Fleet in Germania, whose military ports were linked by road with those in Gaul (France). At the time of Drusus' expedition in 12 B C we read that the military port of Bonna (modern Bonn), perhaps the main base of the Rhine Fleet, was directly linked with Gessoriacum (modern Boulogne - Florus 2,30). Under the early Empire the Rhine Fleet was an integral part of the army of Germania Inferior, composed of four legions in the 1st century AD, including Legio XI; this means that the soldiers of these legions could be used in the fleet as milites classiarii (fleet soldiers or 'marines'). During the Civilis revolt we find in the army of Germania Inferior the Legiones V and XV at Vetera, XVI and I at Novaesium (Neuss) and Bonna, serving with the Rhine Fleet. Among the additional legions sent to crush the revolt we find I Adiutrix and II Adiutrix formed from fighting sailors: later I Adiutrix was temporarily sent to Hispania, but by 88 AD we find it back in Germania Superior, then in Pannonia under Domitian. After the Civilis revolt II Adiutrix was sent to Britain, and then also to Pannonia by Domitian. A later inscription found at B a d e n Baden confirms the presence of this legion in Germania under Trajan.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Featured Website: BTOHistoryShips.com

This floating giant comes from the era of Alexander the Great’ s descendants. Her big bronze ram and the fierce eyes cause terror. Those vessels were three or four times bigger than the triremes of the classical era and had amplified sides and hull, an apparent feature in the model when seen from close distance. Equipped with towers and functional ballistic machines is, perhaps, the only recreation of this type of vessels.

About us 

When love for the history of navigation overflows your existence, it becomes magic, energy that passes through your hands and impels them to create. Wood is a living material that, when you give it your love and affection, it takes shape and the result is these floating monuments of history and human progress, of the contact of nations, the expansion of trade, the achievements and revelations. This is Evaggelos Gripiotis, an adorer of history and sea. The love for sea is immense. When I’ m close to it my eyes gaze at the horizon and my soul travels beyond it. This is what I do with my ships, travels into bygone worlds, glorious moments of maritime history when wooden hulls and sailors made of steal conquered the seas of the world transferring products, knowledge, culture, wealth but also, sometimes, disaster. I build ships, models of which are rare to be found in our days, ancient hulls, triremes, Hellenistic and Roman, galleys, dromons, chelandions, renaissance galleys, drekars, galleons, galeotas, frigates and various different types. I use raw materials of excellent quality (oak, walnut, beech, mahogany, pine, teak). The ships are literally constructed and built with respect in the culture and shipbuilding tradition of each country. My structures are not simple models (covered empty spaces). They are real ships in a smaller scale than their real ancestors, since their gear in both their interior and exterior parts is designed in an unconceivable detail, beyond all imagination. Thereby, each piece is unique and their buoyancy proves the originality of the ship- building standards followed by the artist.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Battle of Cyzicus

Athenian naval strategy at the battle of Cyzicus: Alcibiades' decoy force draws the Spartan fleet out into open water, and then turns about to engage them. Squadrons commanded by Thrasybulus and Theramenes move in behind the Spartan ships, to cut off their line of retreat, trapping the Spartans between three groups of Athenian warships; a much larger force than they had initially expected to engage.

The naval Battle of Cyzicus took place in 410 BC during the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by Alcibiades, Thrasybulus, and Theramenes routed and completely destroyed a Spartan fleet commanded by Mindarus. The victory allowed Athens to recover control over a number of cities in the Hellespont over the next year. In the wake of their defeat, the Spartans made a peace offer, which the Athenians rejected.

Battle of Cyzicus
Part of Peloponnesian War

A Greek trireme
Date 410 BC
Location Near Cyzicus, Hellespont, modern-day Turkey
Result Decisive Athenian victory
Cyzicus and other cities in the region captured by Athens.
Athens Sparta
86 triremes 80 triremes
Casualties and losses
Minimal Entire fleet

1. Prelude

In the wake of the Athenian victory at Abydos in November 411 BC, the Spartan admiral Mindarus sent to Sparta for reinforcements and began working with the Persian satrap Pharnabazus to plan for a new offensive. The Athenians, meanwhile, were unable to follow through on their victory, since the depletion of the Athenian treasury precluded any major operations [1] . Thus, by the spring of 410 BC, Mindarus had built a fleet of eighty ships, and with the support of Pharnabazus's troops, besieged and took the city of Cyzicus. The Athenian fleet in the Hellespont withdrew from its base at Sestos to Cardia to avoid the superior Spartan force, and ships under Alcibiades, Theramenes, Thrasybulus that had been dispatched to raise money combined with this force, creating a fleet of 86 ships [2] . This fleet, along with a force of land troops under Chaereas, set out to the Hellespont to challenge Mindarus.

2. The battle

The Athenian force entered the Hellespont, and, passing the Spartan base at Abydos by night so as to conceal their numbers, established a base on the island of Proconnesus (modern-day Marmara), just northwest of Cyzicus. The next day, they disembarked Chaereas's force near Cyzicus. The Athenian fleet then divided, with 20 ships under Alcibiades advancing towards Cyzicus while two other divisions under Thrasybulus and Theramenes lurked behind. Mindarus, seeing an opportunity to attack what appeared to be a vastly inferior force, set out towards them with his entire force. Alcibiades's force fled, and Mindarus's ships gave chase. When both forces had gotten well out from the harbor, however, Alcibiades turned to face Mindarus, and Thrasybulus and Theramenes appeared with their forces to cut off his retreat. Mindarus, seeing the trap, fled in the one open direction, towards a beach south of the city, where Pharnabazus was located with his troops. The Spartan fleet suffered losses in the flight, and reached the shore with the Athenians right behind them.

Athenian naval strategy at the battle of Cyzicus: Alcibiades' decoy force draws the Spartan fleet out into open water, and then turns about to engage them. Squadrons commanded by Thrasybulus and Theramenes move in behind the Spartan ships, to cut off their line of retreat, trapping the Spartans between three groups of Athenian warships; a much larger force than they had initially expected to engage.
Alcibiades's troops, leading the Athenian pursuit, landed and attempted to pull the Spartan ships back out to sea with grappling hooks. The Persian troops under Pharnabazus, however, entered the fighting on the shore and began to drive the Athenians, who were outnumbered and fighting against opponents on firmer ground, into the sea. Seeing this, Thrasybulus landed his force as a diversion and ordered Theramenes to combine his troops with those of Chaereas and join the battle. For a time, Thrasybulus and Alcibiades were both driven back by superior forces, but the arrival of Theramenes and Chaereas turned the tide; the Spartans and Persians were defeated, Mindarus was killed. All the Spartan ships were captured save for those of the Syracusan allies, who burned their ships as they retreated.

3. Aftermath

In the wake of this dramatic victory, the Athenians had full control of the waters of the Hellespont. The next day, they took Cyzicus, which surrendered without a fight. An intercepted letter from the Spartan troops stranded near Cyzicus reads “The ships are gone. Mindarus is dead. The men are starving. We know not what to do." [3] Demoralized by the devastation of their fleet, the Spartans sent an embassy to Athens seeking to make peace; the Athenians rejected it [4] .
At Athens, the oligarchic government that had ruled since 411 gave way to a restored democracy within a few months of the battle. An expeditionary force under Thrasyllus was prepared to join the forces in the Hellespont. This force, however, did not depart until over a year after the battle, and although the Athenians eventually recaptured Byzantium and resumed collecting tribute from Chalcedon, they never truly pressed the advantage that Cyzicus had given them. Largely, this was a result of financial inability; even after the victory, the Athenian treasury was hard pressed to support large-scale offensive operations [1] . Meanwhile, the Spartans, with Persian funding, quickly rebuilt their fleet, and would go on to undermine the Athenian advantage. Athens would win only one more naval battle in the war, at Arginusae, and their defeat at Aegospotami in 405 BC would bring the war to a close. Cyzicus, although a dramatic victory, failed to bring any lasting advantage to the Athenian side, and only served to postpone the eventual outcome of the war.

4. References

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Crusaders arriving at the land and sea walls of Constantinople, from a Venetian manuscript (ca. 1330) if La Conquete de Constantinople by Geoffrey of Villehardouin, who took part in the Fourth Crusade. When the Venetian force's entry into the city was pushed back by the imperial bodyguard, they set fire to a number of buildings and burned a large section of an affluent suburb. It was a harbinger if worse destruction to come.

On 11th November 1202 the crusaders landed at Zara on the Adriatic and quickly made camp. The citizens saw the large army and its siege engines and knew that resistance was impossible, so they promptly sent out a delegation offering to surrender the city if their lives were spared. This was agreeable to Dandolo, who asked the delegates to remain in his tent while he went to confer with the barons.

In Dandolo's absence, Simon de Montfort the Elder (1160-1218), the leader of a small faction of crusaders opposed to the detour to Zara, informed the Zarans that the crusade leaders had a letter from Pope Innocent III threatening to excommunicate anyone who raised a sword against Zara. Simon insisted that if the citizens could defend themselves against the Venetians they would be safe from the Frankish (non-Venetian) crusaders, who would not disobey the pope. The delegates thanked Simon and returned to their city. When Dandolo and the crusader barons returned they were outraged by these actions. A peaceful surrender had been thwarted.

The pope's stern letter forced the crusade's leaders to choose between excommunication, for attacking a city under church protection, and the end of the crusade. Believing that God could not desire the latter, most chose to keep their word to the Venetians as a matter of honor. Simon and his men withdrew from the army, but the majority of the crusaders attacked Zara, capturing it on 24th November-as a result, the Fourth Crusade was excommunicated.

The Frankish leaders sent a delegation to Innocent III, begging forgiveness. He granted them the absolution they sought, but reaffirmed the excommunication of the Venetians. The pope was now convinced that the Venetians had deliberately taken over the crusade for their own ends. In a letter to the crusade leaders he said that once the Franks had been delivered to the Holy Land, they should have nothing more to do with the Venetians.

The crusade had other problems too, with huge debts, no money, and a shortage of provisions. According to the contract, Venice supplied each man with enough to sustain him at low activity levels for about nine months. Since they had begun eating their provisions in late June 1202 the crusaders would have been out of food by late March 1203, when the fleet was again ready to sail from Zara. There were insufficient resources to keep the army and fleet together, let alone support it on its mission to fight in Egypt.

It was at this moment that a group of envoys arrived at Zara led by a Byzantine prince, Alexius Angelus, who had recently fled to the West. His father, the emperor Isaac II Angelus, had been blinded and deposed by his own brother, Alexius III, in 1195. The young man asserted that he, not his usurping uncle, was the rightful emperor of Constantinople. If the crusaders would help him to his throne he would provide them with food, pay them 200,000 silver marks, join their crusade with 10,000 soldiers, place a permanent garrison in the Holy Land, and restore the obedience of the Greek church to Rome. For the crusaders this offer was extremely attractive. But it would, of course, necessitate a further diversion of the troubled crusade.

There was considerable debate among the crusaders concerning the offer made by Alexius Angelus. The majority of the troops wanted no more detours or delays. They had made vows to fight for Christ, not a Byzantine pretender. However, the crusade leaders favored helping the young man. They saw that with only a few months left on the fleet's lease, no food, and crushing debt, the crusade simply could not survive without replenishing its resources. It would have made little sense to transport an impoverished army directly to the East. They also saw the detour to Constantinople as an errand of mercy to free the Byzantine people from the oppression of a tyrant. Alexius Angelus assured them that his uncle, the emperor, was so hated in the city that he would be overthrown as soon as the crusaders arrived with the rightful heir.

The crusade leaders accepted, informing the pope shortly afterward: "lacking all foodstuffs and supplies, we appeared to be bearing a burden to the Holy Land... rather than bringing some sort of aid; nor did we believe that, given such extreme poverty, we could effectively land in the territory of the Saracens. “When the rank-and-file soldiers learned of the leaders' action, many of them abandoned the crusade, making their own way to the East to fulfill their vows. Only by swearing that the stop in Constantinople would be brief were the leaders able to win the grudging acceptance of the other crusaders.

The crusade left Zara in April 1203, made its way through the Aegean and arrived at Constantinople in late June. Mismanagement had reduced Byzantium's once proud navy to a few worm-eaten vessels incapable of challenging the enormous crusade fleet. In several dramatic displays, the crusaders let the people of Constantinople know that they came as friends, having brought them their rightful lord. The Byzantines responded with insults, rocks, and bare backsides. They wanted nothing to do with the Westerners' pretender.

Reluctantly, the crusaders at last accepted that they would have to attack. The massive city had enormous fortifications that no enemy had ever breached before and a garrison three times the size of the crusader force. Nevertheless, on 17th July the crusaders attacked the northeastern area of the city, the Franks assaulting the land wall and the Venetians the seawall. After fierce fighting the Venetians captured a portion of the wall and entered a short distance before being pushed back by the elite imperial bodyguard.

Discontent at Alexius III's ineffectiveness made him fearful of a coup and he fled. His brother, Isaac II Angelus, was freed and restored to the throne. He ordered the gates to be opened so that Prince Alexius could enter. The crusaders were dutifully acclaimed as heroes and within days the young man was crowned co-emperor Alexius IV


A Venetian fleet. They are the only surviving artistic representations of the Fourth Crusade from the Middle Ages. The crusade is depicted in the mosaics from a decidedly Venetian point of view closely following the story told by the Venetian Martino da Canal in the 13th century.

The excommunication of Venice on the Fourth Crusade marked the end of an exceptionally close relationship with the papacy. Venetians did most of their business in the East, but remained devoted to the church of Rome, supporting it during various disputes. In 1077, Pope Gregory VII spoke of the "uniquely close relationship" between Venice and Rome, and in 1177 the republic helped to end a struggle between the pope and the German emperor.

Venetians were also strong supporters of the crusades-indeed, no state in Europe so often and so vigorously took up the cross. Venice's fleet was the largest single contribution to the First Crusade, and in 1122 the doge in person led thousands of Venetians to the Holy Land, where they crushed the Fatimid navy and helped to conquer Tyre. That Innocent III should turn to Venice for help with the Fourth Crusade was unsurprising, but circumstances outside anyone's control made him regret that choice.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thera – Representation of a Minoan Ship/Fleet

The south section of the frieze constitutes the last chapter in the story. The fleet is sailing away from the harbour of Town IV in the direction of the home port (Town V). A small rowing boat in front of Town IV, with five oarsmen and a helmsman, seems to be carrying an important person, whose head projects above the throne-like structure on the stern. Perhaps it is a local dignitary who is accompanying the departing fleet as it leaves the harbour. The fleet comprises seven large sailing vessels depicted in two rows, three above and four below. Of these, presumably because of limited space, only three - two above and one below - are shown with their masts raised and only one in full sail. On this ship the passenger section is closed and the paddlers are not depicted. Perhaps the representation of two steersmen and the decoration of its bows with flying doves emphasize the fact that this craft is the swift messenger ship of the fleet. On the remaining ships the mast and rigging are arranged horizontally supported on forked poles.

The fine red lines above the heads of the passengers represent long spears, also resting on poles, sometimes topped by a boar's tusk helmet. In addition to the passengers, seated and dressed in white tunics, between 18 and 20 paddlers, intent on their task, are also shown on each vessel, as well as the helmsman. On the ship top left there is another figure who may well be the 'time-keeper'. On the stern behind each helmsman a light construction is depicted, the lower part of which is covered with ox hide. Drawn within each of these 'cabins' is the head of a male figure with a long spear, while a boar's tusk helmet hangs from one of the vertical poles of its frame. These elements suggest that the light structure is a kind of shield to protect the warrior-captain. Various motifs (e.g. butterflies, flowers, birds) decorate the bowsprit of each boat, while the poop, which terminates in a kind of pontoon, is likewise embellished with a representation of a wild beast. Indeed, constructional details of the vessels, with their equipment, means of propulsion and many other traits are rendered so meticulously that the Miniature Frieze could be considered a shipwright's manual of the day.

The presence of weapons such as the rectangular shields in front of the helmsman, the spears and helmets, indicates that the ship's passengers are warriors, who are depicted in action elsewhere on the frieze. Thus the character of the entire expedition is revealed as long and dangerous.

The fleet progresses from left to right, across the dolphin-filled sea, and sails into the port which is its final destination. The topographic features of the landscape, the configuration of the habour and the beached boats, the multi-storeyed buildings with Aegean architectural traits, and the appearance of the inhabitants argue for the identification of Town V as Akrotiri. The artist converys the festive nature of the event by showing the population drifting from the town and its environs towards the harbour to welcome the returning mariners.

Since the time of its discovery, the Miniature Frieze has been the subject of many interpretations. It used to be claimed that this important monument immortalized a specific historical event - a campaign of Minoans in Libya and the victors returning home in triumph. The section of the south wall, in particular, has been regarded as a kind of sacred regatta in memory of an old tradition, as a symolic depiction of communications and contacts in the Aegean in general, as the representation of an annual nautical festival, or even as a wedding procession. Recent studies recognize in the Miniature Frieze elements which later appear in descriptions in the Homeric poems.

Whatever the story shown it must be connected with the master of the West House and concern an event significant for his status in Theran society. Perhaps the Miniature Frieze, which is undoubtedly one of the earlier records of a voyage and overseas missions of the seafarer who lived in this building. Its detailed depictions of harbors and lands bring to mind sixteenth - and seventeenth - century maps and the Miniature Frieze could well be regarded as a Bronze Age 'portolan', and must surely by the earliest known map in Europe.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Indian Sea Trade with the West

Gordon Childe says: "The most startling feature of pre-historic Indian trade is that manufactured goods made in India were exported to Mesopotamia. At Eshunna, near Baghdad, typically Indian shell inlays and even pottery probably of the Indus manufacture have been found along with seals. After c. 1700 B. C. C. E. the traders of India lost commercial contact with the traders of Mesopotamia." 
S. R. Rao says that the Indian traders first settled in Bahrein and used the circular seal. Later on the different sections of the Indian merchants colonized the different cities of Mesopotamia after the name of their race. The Chola colonized the land where the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, approach most nearly and the banks touch the so called Median wall. They called their colony Cholades which later came to be known as Chaldea (i.e. the land of the Cholas) as a result of corrupt pronunciation. Similarly the Asuras of Vedic India colonized the city Asura after their name and later they established the Assyrian empire. 
Archaeological evidence of the use of indigo in the cloths of the Egyptians mummies, Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchandnzzar and Indian teak in the temple of the moon god at Ur shows the continuity of Indian commercial relations with the West. Rassam found a beam of Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C) at Birs Nimrud. In the second storey of the Temple of the Moon-God at ur rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (555- 538 B.C.) Taylor found "two rough logs of wood apparently teak". 
The ancient Egyptian traders sailed there boats not only on the Nile but also ventured into the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and even into the Indian Ocean, for they are said to have reached "God's land" or the land of Punt (India). Similarly the Indian traders sailed their ships not only on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, they also ventured into the Red Sea and even into the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. From the very beginning Indian traders had a very fair knowledge of all the ancient oceans and seas of the populated world. the Egyptians called India as "God's land" because India was in those days culturally very much developed. The priest of ancient Egypt required vast quantities of aromatic plants for burning as incense; frankincense, myrrh and lavender were also used for embalmment purpose. Herodotus has left us a sickening description of the great number of spices and scented ointments of which India was the center.  Beauty products from India also attracted the women of Egypt. The cosmetic trade was entirely dependent on imports chiefly from India.  The Pharaohs of the fifth and sixth dynasties made great efforts to develop trade relations with the land of Punt. Knemphotep made voyages to Punt eleven times under the captainship of Koui. This expedition was organized and financed by the celebrated Queen Halshepsut. 
(source: Foreign Trade and Commerce in Ancient India - By Prakash Charan Prasad p. 36-43. For more information refer to chapter on India and Egypt)
Before trade with the Roman Empire, India carried on her trade chiefly with Egypt; whose king, Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.) with whom Ashoka the Great had intercourse, founded the city of Alexandria, that afterwards became the principal emporium of trade between the East and West. 
M. A. Murray, the Egyptlogist says in his book, " The splendor that was Egypt" that the type of men of Punt as depicted by Halshepsut's artists suggests an Asiatic rather than an African race and the sweet smelling woods point to India as the land of their origin.
(source: Art Culture of India and Egypt - By S. M. El Mansouri  p. 14).
This expedition really appears to have been a great commercial success. The queen proudly recorded on the walls of the temple of Deir-el-Bahri: "Our ships were filled with all marvelous things from Punt (India); the scented wood of God's land, piles of resin, myrrh, green balsan trees, ebony, ivory, gold, cinnamon, incense, eye-coloring, monkeys, grey dogs and panther-skins." These objects indicate Indian goods exported to Egypt. 
Alexander's passage of the Indus was effected by means of boats supplied by Indian craftsmen. A flotilla of boast was used in bridging the difficult river of Hydaspses. For purpose of the voyage of Nearchus down the rivers and to the Persian Gulf, all available country boats were impressed for the service, and a stupendous fleet was formed, numbering around 800 vessels, according to Arrian, and to the more reliable estimate of Ptolemy nearly 2,000 vessels which accommodated 8,000 troops, several thousand horses, and vast quantities of supplies. It was indeed an extraordinary huge fleet, built entirely of Indian wood and by the hands of Indian craftsmen. All this indicates that in the age of the Mauryas shipbuilding in India was a regular and flourishing industry of which the output was quite large. 
A book, called the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written by a Graceo-Egyptian sailor in the first century A.D., gives a very detailed and interesting account of Indian trade from the author's personal knowledge. He came to India and found the Indian coast studded with ports and harbors, carrying on brisk trade with foreign countries. The chief articles of export from India were spices, perfumes, medicinal herbs, pigments, pearls, precious stones like diamond, sapphire, turquoise and lapis lazuli, animal skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, muslin, indigo, ivory, porcelain and tortoise shell; the chief imports were cloth, linen, perfume, medicinal herbs, glass vessels, silver, gold, copper, tin, lead, pigment, precious stones and coral. 

The value of Indian trade may be estimated from the well-known passage of Pliny, in which he recorded that India drained the Roman empire of fifty million sesterces every year. The wealth of early India is confirmed by the lament of Pliny the Elder in Historica Naturalis (Natural History), completed in 77 AD that all of Rome's coffers were being emptied into India to satisfy Roman demand for transulent Indian muslins. Pliny's statement is corroborated by the discovery, in India, of innumerable gold coins of the Roman emperors, which must have come here in course of trade. Most of the coins have been found. Most of these coins have been found in South India, and their evidence is corroborated by many passages in classic Tamil literature. We read of 'Yavanas of harsh speech' with many wares; of foreign merchants thronging sea-port towns like Mamallapuram, Puhar, and Korkai; or busy customs officials, and those engaged in loading and unloading vessels in the harbor. The wealth of the Roman Empire reached India through the ports of Kalyan, Chaul, Broach, and Cambay in Western India. Tamralipti was an important port in Bengal. It carried on trade with China, Lanka, Java and Sumatra. In the Andhra region, the ports were Kadura and Ghantasala, Kaveripattanam (Puhar) and Tondail were the ports of the Pandya region. The ports of Kottayam and Muziris were on the Malabar coast. There was a great maritime trade between India and Southeast Asia and China. The rulers of India facilitated trade by building and maintaining lighthouses at the necessary points and by keeping sea routes free and safe from pirates. 
According to Surjit Mansingh: "India's trade with Europe, both by land and sea, was a constant fact of history from ancient times"

(source: India: A Country Study 1985).
The close connection between the early civilization of Ninevah and Babylon and the West Coast of India is borne out by indisputable evidence and this was possible only through the navigation of the Arabian sea. There is ample evidence of a flourishing trade between the Levant and the West Coast of India, as may be inferred from allusion in the Old Testament. 
As stated by Prof. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri  in Indian Antiquary, 1938 p. 27: "the evidence of South Indian connections with the West drawn from references in his (Solomna's) reign to Ophir and Thar Shih to ivory, apes and peacocks is seen to be only a link in a more or less continuous chain of data suggesting such connections for long ages before and after. The earliest Indian literature, the Vedas speak of sea voyage. One well-known mantra (Rig Veda 1, 97, 8) prays: "Do thou convey us in a ship across the sea for our welfare." Besides this, there are numerous allusions in the Rig Veda to sea voyages and to ships with a hundred oars. 
(source: India and the Indian Ocean - K. M. Panikkar The MacMillan Company, 1945 p.23-24).
Indian seafarers did not absent themselves from the Middle East or the European mainland. From the Sanskrit name of Socotra (Island abode of bliss) and from certain Hindu-like divisions and customs among the people of East Arabia. C. Lassen suggested that the first sailors and colonizers on the Indian Ocean came from India. According to Jeannie Auboyer "merchant shipping was very active in India and had, even since Roman times, linked the Mediterranean world to China with great vessels (nava) of which the Indian king owned a fleet, though most of them belonged to wealthy individuals."
(source: Daily Life in Ancient India - By Jeannie Auboyer ISBN 8121506328 p. 75).
The achievements of Indian seafarers in the Far East and Southeast Asia have been acknowledged by a host of scholars. The late Professor Buhler says: "References to voyages are also found in two of the most ancient Dharma Sutras."
There was also an active trade between India and Greece. The mention of ivory by Homer and of several other Indian articles assign the trade a very ancient date. In addition to ivory, India also supplied indigo to Greece, whence the inhabitants derived their knowledge of its use. Homer knew tin by its Sanskrit name. Professor Max Duncker says that the Greeks used to wear silken garments which were imported from India, and which were called "Sindones, or "Tyrian robes." "Trade existed between the Indians and Sabaens on the coast of South Arabia before the 10th century B.C. the time when, according to the Europeans, Manu lived. 
Of the producer of loom, silk was more largely imported from India into ancient Rome than either in Egypt or in Greece. "It so allured the Roman ladies, " says a writer, that it sold its weight in gold."

(source: Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. XI p. 459). For more information refer to chapter on India and Egypt).
Testimony to the flourishing condition of the ship-building industry in India is available in the description of the return journey of Alexander from India via the sea route. According to estimates of Ptolemy nearly 2000 vessels which between them accommodated 8000 troops, several thousand horses, and vast quantities of supplies. This vivid description speaks not only of the ready resources and expertise of the Indian craftsmen but also of the tonnage of the seaworthy ships estimated at about 75 tons (or 3000 amphorea) by Pliny. 
The most valuable of the exports of India was silk, which was under the Persian Empire is said to have exchanged by weight of gold. 
(source: Indian Shipping - By R. K. Mookerji p. 83).
It is evident that "there was a very large consumption of Indian manufactures in Rome. This is confirmed by the elder Pliny, who complained that there was "no year in which India did not drain the Roman Empire of a hundred million sesterces (1,000,000 pounds)....so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women." The annual drainage of gold from Rome and its provinces to India was estimated by him at 500 steria, equal to about Rs. 4,000,000. We are assured on undisputed authority that the Romans remitted annually to India a sum equivalent to 4,000,000 pounds to pay for their investments, and that in the reign of Ptolmeies, 125 sails of Indian shipping were at one time lying in the ports whence Egypt, Syria, and Rome itself were supplied with the products of India."
(Life in Western India (Guthrie), from Colonel James Tod - Western India p. 221. Hindu Raj in the World - By K. L. Jain p. 37).
Roman coins in large quantities are found in places in Southern India, whence beryl, pepper, pearls and minerals were exported to Rome. Some of these are described by Mr. Sewell. "These hoards," he says, "are the product of 55 separate discoveries, mostly in the Coimbatore and Madura districts."
(source: Journal of Royal Asiatic Society for 1904, Roman Coins). 
There is extant, a Prakrit text on ship-building named Angavijja written in the Kushana period and edited in the Gupta period. This text enlists about a dozen names of different types of ships, such as Nava, Pota, Kotimba, Salika, Sarghad, Plava, Tappaka, Pindika, Kanda, Katha, Velu, Tumba, Kumba and Dati. Some of these varieties of ships such as Tappaka (Trappaga), Kotimba and Sarghad have also been mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea. They are considered to be very large ships capable of sailing along the coast as well as in deep sea. 
Mr. Momensen in his Provinces of the Roman Empire (Volume II p. 301), says: "Somewhat further to the south at Kananor numerous Roman gold coins of the Julio Claudian epochs have been found, formerly exchanged against the spices destined for the Roman kitchens."
Arabia being the nearest of the countries situated to the west of India, was the first to which the Indian commercial enterprises by sea were directed. The long-continued trade with Arabia dates from a very remote antiquity. "The labors of Von Bohlen (Das Alte Indian, Volume I, p. 42), confirming those of Heeran and in their turn confirmed by those of Lassen (Ind Alt. Vol II. p. 580), have established the existence of a maritime commerce between India and Arabia from the very earliest period of humanity. Lassen also says that the Egyptians wrapped their mummies in Indian Muslin.
Agarthchides of Cnidus, Ptolemaic Dynasty, President of the Alexandrain Library, who is mentioned with respect by Strabo, Pliny and Diodorus, and who lived upwards of 300 years before the time of Periplus, noticed the active commercial intercourse kept up between Yemen and Pattala - a seaport in Western India. Pattala in Sanskrit means a "commercial town" which circumstance if it is true, says Prof. Heeran, "would prove the extreme antiquity of the navigation carried on by the Indus. Agatharchides saw large ships coming from the Indus and Pattala.
 The importance of trade was highly appreciated by the people of Kalinga - a kingdom on the Eastern seaboard of India. Inscriptions "speak of navigation and ship commerce as forming part of the education of the princes of Kalinga." 
J. Takakusu writes: "That there was a communication or trade between India and China from 400 A.D. down to 800 A.D. is a proven fact. Not to speak of any doubtful records we read in the Chinese and Japanese books, Buddhist or otherwise, of Indian merchant ships appearing in the China Sea; we know definitely that Fahien (399-415 A.D) returned to China via Java by an Indian boat...at further in the Tang dynasty an eyewitness tells us that there were in 750 A.D. many Brahmin ships in the Canton River."
(source: Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Great Britain and Ireland. October 1905 p. 872).
Historian Vincent Smith in his book Early History of India, writes" "Ancient Tamil literature and the Greek and Roman authors prove that in the first two centuries of the Christian era the ports on the Coromandel or Cholamandal coast enjoyed the benefits of active commerce with both East and West. The Chola fleets.....uncrossed the Indian ocean to the islands of the Malaya Archipelago."
(source: Early History of India - By Vincent Smith p. 415).
"The Hindus themselves were in the habit of constructing the vessels in which they navigated the coast of Coromandel, and also made voyages to the Ganges and the peninsula beyond it. These vessels bore different names according to the size." writes Prof. Heeran. There were commercial towns and ports on the Coromandel coast. Masulipatam, with its cloth manufactures, as well as the mercantile towns situated on the mouth of the Ganges, have already been noticed as existing in the time of Periplus. Even as late as the 17th century, French traveler Tavernier in 1666 A.D. said: "Masulipatam is the only place in the Bay of Bengal from which vessels sailed eastwards for Bengal, Arrakan, Pegu Siam, Sumatra, Cochin China and the Manilla and West to Hormuz, Makha and Madagascar."
(source: Hindu Raj in the World - By K. L. Jain p. 42).