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.

Ottoman Expansion

Barbarossa’s fleet wintering in the French harbour of Toulon, 1543.

Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent had the good fortune of succeeding Selim I (1512–1520). In his short reign, Selim had thoroughly beaten a newly emergent foe, the Safevid state on the battlefield of C¸ aldýran in 1514. (The Safevids, a Turkish-speaking dynasty who had acquired an Islamic and Persian identity, became the major opponent on the Ottoman eastern frontiers during the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries.) Selim then (1516–1517) conquered the Arab lands of the Mamluk sultanate based in Cairo, filling the treasury and bringing the Muslim Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina under the Ottoman rulers’ dominion. During the long reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–1566) the Ottomans enjoyed considerable power and wealth. Under Süleyman’s leadership, the Ottomans fought a sixteenth-century world war. Sultan Süleyman supported Dutch rebels against their Spanish overlords while his navy battled in the western Mediterranean against the Spanish Habsburgs. At one point, Ottoman troops wintered on the modern-day Riviera at Toulon, by courtesy of King Francis I of France who also was fighting against the Habsburgs. On the other side of their world, Ottoman navies warred in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, as far east as modern-day Indonesia. There they fought because the global balance of power and wealth had been overturned by the Portuguese voyages of discovery around Africa, that opened all-water routes between India and south and southeast Asia. These new passages threatened to destroy a transit trade that Middle Eastern regimes for many centuries had dominated and profited from. To loosen the mounting Portuguese (and later Dutch and English) chokehold on this trade and break its growing dominance of the all-water routes, the Ottomans launched a series of offensives in the eastern seas. For example, they aided local rulers on the India coast who were fighting the Portuguese and sent fleets to aid the Moluccans (near modern Singapore) who were struggling to break mounting European maritime domination. On the Balkan fronts, Sultan Süleyman’s forces similarly moved to impose Ottoman domination over trade routes, rich mines and other economic resources. In an important series of victories, the Ottomans seized Belgrade in 1521, crushed the Hungarian state at the battle of Mohács in 1526 and later (in 1544) annexed part of it. In 1529, Ottoman troops stood outside the walls of Habsburg Vienna, which neither they nor their successors in 1683 were able effectively to breach. By this date the Istanbul-based state stood astride the rich trade routes linking the Aegean and Mediterranean seas to east and central Europe. Thus both Venice and Genoa suffered grievous blows, losing the wealth and power that the trade routes and colonies of these regions had brought them.

If the phrase “expansion” aptly depicts the overall Ottoman military and political experiences until the later sixteenth century, then “consolidation” likely best summarizes the situation during the subsequent century or so. Following Süleyman’s death, Ottoman victories continued but less frequently than before. The great island of Cyprus with its fertile lands became an Ottoman possession in 1571, bolstering Istanbul’s dominance over the sea routes of the eastern Mediterranean. The Europeans’ naval victory at Lepanto in 1571 and utter destruction of the Ottoman navy, one of the greatest in the Mediterranean at the time, proved ephemeral. The next year a new fleet re-established Ottoman dominion in the eastern Mediterranean, the locale of their recent defeat. On land, Ottoman armies captured Azerbaijan between 1578 and 1590 and regained Baghdad in 1638. Crete, the largest of the eastern Mediterranean islands after Cyprus, was incorporated into the state in 1669, followed by Podolia in 1676.

Battle of Diu, February 3, 1509

Indian Ocean Becomes Portuguese Lake

During the mid- to late fifteenth century, the Kingdom of Portugal took the early lead in exploring the world via the oceans. They were looking for trade routes to bypass the famed Silk Road to China, as well as ways of obtaining rare spices and other products that were being monopolized by the Venetians. By 1500, Portuguese colonies or trading posts had been planted on the west African coast (Angola) and the east African coast (Mozambique). These colonies were used as stepping stones on the way to the Indian subcontinent. Fort Kochi, on the southwest coast of India, was established by the Portuguese in 1503. The Portuguese managed to establish trading agreements with several Indian rulers, with mixed results. By 1508, the Europeans had managed to get on the wrong side of a coalition of various nations, including the Calicut, the Sultan of Gujarat, the Mamlûk sultan of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire.

A Portuguese fleet of 21 vessels had been dispatched to the Indian Ocean in 1505 to add some muscle to their nation’s presence in that area. They were under the command of Portugal’s First Viceroy, Dom Francisco de Almeida, who had been appointed to represent the interests of Portugal in India. In opposition, the Ottoman sultan had provided some galleys to Egypt, in order to counter Portuguese interdiction of the Malabar timber trade from India. The Mamlûks – with some technical assistance from the Venetians – disassembled these galleys in Alexandria and reassembled them in the Red Sea below Suez. These galleys then had to navigate the Indian Ocean, a dicey situation considering that the galleys were constructed to sail on the Mediterranean Sea. Mostly hugging the coast, the Turkish- Mamlûk fleet arrived off the coast of Gujarat, one of the Muslim kingdoms on the coast of India. The Sultan of Gujarat had previously contacted the Ottomans, recommending that a sufficient naval force could help tip the balance of power and allow large portions of India to be added to the Ottoman Empire. The only major force standing in the way of that plan was the Portuguese.

In March of 1508, a smaller Portuguese fleet had been surprised and defeated by the Ottoman-Mamlûk fleet at the battle of Chaul. The Portuguese commander, Lourenço de Almeida, was killed and many Portuguese captured and imprisoned. When the First Viceroy, his father, heard of his son’s demise, he swore vengeance saying, “He who ate the chick must now eat the rooster, or pay for it.” While preparing to chase the Ottoman-Mamlûk fleet, the nobleman Afonso de Albuquerque arrived in India on December 6, 1508, with a royal commission to become the new Viceroy in India, replacing Almeida. Almeida refused to relinquish his position until he had hunted down the enemy fleet and avenged his son’s death. In sympathy with Almeida’s state of mind, Albuquerque agreed to wait until Almeida had accomplished his plans. [One chronicle states that Almeida threw Albuquerque into prison to await his pleasure.]

The Portuguese fleet, now numbering 18 vessels, left Fort Kochi in late 1508 and sailed north along the west Indian coast, seeking the Ottoman-Mamlûk fleet. They stopped at various ports along the way, either picking up provisions or attacking enemies, giving their soldiers experience. Ottoman admiral Mir Hussein Pasha, probably following standard Mediterranean tactics, anchored his fleet in the harbor of the port of Diu. This port had a fort with its own artillery, which Hussein Pasha hoped to use to support his fleet. The Ottoman-Mamlûk fleet had received reinforcements from the Sultan of Gujarat and the ruler of Calicut. However, these reinforcements were small, shallow-draft vessels little better than fishing boats. Eventually, on February 2, 1509, the Portuguese fleet discovered the enemy fleet in Diu’s harbor and prepared to attack the next day. The Turkish fleet was anchored in the inner harbor of Diu, with a treacherously narrow and shallow channel to navigate. However, the Portuguese found an 18-year odd native who was familiar with the channel and offered to help in exchange for his freedom.

The Portuguese fleet, consisted of some 18 ships, all but two armed with cannons in broadside, and teeming with 1500 well-armed, well-equipped, well-trained Portuguese soldiers and 400 Nayar warriors from the Kochi area. Their ships consisted of:

  • Five large carracks, or naus. They were large vessels with high forecastles and aftcastles, and usually three, sometimes four, masts. The foremast and mainmast were square-rigged, while the mizzenmast was lateen-rigged (triangular sail);
  • Four smaller naus, probably with three masts;
  • Four caravelas (caravels) redondas, three-masted ships with a square foresail and lateen sails on the other two. They were probably up to 30 metres in length and with a weight of 50 tons;
  • Two caravelas Latinas, two-masted, lateen-rigged precursors of the caravela redonda, probably shorter in length and a bit lighter in weight;
  • Two gales, probably two-masted, lateen rigged galleys with 25-30 oars on each side, with 3 men to an oar. Like most galleys, a gale had only fore and aft guns, but could also carry 200-300 men-at-arms; and,
  • One bergantim (brigantine), a smaller, two-masted vessel with a square sail on the foremast and lateen-rigged on the other. At this time period, it was probably also equipped with oars.

The Ottoman-Mamlûk fleet, besides the 100 or so smaller galleys from Gujarat and Calicut, had 16 larger vessels. They were all galleys, though they were referred to by names similar to the Portuguese vessels. As stated above, these Turkish vessels were only equipped with light cannon fore and aft. The vessels were:

  • Four naus from Gujarat;
  • Four Mamlûk naus;
  • Two caravelas;
  • Four galeotas (galliots), small galleys with two lateen-rigged sails and up to 20 oars per side; and,
  • Two gales.

As mentioned above, the Portuguese vessels had a large complement of fighting men, trained for sea battle, armed with arquebuses and primitive grenades. The Turkish fleet marines, trained for fighting in the Mediterranean, wore almost no armor and were mainly archers. Also, the Portuguese ships sat higher in the water, and were almost impossible to board. Further, their cannon could bombard any enemy vessel attempting to approach them for boarding action.

The battle started at about 11 a.m., when the prevailing winds and the incoming tide were favorable. The Portuguese began a major bombardment of the artillery batteries guarding the port and the Turkish fleet. Then, when the Turkish and Gujarati vessels refused to leave the “safety” of the harbor – as Almeida anticipated – the Portuguese moved in to engage the enemy.

The superiority of the state-of-the-art European vessels became obvious as, for the next six hours, the Portuguese blasted the enemy vessels with full broadsides, grappled and boarded the enemy ships, capturing two Turkish naus, two Gujarati naus and the two Turkish gales in bloody hand-to-hand fighting. In addition, two Turkish naus, 2 Gujarati naus and two Turkish caravelas were sunk. By five o’clock, the wind began to change and Almeida ordered his fleet – which lost no ships despite one of his naus sustaining heavy damage – to leave the harbor with some of their prizes.

The next day, Viceroy Almeida demanded the return of the men captured at the battle of Chaul, which was accomplished within the hour. He further demanded reparations of 300,000 gold xerafins (about 180,000 rupes). The ruler of Diu offered to give his port to the Portuguese, but Almeida turned that offer down, as he felt it would be too expensive to rule – but he did leave a garrison in the city. The Portuguese fleet stayed in the area for several days; the ruler of Diu, grateful that the Europeans did not loot his city, almost daily sent them a boat loaded with “… sheep, hens, eggs, oranges, lemons, cabbages, etc.” as well as rich gifts. Almeida refused a gift of a brocade tapestry and a string of pearls, which he instead sent home to the Queen of Portugal. Nine days after the battle, the Portuguese fleet headed back south.

Casualties from the battle amounted to 32 Portuguese dead, and about 300 wounded. The combined enemy dead were estimated at 3000 killed and an “even larger” number of wounded. The Egyptian and Turkish prisoners were treated…well, badly. Almeida, in retaliation for his son’s death, ordered most of them to be hanged, burnt alive or torn to pieces by tying them to the mouths of cannons, then firing them. Writing about the battle afterwards, the Viceroy said, “As long as you may be powerful at sea, you will hold India as yours; and if you do not possess this power, little will avail you a fortress on the shore.” Several of the captured Turkish and Gujarati vessels were sold as prizes, with portions of the money distributed to the fleet sailors and marines.

Among the more long-standing reminders of this fight were three royal battle standards of the Mamlûk sultan of Egypt captured at this battle. They were sent home to Portugal, where to this day they hang in the Convent of the Order of Christ in the city of Tomar, formerly a stronghold of the Knights Templar.



Later generations of Europeans, from the seventeenth century on, would grow increasingly confident, even complacent, regarding their military superiority over the East (excepting such scares as the 1683 siege of Vienna). There was no such confidence in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Then, a long string of battlefield victories indicated that the Muslim world, particularly the wealthy, populous, militant and expanding Ottoman Empire, had every chance of stretching its grasp to seize first Sicily or Vienna, then Naples and Rome, and finally all of western Europe. This was by no means an improbable, or even unlikely scenario. The sultan planned for it, sending his armies and fleets west. In response, the European powers fretted, drew themselves together in a sequence of Holy Leagues and prepared for the sultan’s blows. Only the most powerful of Christian princes, ‘his most Catholic majesty’ the King of Spain, could direct his own sustained offensive east to match and meet the Turk.

The battles of East versus West were of course fought along the shores of the Mediterranean and the banks of the Danube. But there were more exotic, farther flung points of conflict as well: the Renaissance struggle between Muslim and Christian European was the first truly global war. Portuguese exploration into the Indian Ocean in search of pepper, cloves and nutmeg (and also the fabled Eastern ally for the war against the Moors, ‘Prester John’, eventually identified as the black Christian king of the Ethiopian highlands) brought the age-old conflict of crusader and Ghazi to the monsoon-lands of Asia and East Africa. In 1498 Vasco da Gama made landfall in India. The Portuguese governors ‘of India’ (their brief actually included the whole of the Indian Ocean) who followed da Gama brought the customs of the Iberian Reconquista – fire and sword – to the work of carving out a maritime empire: this was no mere commercial creation. Afonso da Albuqerque seized Hormuz in 1509, Goa in 1510 and Malacca on the Malay Peninsula – gateway to the spice wealth of the East Indies – in 1511. These were all Muslim cities. Between 1503 and 1513 the Portuguese almost annually raided into the Red Sea; in 1517 they almost seized Jiddah, the very port of Mecca. The Mameluke sultan in Cairo (until 1517) and thereafter the Ottoman sultan had to respond to these provocations. In 1508 a Mameluke fleet co-operating with Indian Muslim rulers surprised the Portuguese at Chaul off the coast of India, but this Muslim-allied fleet was destroyed the following year. In 1538 a large Ottoman army landed at Diu in India, but failed to take the Portuguese city despite the support of a massive siege battery of 130 guns. In 1552 the Ottomans attacked but failed to retake Hormuz; Portuguese counter-raids reached Basra in southern Iraq. In 1567 as many as forty Ottoman ships arrived at Sumatra to aid the Muslim sultan of Atjeh. Significantly this expedition coincided exactly with a peak in Ottoman activity against the Christian powers in the Mediterranean. This was indeed a world war.

Book Review: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World.

Exciting re-creation of the epic mid-16th-century struggle between the encroaching Ottoman Empire and the beleaguered Christian Europeans.
Crowley picks up where he left off in 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West (2005). After the fall of Constantinople to Mehmet the Conqueror and his army of Turks, the author writes, it was only a matter of time before Mehmet’s great-grandson Suleiman set out to achieve his own ambition to become “Padishah of the White Sea”—the Mediterranean. From the 1520s on, Suleiman and later his son Selim II clashed repeatedly with Charles V and then Philip II of Spain in a battle for holy ascendancy that stretched from Rhodes to Tunis, Cyprus to Lepanto. Suleiman unleashed his murderous corsairs, led by the Barbarossa brothers, to wreak havoc on the Barbary Coast (North Africa), while Charles employed the astute services of the valiant Genoese sea commander Andrea Doria. Radiating from Madrid and Istanbul across Europe, the engines of imperial power collided catastrophically in 1565 on the rugged island of Malta, a launch pad for the crusading Knights of Saint John headed by the zealous Jean Parisot de La Valette. Here Crowley lingers with chillingly detailed precision, depicting the armada of Turkish galleys bearing down on the island. Seventy-year-old La Valette and his 6,000 or so fighting men hastily prepared for defense against an Ottoman force exceeding 20,000. The Knights and the rest of Europe were convinced that this was the final redoubt, “the glorious last-ditch stand against impossible odds, massacre, martyrdom, and death.” What ensued was a four-month bloodbath, with the Christians routing the Turks and checking their advance into the White Sea.
A masterly narrative that captures the religious fervor, brutality and mayhem of this intensive contest for the “center of the world.”

Naval Power in the Renaissance Africa

In 1500, a number of dynamic powers were expanding. The conflicts involving Ottoman Turkey, Mameluke Egypt, Safavid Persia, the Mughals, and the Lodis were all important, although with hindsight Portuguese and Spanish naval activity may appear most important. China was less affected than other major Asian states by external challenges
The long-distance extension of power and influence by sea was scarcely novel: the Vikings had colonized Iceland and Greenland and reached Newfoundland; the Chinese had sent a number of major expeditions into the Indian Ocean in the early fifteenth century. Yet no state had hitherto dispatched and sustained major naval and amphibious forces across the Atlantic or the Pacific, let alone to the other side of the world.
Naval force was also important because it was easier to move men, munitions, and supplies by sea than by land. Such movement came to play a greater role in many struggles. The Turks, for example, learned in the late fifteenth century to move cannon by sea, and then land them for the sieges of coastal fortifications that played such a major role in the military system of their rival, Venice. The conflict in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi of Adal (1506-43), known to the Ethiopians as Ahmad Gran (the left-handed), was affected by support received by sea from foreign powers. The war is indeed an instructive instance both of how such struggles could become aspects of wider conflicts and of the transforming role of firearms. Ahmad, a fiery imam, conquered Ada! in the mid-1520s and then launched a holy war against Ethiopia. He also trained his men in the new tactics and fIrearms introduced into the Red Sea region by the Ottomans, who conquered Egypt in 1517. Ahmad overran much of Ethiopia in 1527 and, thanks to better leadership and weapons, higher morale, a more effective command structure, greater mobility, and more flexible tactics, he was able to defeat the Ethiopian Emperor Lebna Dengel at Shimbra Kure in 1528. Ahmad then conquered much of Ethiopia, including the wealthy Amhara plateau, though Lebna Dengel continued to resist from the Christian highlands. In 1541, the Portuguese despatched 400 musketeers to the aid of Ethiopia. A joint Ethiopian and Portuguese army defeated Ahmad in 1541. He then turned to the Ottomans for help. They in turn provided him with 900 musketeers and 10 cannon, with which he defeated his opponents in August 1542, killing 200 Portuguese, including their commander Christopher da Gama. The conflict in Ethiopia, hitherto the land of the mythical Prester John for Europeans, had thus been integrated, at least partly, into global military relationships.

In Africa, firearms had most impact along the savanna belt, where European and Islamic ‘foreign’ influence was strongest, but the overall military situation was more complex. Towards the close of the century, the nomadic pagan Galla advanced from the Ogaden and overran both Ethiopia and Adal. Native fighting methods could be very effective. African coastal vessels, powered by paddles and carrying archers and javelinmen, were able to challenge Portuguese raiders on the West African coast. Although it was difficult for them to storm the larger, high-Sided Portuguese ships, they were nevertheless too fast and too small to present easy targets for the Portuguese cannon. In 1535, the Portuguese were once more repelled when they tried to conquer the Bissagos Islands. On land, the Portuguese cannon proved to have little impact on the African earthwork fortifications.
In Angola, the base of Portuguese operations in the 1570s, the slow rate of fire of their muskets and the openness of the African fighting formations reduced the effectiveness of firearms, and the Portuguese were successful only when supported by local troops. Initially, their position was saved by the intervention of an army from the kingdom of Kongo. The global range of the European maritime powers and the impact of gunpowder must be considered alongside the importance of the non-European users of firearms and the resilience of the peoples who lacked them. Both are themes throughout this period, and remind us of the dangers of adopting a teleological perspective in which the future is read back into the past, made to appear inevitable with the perspective of hindsight.
The fact that the Europeans dramatically increased the percentage of the world’s surface that they controlled in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and were to continue doing so in the eighteenth, does not mean that the process of European expansion was inevitable, although it would be foolish to discount its significance and interest. It is, however, important to .appreciate also the great complexities of this process, the many imbalances between the military and naval developments of the various regions, and the contrasting trajectories of European success in many different parts of the world.

North versus South in Naval technology

Large cog with the Latin sail aft and by light gun on the turning ring mount which ruled in the Baltic region and the North Sea almost 300 years.

The galley, be it of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, or Turkish design, was not an effective seagoing weapon system. Galley fleets were too unseaworthy and too logistically short-legged to act independently. As a result, well into the sixteenth century Mediterranean navies were still tethered to the shore. Galley fleets had limited radii of operations—five hundred miles at best—and that piloting along coasts, not sailing or rowing along a straight line from point to point. At night, galley commanders preferred to back their ships onto a safe beach, where the crew could sleep and search for fresh food and water. A blockade of a distant enemy port was virtually impossible. Only if a friendly army held a nearby stretch of coast could a galley squadron attempt a blockade. Navies, leashed as they were, usually operated as flanking forces for the armies to which they were attached. Until the sixteenth century, naval operations were extensions of land warfare, more amphibious than truly naval.

The changes in ship design, navigation, cartography, and armament that occurred between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries were not simply incremental steps in the evolution of sea power, but a collection of advances that engendered a maritime revolution. By the mid-seventeenth century the nature, scope, and scale of both maritime commerce and naval warfare had changed dramatically. Previously, only states with large and mighty armies—such as the Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, and Mongols—had been able to forge global domains. But now the world’s new empires were maritime states more akin to Athens than to Rome. Sea power was no longer merely an adjunct to land power. “The sea,” in the words of Fernand Braudel, had become “the gateway to wealth.”

That Europe’s maritime empires all fronted the North Atlantic, a harsh, challenging sea, was no coincidence. Northern Europeans were never as enamored of the galley as their southern cousins. Northern seas, even coastal waters, were too rough for vessels with low freeboards. Many of the tides and currents of the English Channel ebbed and flowed more quickly than the best speed of a rowed vessel. The Vikings conducted most of their distant oceanic voyages, not in their rowed longships or war galleys, but in more functional sailing vessels.

The harsh Atlantic environment forced northern Europeans to give more thought to the design and rigging of sailing ships, and to navigation techniques, than did the people of the Mediterranean basin. Often facing overcast or foggy conditions, northern mariners relied heavily on soundings and, when it became available, the compass. Eventually northerners developed several types of vessels notable for their seaworthiness, carrying capacity, range, and ability to sail upwind.

Northern shipbuilders enjoyed no monopoly on design improvements. Shipwrights in the Mediterranean also refined their roundships, not only by incorporating ideas imported from the north, but also through their own advances in construction techniques and rigging plans, advances northerners were more than ready to adopt. Shipbuilding know-how flowed freely between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Northern Europeans owed their maritime dominance over their southern neighbors, and ultimately over the entire world, to a pair of interrelated developments. First, northerners quickly adopted, by necessity rather than choice, improved roundships as war platforms; the Mediterranean states, both Christian and Muslim, did not. Second, the northern Europeans’ continued refinement of the sailing man-of-war in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries positioned them, unlike their southern neighbors, to take full advantage of the development of cheap iron cannon late in the sixteenth century.

Since the galley was never as satisfactory a platform for ship-to-ship fighting in rough northern waters as in the Mediterranean, as shipwrights constructed larger, more strongly built, more maneuverable roundships in the thirteenth century, states fronting the Atlantic began to incorporate the new vessels into their naval forces. The late-twelfth-century English navy, for example, consisted principally of assorted types of galleys, but by the early thirteenth century powerful roundships formed the core of English battlefleets. By the early fourteenth century galleys had all but disappeared from English orders of battle. In contrast, well into the sixteenth century Mediterranean navies clung to their battleproven galleys, which continued to hold their own against roundships.

As a result, northern shipbuilders had a three-century head start, not in the design and development of sailing ships as such, but in the refinement of the roundship as a fighting platform. While most sailing ships taken into the fleet in wartime were merchant vessels pressed temporarily into service, northern European states began to look to shipwrights to design and build sailing vessels specifically for wartime use. These new ships incorporated several prominent design features, such as towering fore and aft “castles,” or fighting platforms, from which soldiers could hurl projectiles down onto their enemies. Gradually, the recognizable design of purpose-built sailing warships began to emerge.

Nevertheless, these early sailing men-of-war, even when armed with the primitive gunpowder weapons of the day, did not yet ensure technological superiority for northern navies beyond their home waters. Until the sixteenth century reliable cannon were too expensive to be used extensively, whether on land or on sea. States generally consigned their heavy guns to siege trains, of which the Muslim Ottomans, not the Christian Europeans, had the most powerful. Navies, both northern and Mediterranean, mounted only small numbers of heavy cannon, mostly brass or bronze, in the bows of their ships.

The costliness of the great guns masked the true nature of the technological changes taking place in the maritime world and lulled the Mediterranean powers into unwarranted complacency. As long as fiscal concerns limited the naval use of artillery, the galley was a viable fighting platform. Since bow-mounted guns fired forward, in battle they could be used more efficiently by the highly maneuverable galleys than by sailing ships. Thus in 1500 no one recognized that the war galley had reached the end of its long history of development; no one foresaw that the fighting roundship would continue to evolve as a weapons system for another 350 years; no one knew that by the end of the century the advent of cheap iron cannon would allow the larger, longer-ranged roundship to carry powerful broadside batteries to the four corners of the globe; no one suspected that the age of galley warfare was drawing to a close.

Cannon and sailing ships consummated their marriage unobtrusively. Only in the fifteenth century did ships begin to mount guns broadside. Not until 1501 did a Frenchman cut gun ports in the hull of a ship. Only a few men-of-war, such as the English Harry Grace à Dieu and the French François, mounted large batteries with numerous broadside cannon. And of the Harry’s 141 guns, only 21 were heavy cannon, all brass and rather expensive.

In the late sixteenth century the development by the English of cheap cast-iron cannon began to ensure the preeminence of the roundship over the galley. Cast-iron cannon weighed more than brass or bronze guns, did not last as long, and were more apt to explode. But new casting methods enabled English ironsmiths to produce large numbers of admittedly inferior but very inexpensive cannon. The use of both English methods and iron guns quickly spread throughout the navies of the north. As a result, northern Europeans possessed a monopoly on both the raw materials and the technological know-how to furnish enough guns to line the decks of their ships of war.

Early in the seventeenth century the Mediterranean powers discovered that their navies were obsolescent, if not obsolete. Refinements could no longer make the galley a viable warship. The southern Europeans, Turks, Arabs, and the rest of the world had fallen behind the northerners, so quickly, so imperceptibly, and so far.


Hungarian revolutionary, politician, and statesman, who served most of his political career in the House of Habsburg, as prime minister and defense minister of Hungary and later as joint foreign minister

During the revolution of 1848–49 he was a member of KOSSUTH’s radical reform party. He was elected to the Hungarian Diet in 1847. As a batallion commander, he participated in the armed struggle against the Habsburgs in the War of Independence of 1849. After the defeat of the uprising, he fled abroad, was sentenced to death in absentia, and was in fact hung in effigy in VIENNA’s marketplace. During his exile he visited several west European countries and thoroughly familiarized himself with the intricacies of European politics and diplomacy. Amnestied in 1857, he returned to Hungary. Working hand-in-hand with FERENC DEÁK, he was instrumental in drafting the Hungarian terms of the compromise with the Habsburgs that by painful degrees emerged after Austria’s defeat at the hands of Prussia in the summer of 1866. He was later, together with Deák, one of the participants in Vienna in the discussions that led to the conclusion of the AUSGLEICH in February 1867. From that time on he was continually active in political life, in the service first of Hungary and then of the Dual Monarchy. After the Great Compromise he was named, at the recommendation of Deák, prime minister of Hungary. It was he who placed the crown of St. Stephen on the emperor’s head when the latter was crowned king of Hungary on June 8, 1867. As prime minister he relaxed the stringent censorship of the press that since the revolution had hampered free expression; he also mitigated the repressive legislation against the Jews.

Having been born in northern Hungary (in Kassa, in the largely Slovak-populated Uplands), he feared somewhat extravagantly that the Hungarian nation would become submerged in the Slavic sea; for that reason he strongly favored dualism—that is, close links to Austria— as well as alliance or alignment with Germany as a means of keeping Russia, protector of Slavs in the empire and in the Balkans, in check. When plans were developed in Vienna for giving Bohemia with its Czech population equal status with Hungary in the monarchy, he strenuously opposed such a measure.

In 1871, when Emperor Francis Joseph abandoned his plans for revanche against Germany and sought rapprochement, he dismissed the anti-German FRIEDRICH BEUST as joint foreign minister and, on November 14, 1871, appointed Andrássy in his stead. The brunt of Andrássy’s foreign policy was resistance to Russian expansion in the Balkans and curbing Serbian ambitions to become the center of a South Slav federation. When revolt broke out in BOSNIAHERCEGOVINA against Ottoman rule in 1875, he strongly advocated the absorption of those provinces into the Dual Monarchy, as well as that of the sanjak of Novibazar, which separated Serbia from Montenegro and which in Austrian hands could serve as an Ausfalltor (springboard) for the monarchy into the Balkans toward Saloniki. He achieved these goals at the CONGRESS OF BERLIN in the summer of 1878, following a war between Russia and Turkey.

Pleading ill health, but most likely because he was discomfited by criticisms of his Balkan policy, he resigned as foreign minister on October 8, 1879. First, however, he put his signature to an Austro-Hungarian alliance with Germany, directed chiefly against Russia. He remained a member of the Hungarian upper house to the end of his life.