The Takedown of Tyre II


Expanding his navy was actually easier for Alexander than might have been expected. Because most of his recent conquests and alliances had involved maritime powers, his new friends were willing to contribute to his fleet-building efforts. According to Arrian, Cyprus sent 120 warships to Alexander, while both Sidon and Rhodes contributed some triremes, and “about 80 Phoenician ships joined him.”

Both Gerostratus and Enylus, the kings respectively of Aradus and Byblos, “ascertaining that their cities were in the possession of Alexander, deserted Autophradates and the fleet under his command, and came to Alexander with their naval force.”

Alexander also personally joined the naval attack on Tyre, sailing with the fleet as it embarked from Sidon. His own position was at the right wing of the armada, farthest from the coast. His initial strategy had been to lure the Tyrians into a battle in the open sea.

The Tyrians had been looking forward to such a fight on the basis of Alexander’s perceived naval inferiority, but when they observed Alexander’s fleet most remained in port rather than accepting the challenge. Alexander’s flotilla managed to sink three vessels, but aside from that they were at a stalemate.

Alexander for once had the superior numbers in a naval battle, but he could not lure out his enemy. If a fight took place, it would have to be in the tight confines of one of the island’s two harbors. It was like Issus, only on water—and at Issus, it was Darius who was in too tight a space to make full use of his superior numbers.

Alexander decided to blockade Tyre and wait. He assigned the Cypriot triremes to block the northern Tyrian port and dispatched the Phoenician fleet to block the southern port.

He then turned back to his land strategy, ordering the rapid construction of catapults and siege engines, including battering rams and protected towers for the transfer of troops. These were placed on ships for the final assault against Tyre’s fortifications. The Tyrians countered by building towers of their own in order to be higher than the Greco- Macedonian besiegers. It became a battle of fiery projectiles launched from higher and higher elevations.

Eventually feeling the pressure of the naval blockade, the Tyrians made an attempt to break out of the northern port using a force of seven triremes, three quadriremes and three quinqueremes. The ships moved silently so as not to alert the Cypriot blockade ships, but it would not have been necessary. The Cypriots were asleep at the tiller. Indeed, each ship was manned by a mere skeleton crew, with most hands having been quartered ashore. Catching the Cypriot fleet off guard, the Tyrians managed to sink or damage a number of vessels.

Roused from his tent—all of this happened in the heat of the summer afternoon as the officers were resting—Alexander ordered all available ships in the port on the mainland side of the channel to put to sea to prevent any additional Tyrian ships from reaching open seas. Alexander boarded a ship himself, intending as usual to lead from the front.

Despite calls from Tyrian lookouts that Alexander’s ships were pulling out from their moorings, ships continued to leave the port. Alexander’s fleet rallied, ramming and sinking a number of vessels, and capturing others.


Assault on Tyre

Finally, Alexander developed a tactical plan that called for a complex amphibious landing under fire that would be considered ambitious even by a modern combat force. In the northern part of the island, where the causeway had been built, Tyre’s walls were the most formidable and best defended, so Alexander moved to execute an unanticipated flanking maneuver by hitting a less well defended point in the southern end.

The attack would entail breaching the wall above sea level from the sea using siege engines aboard ships, and then using a portable bridge to push troops through this breach. Indeed, attacking a vertical wall above sea level is always much more difficult than putting troops across a sea-level beach using landing craft. With Tyrian defenses pierced, Alexander’s fleet would attack the two Tyrian ports simultaneously.

When his first attempt to execute the plan was quickly repulsed, Alexander withdrew, postponing a renewed attempt until a patch of stormy weather had blown through. On the third day following, the seas were quieter and Alexander resumed the assault.

After seven months, the siege finally reached its climax on the last day of the month of Hekatombaion, the same month that Alexander celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday (July 20, 332 BC). Plutarch tells that after consulting some omens, Aristander had declared confidently “that the city would certainly be captured during that month.” Because it was the last day of the month, and Tyre had held out for 200 days already, Aristander’s words “produced laughter and jesting.”

Arrian says that Alexander “led the ships containing the military engines up to the city. In the first place he shook down a large piece of the wall; and when the breach appeared to be sufficiently wide, he ordered the vessels conveying the military engines to retire, and brought up two others, which carried the bridges, which he intended to throw upon the breach in the wall. The shield bearing guards occupied one of these vessels, which he had put under the command of Admetus; and the other was occupied by the regiment of Coenus, called the foot Companions.”

When the siege engines pulled back, Alexander sent in triremes with archers and catapults to get as close as possible, even if it meant running aground, to support the infantry assault.

Again leading from the front, Alexander himself headed the assault force that went ashore. Admetus’s contingent was the first over the wall, but he was killed in action, struck by a spear. Alexander then led the Companion infantry in securing a section of wall and several towers. With Greco-Macedonian troops taking and holding a rapidly expanding beachhead, the defensive advantages of the fortified city began to evaporate.

Unfortunately for the Tyrians, their royal palace was in the southern part of the city, and it was one of the first major objectives to fall to Alexander’s invading troops. King Azemilcus, his senior bureaucrats and a delegation of Carthaginian dignitaries, who had been trapped in Tyre when Alexander’s fleet sealed the ports, were there but escaped to take refuge in the temple to Heracles. Ironically, this was the same temple at which Alexander had originally asked to be allowed to worship.

At the same time, Alexander’s fleet forced its way into the two harbors. Phoenician ships entered the southern harbor, the Port of Egypt, and the Cypriot ships breached the entrance to Tyre’s northern harbor, the Port of Sidon. Here at the Port of Sidon, the larger of the two anchorages, troops were able to get ashore inside the harbor. The defenders fell back to defensive positions at the Agenoreum, a temple to the mythical King Agenor, but were quickly routed. Alexander now had beachheads on either end of Tyre and the Tyrian defenders in a pincer.

Within a matter of hours, after a bloody siege of seven months, troops from both landings linked up in the northern part of the city. All of the defenses that had been erected on the causeway side were for naught.

According to Diodorus, immediately after his victory Alexander ordered the causeway broadened to an average width of nearly 200 feet and made permanent, using material from the damaged city walls as fill.

The causeway is still there, although it if you visited it, you would not notice it. Over the past 2,300 years, wave action and drifting sand have caused it to grow into a broad isthmus about a quarter of a mile wide. The part of Tyre that was an island in 332 BC has been connected to the mainland ever since Alexander’s day.

Alexander gave no quarter to those he captured, killing them on the spot or eventually selling them into slavery. According to Arrian, the defenders suffered about 8,000 killed or executed and 30,000 made slaves, while the Greco-Macedonian force lost 400 killed in action during the entire siege. Curtius reports 6,000 Tyrian troops killed inside the city walls, and 2,000 executed in the aftermath. While these numbers were probably stretched in favor of Alexander, many later scholars, including Botsford and Robinson, repeat them. There is no way of knowing for sure.

In any case, Alexander walked into the Temple of Heracles around sundown that day to make his long-postponed sacrifice. It was the afternoon of the last day of Hekatombaion. Of all those who had laughed at Aristander for his outlandish prediction, none were laughing now.

Alexander spared King Azemilcus and gave amnesty to all those hiding in the temple when it was captured. The sight of his city’s resounding defeat, and of Alexander standing in the temple that he had once asked to visit peacefully, was probably punishment enough for the king.

After the Battle of Issus and the siege of Tyre, Persia was no longer a Mediterranean superpower. Having had the heart ripped out of his army, and the bases ripped away from his navy, Darius would be unable to challenge Alexander significantly again until his army was deep inside the interior of the Persian Empire.

The Saxon Fleet Keeps Sailing, 1066

Anglo-Saxon Ship

In 1066, Harold of England put the Saxon fleet to sea to deter an assault from Norway or Normandy against England. However, when harvest-time came, the sailors went home to their fields and the way was open for the invasions that doomed Anglo-Saxon England.

What if Harold kept the fleet at sea somehow? Perhaps he recruits a good labour force to look after the sailors’ crops so that they can keep patrolling without letting their harvest go to waste. How long would the Saxon fleet need to keep patrolling the Channel before Harald Haardrada of Norway and William the Conqueror get tired of waiting and either attack or give up?

In fact, the English Navy was damaged by a storm on September 12th – the same storm that thwarted William’s ORIGINAL invasion. The Norman fleet was forced into harbour at St Valery from its original launch point at the mouth of the River Dives (between Caen and Lisieux).

The gale came at the end of a protracted period of northerly wind lasting from mid-August. The storm wasn’t that bad and wouldn’t have bothered the Norwegians but the Normans were much less experienced sailors and their “fleet” was little more than a series of wooden barges – the comparison is often made with the proposed German landing-craft of 1940.

In effect, without a favourable (and light) southerly wind, there was little chance of the Norman fleet getting to England in one piece. The “miracle” for William was that he got the weather on September 27th and got the bulk of his fleet across within the day.

For me, the interesting ‘what if’ is not to have the Norman fleet destroyed by the weather but to have no bad weather and an opposed Norman landing on or about September 14th. This would have left Harold to face the Normans first – Hardrada did not land until September 17th. These few days could have made all the difference.

In the timeline I presented before, the Normans are defeated at Netherfield (near Hastings) on September 19th after which Harold rides north to face Hardrada and Tostig south of York.

I’d heard that if Harald Hardraada had won in the north and come down to face William the Conqueror in the south of England, it is likely that the country would be partitioned.

I’m not sure what the outcome would be if they fought; Harald would have been weakened by the battle with the English under Harald, but as a fellow Scandinavian (England at the time was more Norse than Continental and there were many prominent Danes there), he could also recruit Englishmen to resist William.

In essence, Harold defeats William at Netherfield, just to the north of Hastings and William dies soon after the battle. The Normans withdraw under Count Eustace of Boulogne in disorder.

From the south, Harold leads the victorious fyrd north and defeats Hardrada and Tostig at Stamford Bridge on September 26th. Inside two and a half weeks, Harold has seen off two foreign invasions and is feted across England.

Normandy dissolves into anarchy as William’s son, Robert, tries to keep the Duchy together. Harold is after revenge and makes an alliance with Philip of France and the two eventually conquer Normandy in 1068. William’s widow, Matilda, returns to Flanders and gets her brother, Robert, to overthrow Count Baldwin in 1070 (as in Original Time Line OTL). This draws Harold into a protracted involvement in Europe (Flanders was England’s leading trading partner). Ultimately, Harold allies with Henry, the Emperor and the combined forces defeat the army of Flanders in 1079. The alliance with Harold enables Henry to assert dominance over the Pope and this will fundamentally affect the future development of the Empire and the map of Central Europe.

Elsewhere, Edgar the Aetheling flees to Scotland and joins forces with Malcolm, whose son marries Edgar’s older sister. In 1072, they persuade Earl Edwin to lead a rising in the north and invade. Harold has to rush the army north and at Newark an inconclusive battle leads to the invasion being halted but Harold giving up Northumberland and Westmoreland in exchange for homage from Malcolm III. Edgar later plots with the Danes but this comes to nothing.

While he lives, Harold the Great holds England together but the Godwin dynasty has many elements and after Edgar’s revolt, Harold tends to trust his immediate family more than the extended Godwin clan. His son, Harold Haroldson, will become king in 1091 but tension exists with his younger brother, Wulfnoth….


The Steam Powered Warships

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‘It was at this same (1897 Fleet Review at Spithead) Review that a wonderful little vessel named the “Turbinia” appeared, steaming through the Fleet at 35 knots, a speed never before achieved on water. She was the first ship to be fitted with the turbine machinery invented by her owner, the Hon. C. A. Parsons of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and a great sensation was caused by her steaming through the lines at such a speed. Whilst she was at anchor in Portsmouth Harbour, I went aboard and told the owner that I would like to get a snap of his craft going at full speed.

“No one has succeeded yet, although many have tried”, replied Mr. Parsons.

“I should like to have a shot at her”, I persisted.

“Alright, so you shall!” he said with a smile, “I will make another run through the fleet tomorrow, look out for me between lines A. and B. at noon. That should give you an opportunity.”

“I’ll be there, opposite the Flagship”, I told him,

Punctually at l2 o’clock there appeared between the leaders of the lines a smother of foam – it was the “Turbinia”. As she raced past the Flagship, I was waiting in my launch and took a flying shot of her. When I developed the plate I was delighted to find that I had “got her”, and the owner was so pleased with the result that he invited me to take a number of photographs and a cinematograph film of his craft on the Tyne.’


For thousands of years, most mariners had dreamed of being able to take a large cargo anywhere they wanted without worrying about wind and currents. High-ranking British naval officers in the 19th century were the exception. We’ll come to that in a moment.

Ships propelled by oars could, of course, proceed into the wind (although progress was a lot slower than if there were no wind), but the large number of rowers precluded carrying much cargo and ensured that such ships as the Greek triremes (a galley with three banks of rowers) could not go far from land. Primitive sails like those of the classical galleys or the Arab dhows could take a vessel a long distance if the wind were favorable, but not if it were in the wrong direction. That’s why a dhow plying the Indian Ocean trade took a year to make a round trip. Half of the year the winds blew to the West; the other half, to the East. Scandinavian seamen learned to manipulate a square sail to allow some progress against the wind, as did Arab sailors using the lateen sail. But even after Europeans developed the full-rigged ship, progress could be slow unless the weather cooperated. If there was no wind, progress was nil.

The steam engine changed sailing radically, and that transformed warfare at sea. But the steam engine would not have been possible without a previous advance in the art of war. In the 18th century, a Swiss gunfounder named Jean Maritz, improved the rough, sometimes-crooked bores of cannons by inventing a machine for boring out the barrel after the gun was cast solid, instead of incorporating the bore in the casting. A few years later, in 1774, a British engineer named John Wilkinson improved the machine. Wilkinson’s device created an extremely smooth and precise hole. With a machine like that, the pioneers of steam power were able to build cylinders with tight-fitting, efficient pistons. Such cylinder and piston arrangements are essential to early steam engines as well as modern internal combustion engines.

The first steam engines worked by filling a cylinder with steam, then condensing it to water. The vacuum created drew the piston into the cylinder. These “atmospheric” engines were useful for pumping out mines and other tasks where their weight was not important. They were far too heavy and bulky to use aboard ships, however. James Watts’s improved steam engine drove the piston in the opposite direction—expanding steam, rather than atmospheric pressure on a vacuum was the driving force. Such engines could be made small enough to power a ship. Their earliest use was to turn a pair of huge side wheels.

Steam gave navies a great strategic advantage. Steam warships no longer depended on weather and could cross the oceans much faster than sailing ships. “Seizing the weather gauge” (maneuvering into the best location to take advantage of the wind) had long been a favorite tactic of British seamen. It no longer gave any advantage. For that reason, Britain, although it was the home of the first steam engines and it utterly depended on its navy for its primacy in world affairs, tried to retard the development of steam-powered ships. British naval personnel were the most skilled in the world; British shipyards devoted to building sailing men-of-war were the biggest in the world; British technology in preserving food for long journeys, manufacturing the heavy, short-range cannons, called carronades, and everything else needed for wooden, sail-driven warships, led the world. If the world’s navies went to steam, all of that would be worthless.

In 1828, the British admiralty expressed their views on steam-powered warships:

Their lordships feel it is their bounden duty to discourage to the utmost of their ability the employment of steam vessels, as they consider that the introduction of steam is calculated to strike a fatal blow at the naval supremacy of the Empire.

In spite of the size of the British Navy, this policy bore more than a little resemblance to the actions of an earlier British authority figure: King Canute, who tried to tell the tide to reverse itself. The American, Robert Fulton, had built a working steam ship as early as 1807. In 1837, the paddle wheel steamer Sirius crossed the Atlantic in 18 days—breathtaking speed in an era when Atlantic crossings were measured in months.

Although the new method of propulsion had manifest advantages, the world’s navies did not immediately board the steamship. The French started building steam warships in the 1840s, but they did so on a small scale. There were a number of reasons for this slow progress. There was the natural conservatism of sailors and military men, and that the British, owners of the world’s most powerful navy, professed to see little value in the new technology. And, most important, there was the fact that the early steamships could not survive a battle with sailing warships of comparable size. The huge paddle wheels on each side of the vessel were vulnerable to gunfire, and they made it impossible for the ship to carry enough cannons along the side to match the broadsides of a sailing ship. Another drawback was that steamships could not stay at sea nearly indefinitely, as the sailing ships could. They had to be near a supply of coal.

The paddle wheel was the first drawback eliminated. In its place, ship builders used the screw propeller. The new device had to rotate much faster than a paddle wheel, which meant both major changes in gearing and much more efficient engines. John Ericsson, a Swedish engineer, invented both a screw propeller that worked and an engine to drive it. He sold the designs to the U.S. Navy, and in 1842 the U.S.S. Princeton became the world’s first screw-propelled steamship. Princeton’s engine and drive shaft were located below the waterline for protection, and the ship was able to carry enough guns for a broadside. In 1843, the British steamer Great Britain became the first screw-equipped ship to cross the Atlantic.

The age of steam had arrived. Ship builders were still hedging their bets by equipping their vessels with masts and rigging that could be used if the engine failed, but it was hard to navigate a paddle wheeler using sails alone. Screw propellers made sailing easier, but even the propeller caused interference. The next major improvement in warships was adding armor. Another huge advance in steam engines after the introduction of armor was the steam turbine engine, which used a spinning wheel turned by rapidly expanding steam to propel the vessel. These engines made possible the high-speed torpedo boats that threatened the supremacy of the battleship at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. At the British Jubilee Naval Review in 1897, the steam launch Turbinia stole the show as it dashed in and out of the line of battleships at the unheard-of speed of 34 1/2 knots.


Bernard Doumerc

In Venice, ‘the sea was all that mattered’. Truly, this was the founding principle that marked the history of this celebrated city.1 For a very long time historians made the Serenissima a model of success, wealth, and opulence, sometimes asserting that the Venetians ‘had a monopoly of the transit trade in spices from the Orient’ and ‘that they were the masters of the Mediterranean’.2 Such accounts, flattering to the pride of the inhabitants of the lagoons, emphasised the prestige of Venetian navies and the patriotism of its noble lovers of liberty, united to defend the city against the adversities of nature and of men. All this is entirely misleading.

The Venetians were not the only ones who used the maritime routes of the Mediterranean Sea, an area that they were forced to share with great rivals.3 Beginning in the eleventh century, the Venetian government, determined to take a place in international affairs, intervened vigorously against the Normans who had recently installed themselves in southern Italy and Sicily. At that time all of the Christian West, not only the Venetians, was excited by the success of the crusaders, and tried to find advantage in these unsettled commercial conditions. So it was that the drive to establish a trading presence on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, from Ceuta in Morocco to Lajazzo in Cilicia, began with violence. The Middle Ages were a time of war in which periods of peace were extremely brief. Governments knew how to manage unpredictable economies that were continually buffeted by the repeated conflicts of the age. The Venetians were not the masters in the western basin of the Mediterranean. There the Genoese and the Catalans reigned. In the East they were forced to share the wealth of the Byzantine Empire, the Armenian kingdom and caliphates with their competitors, the Pisans, the Amalfitans, and the Genoese. Though faced with fierce opposition from the other Italian cities, little by little, the tenacity and the communal spirit of the Venetians succeeded in lifting the Serenissima to dominance. They knew how to build the foundations of their maritime power.

From the eleventh century onward, the successive governments of the city wanted above all to take control of navigation in the narrow Adriatic Sea, from the Po Valley with its populous and prosperous cities, and reaching out toward distant lands. It is the Adriatic problem that gave the first impetus to Venetian imperialism. Later, the peace that Venice concluded in 1177 with the emperor Frederick I established the Republic’s ‘Lordship of the Gulf’, which it alone would dominate until the middle of the sixteenth century.4 For some Italian maritime cities the first Crusades in the Near East provided an opportunity for conquest, but the Venetians would wait until the Fourth Crusade when, in 1204, they finally dismembered the Byzantine Empire for their own gain. Their naval power rested upon constantly growing trade, closely following a considerable growth in the demand for maritime transport between the two shores of the Mediterranean. These conditions allowed the creation of an overseas colonial empire, the stato da mar. Radiating outward from major islands such as Euboea and Crete, and from bases at strategic points along the coast, such as Coron and Modon in the Peloponnese or, in the Aegean Sea, from the many islets of the Duchy of Naxos, the enterprise of Venetian colonists and tradesmen grew unceasingly. Great successes, as much in battle as in the marketplace, are the mark of a powerful state. Without a doubt these successes rested on three critical and all-important determining elements. First was the creation of that unique institution, the Arsenal, by the communal authorities. Second was the implementation of vigorous oversight of the Republic’s naval potential as is clearly demonstrated in the establishment of convoys of merchant galleys. Finally, there was the continuing concern for associating the defence of economic interests with preoccupations of territorial expansion aimed at the founding of a colonial empire. These, it seems, were the reasons why Venice became a great maritime power.

There was a technological solution to the new equation that determined the relation between time and distance. This ‘world economy’, as defined by Fernand Braudel, saw new kinds of sailing craft brought into use. In Venice, even as the traditional role of sailors was called into question, the galley remained the preferred vessel. Venetians saw no reason to force cargo ships to evolve in a different way from warships when the galley could fill both these functions that were intimately bound together in medieval deep-sea navigation.5 If the numerous crew of a galley was expensive, it was much less so than the loss of the vessel and its cargo. The galley was the favourite weapon of the Venetians and all means were employed to optimise its capabilities within the parameters dictated by necessity. From a very early time Venice had several shipyards, the well-known squeri, within the city itself. Perhaps from the beginning of the twelfth century – some have suggested that it was as early as 1104 – the ruling elite decided to provide the city with a shipbuilding establishment controlled by the government.6 Archival documentation from 1206 confirms the existence of such a state-controlled naval shipyard and also attests that the construction of ships for the Commune was to be confined to this facility. In 1223, the first evidence appears for the existence of the patroni arsenatus, directors of the Arsenal, elected from among the nobles of the Great Council and salaried by the Commune. Their task was clearly defined: to provide necessary raw materials to the craftsmen, especially wood for ships’ frames, hemp for sails, and cordage, and to see to the timely delivery of sound and robust ships. The details of Doge Enrico Dandolo’s direct intervention in the preparation for the attack on the capital of the Byzantine Empire during the Fourth Crusade of 1204 are well known. This intrusion of the public authority into the management of naval construction would continue until the end of the Republic. In 1258, the capitulares illorum de arsena defined the role of the directors. From 1277, after some hesitation, the state attempted to retain its skilled labour force by forbidding craftsmen from emigrating. Within two years, between 1269 and 1271, the government decided to codify the regulations that governed the craft guilds in the Arsenal. The statutes of the caulkers’, shipwrights’, and rope-makers’ guilds also date from this period. By 1265, the districts that produced wood and hemp for the Arsenal were managed by public administrators. Then, in 1276, the government required that at least one squadron should always be prepared to put to sea at a moment’s notice, which required the continual presence of craftsmen at the Arsenal. Finally, in 1278, an arms manufactory completed the complement of activities sheltered within the protecting walls of the shipyard.7

1 F. C. Lane, Venise, une république maritime (Paris, 1985), 96, and in ‘Venetian Shipping during the Commercial Revolution’, in The Collected Papers of F. C. Lane (Baltimore, 1966), 3–24.

2 F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II , 2 vols(Paris, 1982), I, 493.

3 J. H. Pryor, ‘The Naval Battles of Roger of Lauria’, Journal of Medieval History, 9 (1983), 179–216, and also in his Geography, Technology, and War. Studies in the Maritime History of the Mediterranean (649–1571) (Cambridge, 1988).

4 G. Cracco, Un altro mondo, Venezia nel medioevo dal secolo XI al secolo XIV (Turin, 1986), 52.

5 F. Melis, I trasporti e le comunicazioni nel medioevo, ed. L. Frangioni (Florence, 1984), 111.

6 E. Concina, La casa dell’Arsenale, in Storia di Venezia, Temi, Il Mare (Rome, 1991), 147–210.

7 G. Luzzato, Studi di storia economica veneziana (Padua, 1954), 6.


Venetian Galley

Bernard Doumerc

In 1302, the Venetian government implemented a revision of ‘the corrections and additions’ to the Arsenal regulations.8 This action was necessary to encourage the full development of the technological revolution that would maximise the Republic’s naval potential. A short time later, between 1304 and 1307, the Arsenale Novo was created.9 By 1325 every sector of maritime activity had been reformed. The speed with which the authorities decided, the promotion of utilitas favourable to the public good, and a real will to innovate gave expression to a powerful movement toward a goal of dominating the sea. In 1301, the Senate declared that it was necessary to arm a permanent squadron for the protection of ‘the Gulf’ (the Adriatic Sea). The cramped port facilities in the lagoon led to a natural expansion with new basins in the Arsenale Novo.10 This expansion of facilities was completed by the creation of naval bases at Pola and Pore? in Istria. Until the final phase of renovation at the end of the fifteenth century, this naval establishment was the pride of Venice’s oligarchy. In 1435, the Senate declared, ‘our Arsenal is the best in the world’ and encouraged visits by the famous and powerful as they journeyed toward Jerusalem. This evocation of the labour, ingenuity, and efficiency of the seamen of Venice resounded all across Europe and flattered the pride of the subjects of the Serenissima. The myth of Venice, forged by the political powers around the Arsenal, helped to elicit respect, fear, and effective administration.11

It is necessary to pause for a moment to consider this assertion of a clever political will that quickly adapted to circumstances. In looking at the overall situation in the Mediterranean basin it is clear that by the late thirteenth century the Venetian position had weakened. In 1261, a Byzantine–Genoese coalition took control of Constantinople and a part of Romania that, up until that time, had been controlled by the Franks and Venetians. Meanwhile, the Republic relentlessly defended Crete, the coastal bases of the Peloponnese, and the important islands of the Aegean Sea.12 In 1291 the fall of Acre marked the final defeat of the Crusaders in the Latin States of the Levant. It appears that the Venetians had already begun a withdrawal toward the west when, in 1274, Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo prohibited investment in agricultural estates on Terra Ferma ‘to oblige the Venetians to take an interest in naval affairs’. A little later, in 1298, their perpetual rivals, the Genoese, entered the Adriatic to support the Hungarians with an attack on Venetian possessions in Dalmatia.13 Naval war within the confined spaces of the Adriatic forced the government to undertake a major reform effort to confront this threat from the enemies of the Republic. This was more than a territorial conflict. It was also an economic war that engulfed the entire Mediterranean basin. The desire to capture commerce and to dominate distribution networks for goods placed great importance on the ability to keep fleets at sea. The last phase in the creation of Venice’s magnificent Arsenal took place between about 1473 and 1475. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, fear seized the Venetians who dreaded a naval assault on their colonial possessions. The defence of the stato da mar was undertaken by reinforcing the defences of the system of naval bases. First, Negroponte and Nauplia, and then, the Arsenal of Candia, an important strong point on Crete, were completely renovated between 1467 and 1470. At home, in Venice, momentous changes in circumstances created a need to augment the Republic’s naval forces. Henceforth, fierce naval war against admirals in the pay of the Ottomans brought unaccustomed reverses. In this context, the senate asked Giacomo Morosini (called el zio, ‘Uncle’) to prepare plans for an extension of the Arsenal in 1473. With an additional eight hectares added to its area, it became the greatest shipyard in Europe and ‘the essential foundation of the state’.14

By demonstrating its undeniable concern for optimising the financial and technical resources devoted to naval construction, the government showed the way for the whole people. The authorities obtained indispensable support from all those social groups whose destiny was tied to the vigour of the city’s maritime activity. At the same time, the desires of those groups corresponded to the announced public policy of giving priority to the naval forces. It is not true that a permanent and effective naval force did not appear until the sixteenth century.15 A navy existed in Venice from the fourteenth century. As described above, the patrol squadron charged with policing the Adriatic was at the heart of that force, but there were other available units. First among them were the galleys armed by the port cities that had gradually come to be included in the stato da mar. In the event of conflict these Dalmatian, Albanian, Greek, and Cretan cities were required, by the terms of their submission to Venice, to provide one or more galleys for the naval draft due to the metropolis. There are many instances of these drafts. One example is sufficient to indicate their nature.16 During the conflict against the Turks during the 1470s, the Arsenal could not quickly provide the thirty galleys demanded by the Senate. All the subject cities of the Empire were required to contribute to the fleet. Crete provided eleven galleys, four came from the occupied ports of Puglia, two from Corfu, eleven from Dalmatia (three from Zara, two from Sebenico, one each from Cattaro, Lesina, Split, Pago, Arba, and Trau). Cadres of loyal ‘patriots’ known to Venetian administrators leavened the crews gathered from these various ports. Neither the ardour of these fighters from ‘overseas’ nor their fidelity to St Mark was taken for granted. The Senate did reward loyal commanders such as Alessandro de Gotti of Corfu, Francesco Chachuni of Brindisi, and Jacopo Barsi of Lesina.

The second Venetian trump card was the initiation of an unprecedented system for the administration of sea-borne trade. This system provided a formidable tool, designed to respond to the needs of la ventura, of commerce, laying a foundation for a dominating and expansionist people. These innovative procedures put in place by the ruling oligarchy were developed to take advantage of an exceptional organisation that would raise Venice into the first rank of Mediterranean naval powers. During the first twenty years of the Trecento, there was a period of maturation punctuated by different attempts to develop a system of navigation that eventually evolved into the galley convoys known as mude. Having achieved this objective with the consensus of all the participants in the financial and business world, it was then necessary to create an efficient system of management. Even if maritime trade was prosperous, it remained fragile and subject to unforeseeable risks. It was always possible that a major conflict with the Genoese or the Catalans, or even a brief outbreak of extreme violence due to piracy, might place the whole economic structure of the Republic at risk.17 Meanwhile, in the city of Venice as well as in the small island market towns of the lagoon, in the warehouses and in the tradesmen’s shops or the craftsmen’s booths, men pursued gain, but they did so without an overall plan and without looking for any really consistent method in their approach. Around the middle of the fourteenth century Venetian patricians came to realise the necessity of undertaking ambitious measures to surmount the major obstacles to a rational exploitation of the merchant fleets by making major changes in their organisation. Perhaps the terrifying War of Chioggia (1379–81) accelerated the rapid development of this concept. The patriciate instituted regulations providing for general communal equipping of merchant fleets to offset the disadvantages of the privately outfitted trading expeditions that had been paralysed during this long conflict. It is clear that the implementation of this new system affected all of the Republic’s economic and social structures. Progress toward fully implementing this model for the unique and exemplary management of Venetian maritime potential took place only slowly, but it was to dominate the Republic’s actions at sea up to the middle of the sixteenth century.18

The founding act of this state-controlled regulation was the Ordo galearum armatarum, decreed on 8 December 1321. It concerned both the galleys and sailing cargo ships. The experimental phase lasted until the end of the Venetian– Genoese war of 1379. The cooperation of several outfitters was needed for a merchant convoy so the galleys received collective financing. This innovative policy originated after the fall of Acre in 1291. The entrepreneurial merchants, far from pulling back from risky undertakings, soon became involved in the conquest of the Atlantic routes to Flanders and England. This rapid expansion encouraged new initiatives, sometimes hesitant and disorganised during the first half of the Trecento, then coordinated by the public authorities under the careful supervision of the city’s aristocratic patriciate. Opening navigation routes toward the west, along with intensification of maritime relations with the Levant, placed the keys to international trade in Venetian hands after 1350. They also profited from a remarkably favourable position in relation to the Alpine passes leading to northern Europe. By this time the system of auctioning the charters of galleys belonging to the Commune had been definitively established. To avoid a destructive confrontation between the authorities and the merchants (even though at Venice it is sometimes difficult to discern a difference between the two groups) the state asked that the Black Sea convoy be managed according to this new principle. After some years it was adopted for all navigation routes, to the general satisfaction of both groups. Besides the galley convoys, there was also a whole sector of maritime endeavour involving sailing round ships with high freeboard (naves). Sometimes their operation is described as free outfitting, because it was subject to fewer regulatory constraints. These naves transported necessary bulk products such as grain, all kinds of raw materials of high volume, construction materials, salt, ashes, and so forth. The primary purpose of the more strongly defended galleys was to transport costly cargoes of spices, silks and precious cloths, metals, and weapons. In the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Church lifted its prohibition of trade with the Muslims, the Venetians had a fleet ready to open trade once again with the Syrian and Egyptian ports of the Levant. In 1366, a sailing route involving both galleys and naves established connections from the lagoons to Alexandria and Beirut, beginning a promising trade. In the 1440s, nearly ninety naves and fifty-five galleys sailed for the Near East, and about thirty for Constantinople. The volume of the goods continued to increase, as did the pattern of massive investment and fiscal returns for the treasury. The reform of maritime statutes that had become obsolete, the creation of new work contracts that imposed a minimum wage, improvements in living conditions on board ships and a mariners’ residence in the city attracted a skilled labour force, mostly from Dalmatia, Albania, and Greece. These immigrants, originating from its overseas colonies, allowed the Republic to raise the banner of St Mark throughout the Mediterranean.19 The Senate, the real architect of this system, far from putting the system of private management in opposition to the one controlled by the Commune, took the best of each of the two systems and combined them. For that reason, some historians speak disparagingly about bureaucracy or state control to describe the Venetian system of trade.

8 F. Melis, I mercanti italiani nell’Europa medievale e rinascimentale , ed. L. Frangioni

(Florence, 1990), 9.

9 E. Concina, L’Arsenale della Repubblica di Venezia (Venice, 1984), 26 ff.

10 Ibid., 28, and E. Concina, ‘Dal tempio del mercante al piazzale dell’Impero: l’Arsenale di Venezia’, in Progetto Venezia (Venice, n.d.), 57–106. Originally the ‘gulf ’ or ‘Gulf of Venice’ referred to that part of the Adriatic north of a line between Pola and Ravenna. As Venetian control of the Adriatic expanded, so did their definition of ‘the Gulf’. See F. C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore, 1973), 24.

11 E. Crouzet-Pavan, Venise triomphante, les horizons d’un mythe (Paris, 1999), 122.

12 B. Doumerc, La difesa dell’impero, in Storia di Venezia, dalle origini alla caduta della Serenissima, vol. II, La formazione dello stato patrizio , ed. G. Arnaldi, G. Cracco and A. Tenenti (Rome, 1997), 237–50.

13 B. Krekic, Venezia e l’Adriatico, in Storia di Venezia, III, 51–81 and P. Cabanes, Histoire de l’Adriatique (Paris, 2000), 191.

14 Archivio di Stato, Venice, senato, mar, reg. 15, fol. 14 for example, and S. Karpov, La navigazione veneziana nel mar Nero (XIII–XV sec.) (Ravenna, 2000), 12.

15 J. Meyer, ‘Des liens de causalité en histoire: politiques maritimes et société’, Revue historique, 614 (2000), 12.

16 A. Ducellier and B. Doumerc, ‘Les Chemins de l’exil, bouleversements de l’Est européen et migrations vers l’Ouest à la fin du Moyen Âge’ (Paris, 1992), 163; Archivio di Stato, Venice, senato, mar, reg. 15, fol. 161.

17 B. Doumerc, Il dominio del mare, in Storia di Venezia, IV, 11; A. Tenenti and U. Tucci, eds, Rinascimento (Rome, 1996), 113–80.

18 D. Stöckly, Le Système des galées du marché à Venise (fin XIIIe–milieu XVe) (Leiden and New York, 1995), 158; F. C. Lane, Navires et constructeurs à Venise pendant la Renaissance (Paris, 1965).

19 E. Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, 1981), 381; J. C. Hocquet, Voiliers et commerce en Méditerranée, 1200–1650 (Lille, 1976), 442; B. Doumerc, Venise et l’émirat hafside de Tunis (Paris, 1999), 172.



Venetian carrack

Bernard Doumerc

By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the reconciliation of economic policy with the constitution as well as with the defence of a colonial empire was no longer appropriate. Then, it was said, ‘the whole navy is devoured by the army’ and numerous voyages of merchant galleys cancelled at the last moment or diverted from their course put an end to the trust of the Venetian merchant partners.31 Henceforth, the fleet of the state, giving priority to the defence of empire, could no longer play a leading role in trade. Venice remained the maritime power that it had always been, but was no longer a first-rank naval power. One after another the sailing routes closed at the turn of the sixteenth century: the Barbary Coast, then Aigues Mortes, and finally Flanders.32 Only the Levant routes continued to be active but even those suffered long interruptions in their traffic. The disaster of 1484 was fresh in everyone’s mind; in that year, French pirates had attacked the muda of Flanders. The consequences were dreadful. The galleys had been captured after a hard fight. A hundred and thirty sailors were killed, three hundred wounded, and, of course, their cargos had been confiscated by King Charles VIII’s representative. A few months later, a major incident provoked a panic around the Rialto, the financial centre of the city. To save the last bit of the Languedoc spice import market, the Senate demanded that the Aigues Mortes convoy depart, knowing that another interruption in shipping would sound the death knell of any claim to trading in that region. It took six auctions before one was successful, and the patroni were able to extract important fiscal advantages from the government for the voyage including the payment of a 3500-ducat subsidy for each patrono and a 30 per cent increase in the charter rate. The voyage was an exceptionally long one because it included stops along the Barbary Coast. This course full of pitfalls made martyrs of the sailors and merchants. When they had returned, the accounts told the story. The cost of stopping for forty-five days to defend Zara, which was besieged by the Turks, was estimated at 10,000 ducats per galley, due to expenditures for the supplementary purchase of victuals for the crews and the payment of higher wages than had been foreseen. The patroni also asked for 8000 ducats for the lack of profit on lost charters and unsold merchandise. All this added up to an indemnity of 25,000 ducats for each patrono who had been forced to make this voyage against his better judgement.33 The government faltered because, in a backhanded way, the difference of opinion at the heart of the system of managing the galley fleet was expressed virulently in debates at the meetings about the accounts.

A census of the naval forces undertaken in 1496 by the Ministers of the Marine (Savii ai Ordini) demonstrated the naval inferiority of the Republic ‘because there are too few armed ships at sea’. This explanation given by the chronicler, Marino Sanudo, is astonishing because, he adds, ‘there are few ships because, until now, we had no fear of the Turks’.34 The result was that the obligations imposed upon the captains of the mude increased continually. In 1496, for example, the galleys of the Barbary Coast convoy participated in a massive counter-attack, launched to limit the audacious actions of the Barbary pirates.

Two dramatic episodes permit an evaluation of the interventionist role of the Venetian government in the management of the fleet. The first concerns the conflict involving the kingdom of Naples during the Italian Wars. In 1495, a league including Venice, the Duke of Milan, the Pope, and the king of Aragon, wanted to oppose the plan of the French king, Charles VIII, to annex a part of southern Italy. The Senate issued a general requisition order ‘to retain all ships and large merchant galleys’. The Captain General of the Sea, Marco Trevisan, could, with great effort, assemble a war fleet of only about twenty galleys. That is why the contribution of eleven merchant galleys was absolutely necessary, so he waited for the arrival of galleys from the Dalmatian cities. The second episode, with more tragic consequences, was that of the Battle of Zonchio in 1499. The animosity between Antonio Grimani, the Captain General and the patroni of the merchant galleys led to a catastrophe in which the disheartened crews’ weariness and the merchants’ rebellion caused a military disaster. Some months later, outside the port of Modon, which was besieged by the Turks, the patroni of the galere da mercato, by their unforgivable refusal to fight, caused the loss of the city. Despite sensational court proceedings and some sentences based on principle, the patroni were absolved since the state was willing to acknowledge its share of the blame because of the incompetence of its representatives in the battle.35 Naval battles in the following years offered further proof of the problem. During the spring of 1500 off the island of Cephalonia Captain General Marco Trevisan, warned by Grimani’s unhappy experience, considered sending back the merchant galleys that he had received as reinforcements because they seemed poorly equipped to fight, and the patroni were outspokenly critical of their mission.36 The weariness of the demoralised crews and the condemnation of the patroni of the merchant galleys, little involved as they were in safeguarding the stato da mar, heralded the end of an exemplary system. The redefinition of the specific role of the muda del mercato had not taken place because of the lack of a clearly expressed political will. Contrary to what had happened in the middle of the Trecento, this crisis of confidence in the Cinquecento quickly turned into open opposition.

In this way it is possible to discern the main lines of power that lead the Republic of Venice to dominate a large portion of the Mediterranean. The senatorial nobility, uniting the most important investors and committed merchants in the maritime economy, patiently forged a tool without equal among the rival nations and competitors: the system of regular navigation routes plied by convoys of merchant galleys. The modest ship-owners, nobles or not, were discouraged by the regulatory and fiscal obstacles that favoured the mude and by the permanent insecurity of sea-borne commerce, but were powerless to compete efficiently against the mixed private and public management of the naval potential. This was all the more true when raison d’État generated an indisputable argument for the use of these convoys, at times in the form of five galleys with 1200 men in each crew ready to intervene quickly in any zone on missions in the public interest. At the end of the fifteenth century and especially at the beginning of the following century, this senatorial nobility, united into the ‘Party of the Sea’, even after having gained considerable advantages, often in violation of the law, was no longer able, considering the circumstances, to protect their essential prerogatives. The nation, threatened by sea and by land, no longer gave priority to this system which for two hundred years had given glory and fortune to those who lived around the lagoon. This was the beginning of the downfall of the Venetian colonial empire in the Mediterranean and, at the same time, of this unique and long-effective system of operating the merchant marine.

31 Girolamo Priuli, Diarii (diario veneto), ed. A. Segre, in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores 24, 2nd edn (Citta di Castello, 1912–1941), 39.

32 Sanudo, Diarii., I, column 302.

33 Priuli, Diarii, 273.

34 Sanudo, Diarii, I, column 30.

35 Ibid., IV, columns 337, 360.

36 B. Doumerc, ‘De l’incompétence à la trahison: les commandants de galères vénitiens face aux Turcs (1499–1500)’, in Félonie, trahison, reniements au Moyen Âge, Les Cahiers du Crisima, 3 (Montpellier, 1997), 613–34, and F. C. Lane, ‘Naval Actions and Fleet Organization (1499–1502)’, in J. R. Hale, ed., Renaissance Venice (London, 1973), 146–73.


The Rules of Naval Warfare – Peloponnesian War

There were eight important rules under which the naval war would be conducted.

First, there were two vital theaters of war: Ionia, meaning both the mainland coast and the islands, and the Hellespont. Ionia was important because so many Athenian subjects were in this region. The Hellespont, a narrow body of water connecting the Black Sea and the Aegean, was the lifeline of Athens; through it flowed supplies and especially food from the shores of the Black Sea that the city needed to survive.

Second, money was vital to a naval war effort. For the Spartans, that meant securing Persian help even if it meant bargaining away Greek cities to Persian control. Persian cash meant pay for Spartan rowers, supplies, and even clothing. The amount contributed was huge: during one period, the Persians contributed 30 talents to keep 55 Spartan triremes in service for one month. Without this money, there would be no Spartan fleet and, consequently, no challenge to the Athenians. For the Athenians, it was vital to control their subjects who provided them with tribute. Their empire ensured that tribute would continue to flow into Athens to finance the Athenian navy, which protected the imports that literally kept the Athenians alive. For the Athenians, continued control of their empire was vital because it provided the necessary funds to finance their navy and offset Persia’s economic aid to Sparta. To supplement their revenues, both Sparta and Athens used their navies to collect extra money from both friendly and hostile poleis. In 411, Athenian forces were operating in Thrace, Thasos, and Macedonia, all in an effort to acquire money, through plunder if necessary. Not surprisingly, the more money plundered or collected, the happier the men and the better their morale.

Third, keeping a fleet well supplied was a very difficult job. Even a modest naval force of 30 triremes would have at least 6,000 men to feed. Money was vital because it paid for the necessary supplies. If tribute collection from states did not suffice, plundering enemy states of money or goods would substitute.

Fourth, it was vital for both sides to protect their allies and subjects from hostile attack so that these sources of goods and tribute would not be lost. This meant helping allied or subject states by providing soldiers or ships when necessary. It was also important to try to detach allies and subjects from their enemy. Various methods were used to seduce poleis. For example, Athens or Sparta could encourage either democratic or oligarchic revolutions through bribery, through a blockade, or by using military force or the threat of force to influence the local people within a given polis to overthrow a hostile government from the inside. Sometimes relatively small forces could bring about the necessary changes; in smaller poleis even three or four triremes with marines might be sufficient. Whatever the methods necessary, it was imperative to win over as many poleis as possible because new allies or subjects could then provide so many things vital to the war effort: supplies of all kinds, especially food, and tribute. At the same time, these things would then be denied to the enemy.

Fifth, possessing and maintaining naval bases was vital to all the operations just listed. A base had to have a good harbor, natural or manmade, to protect ships from storms and from the enemy. The harbor had to be easy to defend from land, and, if necessary, fortifications could be built on the spot. The base must also be close to the enemy or to hostile cities or astride vital sea lanes to permit soldiers to easily spot enemy movements and to launch attacks when the opportunity arose. Bases would provide the necessary space for crews to eat their meals and to sleep, both of which were impossible on board the narrow deck and in the limited space of a trireme. A base would also provide a place to repair damaged ships or merely a place to drag them on to land to dry them out, which was necessary from time to time. Bases could be used as supply depots and also as places to store equipment such as the sails when speed was of the essence. On one occasion, when the Athenians wished to attack Chios, they surrounded the island with a string of four forts: two were placed on the mainland across from Chios, another was built on a small island just off the island, and the last was on the island of Lesbos, to the north. These bases could be used to launch plundering raids on Chios and to intercept any shipping going to or from the island.

Sixth, the gathering of reliable information concerning the enemy’s whereabouts and movements was crucial. Bases could provide a place from which to keep a close eye on the enemy. Small lookout posts could be established in places of vital interest where there was insufficient space to establish a large permanent base. Since fleets usually hugged the coasts, lookouts could be established along the coasts watching well-traveled sea lanes. Because the Hellespont was so vital to their interests, the Athenians stationed lookouts on Lesbos and on the mainland coast across from the island to ensure that no Peloponnesian warships could pass north through the narrow channel towards the Hellespont. They also had lookouts at the entrance to the Hellespont. If an enemy fleet was sighted, they used fires to signal their admirals and the fleet, which were further into the channel, at a permanent base at Sestos. The Athenians also had nine triremes always on patrol in the Hellespont to watch for enemy vessels and to protect their merchant ships. Patrols were often sent out to spy on an enemy or search for an enemy. Information could be gleaned from other sources: neutral merchant vessels or local populations, whether friendly or unfriendly, could be mined for information even if bribery or force was necessary.

Seventh, new naval tactics developed over the course of the fifth century. There was the periplous (“sailing around”), in which fast triremes manned by experienced crews attempted to quickly outflank enemy naval lines and then swiftly change direction in order to ram enemy ships broadside. The diekplous (“sailing through”) was a similar tactic in which fast ships sailed into an enemy line between enemy ships and then suddenly turned to hit one of the ships broadside. The modern trireme Olympias has proven that such maneuvers were indeed possible. Generally, navies with faster ships and better crews preferred to fight in the open sea, where their speed and experience would be an advantage. Through most of the war, the Athenians had these advantages and often attempted to draw the Spartans ships away from coastal refuges. Often, navies would send out small groups of ships first to entice an enemy to sail out away from the coast and then surprise the enemy by having a larger number of ships suddenly appear on the scene. Sometimes entire fleets would sail out in an effort to provoke combat, heckling their opponents in the process; sometimes this type of direct challenge was so humiliating that admirals would feel obligated to fight. Marines also became an integral part of naval war. Hoplites would be stationed with the fleet, as would lightly armed troops and, sometimes, even rowers armed specifically for the occasion. Marines would be stationed on deck to prevent enemy soldiers from getting on board, and they would also seize opportunities to board enemy ships and take possession of them. It was considered a great coup if enemy ships could be captured intact, since they could obviously then be used in future battles. Squadrons in trouble could attempt to outrun enemy vessels, or they could quickly head for shore and beach their ships. They would then rely on their marines to hold off the marines of the enemy and to preserve control of the ships. If things looked dire, sailors often resorted to burning their own ships rather than allow them to fall into enemy hands. Blockades could also be used to trap the enemy ships in a narrow confined space, since without supplies the marines would either have to fight their way out or surrender.

Eighth, naval defeats could never weaken the power of the Spartan army and therefore could not threaten Sparta’s survival or its prosecution of the war. Persian wealth was practically inexhaustible, so the destruction of one fleet simply led to an influx of Persian money to finance a new one. For Athens, though, every naval battle threatened its very existence. After the Sicilian disaster, Athens no longer had the naval or economic resources to absorb more than one major defeat. One Spartan victory and Athens would lose its fleet, control of its empire, and the wealth the empire produced. Without its fleet, and without money to build new ships, the Athenians could not control vital trade routes and the supply lines upon which the city depended. In short, an Athenian defeat on the sea now meant an end to the war.




From earliest times the life of the Slavs has been connected with water. Like most ancient peoples, the Slavs built settlements near rivers and lakes. Fishing provided an important food source and waterways became main transportation arteries. Even in a rough-hewn boat it was easier and safer to travel long distances than it was to cut through a dense forest.

Boat building techniques gradually improved. The canoe-like vessels of the Slavs, which were originally pushed through the water with punt poles, became considerably faster with the introduction of oars and sails.

By the seventh century boat construction had sufficiently advanced to allow the Slavs not only to navigate rivers but also to venture into the open seas. They sailed to Thessalonica, Crete, the southern coast of Italy, and, at the very walls of Constantinople, engaged the Byzantines in naval battles.

Among the most famous of the ancient trade routes was the one called “from the Vikings to the Greeks.” To a large degree Kiev and Novgorod, the principal cities of Ancient Rus, flourished because they were located along the waterways of this important route.

For long voyages these early Russians built a light, open vessel called a lodya. The Byzantines called it in Greek monoxile because it was made from a single tree, usually the hollowed-out trunk of an oak or linden. Layers of planking were secured to the hull to increase its height and oars were affixed to the planking. A single mast with a square sail made the lodya seaworthy, and it was light enough, when the need arose, for portage. Although it seldom exceeded twenty metres in length, a lodya often held a crew of forty.

In the ninth century Kievan Grand Prince Oleg, with a fleet of lodyas, launched an attack against Constantinople, called Tsargrad by the Slavs. His victorious campaign proved the might and independence of Kievan Rus. According to the Chronicles, Prince Oleg “hung his shield upon the Gate of Tsargrad” and sailed back to Kiev with the treasures of his conquest.

In 941 Grand Prince Igor Rurikovich sailed against Tsargrad with a large force of lodyas. In a sea battle off the northeast coast of the Bosporus, the Byzantine galleys, called dromons, decimated the Kievan fleet by using a terrifying instrument of war known as “Greek fire.” (Developed during the Middle Ages, Greek fire consisted of catapulting fireballs at enemy ships.)

Igor Rurikovich retreated back to Kiev; however, in 943, having assembled an even more powerful force, he launched a successful assault against Constantinople and claimed for Kievan Rus the right to trade with the Byzantine Empire. Many of Russia’s earliest heroes-some true historical figures, others purely legendary, or often a combination of the two-emerged from Kievan Rus.

Along with his faithful warriors, Kievan Grand Prince Svyatoslav Igorevich became fabled for his acts of valour. Prince Svyatoslav’s most celebrated deed was his conquest of Khazaria in 966 following a great sea battle. Sixteen years later Grand Price Vladimir, son of Svyatoslav, attacked Byzantium and engaged the Byzantines in yet another naval battle.

The peace that resulted from friendlier relations with Byzantium permitted Kievan Rus to begin to develop craftsmanship, to engage in trade, and to learn how to construct in stone. Nevertheless, advancements in the art of shipbuilding proceeded very slowly. The early Russians continued to ply the lakes and seas in their dug-out boats and to transport their simple goods by river on crude, raft-like vessels.

In 1043 Kievan Rus began its ninth naval campaign against Constantinople. Prince Vladimir, son of Yaroslav the Wise, sailed into the Bosporus with his flotilla of lodyas and utterly routed the Byzantine naval force. This marked the last assault of a Kievan Rus fleet upon Tsargrad. After the death of Vladimir Monomakh in 1125, the struggle for power between the princes of Ancient Rus intensified. Disunited and weakened through internal strife, the princes could give little thought to warring against neighbouring states.

The princes of Rus began to use their fleets of lodyas to fight against one another. In 1151 Prince Izyaslav Mstislavich used a more advanced type of sailing vessel in a battle against the forces of Prince Yury Dolgoruky: Prince Isyaslav’s lodyas had decks and were constructed with rudders in both bow and stern. In the years that followed few other changes were made in the design of this yet primitive sailing craft.

By the end of the twelfth century Vladimir-Suzdal had become a significantly strong princedom. Prince Vsevolod (son of Yury Dolgoruky and nicknamed Bolshoye Gnezdo, meaning “Great Nest”) claimed for himself the title of Grand Prince of Kiev and proclaimed himself Grand Prince of Vladimir as well.

Both Vsevolod and his son, Prince Yury II, equipped flotillas of lodyas and sent them against the Volga Bulgars. During one of his military campaigns Yury II founded the eastern-most of the Russian princedoms, Nizhny-Novgorod, at the place where the Volga flows into the Oka River.

Yury II’s efforts to strengthen the eastern boundaries of fledgling Russia were doubtless inspired by a presentiment of things to come. For it was in the East that the might of the Golden Horde was gathering; it was from the East that the Tatar-Mongols would descend and impose upon Russia the “yoke” that was to last for nearly three centuries.