Full-scale replica of a Dutch sailing ship – a
VOC-ship in the Golden Century of Holland.
The “Prins Willem”, built in 1651 at
Middelburg, Zeeland (the Netherlands) was one of the largest of East Indiamen
to be constructed during the 17th Century.
Built to withstand long and often hazardous sea
voyages, the East Indiaman enabled the Dutch East Indie Company to participate
in the highly profitable trade with Asia and contributed to the Netherlands’
dominance of world trade during the 17th Century.
The “Prins Willem” was seconded to the Dutch
Navy during the First Anglo-Dutch War. The ship was the flagship of Witte de
With in the Battle of the Kentish Knock during the First Anglo-Dutch War..
After returning to the merchant navy, the “Prins Willem” made five
journeys to South East Asia along the lucrative spice route, before being
wrecked off the island of Brandon on the return voyage to the Netherlands in February
A full-scale replica was recently built in Holland and
shipped to Japan to be a major attraction in Nagasaki Holland Village, in Omura
(Japan), a Dutch-themed amusement center.
To maximize their competitive advantage, the government
persuaded the many competing trading companies to pool their financial assets
to create the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company (Verenigde
Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) in 1602. Under the charter granted by the States
General to the VOC, the company was granted monopoly rights to trade and
navigation for 21 years over the vast reaches east of the Cape of Good Hope and
west of the Straits of Magellan. The company consisted of chambers (kamers) in
six port cities-Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, Enkhuizen, Middelburg, and
Hoorn-made up of individuals chosen from the community of wealthy merchants and
bankers. The chambers assigned from their members delegates to sit on the
central board of 17 directors (Heeren XVII), the number allotted each chamber
based on the regional representation of capital in shares contributed.
Amsterdam held the largest number of seats at eight. The company was given the
power to conclude treaties of alliance and peace, to wage defensive war, and to
build forts and trading posts.
Backed by the government’s blessing, the VOC constituted the
world’s first trading company based on permanent shares of capital. Fitted out
with gunpowder and cannonballs, fleets were dispatched to the East Indies-more
than a year’s journey away-to take Portuguese military/trading posts by force.
In 1605 armed merchantmen captured the Portuguese fort at Amboina, in the
Moluccan Islands, which the VOC then established as its first secure base in
the Indies. In the midst of declaring dazzling dividends that jumped from 50
percent in 1606 to 329 percent in 1609, the company soon emerged as master of
the spice trade. The Dutch seized Jakarta in 1619, renaming it Batavia and
making it the administrative center of the Netherlands East Indies. Interloping
English traders on Amboina were massacred in 1623. By the mid-17th century, the
company operated as a virtual state within a state, the distance from the
homeland and the wealth its ships brought home compelling the States General to
leave the fi rm alone and give it virtually a free hand in the East Indies. The
richest private company in the world, in 1670 the VOC counted 150 merchant
ships, 40 warships, a private army, and 50,000 employees.
Employing ruthless methods to push their competitors aside,
the company moved beyond the Indies to drive the Portuguese systematically from
the trading posts they had held for a century in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on the
South Asian subcontinent. By 1658 they held all of coastal Ceylon and, a decade
later, they occupied isolated trading stations on the southern coasts of India.
Moving farther afield, they founded Fort Zeelandia on Formosa (now Taiwan) in
1624, drove the Portuguese out of southern bases on the island and, in 1641,
pushed the Spanish from northern holdings, before the Dutch in turn were
expelled by Chinese arriving from the mainland in 1662. Regular trading
relations were also established with Japan. From 1641 to 1854 the Dutch were
the only Europeans permitted to trade there, exchanging European goods for
Japanese gold, silver, and lacquerware from their isolated island post of
Deshima in Nagasaki Bay.
Within only a few short decades, East Indiamen ships had won
fame for the seemingly irrepressible daring of their captains and crews. South
and east of Batavia they pressed on to within sight of western Australia’s
barren shore and Abel Tasman (1603-59) sailed beyond the continent’s east coast
to discover Tasmania, Fiji, and New Zealand. Jacob Le Maire (c. 1585-1616) and
Willem Schouten (c. 1567-1625) sailed two vessels from Texel in 1615 west
across the Atlantic, discovering a new route to the East Indies through Cape
Horn, rounded for the first time on January 29, 1616, and which Schouten named
for his birthplace. They sailed in search of gold, but they found none, leaving
instead a legacy in new island discoveries, including the Admiralty Islands and
the Schouten Islands in the southwest Pacific.
Enticed east by spices, the Dutch traveled west in search of
salt, their sources in Portugal closed by Spain in 1621. The Dutch West India
Company (Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie, WIC) was chartered that year,
under a central governing board of 19 members (Heeren XIX), to finance
incursions into the Spanish and Portuguese Americas, where the Venezuelan
coastal pans in particular furnished a fine natural salt with which to preserve
the fishing fleets’ catch. Caribbean waters offered added benefits in goods
from contraband trading with Spanish settlements and in booty seized from
preying on Spanish ships. The capture by Piet Heyn (1577-1629) of the Spanish
silver fleet in 1628 assumed mythic status in the Dutch historical memory.
Anxious to secure trading depots on Caribbean islands, the
WIC occupied Curaçao, the largest of the Leeward Islands and one that had long
been abandoned by the Spanish, in 1634. Aruba was seized in 1636 and the Dutch,
together with the French, drove the Spanish from Sint Maarten, which they
divided between them in 1648. Sint Eustatius (Statia) was colonized by the
company in 1636 with settlers from Zeeland, and Saba with those from Sint
Eustatius in about 1640. Colonies were founded in Guyana (1625-1803), Brazil
(1630-54), Suriname (1667-1975), and Demarara (1667-1814). The WIC under its
governor-general John Maurits of Nassau-Siegen (1604-79) made an especially
vigorous effort to occupy northeastern coastal areas of Brazil. The Dutch
transformed the region into a profitable colony, largely through sugar
production, and Jewish merchants arrived to set up operations at Recife before
Dutch colonizers were ousted by the Portuguese, the discoverers of the country,
who returned in force in 1654.
Colonists on Sint Eustatius first planted tobacco but soon
switched to sugar, and sugar plantations established throughout the Dutch
Caribbean islands furnished the bulk of Europe’s supply in the 17th century. On
Sint Eustatius as well as on Curaçao, the largest of the Leeward Islands, the
WIC established slave depots for trade with the continental Americas.
A fashion fad in Europe for furs drew the Dutch north. In
Dutch service, Englishman Henry Hudson (1565-1611) in 1609 sailed his De Halve
Maan (The Half Moon), a brand-new ship with a crew of eight Englishmen and
eight Dutchmen, up the river later named for him and, in doing so, laid claim
to one of the most strategically significant slices of the North American mainland.
The first permanent settlement of Fort Orange (just south of present-day
Albany, New York) was founded in 1614 to trade directly with Native Americans
for beaver pelts even before the settlement of New Amsterdam was made in 1626
on Manhattan island, famously purchased by Governor Peter Minuit (1580-1638)
for 60 guilders ($24) worth of goods. Unlike elsewhere in their empire where
the Dutch preferred not to plant settlements but rather to set up military
trading posts at strategic spots to which the native inhabitants would come to
trade, their North American territory became a real colony. Not only soldiers
and WIC employees came but also ordinary settlers, who arrived intending to
stay. Its history short (1614-64) and tempestuous, marked by wars with Native
American tribes, threats from intruding Swedes and English, and, above all,
neglect by a ruling company-wholly engrossed in the struggle against Spain-more
intent on privateering and profitmaking than attracting emigrants, New
Netherland managed, nevertheless, to bequeath a scattering of settlements from
western Long Island up the Hudson and Mohawk rivers as far as present-day
Schenectady, New York, that has left an enduring legacy in place-names,
folklore, and English-language loanwords.
Under the auspices of the VOC, Jan van Riebeeck (1619-77)
founded Cape Town, southern Africa’s oldest settlement, in 1652. At first a
watering place for ships bound to and from the Far East, the Cape Colony saw
settlers start to arrive by the end of the 17th century. By then a series of
forts and trading posts dotted the West African coast, first serving as
watering stations but soon also operating as slave markets to meet the constant
need of Dutch New World plantations for such labor. Curaçao, in particular,
grew wealthy on the trade. In 1637 the Dutch wrested Elmina from the
Portuguese, their strongest fortification on the Guinea coast. They also sold
captive labor to other nations, bringing the first 19 slaves, captured from a
Spanish slave ship, to Virginia in 1619, and, from 1663 to 1701, Dutch traders
held the state contract (asiento) for transport of African slaves to Spain’s
American colonies. Global trading ties gave a cosmopolitan character to the
major cities, especially those in Holland, that was probably unmatched in
Europe. The Dutch acquired a fl air for foreign languages that they have
retained ever since. A traveler remarked: “There is no Part of Europe so
haunted with all sorts of foreigners as the Netherlands, which makes the
Inhabitants as well Women as Men, so well versed in all sorts of Languages, so
that, in Exchange-time, one may hear 7 or 8 sorts of Tongues spoken. . .
.” (Howell 1753, 103).
All preliminary measures for the delivery of Russian S-400
missile defense systems to Turkey are complete, the head of Russia’s arms
export company Rosoboronexport said on June 26.
Russia received payment for the air defense missiles,
manufactured the hardware and completed the training of the Turkish military
personnel who would operate them, Alexander Mikheev said in an interview with
Russian news agency Interfax.
He confirmed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s
announcement on June 25 that delivery would begin in July.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have reached a fever
pitch in recent months with Turkey set to begin receiving the advanced S-400
Russian surface-to-air missile system that Washington said will jeopardize
Turkey’s role in the F-35 fighter jet program and which could trigger
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu defied the United States’
sanction threats over Turkey’s purchase of Russian made S-400 missile defense
systems, underlining that other international partners of the F-35 project have
been annoyed by Washington’s decision to respond by halting training of Turkish
“No matter what sanctions decision, no matter which
statement comes from the U.S., we have already bought the S-400s,” Çavuşoğlu
told reporters at a joint press meeting with his Rwandese counterpart Dr.
Richard Sezibera on June 24. “Now we are talking about when the S-400s will be
delivered to Turkey. It is not possible for us to give up on the purchase of
Recalling recent U.S. steps to remove Turkey from the F-35
fighter jet program, Çavuşoğlu said the two issues are incompatible and other
partners in the F-35 program do not support the U.S. steps.
“All decisions should be taken by consensus,” the minister
said, reiterating that Turkey is also a partner in the program and has made
large contributions. Turkey is one of nine nations led by the United States
that carries out the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project along with the United
Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.
Former acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has
informed his Turkish counterpart that Turkey’s participation in the F-35
program will cease on July 31 if Turkey deploys Russian S-400s on its soils.
“These kinds of steps taken by the U.S. are not compatible
with the partnership agreement or the law,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that
Washington failed to agree with any of Turkey’s proposals to resolve the
Çavuşoğlu also underlined that there is no guarantee of NATO
protection in the event of an attack on Turkey, and the capacity of the
alliance covers only 30 percent of Turkish air space at the moment.
Furthermore, he said, NATO allies, especially the United States, Germany and
the Netherlands; have withdrawn their Patriot missiles from along the Turkish
The top diplomat also thanked Italy and Spain for extending
their air defense system deployment, adding that these extensions helped Turkey
to defend its aerial domain.
“There is no guarantee that we can purchase Patriots
tomorrow if we want to,” Çavuşoğlu said, elaborating on the ongoing talks with
the United States for procurement of the American air defense system.
“We need to address our own needs. We would have liked to
buy [air defense systems] from our allies,” he said, adding that U.S. President
Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will discuss the
“Trump understands the issue quite well, yet as always,
different opinions rise from the U.S.,” he said.
Tensions between the two countries have escalated in recent
months, with Turkey set to begin receiving the advanced S-400 Russian
surface-to-air missile defense system, which Washington said will jeopardize
Turkey’s role in the F-35 program and could trigger sanctions.
U.S. officials advised Turkey to buy the U.S. Patriot
missile system rather than the S-400s from Moscow, arguing the Russian system
would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35 to possible Russian
Turkey, however, emphasized that the S-400 would not be
integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Turkey has urged the formation of a commission to clarify any technical issues,
but the United States has failed to respond to its proposal.
Turkey made the decision in 2017 to purchase the S-400
system following protracted efforts to purchase air defense missiles from the
U.S. with no success.
On September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific.
The opponents of this Portuguese trade monopoly were initially natural enemies as followers of the Prophet and therefore committed by the tenets of their faith to the forcible conversion of the infidel; the Portuguese similarly favoured extermination of such unprofitable material for their burning missionary zeal as the Muslims invariably were. Thus on both sides material aims which could vary in degree from honest trading ambitions to sheer rapacity, were given the cloak of piety. Portuguese guns would sink the ships of Muslim rivals with the blessing of the Church ; Mohammedan rajahs would take to ruthless piracy in the name of Allah. One consequence of the latter which arose when Mohammedanism spread to the ports of Western Java and southern Borneo, was the denial of these as stopping points for Portuguese ships on the run to and from the Spice Islands. When the seamen of East Borneo and Celebes, the warlike Bugis, took to unabashed piracy, the route became so dangerous that the Portuguese eventually preferred to accept the hazards of the Sulu Islands passage and the North Borneo coast.
In 1521, however, a new factor was introduced by the arrival
at Brunei of a patched and battered carrack flying the flag of Spain,
Portugal’s only serious European naval rival in that period. This was the
Victoria, sole survivor of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition which was to
complete the first circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan, a Portuguese who
had been pilot to Sequeira at Malacca in 1509, had offered his services to
Spain and had been commissioned to command a squadron sent to find a route to
the Spice Islands by sailing westwards. Discovering the straits that bear his
name, he had entered and named the Pacific Ocean and had been carried across it
in the latitude of the trade winds to make landfall on the Philippine Islands.
There Magellan had been killed in a brush with the natives,
but his flagship had continued the voyage westwards to arrive at Brunei. When
fighting broke out there also, the ship was turned east again and after sailing
through the difficult channels amongst the Sulu Islands, arrived at Tidore, to
the west of Halmahera, and rival centre of the spice trade to the neighbouring
Ternate. When the Victoria arrived home in 1522, Spanish claims to the Spice
Islands were put forward.
The rival claimants, Spain and Portugal, were bound by the
decision of Pope Alexander vi in 1493 by which the new world being gradually
discovered was divided between the two countries. To the west of a line drawn
from pole to pole passing 100 leagues to the westward of the Cape Verde Islands
all would belong to Spain ; to the eastward all was to be Portuguese.
Unfortunately the difficulty of establishing the longitude of a place even
approximately with the means available at the time made it impossible to say
where the demarcation line ran with regard to the East Indies; no agreement
could be come to at a conference in 1524. Spanish efforts in the next few years
were ineffective owing to the difficulties and hazards of the long haul across
the Pacific. As a result of the Treaty of Saragossa in 1529 the Spaniards
withdrew their claims for some years, selling their rights in the Moluccas to
the Portuguese and fixing the dividing line seventeen degrees to the eastward
of those islands. The King of Spain, however, reserved the right to annul his
agreement, in which case arbitrators would decide the ownership of the Spice
Islands. The Portuguese had, therefore, prepared against future trouble by
building a fort on Ternate and espousing the cause of the Sultan against his
rival on Tidore.
While the Portuguese were thus establishing, amidst
unceasing conflict, their control of the East Indian trade, the pioneering
genius and the commercial ability (or, as St Francis Xavier was to condemn it,
the insatiable rapacity) of their seamen had been taking them ever further
afield. In 1517 a squadron of seven ships under Fernando Perez de Andrade,
victor of the sea-fight of 1513, arrived off Canton carrying a valuable cargo.
Though the gun salute with which the Portuguese announced their arrival
violated the code of conduct imposed on visiting foreign ships and Andrade had
to make apologies for it, relations were thereafter friendly and permission to
build a factory for the housing of goods on an off-shore island was granted.
Accompanying the expedition as ambassador was Tome Pires who
had previously visited China and written an account of it in his Suma Oriental
in 1515. From Canton, Pires was sent on to the Chinese court at Peking in
September 1518, while Andrade, with part of his squadron, returned to Malacca.
The remainder, in company with some Fiu-chiu Islands junks sailed on northwards
to Ningpo where another factory was built and trade was opened with other parts
of China, with fortified posts at Amoy and Foochow also.
This satisfactory opening of European trade with China was
not to persist for long, however. The old bone of contention, China’s claim to
the overlordship of all southern Asia, was brought out when Pires arrived at
Peking. A letter from the deposed Sultan of Malacca had reached the Emperor,
reminding him of Malacca’s vassal status and requesting Chinese assistance to
eject the invaders. Pires, not authorized to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty in
the same way, was put under arrest and conducted back to Canton, where he was
to remain a prisoner until his death in 1540.
In 1521 Fernando de Andrade’s brother, Simon, arrived off
Canton with another expedition. The high-handed arrogance which was the fatal
defect of the Portuguese in their heyday was to cause his downfall. Just when
negotiations for the opening of Chinese ports to trade were reaching a
satisfactory conclusion, he offended the Chinese authorities by erecting a
factory and fort on an off-shore island, without permission, ostensibly as
protection against pirates ; and there he proceeded to exercise sovereign
rights, demonstrated by his trial and execution of one of his sailors. A
Chinese fleet of war junks attacked him, destroying all but three of his ships
with which he was lucky to escape.
Nevertheless Portuguese trade with China through the
former’s fortified posts at Amoy, Foochow and Ningpo persisted until 1545 when
their aggressive behaviour finally led to their being expelled. The survivors,
apparently learning their lesson at last, now adopted a conciliatory and
suppliant attitude ; they were eventually permitted in 1557 to build a trading
post on the island of Macao (in the approaches to Canton), which has persisted
as a Portuguese colony to this day.
For the next fifty years the Portuguese enjoyed a monopoly
of direct trade with China using their own ships, while at the same time
Chinese junks traded to the Philippines, to Brunei, to Patani and occasionally
to Malacca, though the extortionate charges levied there discouraged them.
Another country opened up to Portuguese exclusive trade at that time was Japan;
an expedition reaching Kagoshima in 1542 set up a trading post which enjoyed
total absence of European competition for fifty years.
Far otherwise was the situation of the Portuguese in the
Indonesian Archipelago. Besides the unceasing hostilities between Christian and
Muslim in the Malacca Straits, with frequent full-scale naval expeditions by
the Sultan of Atjeh against Malacca itself, the Portuguese hold on the Spice
Islands was constantly under attack by the inhabitants and their rajahs,
resentful of Portuguese arrogance and made desperate by their cruelty and
Much of the Portuguese difficulties in the Spice Islands stemmed from their ruthless and often treacherous treatment of the native rulers and, conversely, from these Muslim rulers’ opposition to attempts to make Christian converts amongst their subjects. Indeed, Portuguese cupidity and missionary zeal were always at loggerheads to the frustration of the efforts of such as Francis Xavier, who laboured in the Moluccas from 1546 to 1548. The type of man sent out to govern the Portuguese settlements was more often than not bent on personal enrichment to the exclusion of other aims; or, if he bestirred himself to restrain the peculations of his subordinates he was liable to have a mutiny on his hands, and more than one governor was murdered for his pains. Throughout the century of Portuguese control of the Spice Islands, only one governor, Antonio Galvao 1536-40, left behind him a reputation for rectitude and fair dealing with the natives. He consequently returned poor to Lisbon, and there died in poverty.
In 1544 the ruler of Ternate, who claimed the overlordship
of the Banda Islands as well as the Moluccas, made over Amboyna to the
Portuguese who thereupon occupied the island, thus obtaining a more ample and
secure base than the tiny islands of Ternate and Tidore, where strife was
endemic, with the rival rajahs sometimes at war with each other, perhaps with
the support of Portuguese or Spaniards, or in alliance with each other to
attack the Portuguese strongholds.
The Spaniards had abrogated the agreement of 1529 in 1542
and had established prior and exclusive rights for themselves on Tidore. But
for the next twenty years they were unable to follow this up. Though they could
reach the area by sailing westwards across the Pacific from Mexico, until an
eastward return route across the Pacific had been discovered, they would have
had to return to Spain by completing the circumnavigation of the globe and thus
to traverse waters dominated by the fighting galleons of their jealous
Portuguese rivals. It was not until 1565 that a Spanish expedition of five
ships, having landed the nucleus of a settlement at Cebu in the Philippines
under Legaspi, was sailed northwards on the south-west monsoon by Andres de
Urdaneta to discover the region of fairly constant westerlies between the parallels
of 32 and 38 degrees north and so to reach the shores of California whence they
could coast southwards to Mexico. Legaspi’s settlement at Cebu was considered
an intrusion by the Portuguese, who showed their resentment by sending a
squadron of ten ships to besiege it in 1568. They failed to dislodge the
More of a threat to the Spanish colonizing efforts were the
native Moros of the southern islands of the Philippines. Converts to Islam,
they made formidable enemies and lived largely by piracy. In 1570, therefore,
Legaspi moved his settlement to Luzon where he founded the city of Manila.
There, after repulsing an attack in the following year by a Moro fleet, the
Spaniards laid the foundations of a centre for both missionary work amongst the
pagan inhabitants of Luzon and trade with the Chinese merchants from Fukien who
brought their silks to exchange for Mexican silver. Neither of these objectives
was possible amongst the belligerent Muslims further south and the Spanish left
them discreetly alone.
After the foundation of Manila, Spanish ships again appeared
in the Moluccas to dispute the Portuguese monopoly. By this time Portuguese
misrule and the cruel cupidity of often mutinous forces had fanned the enmity
of the natives and loosened the Portuguese hold on the Spice Islands. Amboyna
had narrowly survived an attack by a Javanese force; the Portuguese fort on
Ternate was besieged by forces under the Sultan of Tidore, a siege which was to
end with its surrender in 1575. The Spaniards were then able to gain a foothold
on Ternate for a time; the Portuguese shifted their spice trading headquarters
to Tidore. An open struggle between the two Iberian powers was, however,
avoided through the unification of the two countries under Philip II of Spain
Enter the Dutch…
Future events were now casting their shadows before them. In
1579 Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, on her voyage of circumnavigation, had called
briefly at Ternate, after refitting in Celebes, and loaded a quantity of
spices. In the following year the Netherlands began its revolt against the rule
of Spain. Both English and Dutch were soon to challenge the Portuguese/ Spanish
claims to exclusive trading rights, though it was the Dutch who were to take
the leading part in the East Indies.
Dutch procurement of the spices and other commodities of the
East had for a long time been by means of their own ships sent to load them at
Lisbon, and much of the supply of oriental pepper and spices to northern Europe
had been in the hands of Dutch merchants. In 1585, however, Philip II gave
orders for the seizure of all Dutch ships found in Spanish waters. For another
nine years this regulation was to a great extent flouted so that no particular
hardship was thereby suffered by the Netherlands.
The Dutch, whose trading and exploring ventures had been
spreading far and wide, had, however, long coveted a direct share in the trade
with the East Indies. In 1592, Huyghen van Linschoten returned from a nine-year
sojourn in India possessed of all the necessary geographic and navigational
information for the voyage to the East Indies which he published in his
Itinerario in 1595. When Lisbon was finally closed to Dutch trade in 1594,
therefore, it was not long before an expedition of four ships was organized
which sailed in the spring of 1595 under Cornelis van Houtman, and arrived at
the Javanese port of Bantam in June 1596.
Here they were amicably received; a treaty of friendship
with the Sultan was concluded and a cargo of pepper was soon being loaded.
Unfortunately van Houtman had neither the wit nor the manners to take advantage
of this and strife soon broke out. As a result further supplies of pepper were
refused at other Javanese ports and, when his crew refused to venture further
to the Spice Islands, Houtman was forced to return with little profit.
Nevertheless the flood-gates of Dutch trade with the East
Indies had been opened. Making use of the constant west winds, the `Roaring
Forties’ south of the Indian Ocean, for their easting, which made them
independent of the seasonal monsoons, they established the fastest route to a
trading post set up at Bantam via the Cape of Good Hope and the Sunda Strait
between Sumatra and Java. Thirteen ships took this route during 1598, returning
with vast profits. Others, usually sailing in squadrons for mutual protection,
followed. From Bantam they voyaged on to the Banda Islands and Ternate at both
of which places they were welcomed and were able to establish trading posts.
Peaceful trade being the expressed aim of the ship owners, invitations to
assist the natives against the hated Portuguese were at first declined. But in
1600 the Admiral of one of these squadrons, Steven van der Haghen, made a
treaty of alliance with the inhabitants of the island of Amboyna against the
Portuguese, receiving in return promises of a monopoly of the spice trade.
Conquest is not the only route through which war
disseminates technology. War and preparation for war also encourage societies
to imitate one another’s promising military technologies. Often enough,
imitation of a military innovation requires assimilation of a whole new set of
technologies with both civilian and military applications. In this way, copying
swords may require learning to build plowshares. There are several ways in
which military technologies developed by one society can spread to others.
These include secondary use, simple observation, voluntary technology
transfers, reverse engineering, and espionage.
Of course, several of these avenues of diffusion do not
require warfare. Commercial competitors often imitate one another’s products
and even engage in industrial espionage to ferret out one another’s secrets. In
many cases, however, there is resistance on the part of established interests,
both military and civilian, to the introduction of new ideas and new
technologies that threaten the existing order and their power and prominence in
it. Established nineteenth-century physicians disputed the germ theory of
disease as early twentieth-century physicists resisted the idea of quantum
theory. Peacetime navies commanded by battleship admirals denied the value of
aircraft carriers that, among other things, would enhance the power of their
rivals within the navy. American auto executives in the 1960s were confident
that the huge, gas-guzzling vehicles upon which their careers and profits had
been built would always rule the road and dismissed Japanese auto engineering
innovations. The list of examples is endless.
War, however, puts enormous pressure on societies to
identify and assimilate useful innovations. Though it offers no guarantee that
innovation will prevail, in war, the penalty for failing to acquire and learn
to use important new technologies or modes of organization can be quite severe.
Hence, in wartime, the objections of established interests to innovation are
more likely to be brushed aside as detrimental to a society’s chances of
survival. War-driven acceptance of innovation takes many forms. During World
War II, for example, Joseph Stalin decided it was better to follow the example
of other armies and reduced the power of the Red Army’s political officers
while increasing the authority of the army’s professional soldiers to make
tactical decisions. Apparently Comrade Stalin disagreed with the slogan of
America’s post-war peace movement and decided it was not better to be “red than
The most obvious and, perhaps, most common vehicle of
military technological diffusion is what might be termed secondary use. This
term simply refers to one state or society acquiring and using weapons built by
another. The method of acquisition might be theft, purchase, or even
battlefield scavenging. For instance, as I noted previously, long before they
were fully conquered, some indigenous North American tribes acquired and became
quite proficient in the use of firearms. Sometimes they purchased these weapons
from traders; sometimes they were issued weapons in exchange for service in the
US military; in some instances, they acquired them through raids and theft.
Whatever the precise mode of acquisition, this form of secondary use
represented a very limited transfer of technology. Indigenous tribesmen learned
how to fire weapons but lacked the technological base from which to actually
build firearms and produce ammunition for them. Generally speaking, the wider
the technological gulf between the recipient and source of military technology
transfers, the more likely that the transfer will be limited to secondary use.
This principle usually holds true in the case of a major
source of secondary use today, namely, arms sales. The United States sells tens
of billions of dollars of arms every year, mainly to nations in the Middle East
and Asia. Most of America’s Middle Eastern customers, Saudi Arabia in particular,
have little in the way of manufacturing capability, much less a sophisticated
arms industry. These recipients of American arms are dependent upon the United
States for maintenance, spare parts, and ammunition, hence the transfer of
technology is very minor. America’s Asian customers, on the other hand, most
notably Japan and Taiwan, have very large and sophisticated manufacturing bases
and could probable copy the American weapons they purchase. These nations are,
however, constrained from so doing by agreements with the United States, as
well as a calculation that it would be too expensive and politically risky to
build the most sophisticated weapons in their own factories. While the Japanese
and Taiwanese undoubtedly examine and are capable of reverse-engineering the
aircraft and antimissile systems they purchase, the actual technology transfer
Whenever weapons are sold to a technologically sophisticated
customer, however, there is a risk that the weapons transfer will not be
limited to secondary use but will rather be reverse-engineered so that their
secondary users learn the principles required to build them. Israel, for
example, had sufficient technological capability to reverse-engineer the
weapons it purchased from the United States and other suppliers and to use them
as the foundations of its own arms industry. According to press reports, Israel
routinely makes use of the underlying technologies of weapons it purchases from
the United States. Of course, to build a modern arms industry, the Israelis
also had to develop the ability to manufacture sophisticated computer and
electronic components, and today Israel boasts an enormous number of
technologically advanced start-up firms that serve both the military and
civilian markets. In this way, the transfer of military and civilian technology
went far beyond the narrow secondary use that might have been intended by
Israel’s arms suppliers.
In some instances, nations have been able to purchase
weapons, components, and plans on the international arms market from
third-party suppliers. Such purchases often circumvent any restrictions that
might have been place to prevent secondary users to build their own weapons.
Indeed, in several cases, nations seeking to acquire modern arms technology have
purchased American or other Western firms in possession of such know-how. The
Chinese have sought to buy American technology firms. The Iranians, it has
recently emerged, were able to acquire a factory in Germany that had the
ability to manufacture components that might have been useful in Iran’s nuclear
weapons program. Of course, one might say that there is nothing new here.
Nineteenth-century British and German arms manufacturers sold their wares and
their nations’ technologies to the United States and any other nation that
could pay for them.
Reverse-engineering has been an important element in the
dissemination of military technologies. Unlike simple secondary use,
reverse-engineering requires a level of technology similar to that of the
society that produced the weapon or weapons system in the first place. The new
user must be able to grasp the engineering principles represented by the weapon
and possess an industrial base capable of producing copies of the weapon. Thus,
the extent to which basic technology is actually transferred may be militarily
important but limited in scope. Often-cited examples of reverse-engineered
weapons include the Soviet Tu-4 bomber, which was directly copied from the
American B-29 bomber. The Soviets had a chance to closely examine the B-29
during World War II when several American planes on missions over Japan
developed problems and landed on Soviet territory. Similarly, the Soviet
K-13/R-3S air-to-air missile was a reverse-engineered version of the American
AIM-9 Sidewinder. The Soviets were able to examine the American missile after
one fired by a Taiwanese fighter hit a Chinese MIG without exploding. Today,
Iran claims to have reverse-engineered the American Predator drone and to have
produced its own version of the American unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that has
proven to be a useful weapon in America’s arsenal.
Again, while reverse-engineering can be militarily useful,
the actual extent to which technology can be transferred in this way is
limited. Only those who already possess a level of technology sufficient to
understand the principles embodied by the weapon and to build factories capable
of making their own versions can benefit from reverse-engineering. A Predator
drone somehow captured by a tribal group in the jungles of South America would
not offer much in the way of benefits to them.
Another very common vehicle for the diffusion of military
technologies is simple observation. One nation, observing a potentially useful
weapon or weapons system fielded by others, may endeavor to build its own
version of the weapon. Like reverse-engineering, imitation—though an important
form of flattery—is not a particularly powerful instrument of technology
diffusion. Weapons can only be copied by societies whose own level of technology
is comparable to that of the society that produced the weapon. Thus, copying is
more likely to diffuse weapons than engineering skill or scientific
understanding. Take the case of naval power in late eighteenth- and early
Political scientist Michael Horowitz writes that during the
first half of the nineteenth century, Great Britain was the world’s dominant
naval power—a dominance based upon heavily armed, wooded-hulled sailing ships.
However, the British observed the launch of a new French ironclad,
steam-powered vessel, La Gloire, whose armor was capable of withstanding
British gunfire. When the British also analyzed reports of the clash between
the Monitor and Merrimack in America’s Civil War, they quickly shifted their production
of warships first to iron and then to steel. The use of these materials and
steam rather than wind power allowed the construction of warships much larger
than any that had been built before and permitted their builders to mount huge
guns with rotating turrets on the vessels’ decks. Indeed, the new guns, with
their own armored turrets, were too heavy to be mounted at a ship’s sides and
had to be installed midship, and ships redesigned to remove obstacles to the
rotation of their turrets. The construction and deployment of these ships
required changes in naval organization and methods of training, the development
of new technologies in the production of steel, as well as the development of
turbine engines capable of powering the enormous battleships and battlecruisers
introduced by the Royal Navy in the early years of the twentieth century.
The 1906 launch of the HMS Dreadnaught, followed by a series
of other powerful warships, as well as the reorganization of the Royal Navy’s
tactics emphasizing battle fleets of auxiliary vessels organized around capital
ships, was closely observed by the world’s other maritime powers—including in
particular Germany and Japan. Many maritime powers halted their naval
construction programs while they considered how to best respond to the British
innovations. Several of these states possessed adequate levels of technology,
as well as the organizational and financial capabilities, to imitate the
British and proceeded to do so. Germany, for example, concluded that the new British
warships represented a significant change in naval warfare that rendered
existing vessels and fleets obsolete. Germany possessed a large and modern
steel industry as well as the industrial infrastructure to build powerful
warships on the British model. German military planners, moreover, had little
difficulty understanding the organizational and tactical changes introduced by
the British and adapted them for their own use.
In a similar vein, Japan was eager to imitate the Royal
Navy’s new warships and tactics. In its efforts to build a modern navy
following Commodore Perry’s 1853 visit, Japan had adopted the British Navy as a
model for its own ships and tactics. For a half century, Japan had worked to
build an industrial base that would allow it to compete with the West. By the
turn of the century, Japan possessed an adequate level of technology to copy
the new British warships. What the Japanese were not able to do for themselves,
the British were more than happy to do for them. Britain viewed Japan as a
counterweight to its rival Russia and encouraged Japanese naval modernization,
selling the Japanese ships, large-caliber naval guns, and technologies and
helping Japan to organize its own naval academy modeled on the British naval
academy at Dartmouth. The Japanese were, as a result, able to quickly copy the
new British warships and assimilate the British naval tactics designed to make
best use of the ships. Ironically, of course, within a few years the Japanese
used their new navy to attempt to drive the British from Southeast Asia.
Dissemination by observation was also important in the case
of the tank. Tanks were introduced by Great Britain toward the end of World War
I. The British believed that tracked, armored vehicles had the potential to
penetrate heavily defended German trenches and pave the way for successful
infantry assaults. Though early British tanks were slow and cumbersome and
prone to mechanical breakdowns, it was evident to all sides that the tank could
become a formidable weapon. The Germans decided to copy the British tanks but
did so in a desultory manner until the British offensive of 1918, in which
large numbers of improved British tanks, attacking in waves, were able to
achieve decisive breakthroughs and penetrated deep behind the German lines.
Watching their defense lines crushed by massed British armor convinced the
Germans that the tank was, indeed, a powerful weapon. This realization came too
late to affect the outcome of the war, since Germany soon capitulated, but it
was to have a profound impact on German planning for the next war.
After the Versailles Treaty was signed, the army of the new
German republic was severely limited in size and weaponry and could build no
tanks. The Germans circumvented this restriction by entering into an agreement
with the Soviet Union. The Soviet military, too, had been impressed with
reports of the power of British armor and, indeed, during the Russian Civil
War, had faced a small number of tanks fielded by the White Russian Army. After
the Communist victory, Soviet officers had studied theories of armored warfare
and very much wished to copy British tanks, but Soviet factories lacked the
technological capability to build modern tanks. The Germans proposed a deal.
The two nations would collaborate on tank design, with the Germans providing
technical assistance for tanks that would be built in the USSR. Officers from
both nations would train in a tank school established in the Soviet city of
From this beginning, the German and Soviet armies both developed
powerful tanks and doctrines of armored warfare emphasizing what the Germans
would call blitzkrieg, or lightning war, and the Russians would call “deep
battle.” In both cases, the emphasis was on the use of massed tank formations
to break through, envelop, and cut off enemy forces with infantry following to
exploit the armored advances. Initially, the Germans and Soviets both copied
British tank designs. Gradually, however, they introduced improvements, but, of
course, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, this episode of German–Soviet
cooperation came to an end. Within a few years, tank officers who had trained
together at Kazan faced one another in battle. Interestingly, the Germans had
provided the technical expertise in the 1920s but by the 1940s the Soviets had
learned to build better tanks, including the T-34, generally thought to have
been the best tank of the war. Indeed, the Germans found themselves copying the
armor from the T-34 for their own tanks.
Again, successful imitation requires a level of technology
similar to that possessed by the nation whose weapons are being imitated and
is, as a result, not the most robust mechanism of technology transfer. British
tanks were easily copied by the Germans and Russians. Germany and Japan, along
with the United States and, to a lesser extent, France, Italy, and Russia, were
able to copy British naval innovations. These nations already possessed the
level of technology needed to build British-style battleships and battle
cruisers and, once shown an example, imitated it with relative ease. Those who
did not possess the technological ability already could not copy the ships.
This limitation is not true in the case of a fourth form of
imitation—voluntary technology transfer. Technology transfer differs from, say,
arms sales, insofar as the donor or seller provides not only finished weapons
but also donates or sells the technology needed to manufacture and maintain the
weapons. This sort of sale or donation involves a more substantial transfer of
technology than the simple sale or donation of the weapons themselves.
Understanding the technology may allow the recipient to move forward
scientifically or technologically and move on to produce other civilian and
military products that might previously have been beyond their reach. Such
transfers take place for a number of reasons and, despite frequent efforts on
the part of technology-rich nations to prevent their technological assets from
being acquired by others, such flows are difficult to control. In some
instances, nations are willing to share military technology with their allies
in order to promote its use against their enemies. As noted above, in the early
twentieth century, Great Britain shared naval technology, including plans for
the construction of modern warships, with Japan as part of its effort to blunt
Russian power. This transfer of technologies is a classical case of a tactic
that seemed to be a good idea at the time, but was discovered out later to have
been rather problematic.
In other cases, a transfer of technology involves civilian
technologies that turn out to have military uses. Take, for example, the
enormous transfer of American manufacturing technology to the Soviet Union that
took place before and during World War II. During the 1920s and 1930s, the
Soviet leadership was quite conscious of the fact that the USSR’s level of
industrial development was far behind that of Western Europe and the United
States. Always fearing attack from the capitalist West, the USSR was especially
anxious to develop its armaments industries. Accordingly, the USSR contracted
with American industrial firms to build plants such as the Kama River truck
factory, in which Soviet engineers learned how to build modern trucks—a skill
set that transferred quite easily to the manufacture of military vehicles.
Today, the United States seeks to monitor and prevent the
transfer of technologies with military potential. In practice, such transfers
take place every week. American corporations often sell technological know-how
to foreign purchasers. These corporations usually claim to have been unaware
that the technology had military applications. In 2011, for example, the United
Technologies Corporation, a major American defense contractor, paid a $75
million fine for selling engine-control software to China that the Chinese used
to build that nation’s first military attack helicopter. The firm’s Pratt and
Whitney subsidiary had initially claimed to be unaware that the software had
potential military uses, but then acknowledged that some of its executives had
made false statements to the government when denying the allegation.
In some instances, foreign governments will demand a
transfer of technology as a condition for purchasing American products. In a
recent case, Brazil threatened to purchase military aircraft elsewhere if the
United States continued to impose restrictions on technology transfers. Brazil
wanted to sell twenty-four aircraft containing US-built components to
Venezuela. The components had been sold to Brazil with the stipulation that
they could not be transferred to a third nation. Brazil declared that if the
United States refused to lift this restriction, it would award a fighter plane
contract worth as much as $7 billion to a French or Swedish company rather than
an American firm.
A recent case of voluntary technology transfer poses grave
dangers. Nuclear technology developed in Pakistan was sold to both North Korea
and Iran. The technology was sold by prominent Pakistani engineer Abdul Qadeer
Khan, possibly with the connivance of some Pakistani officials. North Korea has
tested an atomic bomb it was able to develop with the help of Khan’s
information, and Iran is making every effort to build its own nuclear weapon.
Iran asserts that it seeks nuclear technology for peaceful uses, while North
Korea enjoys threatening the United States with a nuclear attack. In all
likelihood, both states are lying.
The Khan case also illustrates another common factor in
voluntary technology transfer—the internationalization of scientific training.
Every year, American and European universities train thousands of scientists
and engineers in the most advanced technologies. Some of these individuals
remain in the countries where they received their training, but the majority
return home with the skills they have acquired. Abdul Khan, for example, was
trained in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In the Netherlands, Khan had
access to documents concerning gas centrifuge technology, an important element
in the fabrication of nuclear bombs. Of course, America’s own atomic bomb was
originally devised by scientists trained in Germany. No doubt, engineers
trained in the Roman army later built ballistae for the Goths.
Finally, there is the matter of espionage. Since ancient
times, nations have relied upon spies to inform them of one another’s plans and
capabilities. One important form of espionage is collection of information on
the use and manufacture of weapons. In some instances, espionage has provided
information that allowed one or another nation to copy complex weapons systems
that it might not easily have been able to develop on its own. In the 1940s,
for example, Soviet spy rings penetrated American security and copied the plans
and designs for American nuclear weapons. This intelligence coup allowed the
Soviet Union to build an atomic bomb years earlier than its scientists and
engineers might have been able to construct such a weapon on their own.
In recent years, China has been quite active in the realm of
technological espionage. Chinese agents allegedly were able to acquire
microwave submarine detection technology, space-based intercept systems,
electromagnetic artillery systems, submarine torpedoes, aircraft carrier
electronic systems, and various other military technologies. Recently, a
Chinese citizen, Sixing Liu, was sentenced to seventy months in federal prison
for attempting to transfer information about the “disk resonator gyroscope,” a
device that allows drones, missiles, and rockets to hit targets without
satellite guidance, to the Chinese military. Liu was employed by US defense
contractor L-3 Communications, where he had access to the gyroscope. Similarly,
Chi Mak, another L-3 employee, was convicted of passing information on the
navy’s quiet drive submarine propulsion technology to China, while another
Chinese agent was convicted of acquiring American microwave submarine detection
technology for China.
Of course, China is not the only nation that uses covert
means to acquire American military technology. In recent years, Russian agents
have been accused of attempting to export US military equipment and technology,
and a number of Iranian agents have been apprehended seeking to obtain American
technology and hardware for Iran’s military and nuclear programs.
Mid twentieth-century Soviet atom spies generally had to
physically obtain or photograph documents and components. While this
traditional form of espionage continues to be important, today’s spying also
includes cyberattacks on computer systems that store useful military and
technological information. In recent years, computer attacks, mainly
originating in China, have targeted a number of American defense firms,
including Northrop Grumman, whose computer systems contain valuable information
on American military systems. What, if any, technology was transferred through
these attacks has not been made public.
IMITATION IS MORE THAN JUST A FORM OF FLATTERY
War and preparation for war provide nations with a powerful
incentive to identify and copy one another’s useful military technologies.
Whatever form such imitation takes, with the exception of simple secondary use,
imitation of a foreign military innovation may allow—or indeed,
require—learning and assimilating whole new sets of technologies with both
military and civilian applications. As I observed earlier, copying swords may
teach societies how to build plowshares.
Take the case of jet propulsion. Work on jet engines had
been undertaken in Britain, France, and Germany during the 1920s. In the 1930s,
however, German industrialist Ernst Heinkel saw the possibility of attaching a
jet engine to an airplane. Along with an engine designed Hans von Ohain, Heinkel
built the He 178, the world’s first jet plane. With subsequent technical
improvements, the Germans were able to build the world’s first jet fighter, the
Me 262, which entered combat in 1944. The Messerschmitt jet could attain a top
speed of about 550 miles per hour, which was more than 150 miles per hour
faster than conventional Allied fighter aircraft. The Me 262 was quite
successful in downing Allied bombers, particularly after the introduction of a
two-seat version with radar gave it an enhanced ability to fly and fight at
The Me 262 was introduced too late in the war to have any
appreciable effect. Other air forces encountering the German jet fighter,
though, recognized its clear superiority to piston engine aircraft, as well as
to the British Gloster Meteor, a somewhat more primitive jet fighter developed
by the British. Accordingly, Allied forces made every effort to capture an Me
262 for study, hoping to copy its design and technology. The US Army Air Force
had created an intelligence effort dubbed “Operation Lusty,” tasked with
acquiring German aircraft and weapons technologies. No Me 262, though, was
captured until the end of the war, when both the Americans and Soviets were
able to seize a number of the jets in fairly good condition. The United States
shipped nine of the Me 262s, along with other German equipment, to an airfield
in Newark, New Jersey for study. There the German planes were
reverse-engineered and immediately became the basis for America’s jet fighter
and jet bomber programs.
Within a few years, of course, jet engines were being used
to power commercial airliners. With improvements in their power, reliability,
and fuel efficiency, they soon replaced piston engines on most large civilian
aircraft. The jet engine has dramatically shortened flight times and reduced
the costs associated with travel and commerce. Copying the sword produced a
very important plowshare. Of course, jet technology had been under development
before the war and had not been exclusively intended for military purposes.
This point, however, raises the larger issue of how technology is transferred
between civilian and military uses, a question to which we shall now turn.
While the Royal Navy stagnated in the age of the establishments, the
French and Spanish were building bigger and better ships. In style this model
of a Spanish ship has much in common with British practice, and British
shipwrights were employed in the Spanish dockyards, especially Irish Roman
Catholics who were forbidden employment under the British crown. The decoration
however is rather different, with a horse as figurehead and a heavy carving on
each quarter of the stern. This model cannot be positively identified but it
bears an eagle and snake on the stern, from the coat of arms of Mexico. It may
be the Spanish 60-gun ship Nueva Espana, built in Havana in 1740. It has oar
ports between the lower deck gunports, a feature only found on much smaller
British ships, but one which might have proved useful in the lighter winds of
the Mediterranean, where it might still be necessary to fight galleys in calm
The increase of European corsair attacks on the Spanish West
Indies and Main (north coast of South America) from the 1520s required improved
defensive measures, but especially from the 1540s when American shipping peaked
during the richest discoveries of silver in Peru. These attacks, in peacetime
and war, transcended international law just as the religious struggles of the
Mediterranean did, especially as Spain in the late 1530s forbade foreign entry
into American waters. The Spanish crown thus had to accept, reluctantly, the
realization that local militias, inadequate fortifications and private armed
patrols in the Caribbean were no substitute for regular, systematic
transatlantic convoys, escorted by regular navy galleons and protected at the
points of departure and arrival by permanent coastal patrols of galleys and
small sailing warships. Such a system took several decades to evolve and in the
face of perhaps 100 enemy corsairs operating yearly-70 off Spain and 30 in the
Caribbean. Between 1535 and 1546, most of the attacks occurred off the Atlantic
coast of Spain, and the colonists in America generally had to fend for
themselves. But the arrival of many corsairs on plundering as well as smuggling
ventures in the Caribbean during the 1550s caused the crown to experiment with
countermeasures that became permanent after 1560. These came in the form of direct
government regulation of Spanish America’s maritime defenses, embodied in an
annual escorted convoy sporadically from 1553 and permanently from the 1560s.
The major tool became the escort for this convoy, the Armada Real, two to
twelve galleons, created in 1568 and commanded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Two
plate (silver) convoys sailed annually, the spring voyage to the Antilles and
Vera Cruz, the late summer expedition to Cartagena on the Spanish Main and
Nombre de Dios at the Isthmus of Panama. Both wintered in the Caribbean, then
rendezvoused at Havana the following March for the return voyage to Seville.
Expensive though the Armada Real was, it achieved for Philip
II the desired effect of acting as a deterrent to corsair attacks on the plate
fleets. To be sure, the Real could not stop corsair depredations of coastal
settlements, especially as they intensified along the Spanish Main from the
late 1560s. French, English and Dutch even began to cooperate in common cause
against the Spanish imperial monopoly, sometimes in small squadrons of twelve
ships or more off the Spanish coast and in the Caribbean. Such dangers could
only be thwarted by largely ineffective galley patrols in both places, or by
more successful Spanish and (from 1552) Portuguese galleons between the Iberian
coast and the forward island base in the Azores. The Ottoman naval offensive of
the 1560s also brought Turkish and Barbary corsairs in squadrons of six
galliots or more into the Atlantic to join in the assault. Indeed, a Turkish corsair
squadron entered the anchorage of Cadiz during the late summer of 1568 and
burned three of Menendez de Aviles’ original twelve galleons preparing for the
first sortie of the Armada Real. But the Moslem danger diminished as the
Ottomans pulled back to their Central Mediterranean defense perimeter during
the 1570s, and the Armada Real assumed its permanent escort role. Even
following Menendez’ departure to lead an expedition against Holland in 1574
(when he died), the system continued with unqualified success for over two
centuries. Stragglers from the convoy occasionally fell prey to corsairs, but
the Armada Real was rarely intercepted by any formidable enemy force over the
ensuing decades, the first time not coming until 1628.
Looking for something else, I recently found the following
in ‘Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy’ by John D. Harbron (it documents the
Spanish SOL from early 18th Century) about the armament of early Spanish SOLs:
4th Rate and fast sailer, 60 Gun Ship (Service Year
1717)–24 x 18#, 26 x 12#, 10 x 6#
Harbron indicates that the these 60’s were not designed to
fight in a line of battle against the capital ships of their time but were
heavy escorts, intended to defeat British and French privateers and pirates in
the Caribbean and elsewhere. They were used to escort the Gold and Silver
convoys from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to Spain. One voyage was also
made during the early 1730s around the Cape of Horn to the Pacific to escort in
the great Manila galleons. This was only
on their last leg of sailing into Panama.
Manila Galleons: what a target for your large well organised
Pirate! Alas somewhat out of the league your average pirate, as would be the
Spanish convoys escorted by those special anti-pirate 60-gunners.
Nostra Senora de Covandonga 50-guns 1731-1743
Nostra Senora del Pilar de Zaragoza 50-guns 1732-1750
This is from an article published in Warship 1991 ‘The Last
Manila Galleon’ In the article they describe the last Spanish Galleon’s that
sailed between Manila in the Philippines across the Pacific to Acapulco on the
west coast of Mexico.
One of the last Manila Galleon’s were the Covandonga
captured by Anson in 1743, the Pilar which broke up on the voyage to Acapulco
in 1750 and the ships built to replace Covandonga and Pilar at Manila the
Nuestra Senora del Rosario y los Santos Reyes 60-guns
Santisima Trinidad y Nuestra Senora del Buen Fin 70-guns
These were enormous ships; Rosario was 188 ft overall with 156
ft keel, 56 ft beam, and a 26 ft depth in hold and was pierced for 60 guns the
Santisima Trinidad was even larger. For comparison the Spanish navy at that
time had designed a 60 gun 4th rate as the best ship for their needs, these
commonly measured 143 ft in length and 39 ft in breadth.
The Rosario and Santisima Trinidad were terrible sailers;
they had enormous upper works and could only sail in a following wind. In 1756
Santisima Trinidad took over 7 months to make the voyage from Manila to Mexico,
82 passengers died on the voyage including the former governor of the
Philippines returning to Spain.
Navío Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, 50-guns 1732-1750. A Manila
Galleon of the eighteenth century.
Pacific Routes-Manila Galleons
After the discovery of a sea route from the Philippines to
Mexico in 1565, the Spanish began employing a highly profitable, though
dangerous, trade route. Ships especially outfitted to carry large cargoes set
sail from Acapulco, carrying silver mined in the Americas, and headed to
Manila, where the metal was exchanged for Chinese silks, porcelains, and ivory,
as well as for fragrant goods from the Spice Islands and jewels from Burma,
Ceylon, and Siam. The galleons then returned the much sought-after Asian goods
back to Acapulco, where they were carried overland to Mexico City and then sent
across the Atlantic to Spain. The first Manila galleon set sail for Acapulco in
Twice each year the Spaniards dispatched the fabled Manila
galleon from Acapulco with silver bullion bound across the Pacific to the
Philippine Islands, claimed by Spain upon their discovery by Ferdinando
Magellan in 1521. On its return passage the galleon found the favorable
westerlies at the latitude of Japan and then sailed down the California coast
with the current to Mexico, bringing back rich cargoes of silk goods. Spain’s
Atlantic trade was also highly regulated. A fleet of vessels sailed from Spain
to the Caribbean each spring and returned home the following winter. Spanish
naval vessels protected the flota, as it was called, from the warships and
privateers of European rivals as well as from the pirates who infested the
Caribbean and Bahamian waters. Fortified harbors at Cartegena on the Spanish
Main and Havana on the island of Cuba gave further shelter to the fleet. In
1565 Spain had also established a settlement in Florida at St. Augustine to
protect the strategic Straits of Florida, through which its plate fleet sailed
on its passage home late each winter.
Whereas the wind-aided passage from Acapulco to Manila took
only eight to ten weeks, the return trip from Manila to Acapulco took between
four and six months. Navigating the treacherous Philippine archipelago with an
overloaded galleon often took over a month, and many ships that did not
complete the journey before typhoon season began perished in the rough weather.
Because the profits from the Manila galleon trade averaged 30 to 50 percent,
adequate provisions were often rejected in favor of loading more goods on the
galleons. Consequently, many ships saw 30 to 40 percent of their crews perish,
with losses of 75 percent not uncommon in some years. Despite these risks,
however, the Manila galleon trade continued for nearly 250 years, remaining an
important source of income for Spanish merchants.
In the absence of any other centre of settlement in the
whole Pacific, the Manila galleons were the only lifeline between New Spain and
the Philippines. With the whole economy of Spanish Manila depending on them,
they braved the winds and made the voyage once every year from Acapulco to
Manila, and back again to Acapulco. In the last decades of the sixteenth
century, as many as three or four ships might sail together. In 1593 the
Spanish government, responding to years of protests from traders both in
America and in the peninsula, restricted the sailings to two ships a year, with
a limit on the amount of goods they could carry. Later, in 1720, a decree
established that two ships should be the rule, though it remained normal for
only one ship to do the crossing.
The sailings were unique in world history. The first galleon
crossed the Pacific in 1565, the last sailed in 1815: for two and a half
centuries the ships maintained, almost without a break, their perilous and
lonely voyage across the vast ocean. Vessels sailed from Cavite in Manila Bay
in June or July, helped by the monsoon winds out of the southwest. They drifted
for five or more months across the Pacific. When they arrived in Acapulco a
fair was held at which the goods were traded. At Acapulco they loaded up with
silver and passengers, then returned in March to catch the northeast trade
winds back across the Pacific.
The trip from Manila was the ‘longest continuous navigation
in the world’, lasting an average of six months, though there were ships that
did not make it in less than nine. The voyage was always accompanied by high
mortality, without counting the extreme risk from storms. A witness in Mexico
reported how one vessel, the Mora, ‘left China on the first of July 1588 and
arrived in Acapulco on the third of February, after forty-three people had died
on the voyage’. There were many terrible cases, like the Santa Margarita in
1600 which was beaten about by storms and in eight months was only able to
reach the Marianas, by which time a mere fifty of the two hundred and sixty on
board had survived; of the survivors all were killed by natives save one who
escaped to tell the tale. In 1603 the San Antonio, which carried the richest
cargo known till that date, as well as many of the Spanish élite fleeing from
the Chinese uprising in Manila, was simply swallowed up by the sea somewhere
out in the Pacific. In 1657 one ship reached Acapulco after more than twelve
months at sea: all on board were dead. Laden with fabulous treasure and the
coveted prey of all, the vessels succumbed to the enemy only four times and
always to the English: in 1587, 1709, 1743 and 1762. Many more, unfortunately,
to a total of well over thirty, fell foul of storms or simply disappeared at
sea. The return from Acapulco was shorter, an average of four months.
The conditions of life on so long a crossing are fully
documented by an Italian apothecary, Francesco Gemelli, who made the voyage in
There is hunger,
thirst, sickness, cold, continual watching, and other sufferings, besides the
terrible shocks from side to side caused by the furious beating of the waves.
The ship swarms with little vermin bred in the biscuit, so swift that in a
short time they not only run over cabins, beds and the very dishes the men eat
upon, but fasten upon the body. Abundance of flies fall into the dishes of
broth, in which there also swim worms of several sorts. In every mouthful of
food there went down an abundance of maggots. On fish days the common diet was
rank old fish boiled in water and salt; at noon we had kidney beans, in which
there were so many maggots that they swam at the top of the broth.
Soviet historiography is mocked in the West, where it is seen purely as a propaganda exercise. By way of example, take Lend-Lease. Soviet texts downplay its importance, if they mention it at all. English-language histories credit it with saving the Soviet Union from defeat, bandying about words like “decisive” and “critical”. The truth lies in between these extremes — in the fighting in late 1941, the presence of British-supplied Hurricanes and Tomahawks made a difference around Leningrad and Moscow. The presence of Spitfires and Airacobras helped the VVS defeat the Luftwaffe over Kuban. The Studebaker truck was an important tool for the Red Army. The aluminum and other alloys, the metallurgic technology, the locomotives, the radios and other smaller items, the foodstuffs, all these items helped to strengthen the USSR in their struggle against Germany and her Allies. There is no question. But to state bluntly that without them the USSR would have collapsed is simply untrue, and this is the perspective most often put forward in English-speaking lands. The USSR is/was a great country, with enormous resources, and the Russian people are among the most resilient in the world. With or without Lend-Lease, Germany would sooner or later have been defeated, simply because such a small country could never sustain a war against one so large and so wealthy. The Second World War was a war of attrition, and Germany simply did not have the resources to outlast the USSR. Once German troops were stopped before Moscow, it was only a question of time.
In the final phase of the war, however, the Soviet army was able to move to a conduct of operations that was very close to the concepts that had been defined in P.U. 36: Soviet Field Regulations. It was able to do so for one basic reason the mechanization of the logistic facilities of its seven armored and mechanized armies. This was made possible by U.S. Lend-Lease, U.S. factories and shipping being responsible for the supply of some 420,000 four-wheel-drive trucks, which put the Soviet army on wheels. The scale of this effort can be understood when it is remembered that this total was greater than the number of motor vehicles in Britain in 1939, and the United Kingdom was second only to the United States in terms of automobile production. Where, however, the concept of Deep Battle continued to elude the Soviet army was in the lack of overall mechanization, since the vast majority of Soviet infantry remained on foot and hoof, of a genuine deep-strike air force, and of adequate airborne forces. As a result the Soviet army, like the German army, was unbalanced, with quality concentrated and narrowly based. Its success in the final period of the war was much to do with superiority of numbers and technique.
The most serious gap in the Soviet armoury at the start of the war was in radio communication and intelligence. In the early months of war there were desperate shortages of radio equipment, which made effective command and control of large numbers of aircraft and tanks impossible and made it difficult to hold together a regular infantry division. And when radio was used German interceptors caught the messages and dispatched air or tank strikes against the unfortunate command post that had relayed them. Soviet commanders soon grew uncomfortable with using radio once they realized it could betray their whereabouts. The system was disrupted in the fast-moving defensive battles of 1941 and 1942, as one communications post after another was overrun by the enemy. The effort to provide effective communication in 1942 was central to the final successes of Soviet mass operations in 1943 and 1944.
It could not have been achieved without supplies from the United States and the British Commonwealth. Under the Lend-Lease agreements drawn up with America and Britain in 1941, the Soviet Union was supplied with 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones and 956,000 miles of telephone cable. The air force was able by 1943 to establish a network of radio control stations about one and a half miles behind the front, from which aircraft could be quickly directed to targets on the battlefield. Tank armies used the new radios to hold the tank units together, increasing their fighting effectiveness by the simplest of innovations. Finally, the Red Army began to organize its own radio interception service in 1942. By 1943 five specialized radio battalions had been raised; their function was to listen in on German radio, jam their frequencies and spread disinformation over the air waves. In the battles of summer 1943 the battalions claimed to have reduced the transmission of German operational radiograms by two-thirds. In the last years of the war Soviet signals-intelligence underwent an exceptional and necessary improvement. The systems for evaluating intelligence from radio interception, spies and air reconnaissance were overhauled by the spring of 1943, and a much clearer picture of German dispositions and intentions could be constructed. Moreover, radio came to play a major part in the evolution of sophisticated tactics of deception and disinformation, which on numerous occasions left the enemy quite unable even to guess the size, the whereabouts or the intentions of Soviet forces.
It was true that the quantity of armaments sent was not great when compared with the remarkable revival of Soviet mass production. The raw statistics show that Western aid supplied only 4 per cent of Soviet munitions over the whole war period, but the aid that mattered did not come in the form of weapons. In addition to radio equipment the United States supplied more than half a million vehicles: 77,900 jeeps, 151,000 light trucks and over 200,000 Studebaker army trucks. One-third of all Soviet vehicles came from abroad and were generally of higher quality and durability, though most came in 1943 and 1944. At the time of Stalingrad only 5 per cent of the Soviet military vehicle park came from imported stocks. Imports, however, gave the Red Army supply system a vital mobility that was by 1944 better than the enemy’s. The Studebaker became a favourite with the Soviet forces. The letters ‘USA’ stencilled on the side were translated as ‘Ubit sukina syna Adolfa’ – ‘to kill that son-of-a-bitch Adolf!’ The list of other supplies, equally vital to the Soviet supply effort, is impressive – 57.8 per cent of aviation fuel requirements, 53 per cent of all explosives, almost half the wartime supply of copper, aluminium and rubber tyres. Arguably the most decisive contribution was supplies for the strained Soviet rail network, much of which was in the occupied areas in 1941. From America came not only 56.6 per cent of all the rails used during the war but 1,900 locomotives to supplement the meagre Soviet output of just 92, and 11,075 railway cars to add to the 1,087 produced domestically. Almost half the supplies, by weight, came in the form of food, enough to provide an estimated half-pound of concentrated nourishment for every Soviet soldier, every day of the war. The shiny tins of Spam, stiff, pink compressed meat, were universally known as ‘second fronts’.
The provision of Lend-Lease supplies was slow in the early stages of the war, but from late 1942 it became a steady flow through the Soviet eastern provinces via Vladivostok, by the overland route from the Persian Gulf and the more dangerous and inhospitable convoy journeys from British ports to Murmansk or Archangel. Foreign aid on such a scale permitted the Soviet Union to concentrate its own production on the supply of battlefront equipment rather than on machinery, materials or consumer goods. Without Western aid, the narrower post-invasion economy could not have produced the remarkable output of tanks, guns and aircraft, which exceeded anything the wealthier German economy achieved throughout the war. Without the railway equipment, vehicles and fuel the Soviet war effort would almost certainly have foundered on poor mobility and an anaemic transport system. Without the technical and scientific aid – during the war 15,000 Soviet officials and engineers visited American factories and military installations technological progress in the Soviet Union would have come much more slowly. This is not to denigrate the extraordinary performance of the Soviet economy during the war, which was made possible only by the use of crude mass-production techniques, by skilful improvisation in planning and through the greater independence and initiative allowed plant managers and engineers. As a result of the improvements in production, the Red Army faced the German enemy in 1943 on more equal terms than at any time since 1941. The modernization of Soviet fighting power was an essential element in the equation. The gap in organization and technology between the two sides was narrowed to the point where the Red Army was prepared to confront German forces during the summer campaigning season in the sort of pitched battle of manoeuvre and firepower at which German commanders had hitherto excelled.
Soviet reaction to Allied aid during the war was mixed. While sending out extravagant shopping lists to the Western powers, the Soviet authorities complained constantly about delays in supply and the quality of some of the weaponry they were sent. Offers by British and American engineers and officers to follow up the deliveries with advice on how to use and repair the equipment were met with a stony refusal. It was true that aid deliveries were slow to materialize in the fifteen months after the promise was made in August of 1941, due partly to the difficulties in establishing effective supply lines, partly to the demands of America’s own rearmament. But neither Roosevelt nor Churchill were in any doubt that aid for the Soviet Union was vital to the anti-Axis coalition; they bore Soviet complaints without a serious rupture. When the first aid programme was finally settled in October 1941, Maxim Litvinov, by then the ambassador to Washington, leaped to his feet and shouted out, ‘Now we shall win the war!’ Yet after 1945 Lend-Lease was treated in the official Soviet histories of the war as a minor factor in the revival of Soviet fortunes. The story of Lend-Lease became a victim of the Cold War. Even in the late 1980s it was still a subject of which the regime would not permit open discussion. The significance of Western supplies for the Soviet war effort was admitted by Khrushchev in the taped interviews used for his memoirs, but the following passage was published only in the 1990s: ‘Several times I heard Stalin acknowledge [Lend-Lease] within the small circle of people around him. He said that… if we had had to deal with Germany one-to-one we would not have been able to cope because we lost so much of our industry.’ Marshal Zhukov, in a bugged conversation in 1963 whose contents were released only thirty years later, endorsed the view that without aid the Soviet Union ‘could not have continued the war’. All this was a far cry from the official history of the Great Patriotic War, which concluded that Lend-Lease was ‘in no way meaningful’ and had ‘no decisive influence’ on the outcome of the war.
The Soviet Union would not have been able to “fight their fight without allied support.” However, the contribution of U. S. production and Lend-Lease to the Soviet effort has often been exaggerated.
“Left to their own devices,” as one contemporary source puts it, “Stalin and his commanders might have taken 12 to 18 months longer to finish off the Wehrmacht.” (David M. Glantz & Jonathan House, ‘When Titans Clashed’, 1995, p. 285)
Glantz and House noted (pp. 150-151, 285) the Soviet economy would have been more heavily burdened without Lend-Lease trucks, the implements of war, and raw materials including clothing. Ultimately, the authors conclude, the result would have been the same, “except that Soviet soldiers could have waded at France’s Atlantic beaches.”
The authors point out, Lend-Lease equipment did not arrive in sufficient quantities in 1941-42 to make a difference. “That achievement must be attributed solely to the Soviet people and to the nerve of Stalin” and others. Lend-Lease trucks enabled the Soviets to keep their mobile forces moving, especially after March 1943. But combat vehicles and aircraft proved less satisfactory. The Valentine and Matilda tank turrets could not be upgunned. And the Soviets wanted close air support ground aircraft and low altitude fighters, not fighter interceptors and long-range bombers.
According to Glantz and House (p. 340 n1), from October1941 to May 1942 the Allies delivered 4700 aircraft and 2600 armored vehicles. In 1941 and 1942, the Soviets produced 8200 and 21,700 combat aircraft respectively, as well as 4700 and 24,500 tanks. The Soviets lost 17,900 aircraft in 1941 and 12,100 aircraft in 1942 while tank losses were 20,500 and 15,100 for those years. (p. 306).
By mid to late 1942 the 1500 factories moved east of the Urals between July and November 1941 were beginning to meet much of the Soviet Union’s needs. Standardization of equipment and increased use of labor, especially women and teenagers, allowed tank production for example to rise 38% over 1941. Industrial production in the Urals increased 180% in 1942 over 1940, 140% in Western Siberia, 200% in the Volga region, 36% in Eastern Siberia and 19% in Central Asia and Kazakstan. (Source: Colonel G. S. Kravchenko, specialist in military economics, History of the Second World War, 1973, pp. 975-980).
Kravchenko points out that the smallest amounts of deliveries came at the beginning, the hardest period of war while the second front had not yet been opened. Lend-Lease, while important in providing locomotives, rail wagons, jeeps, trucks, raw materials such as aluminum, machine tools, food and medical supplies, only accounted for 10% of tanks and 12% of aircraft. Soviet soldiers appreciated the 15 million pair of boots the U.S. provided.
According to Alexander Werth (Russia at War: 1941-1945) Lend-Lease contributed to the Soviet army’s diet and to its mobility. Between June 1941 and April 1944, Werth states (p. 567), the US delivered 6430 planes, 3734 tanks and 210,000 automobiles; the British 5800 planes and 4292 tanks; the Canadians 1188 tanks and 842 armored cars. Given the Soviet attrition rate, (June 1941 to June 1943 – 23,000 planes and 30,000 tanks – Werth – FN p. 610), Allied contributions hardly covered Soviet losses.
Stalin pressed the Allies more for a second front than for supplies in October 1941 as the Germans pressed on Moscow. It must also be repeated that by the summer of 1942, German resources could not keep pace with demands, and an attack could only be mounted in the area of Army Group South.
No doubt statistics can be massaged to support any point of view. Glantz correctly concludes that without Lend-Lease, Soviet offensives would have stalled at an earlier stage, and forward troops could not be supplied. But the outcome was never in doubt. That outcome would only have taken longer to achieve.
Here are some stats.
Lend-lease supplied the USSR with 1.9% of all artillery, 7% of all tanks, 13% of all aircraft, 5.4% of transport in 1943, 19% transport in 1944 and 32.8% in 1945. Lend-lease deliveries amounted to 4% of Russia’s wartime production.
Soviet production of motor vehicles during the war amounted to 265,00 vehicles. Lend-lease delivered 409,500 motor vehicles. Lend-lease delivery of motor vehicles exceeded Soviet production by 1.5 times. In fact, the Soviets, due to Lend-lease, had more vehicles than fuel for them, i.e. 1st Belorussian Front at the end of 1944 as did the 1st Ukrainian Front. Both fronts requested more deliveries of fuel, less of vehicles.
Russia included lend-lease deliveries of aviation fuel in their total production figures. In truth, Lend-lease deliveries of aviation fuel amounted to 57.8% of Russia’s production totals. Lend-lease deliveries of automobile fuel were 242,300 metric tons or 2.8% of Soviet wartime production, but their value was much higher because of the higher-octane level.
Lend-lease deliveries of explosive materials amounted to 53% of the total Soviet wartime production and lend-lease supplied an estimated 82.5% of copper production. Lend-lease deliveries of aluminum, essential for production of aircraft and tank engines exceeded Soviet wartime production by 1.25 times. Lend-lease also delivered 956,700 miles of field telephone wire, 2,100 miles of sea cable, 35,800 radio stations, 5,899 radio receivers and 348 radars. Lend-lease deliveries of canned meat alone amounted to 17.9% of total meat production.
Lend-lease deliveries of locomotives exceeded Soviet production by 2.4 times and railroad rails amounted to 92.7% of overall volume of Soviet rail production. Deliveries of rolling stock exceeded production by 10 times. Deliveries of tires amounted to 43.1% of Soviet production.
Soviet production never produced enough material to sustain the war effort in any key area. In tank production, it wasn’t until 1944 that they actually had a year where tank production exceeded tank losses. Lend-lease tanks amounted to 20% of all Soviet tanks operating in 1944 and without these tanks, they never could have formed the Mech Corps they did in 1944.
Roman ships leaving the Indus region sailed hundreds of miles south to a port in Gujurat called Barygaza. This was a treacherous sailing for the deep-hulled Roman vessels that might run aground on underwater hazards and be torn apart by powerful currents. The Periplus warns that east of the Indus was a bay called Eirinon where ‘there is a succession of shallow eddies reaching out a long way from land. Here, vessels often run aground with the shore nowhere in sight’.
Roman ships might also be drawn by ocean tides into the Gulf of Barake (Kutch). The Periplus warns that ‘vessels blundering into the basin are destroyed, for the waves are very big and oppressive. The sea is choppy and turbid with eddies and violent whirlpools.’ The crews of Roman ships caught by these currents threw down restraining anchors, but the coast had sheer drops and sharp rocky outcrops that sometimes cut their anchor lines. These dangers have been confirmed by the discovery of Roman amphorae fragments and the remains of lead anchors on the seabed near the island of Bet Dwarka. An indication that the ship was close to currents came when the pilots sighted ‘sea-snakes, huge and black, emerging to meet the ship’. Most Roman ships would head out to sea and only re-join the coast when small golden-yellow eels were seen in the waters about their hull. This was a sign that they had reached the Cambay Gulf which led to the city-port of Barygaza.
Barygaza was ruled by a dynasty of Saka kings who came from homelands on the Asian steppe. The Roman Emperor Augustus received envoys from these Sakas in 26 BC, when he was campaigning in Spain. Suetonius explains that these Indo-Scythian ambassadors ‘were from nations previously known to us only through hearsay and they petitioned for the friendship of Augustus and the Roman people’. This was a period when the Sakas still ruled most of the Indus region, but were being threatened by the Parthians. The Sakas were probably looking for a military alliance with Rome in the expectation that Augustus was planning to conquer Persia. This would explain why Orosius links the embassy to eastern conquests and claims that the ambassadors came to ‘praise the Emperor with the glory of Alexander the Great’.
This embassy was probably sent by Azes who was the last Saka king to rule in Indo-Scythia. The Sakas were influenced by Greek culture and Azes issued currency displaying images of the goddess Athena. He also used Greek titles on his coins and referred to himself as ‘The Great King of Kings’. King Azes was probably responsible for a second embassy that reached the Roman Empire in 22 BC. On this occasion the Saka ambassadors sailed to a port on the Persian Gulf and travelled overland to Roman Syria. In Antioch they were received by Roman authorities and taken to the Greek island of Samos where Augustus was holding court and receiving African envoys from Meroe. Strabo reports that only three of the ambassadors survived the journey from India, ‘the rest had died chiefly by consequence of their long trek’.
The ambassadors carried a letter from Azes to the Emperor written in Greek on a vellum scroll. In it Azes explained that he held the allegiance of 600 minor sovereigns in northern India and ‘was anxious for an alliance with Caesar Augustus’. His Indus possessions were about to be conquered by the Parthians and he proposed a military pact similar to the deal agreed between Alexander and the Indian King Porus. Strabo had an acquaintance named Nicolaus who saw the letter from Azes when the ambassadors were being taken to Antioch. He reported that Azes was ‘ready to allow Augustus passage through his country, wherever he wished to proceed and co-operate with him in anything that was honourable’. According to Dio a ‘treaty of friendship’ was agreed between the two rulers, but by this stage Augustus had begun to seek peace terms with the Parthians and these superseded his plans for any further eastern conquests.
This diplomatic contact occurred in the first decade of Indo-Roman trade when the sight of Indian visitors was still a novelty for most subjects of the Empire. Nicolaus describes how the ‘gifts brought to Caesar Augustus were presented by eight naked servants besprinkled with sweet-smelling odours and clad only in loin-cloths’. Roman crowds marvelled at an armless Indian youth sent by Azes who was proclaimed a ‘living Hermes’ because he resembled the pillar-statues erected in Greek cities to honour the god of expeditions and commerce. Dio describes how the boy could ‘use his feet as if they were hands and with them he could pull a bow, shoot missiles, and put a trumpet to his lips’. The traditional symbols of Hermes included the tortoise, the rooster and a staff called the caduceus which was decorated with two intertwined snakes. This is probably why Azes sent Augustus an exotic pheasant, a large tortoise, a brood of colourful Indian snakes and a giant python. The bird was probably a Himalayan Monal Pheasant which displays metallic-coloured plumage ranging from blue-greens to purple and copper-reds. It was probably symbolic of the mythological phoenix that was said to make its nest from cinnamon twigs. Dio claims that the envoys also brought tigers, and ‘this was the first time the Romans and probably the Greeks had seen these animals’. Augustus displayed these exotic wonders to astonished crowds in Athens and Rome. Strabo reports ‘I myself have seen this Hermes – the man born without arms’.
The Saka ambassadors who visited Augustus were accompanied by a Buddhist or Jain missionary who came from the Gujurat city of Barygaza. This holy man was known in India as a shramana (a monk or religious instructor), but the Romans took this title to be his personal name and called him ‘Zarmarus’ and ‘Zarmano-chegas’ (‘Teacher’ or ‘Master of Shramanas’). Zarmarus probably sought patronage from Augustus and may have requested permission to establish a Buddhist or Jain monastery in Rome, Antioch or Alexandria. His request was denied, but Zarmarus remained in the company of the Emperor when he travelled to Athens in 21 BC.
In Athens Augustus was accepted into a secretive and exclusive Greek cult called the Eleusinian Mysteries which promised its followers rewards in the afterlife. Augustus used his influence to have Zarmarus initiated into this cult so that he could witness some of the most ancient and enigmatic practices involved in Greek religion. Zarmarus decided to exhibit his Indian faith and asked to be burned alive in a funeral pyre. His request was granted by the Emperor and Dio indicates the bewilderment of the Greek crowds who gathered for this occasion. He writes, ‘for some reason Zarmarus wanted to die’ and concludes, ‘maybe he wanted to make a display for the benefit of Augustus and the Athenians’. Plutarch pointed out that the event resembled a ritual performed for Alexander the Great, when an Indian sage named Calanus renounced his position as advisor to the king and immolated himself on a funeral pyre in front of the assembled Macedonian army.
Strabo describes the scene witnessed in Athens by the Emperor when Zarmarus ‘anointed his naked body with fragrances and wearing only a loincloth, leaped upon the lighted pyre with a laugh’. Augustus arranged that the cremated remains were placed in a tomb at Athens and the event commemorated with the text, ‘Here lies Zarmanochegas, an Indian from Barygaza, who immolated himself in accordance with his ancestral customs’. When Plutarch wrote his Life of Alexander, he describes the self-immolation of Calanus and mentions how the memorial to Zaramos had become an attraction in Athens. He reports, ‘the same ritual was performed by an Indian who came with Caesar to Athens and they still show you the Indian’s Monument’.
Augustus took great pride in elevating the Roman Empire to a position of world recognition. His memorial testimony is preserved in an inscription that records, ‘to me were sent embassies of kings from India, who had never been seen in the camp of any Roman general’. However, his interest did not go as far as military intervention and by 10 BC the Parthians had conquered most of the Indus Region (Indo-Scythia). The Saka Kingdom was reduced to Gujurat with Barygaza becoming the main port for the diminished regime. During the first century AD Gujurat was ruled by a Saka King named Nahapana known to Roman traders as ‘Manbanos’.