London: The Romans and Early Saxons I

At the end of the last Ice Age the world warmed and the glaciers melted. Large volumes of water flowed from Britain, south and east, through what is now the London area, which at times would have been completely submerged by a very wide river. The rising water level formed the English Channel, separating Britain from the Continent. The wide, slow-moving Thames deposited gravel at its edges. As it narrowed and became smaller over thousands of years, its gravel-depositing edges moved inwards in an ever-lower series of terraced banks, and thus the youngest layers lie closest to the current banks of the river and the oldest further away on the valley sides. Many rivers and streams flow into the Thames from the higher ground to the north and south and erosion from those during the past 50,000 years created the many valleys around which London was later built.

In 54 BC Julius Caesar led his army across the Channel to Britain to subdue the native Catuvellaunian tribe. Yet having beaten them back he decided there were more pressing issues and swiftly returned to Gaul. Back in Rome, he later recorded his campaign against the British ‘whose territories a river called the Thames separates from the maritime states at about eighty miles from the sea’. We therefore have the earliest record of the river, written long before the establishment of the city through which it now flows.

Tiberius, a strong military leader, secured the Roman Empire’s northern Continental borders. After his death the nobles who controlled the Senate in Rome became tired of their new young Emperor Caligula’s pleasure-seeking and longed for imperial glories such as the legendary exploits of Julius Caesar ninety years earlier. Caligula thus attempted an invasion of Britain in 40 AD but his troops, assembled at Boulogne, had other ideas, and it seems they threatened to mutiny. Britain, to the ordinary soldier, was a mysterious place at the far edge of the world, where boats carried the souls of their dead crews. The British were to be left alone for another three years.

Following the assassination of Caligula, his uncle, Emperor Claudius, felt the need to spread and reduce the power of the armed forces by sending 40,000 soldiers to the mysterious island, so the Romans finally arrived and conquered Britain. It took Commander Aulus Plautius and his troops a short while to actually find any Britons with which to engage but once located they were pursued across the Thames. Having taken the south-east corner of Britain, Plautius set up a ‘marching camp’, probably on the north bank of the river at Cornhill, waiting for the Emperor to arrive with reinforcements. Claudius came with a large reserve force, together with elephants (according to a later Roman account) that no doubt gave the natives a huge fright. The imperial army moved on to the main Catuvellaunian stronghold at Colchester, which the Romans took without too much difficulty. Claudius received oaths of loyalty there from eleven tribal kings and then returned home after just sixteen days, leaving his troops to set up the capital of the new Province of Britannia.

For the Emperor and so many troops to reach Colchester, as well as maintain supply lines back to Gaul, a bridge was required across the Thames. The first crossing was most likely a temporary pontoon structure put in place by army engineers. The Romans found the best location was just downriver from where the Thames was joined by the River Fleet. The banks of the Thames were quite marshy and the chosen site probably the most easterly, or downriver, point at which the river was sufficiently narrow, with solid land on either side.

When the Romans arrived, what is now central London was an area of small hills surrounded by marshy land that was often flooded by the incoming tides. The Thames was then the border between different warring tribes. The wider London hinterland, with its poor clay soil, remained forested and largely unpopulated, being far from each of the main tribal capitals. The thick forests and marshes on each bank made the river a natural barrier between the different groups of people that lived to its north and south but also a better means of transport and trade than overland.

Despite there being surprisingly little contemporary written evidence of the Roman city of Londinium, much has been pieced together by historians. There was a great deal of uniformity across the Empire, which allows an understanding of Londinium through discoveries made elsewhere. More locally, the remains of a Roman ship were discovered on the Thames in 1910 and two more in 1958 and 1962. After the Second World War many of the buildings in the City of London, particularly along the riverfront, were redeveloped and this gave the opportunity to delve below, before the replacement buildings were constructed. In the early 1970s a systematic programme of archaeology started and discoveries began to be made. Gradually, piece by piece, an understanding of the Roman Port of London emerged. Similarly, the existence of the Saxon town of Lundenwic was only revealed following excavations at Jubilee Market at Covent Garden in 1985.

The foundation and growth of Londinium

As the Romans established a new provincial capital at Colchester their forces moved northwards to continue the advance through Britain. In order to hold the areas they had conquered, one of their first priorities was to build wellengineered roads so that troops could move swiftly and have a means of supply. By the time they arrived in Britain the Romans were masters of rapidly building good roads and in the first years of occupation they constructed a network in the south east of Britain, partly based on native tracks that existed before their arrival.

A number of those roads connected at points to the north and south of the Thames bridge. The original temporary military crossing was probably soon replaced by a more permanent structure, thought to be located in line with the modern Fish Street Hill, slightly downstream of the current bridge. Such an important point required a military guard and a certain amount of management to supervise traffic and make repairs, so a small settlement was established on Cornhill. It soon became clear that a larger presence, formally constituted, was required on the site. The decision to build the new town of Londinium on the north side of the bridge was taken in around 47 AD and building works started the following year. A commercial district of shops and workshops evolved along the Via Decumana, the modern-day Cheapside. It quickly grew into a busy conurbation, home to people from all parts of the Empire but probably mostly from Gaul. The population increased rapidly and by 60 AD it is estimated to have been in the region of ten to twenty thousand people.

Londinium enjoyed a favourable location. A long navigable tideway brought vessels fifty miles from the North Sea, providing relatively easy access from Continental Europe. There was fresh water, fish stocks, and rich agricultural land further upriver. The first town lasted for little more than a decade before being destroyed and reduced to ash during Queen Boudicca’s rebellion. It had by then become an important and strategic place so had to be restored. Its destruction gave the Romans the opportunity to rebuild on a grander scale. During that same period a decision was taken that Londinium should become the capital of Britannia in place of Colchester. In the latter first century a vast basilica, the administrative centre, was constructed. Various government and public buildings were established, many in Kentish ragstone brought up the Thames by boat from a quarry near the River Medway. By the end of the century Londinium was beginning to look like the type of Roman town we would usually imagine. At some time between 85 and 90 AD a new bridge was built over the Thames, constructed of wood. The city continued to evolve and expand in the second century, particularly at the time of the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 122. Many public buildings were rebuilt for the occasion, including the amphitheatre, and a forum (marketplace) was created adjoining the basilica.

At some point during the period between 190 and 210 a semi-circular wall was constructed around the land-facing sides of Londinium. It was a massive undertaking, requiring around 1,300 barge-loads of ragstone from the Medway. It was not put up in haste, probably taking around two years to construct, and did not protect the vulnerable riverside, indicating that the city was not under immediate threat of attack. The existence of the wall thereafter created a barrier to further outward expansion of Londinium, which remained the case until the Middle Ages.

Initially many of the town’s daily requirements were imported but as time went on workshops were established to produce goods for the resident population. The remains of mills, slaughter houses, and a glassworks have been discovered as well as many tools for metal-working, carpentry, engineering, building and shipping. Britain was a major source of wool and it is most likely that the city was a centre of textile and leather industries.

The staple food of Roman times was cereals and bread, which depended on the seasonal harvests. Occasionally riots occurred in various parts of the Empire when availability was scarce and prices high, so each town arranged warehouses where grain could be stored in plentiful years. Londinium had the disadvantage of being surrounded by poor farmland so grain had to be transported lengthy distances, much of it arriving at the Thames quays by boat from Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and along the River Lea.

Fish was plentiful and could be caught in the river and estuary. Varieties included herring, cod, sprat, eel, carp and bass. Oysters were a staple diet of both the wealthy and working people. The largest oyster beds in Britain were in the Thames Estuary and the shellfish were either brought upriver live in barrels of sea-water or pickled and stored. Fish and shellfish were usually eaten with garum, a sauce made by boiling down whole fish until it became a paste, after which it could be stored in jars and sold in shops. A factory where it was made seems to have operated close to the Londinium waterfront. British oysters were exported to other parts of the Empire and their shells have been found in excavations of Rome. Salt was brought to Londinium from inland mines or by boat from around the coast, particularly from Essex where it was extracted from water using pans.

By the third century the population of Londinium is estimated to have been at least 50,000 and perhaps as much as a 100,000 people, a number that would not be achieved again until the fourteenth century.

The main Roman trade routes from the Mediterranean to Londinium

The port of Londinium

Even before Londinium had been established, the invading army created a supply base at Richborough in Kent, north of modern-day Sandwich, which in those days was a natural harbour. Its closeness to the coast of Gaul ensured that Richborough continued as a port throughout the Roman period, particularly for larger vessels from southern Europe. From the first until the late third centuries it was, along with Dover and Boulogne, a base of the Classis Britannica, the division of the Roman navy entrusted with the security of the English Channel.

Roman ships generally only sailed to Britain in the calmer weather of the summer months. The open sea was avoided whenever possible, with ships hugging the Continental coast until able to take the shortest possible route across the Channel. Goods from the Mediterranean were generally shipped to Britain via the inland Rhône-Rhine route, rather than around the more exposed Iberian Peninsula, and transhipped at Domburg in the Netherlands. From there the sea journey from the Rhine estuary to Londinium was around thirty-six hours so, with turn-around time, a ship could make three or more voyages each fortnight. An alternative route, particularly for goods originating in central Gaul, was along the Rhône and Loire rivers and up the west coast of Gaul.

Navigating up the Thames from the North Sea was always slow and difficult for sailing ships. First they had to negotiate the many sandbanks along the north and south shores of the Estuary, then wait for incoming tides to sweep them up to Londinium. The prevailing wind is more often westerly than from the east and thus the going could be slow as the crew tacked their way upstream along the winding river. It was therefore more convenient for goods arriving on larger vessels to be reloaded onto smaller vessels at Richborough. From there they were brought up the Thames to Londinium or transported by road.

In the first decade or two of the settlement of Londinium boats, were most likely berthed on a sloping prepared beach. The first attempts at establishing a harbour were probably not made until the rebuilding of the town following the Boudicca rebellion. In around 62 AD new timber quays and warehouses were constructed, perhaps at the same time as a new bridge. They included a landing stage for small vessels, parallel to the bank. The work was almost certainly a public, not private, initiative and probably undertaken or supervised by military engineers. To the west of the bridge the waterfront buildings seem to have been residential whereas those to the east formed commercial wharves. Quayside warehouses of timber may have been constructed in the first century and later replaced by others built in stone.

By the end of the first century the original quays and landing stage had been replaced. In those times the Thames was much wider than today, possibly as much as one kilometre across at Londinium, with marshy islands on the south bank that became submerged by high tides. The quays were built out into the river, gradually advancing the waterfront terrace by around fifty metres in various stages of development between the first and third centuries. This advancement would have provided berthing in deeper water for larger vessels.

Initially Londinium probably acted as a supply hub for Roman Britannia, with goods and equipment passing through for the military campaign and the first wave of Roman occupiers. As Londinium grew, other towns were also established, with over forty Roman coastal harbours known to have existed to which goods could be shipped. Food, manufactured goods and luxury items continued to be imported into the capital from all parts of the Empire but by the early second century produce arriving was simply to meet the daily needs of the city and its immediate hinterland. The harbour was to remain relatively small compared with the great ports of Portus and Ostia that served Rome.

Many goods landed at Londinium came from northern and central Gaul, the Rhine ports and Bordeaux, but there were also some from Spain and Mediterranean harbours and North Africa. Certainly sculptures, bronzes, household goods and foodstuffs that have been unearthed in Londinium were of Italian, Spanish or Mediterranean origin. Olive oil for cooking and lighting came from Spain, wine from Gaul, the Rhine and Moselle areas, Italy and Spain. Other imports included textiles, silk, linen, quernstones (millstones), timber, pottery, samian crockery, glassware, lamps, jewellery, fish, fruit, honey, grape-syrup and salt. Garum came from Gaul and Spain, at least until it was manufactured in Londinium. Most cargoes arriving from long distances would have been transhipped several times through the extensive Roman entrepôt network on their journey. Ragstone and other kinds of stone were quarried locally in Britain and shipped to Londinium by river or around the coast, as were locally produced ceramics and roofing slates in the second and third centuries. There is less information regarding exports from Londinium but they are known to include capes, rugs and lead ingots. Most likely other exports were wool, grain and slaves.

As is known from other parts of the Empire, goods were carried in sacks and barrels. Liquids, such as olive oil, were transported and stored in pottery storage vessels known as amphoras that could be stacked upright or horizontally. Unloading a Roman vessel was labour-intensive and, as it was seasonal work, probably required a casual workforce. It is possible that lifting mechanisms were used to unload larger items but there is so far little evidence. As boats arrived, some goods were probably sold directly to the public on the quayside while others were put into transit buildings or stored in warehouses.

Sea levels in the first century were about three to four metres lower than today. There is evidence that the Thames was then tidal perhaps as far upriver as Westminster, but may have gradually receded during the Roman period in one of the world’s slow cycles of climate change. If that is the case, vessels could no longer be swept up as far as Londinium on an incoming tide. That would be a significant factor in the decline of the city in the late Roman period.

London: The Romans and Early Saxons II

Roman ships

When Julius Caesar’s fleet took part in a battle against the ships of the Veneti tribe of Brittany in 56 BC he noted how their vessels were better than his own for the conditions of the Atlantic coast. The Veneti ships had shallower keels that were more suited to tidal waters, solidly-built of oak, seams between planks caulked with moss, reeds or hazel shavings, with higher prows and sterns, and sails of leather that could withstand Atlantic storms. Thereafter Roman-era ships generally divided into either those of the Grecian/Roman tradition, suited to tideless Mediterranean conditions, or those for northern European seas based on Celtic designs. Goods arriving from the Mediterranean were generally transhipped several times throughout their journey, those ships arriving at Londinium would normally have been of the latter type.

Some Roman cargo ships are known to have carried loads of over 1,000 tons but it is unlikely that such large long-distance vessels ventured up the Thames. Those to be found in Londinium were more likely to be either smaller round-bottomed river and coastal boats, which were unable to beach at low tide and therefore anchored in mid-stream to load and unload, or flat-bottomed barges.

Importation and exportation was a precarious business, with large investment in the vessel and its cargo, financial risk and high reward. Much of the cost was raised in the form of syndicates of wealthy men who would not be ruined in the event of a ship being lost at sea. At first, cargo ships arriving were owned by traders from other parts of the Empire but there is evidence of later shipbuilding at Londinium, which indicates ownership by locally-based traders.

A typical Roman ship or barge was propelled by a single sail, mounted towards the front of the vessel. The centralized sternpost rudder had not yet been invented and thus direction was achieved by a large oar protruding from the right-hand side of the stern – the steer-board or ‘starboard’ side of the boat – or oar rudders on each side.

The decline of the Roman Empire

Roman civilisation reached its zenith during the mid-first century, at around the same time that Londinium was being established. While the city matured and grew on the western extremity of the Empire through the second and third centuries it was protected, and occasionally prospered, from troubles in Rome and elsewhere.

During the 170s victorious troops arriving back from battles in the east carried with them a plague that had a devastating effect on the Roman people. It wiped out about 5 million people, perhaps between 10 and 25 per cent of the entire population of the Empire. Garrison towns were particularly affected by the plague, leaving the Empire’s border vulnerable. At around the same time, the Langobardians invaded from Northern Germany, causing a war that lasted for seventeen years, during which they captured areas as far south as northern Italy; the first time Italian soil had been occupied for three centuries. A peace treaty was signed in 181 and the border was restored along the line of the River Danube but it was clear to the northern barbarians from that time on that Rome was not invincible.

To the north of the Continental Empire new nations formed, with the Goths, Franks and Alamanni becoming a major threat in the third century. The Franks, based in the lower Rhineland areas, began making raids on the wealthy and vulnerable east coast of Britain and the Thames estuary, while inland agricultural areas prospered and large mansions were built. People of wealth abandoned the coasts of East Anglia, the Thames Estuary, Kent, the south and the Severn Estuary, where they were vulnerable from raids by the Franks or Irish. A significant factor was the disbanding of the Classis Britannica fleet in the late third century. Long-distance voyages in and out of Londinium were unlikely to have been affected but coastal shipping was probably in greater danger. By the mid-third century the population of Londinium had reduced, as had the amount of imports arriving. As Londinium declined in importance and fewer ships arrived and departed, the timber quays and jetties along the river began to decay, probably from around 250 AD. Riverside warehouses were converted for residential use as trade diminished.

Londinium went into a long, slow decline during the fourth century. It had become successful partly because it was the most convenient port from which to trade with the Rhineland and near Continent. As the Roman armies lost control of the northern Continental areas it became safer to ship goods to and from Boulogne to the ports on the south coast of Britain. By the end of the fourth century Venta Belgarum (Winchester) overtook Londinium as Britain’s leading commercial centre.

When the east coast of Britannia came under attack from Germanic raiders a riverside wall was built to complete the enclosure of Londinium. Unlike the first three sides, the riverside section was certainly erected in haste and with far less care taken in its construction, using whatever materials were to hand. We can therefore be sure that it was constructed when the city was under immediate threat of attack. With the town almost cut off from the river by the wall, the timber quays had largely been dismantled by the fourth century. Despite its defensive wall, Londinium was overrun in 367 by an alliance of Picts, Irish, Franks and Saxons and had to be retaken by Roman forces.

In the early fifth century Visigoths invaded the Italian peninsula. Rome no longer had the ability to defend Britannia and the province became independent from what remained of the Empire. The population of southern England had been shifting more to the West Country and Londinium gradually dwindled until, at the end of the fifth century, it was most probably largely deserted. For a period of time life continued in Britain as it had done previously, with the Romano-British choosing their own leaders and prospering. In order to repel attacks by Picts from the north they enlisted Saxon men from the area around the mouth of the River Elbe in what is now northern Germany, as well as Jutes and Angles. The Romano-British began to squabble amongst themselves, however. During the first half of the fifth century the immigrant fighters rebelled against their Romano-British paymasters, slaughtering many of their leaders in about 459. In the following decades England was gradually divided into a number of tribal kingdoms.

The site of Lundenwic, showing the locations of the modern-day Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Station.

Some of the ports known to have traded with Lundenwic.

The Saxon port of Lundenwic

When Londinium was abandoned, the Thames and its tributaries continued to be used for carrying and communication. The early Saxons were seafarers and did not possess the knowledge of how to maintain roads to a Roman standard. Yet they also initially lacked the skills to build sophisticated ships, and even their largest vessels were designed to be pulled up onto a beach.

Saxons began to berth their boats at low tide on the sloping foreshore two miles to the west of the deserted Londinium, where the river suddenly swings southwards in a large curve near the modern-day Charing Cross station. A new community known as Lundenwic began to grow there from the mid-seventh century. From a simple start of pulling boats onto the sloping bank, a market and trading port developed in the area of modern-day Covent Garden. ‘Wic’ was the Saxon word for market, indicating that Lundenwic developed for the purpose of trading, and is still remembered in the modern street name of Aldwych (‘old market’). At the early stages in the life of the community there was no need for shops, stalls, warehouses or quays. Traders could arrive from along the river or around the coast, moor up and, as the tide went out, allow the boat to berth on the muddy bank, selling goods directly from the vessel. Evidence indicates that a planned town grew rapidly in the 670s, which would be during the reign of the Mercian king Wulfhere. From the late seventh century a wooden embankment was constructed along and out into the river, perhaps with jetties.

Many artefacts of the time have been discovered around Covent Garden and therefore the limits of the settlement of Lundenwic can be defined. The line of the north shore was about 100 metres south of, and roughly parallel to, the old Roman road that was still in use. (By the late twelfth century the road was known as the Strand, Germanic for bank or shore). Lundenwic stretched from there northwards to around where the street Shorts Gardens now runs. The east side was approximately along Kingsway, stretching westwards to Trafalgar Square, a distance of over a kilometre. Its centre is now the site of the Royal Opera House. Within that area a permanent community developed, living in small wooden homes. The population consisted of farmers and smallholders, fishermen, traders and craftsmen dealing in bone, antler, metal and cloth. On the town’s fringes were gravel pits and horticulture, with some farms between Lundenwic and Thorney Island (modern Westminster) further along the river, including one at modern-day Downing Street. Northwards, towards the Roman road of Holborn/New Oxford Street, there was boggy ground.

The early Saxon period was an age when any form of transport other than boats was rare, with very few people owning a horse and cart. As a result, beach markets developed at locations along the river at Woolwich, Greenwich, Twickenham and Hampton Wick. Other port markets that developed around the same time included Sandwich, Hamwich (Southampton) and Gipeswic (Ipswich).

There is a written reference from around 672, in a grant by Frithuwold, sub-king of Surrey: ‘by the port of London, where ships come to land, on the same river [the Thames] on the southern side of the public way [the Strand].’ The historian Bede wrote in the early eighth century of a Frisian trader buying a Northumbrian slave at Lundenwic back in 679. In 731 he described London as ‘an emporium of many nations who come to it by land and sea’.

Saxon period trading markets existed by royal charter, with revenue collected by port-reeves on behalf of the king or landowner in the form of tolls on boats that berthed to trade. Extant documents from around 680 state the trade regulations to be observed by the men of Kent when they bartered at Lundenwic. At that time King Hlothere of Kent appointed a royal official, or reeve, to administer local wics and by at least the 730s the kingdom of Kent was levying tolls on boats using the market of Lundenwic. A document dated 734 refers to ‘the remission of all dues … which are exacted by the tax-gatherers in the port of London’ and from that time the king gave the bishops of Rochester and Worcester and the abbess of Minster in Thanet the right to levy tolls on certain ships at the port.

The lack of exotic items found in excavations shows that during the early stages of the development of Lundenwic, from around 630 until the mid-eighth century, trade was quite local in its nature. Most goods brought to the beach market were perhaps produce from further along the river or nearby coastal villages. The inhabitants probably survived mainly on grain, meat, hay, timber and wool from the immediate hinterland. Local farmers visited the market from up and down the river to buy and sell produce, arriving in small punts that were dug out from the trunk of a tree, between two and four metres in length. They were sufficient to carry up to about four people or several animal carcasses and were propelled by a pole or paddle. Long distance traders arrived in ships made from oak planks of between 20 and 30 metres in length, powered by a sail and steered by an oar, probably of clinker construction. Excavated fishbones and shells include freshwater species, as well as marine varieties such as cod, haddock, herring, whiting, bass, plaice, flounder, whale and oysters.

Money was required in order to easily buy and sell goods. Seventh century gold coins known as thrymsas have been found at other places bearing the name ‘LONDVNIV’, showing that a mint had already been established. During the late eighth century silver penny coins were being minted for the Mercian kings bearing the name ‘LUNDINIA’.

By the eighth century the population of Lundenwic had grown in size and goods were being traded with ports such as Gipeswic, Eorforwic (York) and Hamwic. The greatest international trade was with settlements around the mouth of the Rhine and the north-west coast of what is now France, and Lundenwic was frequented by Frisian and Frankish traders. Ships sailed to and from the ports of Dorestad (Wijk-bii-Duurstede in the Netherlands), Sliaswich (Schleswig in Germany), Quentovic (near Boulogne), and even as far as Norway. Wine, quernstones, pottery and luxury goods were imported and ships returned with wool or cloth. Dried figs and grapes indicate trade with places even further afield.

Lundenwic was a relatively large community of perhaps six to seven thousand people by its heyday in the mid-eighth century, by then within the kingdom of Mercia on the border with Essex. Excavations show a settlement at that time of around sixty hectares, laid out in a grid pattern, similar to earlier Roman towns. Although never as large as the old Roman city, it was nevertheless probably the largest Saxon settlement in England. On several occasions, between 764 and 801, the town suffered from fires from which it may never have fully recovered. It went into decline during a period of unrest in the Carolingian kingdoms in France and Germany in the late eighth century, suffered from rivalry between the Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, and the added threat of attack from Vikings from the early ninth century. Lundenwic, like its Roman predecessor, was thereafter abandoned by the Saxons, having flourished for less than a century.

Hanseatic Hostilities with England in the 1470s

New challenges in the Baltic region began to confront the Hanseatic League during the second half of the fourteenth century, which forced the new confederation of cities to prove its mettle. In 1360, King Valdemar IV (ca. 1320–1375) began to pursue a policy of Danish hegemony in the Baltic Sea and conquered not just Scania, which it had earlier lost to Sweden, but Gotland as well. Denmark raised duties and other levies for Hanseatic merchants, encumbering trade with Scania, which represented a casus belli for Lübeck and the eastern Hanseatic cities. After the Hanseatic League suffered an initial defeat at sea, Denmark made life difficult for the Hanseatic cities of the Zuiderzee and cut off passage through the Øresund to the Dutch cities that were loosely associated with the league. These actions struck a vital nerve. As a result, all of the Hanseatic cities from the lower Rhine to Reval joined forces with the cities on the Zuiderzee in the Confederation of Cologne. In concert, they militarily restored their privileges in the Treaty of Stralsund (1370), especially the right of unimpeded access to Denmark by land and by sea. They also received reparations stemming from the war. The Treaty of Stralsund marked the apex of power of the Hanseatic League; the supremacy of the Hanseatic cities in the Baltic trade was now uncontested. However, it remained a community of interest exclusively for merchants, who used political and military means to secure only their trading privileges.

Hanseatic trade proceeded from east to west along a line dotted with their trading centers in Novgorod, Reval, Riga, Visby, Danzig, Stralsund, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bruges, and London, and its existence was based on the trade between the suppliers of foodstuffs and raw materials in northern and eastern Europe and the commercial producers of finished products in northwestern Europe. The merchants, however, went well beyond their function as middlemen between east and west, first by trading in the products manufactured by the Hanseatic cities themselves and then by penetrating deep into the Baltic hinterlands south of the coast. As a result, not only did they open up trade with Bohemia and Silesia by way of the Elbe and Oder Rivers, they also followed the Vistula through Cracow to the copper mining districts of upper Hungary (Slovakia) and connected with trading partners in the Black Sea via Lemberg (Lviv).

Trade with England, the original domain of Hanseatic merchants from the Rhineland and Westphalia, continued to be brisk. They exported Rhine wine, metals, and the dyes madder and woad to England and imported tin and English wool for the textile industry in Flanders and Brabant, and later also English textiles. The Hanseatic cities of the Baltic coast, in turn, provided wares typical of the east, including pelts, wax, grain, and wood as well as Scandinavian fish and metals. The most important market in western Europe, however, was the Netherlands. Flanders and later Brabant were not only important textile producers, they also established key trade connections with the Mediterranean basin. The Hanseatic merchants bought goods in Flemish and Brabant cities, primarily woolen textiles of high and medium quality, as well as trousers from Bruges. They also acquired spices, figs, and raisins from southern Europe. France contributed oil and wine as well as bay salt. This sea salt, harvested from the Atlantic, became increasingly important as a preservative. Prussian and especially Netherlandish ships made regular bay salt runs, then used it as ballast on the way to the Baltic, where they traded it for grain and wood for the western European market. By doing so, they undermined Lübeck’s monopoly as an intermediary in trade. The Hanseatic presence in southern Europe was sporadic, except for the wine trade with Bordeaux, although the Veckinchusen family did attempt to establish trade in pelts with Venice.

In addition to products from distant trading partners, goods produced in Hanseatic cities played a key role in domestic as well as foreign trade. Products that flowed east included colored metallic goods from Aachen; Rhine wine; tools from the Westphalian lands of Mark, Berg, and Siegerland; ceramics from the Rhineland; Westphalian textiles and linen; brassware from Braunschweig; salt from Lüneburg; and beer from Hamburg.

The Hanseatic trade was organized by merchant trading companies. The most common model was the free type, in which two partners invested capital and split the profits according to the capital invested and the profits realized. Such organizations generally lasted for one to two years. The large-scale international merchants were generally involved in several companies at a time. This decreased their overall risk and increased the assortment of goods in which they traded. Relatives were often brought in as partners because they were more likely to be trustworthy, especially when it came to long-distance east-west trade. Unlike in Italy or in southern Germany, large, centrally controlled trading companies extending over several generations and including a large number of participants did not exist in the Hanseatic trade. As a result, the Hanseatic companies saw no need to introduce the double bookkeeping that was standard in Italy.

The four Hanseatic Kontore in Novgorod, Bergen, London, and Bruges formed a sort of higher-level trade organization. Here, German merchants lived in specially demarcated areas such as the Petershof, the German Bridge, or the walled Steelyard. Only in Bruges did Hanseatic merchants live with local hosts. Each Kontor was tightly structured, with aldermen (literally, older men) elected annually; firmly established statutes; and its own legal jurisdiction, counting house, and seal. The Kontore were important in terms of acquiring trading privileges because, with cover provided by the Hanseatic cities, they represented the interests of merchants in their dealings with the ruling elites and cities in the foreign countries in which they traded. But the Kontore also facilitated everyday trade by establishing a regular news and messenger system with their home cities, and the attendant correspondence, certification, and bookkeeping also helped them to raise credit. But above all, the reporting requirements regarding the Hanseatic merchants active in any given area encouraged a certain uniformity in the buying and selling of goods, which tended to limit competition among Hanseatic members.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century, Hanseatic trade experienced setbacks on all fronts. The old trading system based on privileges proved inadequate in the face of growing competition and the consolidation of the European powers. For example, the Scandinavian kings now attempted to limit Hanseatic trade for the benefit of their own merchants. At the same time, these kings played the Hanseatic merchants off against their Dutch competitors. As a result, the Hanseatic cities were drawn into Scandinavian power struggles by backing privateers in hopes of retaining their privileges. The closing of the Novgorod Kontor in 1494 by Ivan III was another blow, although much of its trade had already shifted to the Livonian port cities of Riga and Reval during the fifteenth century, as a result of which these cities experienced a significant upswing.

Matters were changing in England as well, where imports and exports of textiles were at the center of disputes. Internal conflicts within the Hanseatic League undoubtedly played a role, because Lübeck stubbornly demanded that England recognize its old privileges, whereas Cologne and the Prussian trading cities were ready to come to an accommodation. Be that as it may, the 1474 Treaty of Utrecht ratified an understanding with England that restored the Hanseatic privileges. As a result, Hanseatic trade in England enjoyed a final phase of prosperity up to the middle of the sixteenth century.

In the same way, the ‘war’ against England in the 1470s largely consisted of individual attacks on commercial shipping by privateers licensed by individual towns. The most celebrated engagement, in fact, well illustrates the pitfalls in this kind of warfare. A large ship, originally French, the St Pierre de la Rochelle, had been abandoned in Danzig harbour as unseaworthy in 1462. In 1470 the city authorities repaired and refitted the ship as a privateer against England. She sailed the following year, commanded by one of the city councillors, but spent most of her time at anchor in the estuary of the Zwyn. In 1473 she was bought by three other councillors and sent to sea under the command of Paul Beneke, the most effective of the privateering captains. He attacked two galleys under the Burgundian flag, sailing from Bruges to Florence with a cargo of luxuries including an altarpiece by Hans Memling intended for a Florentine church. His excuse was that the vessels also carried a cargo of alum intended for an English port. One of the galleys was captured and eventually taken into Danzig where his coup was not popular, since the Hanseatic towns had no wish to antagonise the Duke of Burgundy.47 War waged in this fashion brought many unexpected consequences; privateering captains could not be easily controlled, while the need to offer them large rewards for their enterprise did not make it without cost to the promoters.

The English at sea in our period were faced with forces raised and organised in a variety of different ways. In all realms there existed some sort of obligation on shipowners and seamen to aid their ruler in time of war. The details regarding the way in which this obligation was expressed and implemented varied. In France and Iberia it was either part of feudal service or of the overall power of the monarch. In the cities of the Hanseatic League it was a mixture of civic duty and self-interest. Beyond this basic obligation rulers might attempt to establish their own fleet of ships supported by royal arsenals and dockyards and more or less elaborate systems of administration. Another expedient was to turn for aid to other allied powers and to hire their vessels and their crews. No one method seems to have been outstandingly more successful than the others. Both Aragon and Castile had learnt from and adapted the methods of the leading maritime powers of the Mediterranean. In both realms the organisation and methods of the shipyards benefitted greatly from the expertise of Genoese shipwrights. Crews on their galleys were made up of seafarers from all the neighbouring coasts. These crews had much experience of fighting in the endemic corsair warfare of the region. It is no wonder that the French turned to the Castilians and the Genoese themselves when the need for fighting ships was urgent. Conditions in the Channel and the Western Approaches did not, however, really suit the operation of galley fleets in the southern model. It could be argued that there was a growing awareness among the states that bordered these waters of the need for some more permanent form of naval defence, but that none had found an entirely satisfactory solution to the problem by the middle of the fifteenth century.

Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie

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 1662.

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).

Russian arms exporter: S-400s delivery measures to Turkey completed.

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 congressional sanctions.  

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 pilots.

“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 the S-400.”

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 dispute.      

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 border.

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 matter.

“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 subterfuge.      

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.

Portuguese and Spanish in the Pacific

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 greed.

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 Spanish, however.

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 in 1580.

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.

Transfer of military technologies: Imitation

Messerschmitt Me262A-1A Schwalbe

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 dead.”

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 is limited.

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 nineteenth-century Europe.

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 Kazan.

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.


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 night.

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.

Spanish 60-gun Heavy Escorts

SLR0436; Warship (1730-40); Spanish; 60 guns, stern view

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 weather.

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 1746-1762

Santisima Trinidad y Nuestra Senora del Buen Fin 70-guns 1750-1762

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.