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ABSTRACT. The economic and political changes in the last centuries of the Middle Ages modified the characteristics of naval war. This latter placed in the front line the transformed use of galleys, adopted artillery, and employed slaves as rowers. The historic rivalries between Genoa and Venice shifted in the 15th century to commerce raiding between Christians and Muslims.
RÉSUMÉ. Les changements économiques et politiques dans les derniers siècles du Moyen Âge modifient les caractères de la guerre navale. Celle-ci met au premier plan l'usage des galères qui se transforment, adoptent l'artillerie et emploient des esclaves comme rameurs. Les longues rivalités entre Gênes et Venise font place au XVe siècle à une guerre de course entre chrétiens et musulmans.
The stage for naval warfare in the last centuries of the Middle Ages was set by economic and political changes in the two hundred years before 1200. The considerable growth in productive activity in the period was most obvious in the expansion of seaborne trade, Italian port cities being among the greatest beneficiaries. Their commercial success yielded not only prosperity but also more aggressive maritime strategies. Christian conquests in Sicily, Spain and the Levant shifted the naval frontier. Taking strategic points along major trading routes gave Christians an advantage in all the naval wars against Muslims. Twelfth-century improvements meant that ships from Christian ports could make voyages from one end of the Mediterranean to the other without stopping. A constellation of technical changes opened the door to an expansion of trade and of naval operations. Longer voyages, increased frequency and longer sailing seasons, relying on the compass, books of nautical instructions and maps, made both war and cargo ships more effective.
The 1204 Venetian conquest, with the aid of northern crusaders, of Constantinople changed the naval context. Formerly a thalassocracy and dominant naval power, the Byzantine Empire became Latin Christian and an unstable ally of Venice. The maritime republic committed to creating its own thalassocracy. 1204 marked the birth of the Venetian maritime empire with stations in the eastern Mediterranean. A rivalry had already emerged among Italian port towns, especially over access to lucrative trades in the Levant and Black Sea. Competition over commerce drove the naval policy of the maritime republics and other states as well.
The technology of shipbuilding went through a long evolution from late Antiquity to the sixteenth century. The voyages of discovery that took Renaissance Europeans around the world and back again were not possible in the Roman era but they were by 1492 thanks to a long string of changes in the ships that came from European yards. The development was marked by fits and starts, by sudden jumps and then extended periods of stability. English shippers were beneficiaries of those changes. The voyages of exploration of the Venetian John Cabot, sponsored by the king of England, in 1497 and 1498, and whatever similar voyages from Bristol that may have preceded his are an obvious indication of how England participated in the European development of ships through to the end of the Middle Ages. Typically followers and rarely at the ‘cutting edge’ of technical advance, English shipbuilders functioned very much within the context of general European design improvements. The advances made in England, often borrowed from elsewhere around the Mediterranean Sea or from types utilised in the North and Baltic Seas, had roots similar to those that shaped technical change in other parts of Europe. The major differences in how shipwrights constructed their ships and the unique evolution in European ship design had many different causes, the factors varying widely over time and space. A definite and precisely delimited answer to why technical change occurred, and why it occurred as it did, remains elusive. Still, certain features of society, of general knowledge, of culture, of politics and political structures, and of the economy at varied points all but certainly influenced what shipbuilders did. In some cases simple arguments about the importance of the costs of inputs appear to remain valid while more often the explanations for technical advances appear more muddled and complex. Being able to identify influences on ship design reflects a growing and presumably deeper understanding of the nature and variety of medieval European society. England was no exception, and though English shipbuilders may have been late adopters of many technical advances the pattern in the island kingdom was one shared with the rest of Europe. It is that larger framework that set the stage for technical change in English shipbuilding and shipping and so made possible the role which the sea played in medieval English society.
The commercial revolution that arose from the opportunities of long-distance trade created in the two centuries before 1700 penetrated local markets throughout continental Europe over the next 170 years. In the process, the dominant form of employment in the services sector switched from local and household services required by largely self-sufficient households and villages, engaged primarily in agriculture and handicraft manufacturing, to specialized commercial, financial, and transportation services organized between specialized centers of production and commerce. Increased specialization led to continued advances in productivity, in services as well as in agriculture and industry. Services may, in fact, have been the most dynamic sector in the European economy throughout this period. While the Industrial Revolution occurred in Great Britain, industrialization did not dominate the economies in the rest of Europe until after 1870. In contrast, the earlier British innovations in providing services in finance, shipping, and wholesale distribution were more readily adopted in the rest of Europe and their diffusion led to continued dynamic growth of the services sector throughout Europe.
The importance of productivity advances in services for growth in the general economy was not recognized as clearly in the eighteenth century as it is now. Only in recent decades, after stunning improvements in information and communications technology, have economists begun to identify the importance of advances in finance for overall economic growth, as well as for continued trade in goods and services among diverse regions.
THE papers in this volume address again and again the problem of writing a history of navies, of naval power, of violence at sea in medieval Europe. The idea that there should be such a history is not an old one. In the Middle Ages very few people took up the issue. Typically historians in the last two centuries have ignored the Middle Ages in histories of sea power. While recently there is more recognition of the years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the seventeenth century in works on naval history the period still receives cursory treatment. The handbook for courses in naval history by Clark Reynolds is an excellent example of both the recognition of the Middle Ages as a time when naval power could be an issue and the relative insignificance of the topic compared to the years from the seventeenth century on. Some historians of the Middle Ages have long argued for an important role for the sea in the cultural and economic changes of the period. Such studies have had little impact on the discussion of naval history and also limited effect on the general discussion of the history of medieval Europe.
The goal of this volume is not to carry out the all too normal task of historians of filling in a gap left by earlier research and writing.
This volume is both a restatement of current interpretations of sea power in the middle ages and the Renaissance and a general introduction to naval and maritime history over four and a half centuries. The book offers broad conclusions on the role and characteristics of armed force at sea before 1650, conclusions that exploit the best current understanding of the medieval period. The examination of naval militias in the Baltic, permanent galley fleets in the Mediterranean, contract fleets and the use of reprisal for political ends all illustrate the variety and complexity of naval power and domination of the sea in theyears from 1000 to 1650. The detailed and closely coordinated studies by scholars from Europe, North America, and Australia show patterns in war at sea and discuss the influence of the development of ships, guns, and the language of public policy on maritime conflict. The essays show the importance and unique character of violence at sea in the period. Contributors: JOHN B. HATTENDORF, NIELS LUND, JAN BILL, TIMOTHY J. RUNYAN, IAN FRIEL, JOHN H. PRYOR, LAWRENCE V. MOTT, JOHN DOTSON, MICHEL BALARD, BERNARD DOUMERC, MARCO GEMIGNANI, FRANCISCO CONTENT DOMINGUES, LOUIS SICKING, JAN GLETE, N.A.M. RODGER, RICHARD W. UNGER.
This book aims to serve both as a corrective to the older English-language interpretations of sea power in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and as a general work on naval and maritime history in the period. The objective here is to draw broad conclusions on the role and characteristics of armed force at sea before 1650, conclusions that exploit the best current understanding of the medieval period. While this volume does not claim to be a comprehensive attempt at understanding the naval history of Europe from the late Roman Empire to the mid-seventeenth century, it may serve as a guide to suggest why the period is both important and unique. In addition, since this volume is not an exhaustive study of those years, the editors hope that it will serve as a stimulus for further work on the general theme as well as on specific aspects of warfare at sea in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that we were unable to include here.
The use of armed force at sea during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe needs reconsideration. New research and new thinking about the broad nature of sea warfare in these periods, as well as a new understanding about the ships used, has created the need for a more general scholarly reappraisal. The development of scuba gear made possible, from the 1950s on, investigations of shipwrecks under water, which rapidly expanded knowledge of the history of ship design.