Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
This chapter considers the question of how war at sea changed during the late-medieval and early-modern periods, and whether these changes constitute a ‘naval revolution’. It is now recognised by historians such as Carlo M. Cipolla, Jan Glete, John F. Guilmartin, and Geoffrey Parker that, during the period roughly between 1500 and 1650, war at sea underwent a fundamental technological transformation. This transformation was of great importance both for warfare at sea and for its organisation. Thanks to the fiscal means of the modern state, permanent, professional, and complex naval organisations became a general phenomenon in Europe. However, at the beginning of the early-modern period, permanent war fleets in most cases did not yet represent anything more than a small core of ships, in itself of limited military importance.
All the same, many of the characteristic features of naval organisation, such as arsenals, admiralties, and standing navies, had come into existence in the Middle Ages. Both the arsenals of Venice and Aragon–Catalonia dated from the beginning of the thirteenth century. Admiralties appeared as institutions around the office of admiral, which originated in Sicily in the twelfth century and became permanent there in 1239. In the fifteenth century Admiralty Courts appeared in Brittany, Normandy, and Guyenne, to mention but a few. Sicily possessed a permanent war fleet in the thirteenth century; Venice established one in 1301.