09.10.15, Rose, ed., Medieval Ships and Warfare

Main Article Content

John France

The Medieval Review 09.10.15

Rose, Susan, ed.. Medieval Ships and Warfare. Farnham: Ashgate, 2008. Pp. 468. ISBN: 978-0-7546-2485-1.

Reviewed by:
John France
Swansea University

The International Library of Essays on Military History is intended to bring together important essays on key aspects of the subject. This volume on naval warfare is very welcome because this is a rather neglected subject and the major contributions were written at different times and are scattered across many journals. The editor, S. Rose, has written extensively on naval warfare, but her choice has been constrained by commercial and publishing considerations. Only English language publications were considered, while works which had already featured in collections were excluded. Rose (xiii) thinks this skews the collection in favour of English material. In fact she has divided the contributions between north-western Europe and the Mediterranean, and of the twelve essays in the former part most are English and nine cover the Hundred Years War. However, no less than fifteen are devoted to the Mediterranean with a considerable focus on Islam in the crusading period. Each of these broad groupings is subdivided as follows:

Part 1 NORTH-WESTERN EUROPE Ships and Boats: Issues of Technology and Evidence Piracy and Pirates Fleets and Warfare

Part II THE MEDITERRANEAN The Islamic Powers Iberia Genoa and Venice

I am not sure that the broad division between the North and the Mediterranean is useful because it is rather exclusive. For instance, P. Skinner's "Politics and Piracy: The Duchy of Gaeta in the Twelfth Century," Journal of Medieval History 21 (1995), 307-19, would have fitted nicely into "Piracy and Pirates" where the essays of Pistono and Ford overlap somewhat. There are also two essays on the battle of Sluys. While this was undoubtedly a major event this kind of duplication narrows the focus of this volume especially in the light of its most serious drawback, which is simply that there is nothing on naval history before 1000. It is extraordinary that the enormous volume of writing on the Vikings and their ships has been totally ignored. Something touching on the issue of army sizes and shipping, a lively and major controversy in early medieval military history, would surely have been possible. There is nothing specifically on Byzantium which was a major Mediterranean sea-power well into the age of the crusades. Obvious possibilities in this area are V. Christides, who has written extensively in English on Byzantine shipping, while J. Haldon is well-known for his work on "Greek Fire". The section "Ships and Boats: Issues of Technology and Evidence" has a number of very specialized articles and might have benefited from something wider like Richard W. Unger, "Warships and Cargo Ships in Medieval Europe," Technology and Culture, 22 (1981), 233-252.

These are, then, some very substantial omissions, and essentially this volume tackles the period c.1000-1500. In these terms it works rather well, largely because Rose has constructed a very lively and interesting introduction. She is quite right to say (xiii) that land battles enter more readily into national lore than sea battles. This may have something to do with the fact that the former can be visited, while the latter cannot! More interestingly, taken together the essays on northern Europe demonstrate the evolution of fleet-handling in battles, and she is probably right to suggest (xix) that tactics were more fluid and perhaps more advanced in the Mediterranean than in the north where things changed only slowly. In this connection the essays of J. E. Dotson on Genoa and Venice are crucial. There is very thorough coverage (six essays) of Iberian naval warfare. The inclusion of no less than five essays on Islamic Powers is impressive, but perhaps something by J. E. Pryor on crusading shipping would have improved this section. His article on Roger of Lauria is included in the section on Iberia, but he has contributed greatly to our understanding of the naval aspects of the crusades. It is interesting that medieval naval history emerges here as a niche-subject. Almost none of the authors have also written about land warfare, with the exception of K. Devries whose study of Sluys reflects his wider interests. Given the intimate connection between land and sea warfare in this period, perhaps all those interested might like to reflect on the need to adopt a wider approach to their subjects. It is remarkable in this connection that there is no general study of naval power and the crusades, except for the unpublished Oxford D. Phil of 1978, S. M. Foster, Some Aspects of maritime activity and the use of sea power in relation to the Crusading States 1096-1169.

As with all these Ashgate volumes each article retains the formatting and pagination of the journal in which it originally appeared, and many find this rather disruptive. However, there is overall page numbering here and a useful index has been produced. This together with Rose's overview in the Introduction provides a substantial sense of unity to the whole which is very pleasing.

Article Details

Author Biography

John France

Swansea University