Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time to Adapt

As the demand for fresh soldiers to the front lines of the Crusades increased, the demand for naval power as well as economical approaches by the state also began to amplify. To this point, Abu-Lughod states, that most ships were the property of private, wealthy ship building families. But, it was the building of the Venice Arsenal in 1104 which first signified the influence of the state on the production of naval vessels. Italian port states built larger, more equipped vessels, for both trade and protection. Improvements were not only limited to innovations in fabrication, but also to economic and social techniques by Italian states. This resulted in an exponential growth in trade. With the states needing protection for transports, merchant marines served as the crew of merchant trade vessels as well as a naval force. This and the caravans used to transport goods allowed for greater economic expansion with the insurance that cargo would reach destinations, and not be lost to opposing vessels.

Something I that caught my attention in this section was the several types of vessels the Italians used during this naval expansion. One was the galley, which served as a warship and was powered by crew of oarsmen. Next was the sailing ship, which was used for long distance transport and was powered by four to six lateen sails. Finally, there was the tarida, which was the largest of the three was powered by both oarsmen and sails. I compare these early vessels to twentieth century battleships, troop transports and aircraft carriers. I also found interest in that once the demand for these vessels in a war time manner was through; the state converted them into transport ships to expand trade. Many of the converted Genoese vessels were able to carry a payload of 600 tons, which for the thirteenth century was remarkable. In comparison, they matched capacities of sixteenth century vessels.

Since these caravans consisted of anywhere from ten to twenty smaller vessels which were also accompanied by either several galleys or two huge cogs, do you think the success of merchant shipping by the Italian port states was due more to the fighting and sailing ability of the merchant marines or a case of “strength in numbers” dealing with convoys?

Dan Loheyde

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