Sunday, 27 November 2016

An Empire of Hurt

Author: R.D'AMATO  Illustrator : G. RAVA

New Vanguard 230 is the second in a triad of Ospreys about ancient galleys. The third is due out in February 2017. Something to look forward to. I predict it will focus on dromoi,and riverine craft which could have been included in this volume and have Germans on rafts etc. Anyhow, gudeskelov!, we will be treated to another volume by Butch and Sundance.
This book,NV230,  in common with New Vanguard 225, is presented as a great new addition to a field which galley fans consider lacking in easily-accessible material. Like NV225 it falls down on closer examination.
You know who you are !
There are good things about this book. The standard of written English and editing has increased greatly. The photos, often by the author or his contacts, are often fresh and some novel. Living in Italy has some advantages apart from looking at girls on  passegiata. It is worth getting this book just to have a new set of visual reference material. BUT, I write only of the photos. The reconstructions, the main selling point of Osprey's titles, fall down again. Discussing the text in depth is a fool's errand when it comes to a short book such as this that draws from the entire field of ancient history. There are arguable passages but life is short. I will try to hold to the 'in your face' assertions of the reconstructions.

It can be argued that a reconstruction need not be rigidly constrained in such a publication.  In former days illustrated magazines often included a degree of fantasy to enliven their reconstruction scenes.
Something just doesn't ring true here......(Don Lawrence)
I do not deny this possibility. To some degree it is essential if a scene is to be made complete, lively and immediate rather than a staid 'illustration' like a Victorian parlour photograph. Books about Arthurian topics or 'Celtic' Heroes etc. have appeared over the years with more or less fantastical content but they fill a need felt somewhere.
The frados came seeking a crate of bronsons but with no kale to their name.

The topic covered here has been worked-on for lifetimes by technically expert linguists, classicists, archaeologists and marine architects. To avoid their conclusions must be folly.

One cannot have one's panettone AND eat it. Surely, one cannot author a hasty, erroneous publication AND expect it to be taken as gospel, an unchallenged academic groundbreaker. But maybe one can.

On to Plate A....
This plate is about Civilis' revolt in 69AD inspired by  an event from Tacitus V.23, when the Imperial commander Quintus Petillius Cerialis faced an ad hoc fleet of rebels in a lagoonal area at the confluence of the Rhine and the Maas. Cerialis' ships were larger than those of their opponents. Civilis' fleet included biremes as their heaviest units and a mass of single-banked vessels and small boats of which any used cloaks as jury-rigged sails. The (un) interesting thing about this encounter is that the two forces sailed past each other once, exchanging a few light missiles as they did, before the rebels withdrew. There was no encounter whereby oars could be broken or whereby ships were ready to board each other . Two formations navigated past each other in opposite directions. Tacitus says the Romans were aided in speed by a favourable wind and the rebels by the current of the Rhine.  One should add that the 1931 Loeb translation which NV230 paraphrases declares that 'In the confused condition of the text at the beginning of this chapter, we cannot do more than give the probable sense of what Tacitus wrote'.

Down to brass tacks.

The British Fleet fights some Batavians (Are we supposed to descriminate here between Batavii and Cannafatæ?) manning captured Roman ships.....

THE SCENARIO (hypothetical)
A galley, Midship we will call it, has been inefficiently rammed by another, Rightship, in the stern starboard quarter. Midship is under full sail AND has oars out. This could mean a high speed, up to 11 knots if the oars are out of the water. If there was no benefit to be had from the wind then progress would be by oars alone.  It has no discernible wake. There is no wake from the steering oar. Is the ship stationary under sail and oar ? One could make a case that it has just made an abrupt course change to port and thus whacked its starboard stern quarter onto Rightship's port forward quarter, smashing some oars. But why would it have done that ? No, it appears that Midship is under attack from Rightship.
'Ok men,,erm..Things.. Full Speed ! '

Rightship is under oar. Large ones of the species. Calculating from the foot of a rebel warrior, conveniently having a breather on the parados, These oars are about 20cm thick. Luckily, we cannot see the Schwarzenegger-Orc mutants hidden inside the ship who are pulling these things.

The oar under my foot can pull a 23m Viking galley along. With a few others working alongside, of course.

Rightship is attacking a target which should be moving faster than it, both have two banks of oars, are 'liburnian' types, but Midship has full sail.If the oarsmen on Rightship make another stroke, however, the foremost oars will strike the stern of Midship.

 If Rightship had intended to make a hypothetical 'oar-sweep' onto Midship, surely its starboard banks will have retracted their oars to avoid damage ? So that option is out.

The only option remaining is that Midship held course as a slower vessel loomed to port on a collision course and only when impact occured, steered away.

Meanwhile Leftship, a galley under oars is managing to come up against the wind with sufficient speed that it intends to ram and board Midship head-on. Only in the movies.


 Let's look at  Leftship. It's quite broad. If it is a liburnian then it should have a breadth in the order of 4 metres. If the chaps calmly standing to attention on the non-existent oarboxes of  a charging ship are 1,8 metres tall then we can easily see that Leftship is drawn as being five times as broad. i.e. 9 metres or so. Should be quite stable, then. These men are doomed if any impact occurs, of course - 2G of force will throw them bodily into the sea or onto the deck of the target ! The ship  appears to be directly based on one of the ships from the Temple of Isis at Pompeii, shown on page 11 even though the caption says it is based on the Aula Isiaca fresco - which is not shown in the book and only shows the stern of a ship. Confusion in the ranks somewhere.
Broadly speaking, this is inaccurate.
The whole bow structure of Leftship is odd. The stem-post has a Swan as an emblem, usually associated with the stern of Roman merchantmen. The ventilation course is absent, so the straining monstrous orc hybrids in the basement will soon collapse.  There are no apotropaic eyes, which this artist generally renders quite generously.  Maybe the ship had to be blind in order that it should be persuaded to ram bow-to-bow against a faster oncoming ship.

Leftship is supposd to be copied from a fresco found in the cult room or Aula Isiaca under Domitian's Palace in Rome. The ship depicted there has THREE oar levels. Only the stern part survives.

Rightship is closer to us and has more detail. It is copied from the Aula Isiaca as was Leftship. It has the same errors. Two tiers of oars in an oarbox. No ventilation for Arnie and his cohorts.

The prow is decorated with gold, apparently. On a minor warship ? The apotropaic eye is like a live thing from a fantasy film.

Scale has gone to pot again. The oarbox on the Aula Isiaca ship has been reconstructed to be about 1 metre high. The warriors standing on the box here, which has only two oar levels, are diminutive. The men on deck seem to stand with the top of their heads circa  4,5m above the waterline. On a liburnian this should be about 3 m according to naval architects.
What is mysterious is that an accurately drawn copy of John Coates 1994 reconstruction of the Aula Isiaca -Pompeii Fives is given IN THIS BOOK ON PAGE 30 The authors' could not even read their own book ? :(

Rightship appears to be directly based on a ship from the Temple of Isis, Pompeii. The caption states it is based upon the Aula Isiaca fresco - which does not show the prow of the ship - and is not shown here. The illustration on page 6 shows the prototype for Rightship. It is the author's own photograph. Confused ? Me too.

Midship is the target of the others' attention and it surely deserves ours. It towers out of the water to the extent that the soldier's heads are about 7 metres above the sea. The deck must be at something like 5 metres. This is greater than the dimensions of a Six or even a Ten. According to calculations of naval architects published twenty years ago and not superceeded since.

The gallery on the stern and the caption point to this being a liburnian but it has the rigging of a large freighter, with its very high mast, rope ladder and large sails.

The timbers supporting the gallery seem to be about as thick as a human head and the steering oars are enormous.

Midship is supposed to be based on a relief from the British Museum which shows a light bireme warship. The relief only shows the prow. The plate only shows the stern. The wales on Midship are not present on the relief, neither is the balustrade.

The real stroke of genius is to inform us that ''On the prow of the British(sic) liburna ..are two parallel wales terminating forward in the proembelion, here not visible.' Read that again to make sure you get it. The artist is illustrating something not visible in the plate.

The wales shown here cannot possibly terminate in the proembelion.
These are not the wales you are looking for.
 On this composite you can see how the proembelion of the relief is mounted on a combination of the gunwhale and a wale originating between the oar levels. The wales on the stern of Midship do not correspond. At all.

 How goes the fight in Plate A ?. Not too well for the Tulip-Fanciers, it seems. Having chosen to clamber out onto the parados formed by the top of the oarbox. This is not clever. The oarbox top was sloped to deter boarders. Anyway, they perch there until plucked off by Roman javelins, a collision chucks them off or they just get bored and sit down for a while. What use could they fulfill standing there ? Why would they do that ?

The Romans have a great time flinging javelins down from their eyrie, protected by the solid bulwark.

Somehow, two men ended in the water. Where did they come from? The blue one must be a Roman - a crap fighter to get hit in this situation and a true athlete to chuck himself over the parapet afterwards. The blonde must be a stroopwaffel-eater judging by his clothing. He fell a looooong way.

Oar fragments drift around. Try and work out from where and why they came. It seems that Rightship advanced from behind a faster ship and broke some of its oars with no danger to its own then ended standing-off to starboard of its target. Those Arnie-Orcs were doing over-time. Remember that we have two ships here which both have the same oar system. The target has the bonus of wind-power in what appears to be a stiff breeze, yet was struck.

OK it's no big deal. The picture is off. However, reading the back cover one discovers that the book is 'Illustrated with meticulous new profile art, spectacular battles scenes...'. My arse.

P.S. This book has the classic orphan footnote which refers to the authors' other work in the series. Shameless.

Plate B beckons.

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