Wednesday, 11 October 2017


I have decided to put my video links up.
On the page accessed by clicking on VIDEOS                    ►          ►

Most on YTube, of course.  I will put them up as I have time and inclination, just good to have them all in one place. I have no time to review them but I will not link to crap.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Eye of Faith

Towers on ships are often mentioned in ancient sources and often depicted in sculpture. There are also a few wall paintings from Pompeii and Herculaneum which show towers on ships.
But do they all ? 

Michael Pitassi's books on the Roman navy are detailed, readable and 'must haves' for anyone interested in galley warfare. (see end of piece for refs.)
I did spot one thing worth investigating closer, though.

One of the illustrations in 'The Roman Navy' is a b/w version of a wall painting displayed at the Palazzo Massimo Roman museum. The painting is from the first century BC.

A tower on a galley  ( ?)

Pitassi identifies a tower in the bow of the galley and, one can see why, at a quick glance.

As I have blogged before HERE, one should always try to check illustrations for scale and internal integrity to see if they check out. This works with 2000 year old illustrations too !

Here is a wider, colour view of the wall painting.

STEP 1 : Scaling : If this is a tower it should stand higher than the prow ornament. if this is a tower it should stand higher than the men on the same vessel.
This picture needs to be viewed full size... The blue bars are the heights of men in the ship. The green shows the tower height ..not impressive. The red line is an artefact - a crack in the wall or mold etc. The yellow ellipse is indicating that the top of the 'tower' is in fact a distinct element which is elliptical in shape.

STEP 2: Internal details : If this is a tower it should look like one. Let's take a closer look.
Trying different enlargements and false colour images it is impssible to see any detail relating to a rectilinear structure or paint strokes matching such.
STEP 3 : The last stage is to look for analogous details on other ships in the same composition.
There are no other towers. There are warriors with elliptical shields in the bow areas of other gallleys. The sea fight here is between small single-banked galleys. Maybe it is a scene from the Iliad or maybe it is based on a naumachia fought in a flooded arena.

The warrior in the focsle of the lower ship has his shield raised and is in a similar location to the 'tower'. Thee oarsmen behind him are rendered in a comparable scale, so any tower should be rendered proportionately. It seems the 'tower' is a warrior, or two, defending themselves in the focsle of the upper ship. The original painting was unclear or time has destroyed some details. The top ship is also maybe attacking the centre ship and therfore the warriors have their shields raised, giving the impression of a tower.

The galleys shown here are all rather small. Unlikely to carry a tower anyway. The date of the illustration is after when shops larger than a Three or Liburnian were a rarity.
It is even possible that the artists inspiration was a naumachia at an arena.
Caesar gave a naumachia in 46BC with 6000 participants/victims.
Augustsus gave one in 2BC with 3000 deck fighters and 30 ships.
Claudius continued the tradition in 52AD with 100 vessels  on Lake Fucine.
In 80AD the inauguration of the colosseum was celebrated with two naumachia  with 000's of men.
In 85AD and 89AD Domitian also gave naumachia - in arena.

In summary, the 'tower' is an artefact created by the style of the illustration and the technique used. Quickly painted figures on a plaster wall, painted by a landlubber artist who may  never have seen a galley in action, never mind a tower - but may have seen a naumachia with small ships - do not make for the illustration one wants to see.

It is easy to look at a somewhat fuzzy picture and see what you want to see. The human brain is wired to recognise patterns we already know. That is why your girlfriend's flat has much you recognise or like!  That is why our ancestors ran from a shadow that looked like a crouching lion.

It takes a bit of time, but it is possible to analyse and elucidate any dubious cases.

Pitassi's books, both recommended, are

Michael Pitassi, The Navies of Rome.   Woodbridge, UK/Rochester, NY:  Boydell Press, 2009.  Pp. 348; 8 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781843834090.
Reviewed HERE. bear in mind Mr Pitassi is a retired lawyer, not a classics academic.

and..The Roman Navy, Ships, Men and Warfare350 BC-AD475, Seaforth Publishing 2012

Reviewed HERE.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


The National Maritime Museum of Australia has a very nice webpage dealing with Pliny the Elder's death. He got too close to the erupting Vesuvius in 79AD. It was a heroic death that you can read about at the webpage. Follow the links to see the Olympias original model, a ram ornament, and much more.
Click picture to visit ANM - can be slow to load...
Pliny the Younger's letters to Tacitus about his uncle's death are  HERE.

Pliny the Elder's knowledge of the natural history of volcanoes is HERE. (Chapters 57-59).

In 1902 the volcano Mont. Pelee on Martinique erupted. It delivered a similar kind of eruption as killed Pliny the Elder and wiped Pompeii off the map. Mont Pelee wiped the town of Saint Pierre off the map.

The Idyl before Vulcan sneezed

There were also ships hit by the eruption at Saint Pierre. SS Roraima was anchored a kilometre offshore and a survivor left this account ...

'James Taylor, a cooper employed on the Roraima, gives the following account of his experience of the disaster: "Hearing a tremendous report and seeing the ashes falling thicker, I dived into a room, dragging with me Samuel Thomas, a gangway man and fellow countryman, shutting the door tightly. Shortly after I heard a voice, which I recognized as that of the chief mate, Mr. Scott. Opening the door with great caution, I drew him in. The nose of Thomas was burned by the intense heat.

"We three and Thompson, the assistant purser, out of sixty-eight souls on board, were the only persons who escaped practically uninjured. The heat being unbearable, I emerged in a few moments, and the scene that presented itself to my eyes baffles description. All around on the deck were the dead and dying covered with boiling mud. There they lay, men, women and little children, and the appeals of the latter for water were heart-rending. When water was given them they could not swallow it, owing to their throats being filled with ashes or burnt with the heated air.

"The ship was burning aft, and I jumped overboard, the sea being intensely hot. I was at once swept seaward by a tidal wave, but, the sea receding a considerable distance, the return wave washed me against an upturned sloop to which I clung. I was joined by a man so dreadfully burned and disfigured as to be unrecognizable. Afterwards I found he was the captain of the Roraima, Captain Muggah. He was in dreadful agony, begging piteously to be put on board his ship.

"Picking up some wreckage which contained bedding and a tool chest, I, with the help of five others who had joined me on the wreck, constructed a rude raft, on which we placed the captain. Then, seeing an upturned boat, I asked one of the five, a native of Martinique, to swim and fetch it. Instead of returning to us, he picked up two of his countrymen and went away in the direction of Fort de France. Seeing the Roddam, which arrived in port shortly after we anchored, making for the Roraima, I said good-bye to the captain and swam back to the Roraima.

Read some gobbledygook white-bashing  'interpretation' of this photo where I got it from HERE
"The Roddam, however, burst into flames and put to sea. I reached the Roraima at about half-past 2, and was afterwards taken off by a boat from the French warship Suchet. Twenty-four others with myself were taken on to Fort de France. Three of these died before reaching port. A number of others have since died."

Samuel Thomas, the gangway man, whose life was saved by the forethought of Taylor, says that the scene on the burning ship was awful. The groans and cries of the dying, for whom nothing could be done, were horrible. He describes a woman as being burned to death with a living babe in her arms. He says that it seemed as if the whole world was afire.'
 The Roraima burnt and sank. Today it is a tourist diving wreck.

Saint Pierre after the twenty minute eruption

One of three  survivors was a prisoner in the town jail - Ludger Sylbaris. You can read about him HERE.

A full version of the piece from Cosmoplitan July 1902 HERE

Anyway, ships and volcanoes don't mix, not 2000 years ago and not now.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Best Galley Warfare Spam

I have to give a special mention to the Al Rahman company of Dammam who spammed this blog recently. I won't even bother to find out where the hell that is but...

Instead of the usual offers to make me rich, or requests for help from millionaires trapped in airports, or smart ways to fool national lotteries I got one actually related to the blog theme.

Apart from dealing with all kinds of large insects and surveillance cameras they actually deal with water leaks !


Ok they probably did not mean they could patch up a trieres after a ramming attack ..but nice try !

I still reported them and blocked them anyway....

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Spiffing Read

I can't resist old illustrations of ancient ships. I recently obtained a copy of 'A Boy's Book of Battleships' by Gordon Stables C.M., M.D., R.N.. It was published by Blackie in 1915.
It is illustrated in black and white and with full-page colour plates done in chromolithography or zincography which gives a vivid result even if the range of colours is limited.
The artist is not credited and most of the illustrations not signed. However, on one I found the name W. Edward Wigfull. He illustrated many historical and military subjects in the inter-war period.

Wigfull was born in Sheffield in 1875 and spent a lot of his life in the south east. He illustrated Yachting Weekly and several books about the coastal areas of Essex. He was also a writer and illustrated his pieces. His style is accurate and economical and he has a great sense for boats and ships. Despite the limitations of his source material for ancient vessels they are imaginative reconstructions fit to stir the blood of any boy reader.

'a warship of ancient Greece from an old Greek design. The sailors, however, look a lot of lubbers to our nautical eyes, and so perhaps they were.They do not seem to hit it handily'
  Wigfull worked many times with a prolific writer of adventure stories, Percy F. Westerman and one of their joint triumphs was .......
This is one of the best in the book. A fighting cog of the 14th century. Rich colour, clean linework and a lively composition. Great stuff!
The text of the book is by the above mentioned Stables. He was Scotch and died in 1910.  He claims to remember the Crimean War and the first Royal Navy tests of torpedoes ! He was born in 1840 and became a prolific generator of boys' adventure fiction and informative maritime titles. After leaving the navy in 1875 he toured the country living in a bespoke 'gentleman's caravan'. He wrote an account of this in 1885 with a suitably maritime title The Cruise of the Land-Yacht "Wanderer" Thirteen Hundred Miles in my Caravan. ..even passing through where I used to live !
On and on through beautiful scenery, with peeps at many a noble mansion in the distance. Only the landscape is disfigured by unsightly mine machinery, and the trees are all a-blur with the smoky haze that lies around them.
The country around the village of Birtley is also very pretty. A mile beyond from the hilltop the view is grand, and well worth all this tiring day’s drag to look upon.
Everywhere on the roadside are groups of miners out of work, lying on the grass asleep or talking.
The dust is trying to the nerves to-day; such a black dust it is, too.
We stop at Birtley. I trust I shall never stop there again.
“No, there is no stabling here;” thus spoke a slattern whom I addressed.
“Water t’ hosses. Dost think I’d give thee water? Go and look for t’ well.”
Some drunken miners crowded round.
“For two pins,” one said, “I’d kick the horses. Smartly I would.”
He thought better of it, however.
We pushed on in hopes of getting stabling and perhaps a little civility.
We pushed on right through Gateshead and Newcastle, and three miles farther to the pleasant village of Gosforth, before we found either.
Gosforth is a village of villas, and here we have found all the comfort a gipsy’s heart could desire.
We are encamped on a breezy common in sight of the Cheviot Hills, and here we will lie till Tuesday morning for the sake of our horses if not ourselves.
Stables on right with walrus moustache. Dog was called Hurricane Bob.
 How did he produce a posthumous work ? I don't know. I imagine the publisher reworked a pre-war title with the last two chapters on 'Modern Battleships and Cruisers' and 'Navy Helps' being added to stimulate the patriotic fervour of the readers toward the contemporary conflict.

I will find an excuse to use some of the other illustrations here.

You can find his other works here....

Now remember, boys ...
'No country in the wide world lies more under the glamour and spell of the glorious ocean than our Britain. We live on a raft; we depend entirely on our Mercantile Navy for every necessary, and on our Royal Navy for our defence against our enemies. We are great explorers, we make the best of colonists, and all history shows how well our ships and men can fight.' 

p.s. He also liked cats ......