Wednesday, 14 December 2016


Digging deeper to find a more definitive idea of a liberna....

One can  see from different illustrations in the Vatican Virgil 3225 - fourth century - ships that answer to the description of a liberna from the previous blogpost.

These manuscripts are early medieval copies of originals  that were executed in an 'antique' style. Therefore they can show ships of a time before their date of execution. In the fifth century, for example, writers could not explain what a ram was, the spur was by then used on warships, but artist still drew a ram. Detailed study has shown that the copyists were extremely diligent in their work. They even tried to use the same brush and pen strokes as the original artists.

The overall form reminds of the Trajan's Column ships.

Many smaller galley depictions of AD date seem to show the upturned forefoot as seen on Trajan's Column. Whether this is truly a ram has been debated. It seems to ultimately morph into the spur of a dromon. It could be that we see a lighter ram/spur forefoot which was mainly for running down smaller vessels. Instead of impaling smaller vessels they would be run over and/or capsized. Ther eis also a proembelion which argues for an intended rolling of the target.
In the later MSS3687  - fifth century - Aeneas' ships are proto-dromoi and have a spur, not a ram. They have a chain supporting them. The spur was a long structure  requiring support.
 The weight and speed of the attacking  ship sank or over-turned the targetted ship.
Spurred dromoi over-turn baddy ships. MADRID SKYLITZES,11cen.

 The deck is not considered by the artist when he wants to show the ship under oars. He shows the oarsmen working but they sit too high.

  A mosaic from the third century Tunis is very similar.

Now the artist will show the ships manned for fighting. The troops must be on a deck and now the oarsmen are invisible. This is probably the best depiction of a liburna in combat apart from the rig being in place. The sails are not full, maybe they are being taken down.
 Another folio of the same MSS shows ships drawn in another style. All the details of a liburna are present and one can see the men on deck are not oarsmen. The deck is in place and the oars are out.
"Come away fellow sailors. Your anchors be weighing!"

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