Wednesday 21 September 2016

LOST CAUSES : Abandon hope all ye who enter here...

Having read a few books on ancient galleys and maybe even tried an ancient author's original work in translation you are thirsty for more ? The outlook is poor. The only cure is to 'feed the fever' !
.'.thought you did not but now realise you do'...
Here are some recommendations for books with more depth. Most written as academic studies which can be a struggle if you are not used to the style. You can get a lot out of these books if you persevere.

1) Do not expect to read them in a hurry.

2) Do not expect to understand it all in one reading.

 3) All the footnotes and references DO MATTER. It takes time, but bother to read the numbered notes as you read. These will often explain the point further or give supporting evidence for the author's view. You may, heaven forbid, also discover you really want to read the referenced work - more books, more reading, more enjoyment of the subject  :)

4)Remember you are allowed to disagree with the opinions put forward but facts cannot be changed. You can disagree with an explanation of why the Athenians lost in their Syracusan campaign but your explanation must also accommodate the same facts as any other writer's account. This is why classical studies often proceed slowly. Command of ancient sources is only mastered by a few. On the other hand, a Greek epigraphist may not have been sailing very much and if you have .......

5)It is allowed to be disappointed about the lack of colour plates and reconstructions. This will pass when you realise how little we have remaining and how wild reconstructions can be. Enjoy seeing the original sculpture or vase or coin in a black and white foto. Hopefully taken by a competent photographer and printed in adequate quality.  Despite Osprey's blurb - you cannot have everything!
In any event the fantastic thing is that you are reading more widely about a subject which is very rewarding. New discoveries are being made all the time. In archaeology, literary studies and epigraphy and art historical studies. We live in a time when Olympias has been built and sailed ! We can live in hope that a mark II may sail ? Maybe a billionaire will build a 5 or a 10 or a 40 ?
In the meantime we can find out about the ships - how they were built and sailed; about the men who sailed in them - their work, skills and socio-economic positions; about the states that maintained them - the geography and economy and politics of the ancient world; about the warfare which used man-powered vessels which fought by slamming into each other !!!! You could not make it up !!!!!

BOOKS - just put the title into a search engine or book-seller index. Then buy the cheapest seond hand copy you can find or loan it from the library. ( USE LIBRARIES! or they die).

'Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World' by Lionel Casson.
A gripping book. Stuffed with all about ships, sailing and the men who sailed them in the ancient world. He traces the development of the galley and sailing freighters. Un-put-downable. Lots of illustration and footnotes. A great Christmas present request - you will not be speaking to anyone for the rest of the season....!

The Age of the Galley : Conway's History of the Ship
Amazingly, Jan Morris's  book of the year when it came out. It's that good. A collection of papers about everything from origins of the trieres to weather in the Mediterranean. Also covers the later galleys. Read this if you think, as  TMP, that the two are the same. They are not.
You can read one paper and spend a few months thinking about it. This is a book for life.

The Age of Titans by William Murray
Essentially a defence of the thesis that big galleys were made for frontal ramming. But much more besides. All about ship development and rams and harbour sieges.  Murray is the galley champion of the moment. Find his other stuff. I dont agree with his thesis but the book is packed with information and useful appendices which summarise ancient references for every class of galley. And artillery. And ....
See Bill do his stuff here

'Greek Oared Ships'
The book that started it all, maybe. John Morrison's survey of literary and artefactual evidence for ancient Greek galleys. Lots of illustrations and references. This inspired John Coates to think about drawing a real plan for a real trieres, 'Olympias'. Includes discussion of linguistics and obscure references.

Trireme Olympias: The Final Report
The book that ended it all. A collection of papers discussing what was and was not learned from the Olympias project. Weather, beaching, sailing speeds, tactics. Loads to read. Maybe dry to the less enthusiastic.

The Battle of Arginusæ by Debra Hamel
A short book about one battle. The battle of Arginusæ showed Sparta and the Persians that Athens was not yet beaten despite being cornered. Chapter 2 is a near perfect summary of trireme warfare. The book involves the political repercussions of the battle for Athens and the battle is one quarter or so of the book. This book really shows how intricately ancient Greek society was linked to the sea, especially Athens.

The Age of the Dromon by John Pryor and Elizabeth Jeffreys
This is a dense volume about the navy. men, ships and tactics of the Byzantine navy 500-1204AD.
Arabs win a naval victory ? Drom - on.!
It gives a detailed account of the transition to the medieval galea and as such makes a link between the ancient and medieval naval worlds. It includes a translation of the naval manuals of Nicephoros Ouranos 'Peri Thalasomachiae'( About Sea Battles/Naval Operations) , the anonymous ''Naumachika Syntachenta Para Basileios' (arrangements for naval battles for the emperor), Leo VI's 'Naumachika Leontos Basileus' (Emperor Leo's Big Naval Battle Book), and an Arab naval manual of Muhammed Ibn Mankali(mostly nicked from Leo). Plus other source material. Long and deep but packed with interesting material about Greek fire, dromons, castles etc. Oh, and not a photo in sight but some b/w figures.

Russel Meiggs, The Athenian Empire
Less specifically about ships. Meiggs survey of fifth century Athenian history is fantastic in the way it sifts through every scrap of evidence to build a picture of the maritime state. One can just search for battles and ships but the discussions about trade and politics are gripping also. It is a collection of thematic essays rather than a narrative history but maybe one can tire of chronological story telling sometimes and discussions of 'Tribute' or 'Athens Interferences with Allies' broaden and deepen ones appreciation of how the maritime empire functioned. A standard work which feels a bit dated  now but not surpassed for being a one-stop history of Classical Athens. Fifth edition due soon ?

The Ancient Greeks. History and Culture from Archaic Times to the Death of Alexander- Dillon and Garland
 Another thick accumulation of ancient source materials which give a view of ancient Greece well-anchored in histor and not a modern author's fantasy or 'fine narrative writing underpinned by scholarship' as Literary Review said of 'Salamis' by Barry Strauss ( feel the dagger slide in under the ribs there ?)  Mainly politics and wars used to describe Greek history from Archaic times to the death of Alexander. Based on heavily cited ancient sources. One can dip in and out of this book. Essay sinclude gender, slaves and political systems. Happily it includes photos, maps and drawings.

Disappointed it was not a giant rabbit...
Ambush by Rose Mary Sheldon
This book is published by Frontline, part of Pen and Sword. They publish a lot of military stuff but much of it is derivative or dull. This blew my socks off. It is written by a military Colonel and is an original piece of research and well written. Despite placing a lot of emphasis on Homeric literature, despite only having one chapter really about naval warfare, despite being un-illustrated except for maps it is a great read. 'Ambush' is rather broadened-out to include clandestine operations, raids and surprise in general but if you read this you will gain a much deeper picture of ancient warfare in general as well as appreciate the variation in naval operations.
Oh yes, also ties Davis-Hanson's western way of war to a tree and rams it with a trireme at full speed.(nice)


Many shorter works exist as papers, which may range from a couple of pages to 50 or so, printed in academic or less-than-academic journals. These may be annuals, biannuals, quarterlies, westerlies , perennials.. etc, Many exist online but many are also hoarded by bastards behind paywalls. Buying a single article can cost 50 dollars or so. Most national library services can get you them if you have the reference to the paper you want. Greek pirate bays have been know  to have relevant stuff steraming out of them in a torrent also, if you know what I mean, nudge , nudge.

Most of the above works have many references to journal papers.
The most irritating thing about journal papers is the typing of their references out in a suitable format. I cannot, frankly, be bothered any more to so do and blogs deserve only shorthand I feel. I do not count rivets, have sleepless nights over spelling nor faint at the sight of incorrect punctuation. The important thing is to read interesting stuff. Sometimes it is relevant to a wargame, even. It is a rather sluggish bloodstream that does not race at the reading of  "Sleeswyk, A. W. (1982), A new reconstruction of the Attic trieres and bireme. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 11: 35–46."
Super heroes have too much time on their hands...

 I will put a selection of stuff up somewhere soon after this post is up.

Enjoy reading and learning more about this subject which leads one to understand so much more about the ancient world on land as well as at sea.

'Our' world
No, I haven't got to the end of the shelf yet!