Sunday 4 December 2016


You may ask why I am doing this ?

These ARE the illustrations you are looking for...
According to Osprey : "Books in Osprey’s New Vanguard series deal with World War II tanks, AFVs and ships, as well as covering the vessels of World War I, World War II and the Napoleonic period, and the artillery and naval innovations of the American Civil War and medieval periods. Featuring specially commissioned full colour artworks, including exploded and cutaway diagrams, books in Osprey’s New Vanguard series are illustrated throughout with black and white photographs and diagrams. A valuable resource for model makers, wargamers, and military history enthusiasts."

Somehow these ancient ship books were shoe-horned into this category where they do not belong.

These books contain rare black and white sections which are copies of others' work. They contain no cutaway illustrations and little which ranks so high as a diagram.

There is a species of reader who hold the printed word in awe and dare not criticise the content of books or even web-published material, believe it all, even. I am not one of those.There is a species of reader who are so empathetic that they cannot bear the anguish caused by criticism to others and so avoid it. I am not one of them.

There is a species of reader which considers that anyone presenting information as fact and not fantasy is thereby opening themselves to the slings and arrows of criticism. In this way fact can be discerned from error or fantasy. I am one of those. There is a species of reader who consider that companies and authors who churn-out publications of poor quality while claiming they are the bee's knees and charging cold hard cash for the privilege of consuming this snake oil should get some return fire. I am one of those.

While not as appalling as the text in NV225, this book has its moments.
p.26  - A division of warships into larger and smaller sizes is misunderstood. D'Amato here includes Fours as 'smaller size' warships according to Livy (37.23.5).This is so basic it makes one's jaw hit the floor.

All over - The type names of ships are spectacularly inconsistent. e.g. liburnica biremis, liburna (biremis), liburnæ, liburnians, liburnicæ biremis, liburna
EVEN!..p34. 'a second century liburnæ'  This is a supposed Classics scholar - the indefinite article, singular, is used with a plural. Has he any Latin ? This manuscript was written at 2 in the morning after a lot of coffee and never corrected? Various ancient sources may have different words but the author's job is to clarify and unify a text that readers can read without confusion.

p.30 He writes about the Pozzuoli relief ships but doesn't tell that the photos are on page 8. if one did not know what these looked like it would take some time to put the two together.

p.31 Quadriremis 'evolution' - development , surely!, is NOT discussed in a paragraph which has this title. It actually contains a completely confused discussion of Fives.

p.32 'The main difference between the liburna and other ships, and especially from the triremes, quadriremes and quinqueremes, was not necessarily its system of oarage, but its  construction.'
This sentence has no semantic utility. This is like saying ' the main difference between a tank and a truck is not in the armament and traction systems but the way they are made.' Unclear. Explain. D-

p35. On the ship Nemi II - 'The steering device...was leaning and lashing against the first lower cross beam and against the other two upper beams.' Mystical stuff. Also, too much Nemi in this book. The Nemi ships are pleasure barges. Why drag them in here ? A clue is given on page 42. He appears to think that a) there was only one Nemi ship, when there were two, and b) the Nemi ship, or one of them, was a warship ?.! A warship in an isolated lake ? A warship 70 by 20 metres on a lake of 1.7 square kilometres.....

p.36 The kind of construction used in Roman warships was the 'carvel method'.  This is jaw-droppingly wrong. Anyone can check on Wikipedia. Why did the author  not do this? There follows a confused description of building technique which I think is a garbled account of the Nemi ships. If someone thinks that the spacing between planks did not exceed 45cm  he is obviously never thinking of going to sea in that type of vessel. The description is odd.
Methinks we exceeded the 45cm gap between successive planks. Bugger.
p.38 What is a canteer (sic)?

Despite considering the various fleets in geographical sequence. Despite giving lists of fleet bases. Despite showing a lot of monuments from different places. Despite quoting various ancient authors' accounts of goings on at various places. THERE ARE NO MAPS! Not even one of the Roman Fucking Empire, whose ships are under scrutiny here. Shurely shome mishtake.

Sub Armalis
Maybe the Italian connection makes it essential to include fashion themes in each book. Last time it was Etruscan clothing for sea-going personnel, this season's collection includes the leather shirt found with the Pisa ships interpreted as a 'sub armalis'. Why in God's name would the supposed under-armour garment for a legionary soldier turn up in a backwater dock near boats sunk in a flood but never on a military site ? Can a fisherman/stevedore not have a leather jacket to keep the wind out ?

At last. on page 43 we get to Roman Naval Tactics in the Early Empire
In the whole book there are 20 lines on this subject. For comparison, in this book there are 10 lines on the nails of ships which are not even warships.
Here is a summary of the ridiculousness which ensues
Romans did not follow Greek practices. (We are hundreds of years removed here!) They used the discipline and power of their soldiery at sea (sounds like this escaped from the Republican Roman book!). The essential thing was to get close and win with troops. FOR THIS REASON RAMMING WAS USED. This is like saying 'in order to win with skirmishing tactics the Barbarians always ran straight into the enemy lines.' An author who has supposedly studied ancient naval topics has failed to see the contrast - eloquently set-out by Thucydides - that ramming tactics were definitely different from deck-fighting tactics.

But the punchline tells us that the most damaging thing in a naval battle was artillery (tormenta)!! Whaat? ARTILLERY!   I can't hear you I'm in the ......
Then why, pray, tell us, have there  only been five woolly lines ( p.41)  expended on artillery in the whole of the rest of the book and no diagrams or photographs?

Two hopelessly irelevant passages from Cassius Dio are quoted. -Another attempt to produce a rabbit from a hat which fails miserably. How a massacre of small boats by warships and the actions of divers contribute to explaining the broad sweep of Roman Imperial naval tactics beats me. It really does.

That's it. Thats how the Empire of Rome dominated the seas from 27BC to 193AD, using artillery, driving over small boats and pulling ships to shore with cables nailed to their hulls underwater.

OK. Osprey cannot be expected to have peer review, but maybe at least 'brain review' could be applied before publication ?


PLATE D has a garbled caption for a Three and confused liburnian. The author is confused about what made a bireme a bireme. Not bad pictures even if wrong in detail.

PLATE E has a Five with FOUR banks of oars. This is plain wrong. It has sails that hang limply and would never work. That is because it  is a coloured-in version of John Coates drawing. As appeared in the previous book NV225. The 'Quadriremes'(sic) is not controversial except for the onagers on board and monumental figurehead.
Coates' Five is popular with these boys.

PLATE F shows a liburnian from Trajan's Column combined with Coates' drawing. Hey, you know what ? Its quite nice. There is even a plan view!. Despite the absence of a canopy mentioned in the caption, and the upper oars being wrongly placed. Oh no! It is a 50-oared ship with....48 oars. And one steering oar is missing. But apart from that it is nice.

PLATE G  shows an actuaria with a keel so bowed- 'rockered' -  it is impossible. It has a ludicrous ram. There are depictions, they have no artemon and no stern castle as shown here. This is an amalgamation of a merchant corbita and an actuaria. Actuaria with less then 30 or so oars- like this one - were called actuariolæ.  

It also shows a HEXERIS which is simply copied from Viereck rather than 'based upon'.
Rava 2016
OK it is coloured and has oars. D'Amato and Rava have here not even bothered to add a rig but the Coates Five(Plate E1), even though also with its tower raised as for battle, did get the rig it had in the original drawing.
Where does' based-upon' become copied ? Viereck 1975

Is the job of someone creating 'meticulous new profile art' to create something new and believable or to copy and embellish a bit ?

Viereck's work is now dated. The beam of his ships is usually far too broad, for example.But the artillery which Viereck loved and placed on his ships is not explained in this volume.At no point do these two books offer their own cross-sections and only one plan ..I wonder why ?

Sailing back to the future
PLATE H has a giant Three ramming a Hjørtspring type boat. Hjørstspring boat is dated to  4th century BC. Hmmmmm. Garbled caption.

The photographic material in this book is great. It may be that this justifies buying it if you want a hard copy of many related photos in one place. It is, however, possible to find photos of many of the subjects online with some judicious searching. The authors fail to take advantage of their strength in this area. Two photos of ships from baths at Pompeii on page 41 have not been shown in detail anywhere I have seen. Pity those two photos are not the clearest - in which case,,,how about a line drawing ? Eh ? Eh ? Maybe the artist only does colour plates ?

The bibliography is interesting. It is divided between 'Ancient Roman Sources' and 'Scholarship'.
The format of the scholarship entries is odd. The place of publication is given for all, but the publisher only for a few. This is an undergraduate error. This author holds two PhDs. What is more interesting is that the author has  an entry which is published at Oxford. Nice. The book is actually published by Osprey, who also published this book, and the book referred-to in the sole footnote in this book. Are Osprey books scholarship ? Does Oxford look better than Osprey ? Why did the author use such an amateur format for his bibliography? Are PhDs worth the paper they are printed on ?

As I wrote at the top. If someone sells me a cake with a dubious filling they should not be surprised to have it served up for themselves. This redresses several hundred kroner and some hours lost.

 My brain hurts... nuff writtten.