Characteristics of naval battles in the Middle Ages

Characteristics of naval battles in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages a series of naval battles in the Mediterranean, although less frequently than in later times and at the beginning of the period they mainly sought to board enemy vessels.

In this sense, medieval war at sea it presented many similarities to those developed in the classical period (galley fleets, usually with slaves at the oars), which sought to collide or approach enemy vessels so that sailors could fight on deck.

Due to the vulnerability of this type of boat and the great difficulty of its use in waters other than the Mediterranean Sea because they are more churned and with much more wind, larger boats began to emerge, supported by their sail propulsion.

The vessels continued to evolve to resemble large floating fortifications, featuring towers both at their bow and at the stern, although they made them unstable, although their victories against lighter vessels made them predominate in the following centuries.

The Byzantine fleet

The Byzantine fleet was famous for its enormous superiority in the waters of the Mediterranean, something crucial in its development to be able to defend its capital, Constantinople, which at that time had the most important port in Europe.

However, in 655 they suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Arabs, although they were able to save Constantinople using a secret invention that they only possessed in Byzantium: Greek fire.

The Greek Fire

Some time ago we talk about the greek fire, a particularly flammable substance that, when in contact with water, burned, causing the immediate destruction of vessels that had no escape when engulfed in flames.

His crew had no escape either Well, according to the accounts of the time, Greek fire continued to burn under water, which meant that no one could withstand such an attack.

Viking ships

The drakkar they are the emblematic viking ships with those who devastated Europe. They consisted of very light, long and narrow boats, and with oars that covered almost the entire hull.

Although they were not powerful vessels, they were extremely maneuverable and with them they could access places that with larger ships was not possible, which led them to attack populations on the Seine, Thames or Tagus rivers.

The birth of the Italian powers

When both the Arabs and Constantinople lost their hegemony in the sea going into decline, the Italian cities of Venice, Genoa and Pisa they began to form different commercial networks across the Mediterranean, building navies both to protect themselves and to become powers.

In the beginning, the navies fought against the Arabs as in the battles of Bari and Messina, to later defend themselves against the Normans who had reached Sicily.

Finally, the confrontation occurred between them in later centuries, being especially famous the clashes between Genoa and Venice who faced each other four times, with Venice being the winner and who would become a power in the following centuries.

The cannons on the boats

In the Middle Ages it was very difficult to place cannons on board, although sometimes one was found in some of the towers of the largest ships.

They were generally small anti-personnel cannons, as the larger ones made the ships more unstable and both their speed and precision of fire made them little useful.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages this changed with the appearance of gun doors located on the side walls of the ships.

This allowed cannons were installed just above the waterline, which being located lower, allowed a great stability of the ship.

In turn, being able to have a complete line of guns reduced the problem of precision, being very useful for the naval battles that would take place at the end of this period.

The most important vessel of this style is found in the Mary rose, from Henry VIII, its flagship and that had 30 weapons on each of its sides, with a rate of fire much higher than what it had seen until then.

This type of vessel inspired the Spanish navy, which designed a type of vessel that would mark the entire Modern Era: the Galleon.

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