Southern ships at the middle ages, A.D. 400-1400

While Northern ships had been progressing from the open boat of Nydam to the heavy, decked, one-masted sailing-ship of the seal of Ipswich the ships of the Mediterranean had been developing on lines of their own. In their case the improvement in the course of a thousand years or so was nothing like so great as in the North; in fact, by the end of the period the Northern ship, although starting far behind, had outstripped her Southern rival in many respects. A proof of this is that during the fourteenth century the Northern type was taken up in the Mediterranean itself.

In the North the great event had been the introduction of the stern-rudder; in the South it was a change of rig on a hull that remained very much the same. The Roman merchantman of A.D. 200 (Fig. 22) had a big square sail amidships and a little square sail on a mast slanting over the bows. The ordinary Mediterranean sailing-ship of 1200 had also two masts, but the foremast was the larger, and they set an entirely new kind of sail, the 'lateen.'

All sails, or at any rate all European sails, belong to one of two great classes: they are either 'square' sails or ' fore-and-aft' sails. The former hang naturally across the length of the ship, the latter along it. To make use of wind from either side of the ship the square sail has to be twisted so that sometimes one of its two 'up-and-down' edges is nearest the wind and sometimes the other, but it always receives the wind on the same surface. Its two edges change duties, but its back is always its back and its front is always its front.

The fore-and-aft sail is just the opposite in both ways. Its ' luff,' or edge nearest the wind, is always the luff, and the ' leech,' or edge away from the wind, is always the leech. On the other hand, the pressure of the wind comes sometimes on one side of its material and sometimes on the other.

This is perhaps easier to illustrate than to explain in words. In Fig. 56 I, 1 and 1,2 are bird's-eye views of a ship with a single square sail. I, 1 has the wind on the port side and 1,2 on the starboard. The two edges of the sail are marked A and B, and one side of the canvas is shown with a row of little spikes. It will be seen that this side is always away from the wind, while sometimes edge A and sometimes edge B is nearest to the point from which the wind comes. The other two drawings, II, 1 and II, 2, are similar views of a ship with one fore-and-aft sail. In this case edge X is always nearer the wind than edge Y, while the wind sometimes strikes on the spiked surface and sometimes on the other.

The next diagram (Fig. 57) shows four of the chief kinds pf fore-and-aft sails: the ' lateen, ' 'lug,' 'gaff

sail,' and 'spritsail.' The thick lines represent the mast and the yard, gaff, or sprit that holds up the sail. The last two types have the luff attached to the mast and have their whole area abaft the mast. The other

two have a long yard, like the yard of a square sail, and have part of their surface before the mast. 'Staysails,' which form another important class of fore-and-aft sails, are shaped like lateens or like lugs and are set without yards beneath the stays leading forward and downward from the mastheads.

The lateen is the typical sail of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The lug is used very largely in English fishing-boats and in ships' boats, while a more complicated form with battens, or light rods, across it is the sail used in nearly all Chinese vessels (Fig. 58). The gaff-sail is the sail used in schooners and cutters, the

ordinary sail of most yachts. The spritsail is the sail of the Thames barge and of many Dutch small craft. Clearly, by twisting a square sail round and lifting up one end it could be made into something not very different from a lug, but the shrouds would get in the way. This brings out another difference: the fore-andaft sail is set inside the rigging, the square sail outside.

Still, probably in a small boat with no shrouds, or perhaps even before shrouds were invented, some one may have tried doing this with a square sail when the wind was on one side and found it a success. Something of the sort is well shown in the Indian ships of the seventh century on the sculptures of Boro Budur in Java (Fig. 5 9), and can still be seen, or could fairly recently, in the modern Egyptian ' nugger,' with her sail very much the shape of the ancient Egyptian square sail, but set like a lug.

It is not hard to imagine how this sail might change into the real lug or the lateen, or how the gaff-sail might be produced by cutting off the fore part of either of these, but the spritsail seems to require a separate origin. Possibly it arose from a V-shaped double mast, such as is used in many Eastern canoes. The canoes of Ceylon show this very well; in fact it is hard to know whether they should be described as having a double mast or a mast and a sprit. Speaking roughly, the lateen is still found from Portugal to the Black Sea, in the Red Sea and

Persian Gulf, on the West Coast of India, and down the East Coast of Africa as far as Zanzibar. It may be only a very strange coincidence, but it is worth noting that this is more or less the area over which the Mohammedan religion extends, or once extended. The lateen arose too, or at any rate began to spread over the Mediterranean , about the same time as Mohammedanism. The very early Middle Ages are a bad time for ship pictures, but a Greek manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (MS. grec 510), written about A.D. 886, shows two very obvious and well-drawn lateens. These are copied in Fig. 60. Jal's Glossaire Nautique has a sketch on p. 257, which is copied in Fig. 61. It is said to be from a Greek manuscript of the ninth century,

but the reference is wrong, and this date cannot be checked. Probably the rig was invented on the Nile, like so much else in the way of shipbuilding, before the arrival of the Saracen invaders in 640, and was spread by them in the course of their more distant conquests. A sail of somewhat the same shape, but with another yard or boom along the foot, is used in the East Indies and the Pacific in craft called 'praos ' (Fig. 62), and it is just a possibility that the origin of the lateen should be sought in that direction.

A Spanish manuscript of the thirteenth century shows us the two-masted lateener in her prime. The drawing (Fig. 63) is from a photograph of one of the miniatures added as a decoration to a treatise on minerals known as the Lapidario of King Alfonso the Wise. The picture

is small and does not show much detail, but the new type of sail is very evident, even though the artist has chosen a position in which it looks more like a square sail than usual. The lateen, by the way, is a sail that can be set in all sorts of positions. From experience with Northern sails one would think that many drawings of Southern ships show their sails set in ways that must have been invented by the artist for picturesque effect, but a visit to the Mediterranean soon does away with this idea and leaves the impression that nothing is impossible to the lateen.

The hull of this Spanish ship recalls that of the Roman merchantman. Its bow and stern are quite unlike one another—in contrast to the ships on Northern seals of about the same date, where the ship is still in most respects double-ended. The pattern on the side represents the projecting ends of two rows of deckbeams—a Southern feature found in Egyptian and in Roman vessels, but quite unknown in the North. The large square between the two decks is a port for loading cargo; this we shall see again in much later Southern ships.

The deck-beams and the great side-rudders are shown far better in the photograph (Plate I) from a copy at South Kensington of the shrine of St Peter the Martyr, in Milan. This is work of 1340, when Northern designs had begun to influence Mediterranean shipbuilding, but, even so, it is one of the most valuable records of Southern ships of the Middle Ages.

Some of the peculiarities of Southern rigging will be mentioned later on in this chapter. At the moment it will be enough to call attention to the way in which the mast slopes, or rakes, forward. This was nearly always the case in lateen-rigged ships. Probably the sail is not strictly a lateen, but a 'settee,' which was a sail between the true lateen and the lug. Drawings of this period show all three types shading into one another, and it is hard to know how to classify some specimens. One thing is certain, this is a fore-and-aft sail and not a square sail.

The two-masted lateen rig has lasted up to the present day, though not in ships of very great size. A 'tartane' from a French book of 1710 (Fig. 64) shows Such a ship was the great Saracen ' dromon' with which Richard I fought in 1191 on his way to the Third Crusade. We know very little about her except that she was a sailing-ship with three masts and was much bigger than the ordinary ships of her time. We

do not know definitely whether she carried square sails or lateens, though the latter is much the more likely. Still, the action is interesting because it is one of the comparatively few occasions when a king of England has commanded in a naval battle. For a long time little could be done against her; the English did manage to board her after they had disabled her steering-gear, but they were driven back with heavy loss. In the end she was sunk by being rammed again and again by the galleys.

Strictly speaking, the name 'dromon' belonged to the oared fighting-ships of the Eastern Roman Empire.

These big galleys had two rows of twenty-five oars each on either side. A ship of this kind is shown, not very clearly, in another Spanish thirteenth-century manuscript (Fig. 66). Names of ships have a way of meaning one thing at one date and something quite different at another. The' frigate' of Nelson's time had no possible resemblance to the mediaeval Mediterranean 'fregata,' except perhaps in the purpose for which she was used. The present-day' galeass' of the Baltic, a ship very like an English coasting-ketch, has even less connexion with the 'galeazza' of the battle of Lepanto or the Spanish Armada, while the name 'mahon,' which is what the Turks called the galeass, is now used by them for a sort of harbour barge.

At the time of the Crusades the Mediterranean was no longer under single control, as it had been in Roman times. The Western Empire had fallen, and on its ruins had arisen a number of independent states of varying size and importance. Some of the smallest on land were the most important at sea. Three of them, the Italian republics of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice, with Marseilles in France, and Barcelona in Spain, accounted for by far the greater part of the Christian shipping in the Mediterranean. Accordingly, when Louis IX of France undertook the Ninth Crusade he turned to Venice and Genoa for ships. Fortunately, some of the agreements made in 1268 for the hire of these ships have been preserved. They give many details of the measurements of a number of Venetian ships, and tell

us something of the masts, sails, and rigging of some of the Genoese. In both cases some ships were to be built specially for the expedition. The Venetians were to be 58 feet long on the keel, or 86 feet from stem to sternpost, including the rake at each end. They were to be 21| feet wide, 22 feet deep from the keel to the bulwarks amidships, and to have their stem and sternpost rising 29 feet above the keel. They were to have two complete decks, with a half-deck above them from the middle of the ship to the bows, and with two or three extra decks forming cabins in the stern.

The new Genoese ships were to be rather smaller: 75 feet long over all, as against 86. The chief interest about them is that we know the lengths of their masts and yards. The foremast was 76\ feet long—just more than the total length of the ship; the ' middle-mast' was 6o£ feet. Their yards, allowing for the overlap of the two parts of which they were made, were 96 feet and 84 feet long. Both were therefore longer than the ship, and must have stuck out over the bow and stern when lowered.

If the Venetians were rigged on about the same proportions, as no doubt they were, they must have been something like the diagram given in Fig. 67. Such ships were still to be seen in the Mediterranean nearly two hundred years later. The Western states had taken to the square rig long before, but the Turks continued to use big lateeners like the ship in Fig. 68, which is taken from a German account of a voyage to Jerusalem about the middle of the fifteenth century. While the Crusades were actually going on the

Northern type of ship seems to have been only a visitor in the Mediterranean. With the fourteenth century it came in to stay. A Florentine writer puts its arrival in the year 1304, when people from Bayonne, in the southwest corner of France, near the Pyrenees, came into the Mediterranean as pirates in ships called 'cogs.' The merchants of Genoa, Venice, and Barcelona took up the new type at once, and it soon began to displace the two-masted lateener.

This great change, from two masts to one, from the lateen to the square sail, and from the two side-rudders to the stern-rudder, is shown by a comparison of the ship in Fig. 63 with one of those from another Spanish

manuscript, which was finished in 1388. The subject is the Trojan War; but the artist, as always happened in those days, drew the ships and the costumes of his own time. As far as one can judge from a picture which shows little detail (Fig. 69), the ship looks very much the same as a Northerner of the same date. In spite of the change in shape and in rig, there were some Southern features which survived. Roman ships and early Southern mediaeval ships were carvel-built, with their planks fitted edge to edge instead of overlapping like those of the clinker-built ships of the North. Southern rigging

had also its peculiarities. In the North the shrouds were attached to the mast in or above the topcastle, while the holes, or 'hounds,' for the 'ties' which hoisted the yard were well below it. In the South the opposite was the case: the shrouds started from below the top, if there was one, and the ties went through what was called a ' calcet,' a square block of wood at the extreme head of the mast. Fig. 70 shows these differences. There was also another difference about the shrouds. In the North they were single ropes down to about the line of the ship's side and were set up, or tightened, by means of thin 'laniards' which passed through holes in ' deadeyes ' at the ends of the shrouds and in a platform, called the 'chain wale,' secured to the side of the ship. In the South they acted only as ' pendants,' or short fixed ropes carrying blocks

for tackles of various kinds. Thus it was possible in Northern ships to stretch ' ratlines ' across from shroud to shroud to form a rope ladder for going aloft, but in Southern ships a separate rope ladder with wooden rungs had to be fitted close up to the mast. Later on, about the end of the fifteenth century, the Southern

method of building and the Northern fashion in rigging became the rule all over Europe, but in the fourteenth, in spite of a general resemblance in appearance, these differences were always found.

About the same time as the arrival of the Northern type of sailing-ship in the Mediterranean there came also a change in the galley. Instead of the dromon, with her two rows of oars one above the other, there arose another type of bireme, in which the pairs of oars were no longer at two different levels, but were rowed by two men sitting side by side on the same thwart, or 'bank,' and acted against two thole pins close together at the same level. It was, in fact, a return to the system

of the Greek vessels shown in Figs. 17 and 18. Soon there were triremes on the same system, with three men on a bank rowing separate oars in groups of three. Such a trireme was called in Italy a galia sottil, while the bireme took the name of fusta.

The arrangement of the oars and rowers in these galleys can be seen in Fig. 71, which is based on drawings of a model in Venice made in 1881 by Admiral Fincati, and is probably very close to the truth. The rowers sat on either side of a narrow raised gangway called the 'corsia,' while the thole pins against which the oars worked were set along the outer edge of the straight overhanging structure called the 'apostis.' If planks were laid all along the outriggers of a modern eight-oared racing-boat the result would be much the same on a small scale. At each end of these long outriggers there was a heavy cross-beam, or^'yoke.' The space before the fore-yoke was the fighting-platform, that abaft the after-yoke was the poop for the officers.

The groups of oars appear very clearly in a drawing in an early fifteenth-century Italian manuscript in the British Museum (Fig. 72). This is probably a longvoyage merchant galley, such as used to come every year to England. The hull is not straight enough for a fighting galley, and the three masts would be very unusual in that kind of vessel. Her usual rig was one very big mast and a little one. The smaller mast was at first somewhere between the mainmast and the stern, but later on was shifted to the forecastle. In either case the mainmast was so very much the more important

that usually it is the only mast shown. This is the case in the fine galley (Fig. 73) in one of Carpaccio's paintings in Venice; the mainmast and mainsail are shown in great detail, while the other mast, if there was one, is left out altogether.

Strictly speaking, this galley, having been painted about 1485, does not belong to the period of this chapter. However, galleys were changing very little, and the use of this picture to illustrate the description of a galley of the previous century is not the serious matter that such a thing would be in the case of a sailing-ship. If a seaman of the end of the fourteenth century could have returned to life after a hundred years he would have found little that was new about

galleys, but he would have been utterly bewildered by the changes in sailing-ships; for the fifteenth century, and more particularly its first half, was the time when the development of the sailing-ship went on at a faster pace than at any other period in history.