"Gunpowder and Galleys is an expert analysis of the struggle between Christian Europe and Ottoman Turkey for control of the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century." Building on a thorough analysis of changing maritime technology, this study provides an outstanding examination of the sea wars between the Ottoman Empire and its Christian opponents, and illustrates the crucia"Gunpowder and Galleys is an expert analysis of the struggle between Christian Europe and Ottoman Turkey for control of the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century." Building on a thorough analysis of changing maritime technology, this study provides an outstanding examination of the sea wars between the Ottoman Empire and its Christian opponents, and illustrates the crucial interaction between commerce and warfare in the sixteenth century Mediterranean. It describes how the strategic considerations in galley warfare were substantially different from those in campaigns involving galleons or ships of the line, and includes detailed descriptions of all the major actions in the Mediterranean and around the Arabian peninsula. Guilmartin challenges traditional thinking in a variety of diverse but interlinked areas, ranging from bronze cannon-casting, the applicability of Mahanian ideas about sea power to the Mediterranean world, to the demise of the nomadic horse archers of Asia....
|Title||:||Gunpowder and Galleys|
|Number of Pages||:||352 Pages|
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Gunpowder and Galleys Reviews
I surprisingly enjoyed reading this book. On the surface, a largely technical work on 16th century Mediterranean galleys appeared rather dry. Guilmartin is impressive; his command of Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Turkish and other necessary languages allows him to access a variety of sources generally untapped by naval historians of this period. He organizes the volume into thematic and chronological chapters that alternatively explore the technical, logistical, and political aspects surrounding the 16th century galley and the notable naval battles that occurred between Jiddah in 1517 and Lepanto in 1571. Several appendices introduce specialists and interested readers to the physics of gunpowder, early cannon design, and galleys. Guilmartin starts with a historical problem: why, after the introduction of gunpowder and broadside firing sailing ships in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean did the war galley persist throughout the 16th century? While other naval historians have viewed the English, Dutch, and Portuguese as progressive naval innovators and treated Mediterranean powers as luddites, Guilmartin demonstrates that war galley fit the climate, geography, and socio-political composition of the Mediterranean far better than the broadside until at least the Battle of Lepanto. When use of the galley declined in the seventeenth and eighteenth century it was due to economic and social factors, like the quality of oarsmen and captains or the rising cost of biscuit and cannon, and not necessarily the galley's technical limitations vis-a-vis the broadside sailing ship. Guilmartin advances other sub-arguments. Most explicitly, he critiques naval historians who have projected Alfred Thayer Mahan's writings onto 16th century Mediterranean conflicts on the sea. He persuasively shows how Mahan's ideas of "control of the sea" and "naval warfare" are imprecise for describing the objectives and capabilities of galley fleets. First, the galley was not capable of sustaining the blockades that formed the heart of Mahan's "command of the sea" because their limited size and reliance on organic power required frequent victualing at shoreline fortresses and port cities like Barcelona, Venice, and Constantinople. Of the three major powers that included Spain, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire, only Venice's economic fortunes depended entirely on her trans-Mediterranean trade and therefore only Venice thought about "control of the sea" in any Mahanian sense of the term. Spain and the Ottomans used their galley fleets as tactical troop transports for amphibious assaults, strategic raiders in the "little wars" of economic attrition, and as relief forces for besieged fortresses such as those on Malta. He also argues that:1. The Mediterranean galley held its own against the broadside sailing ship until at least the 1580s when iron cannon became more prolific.2. There was no direct correlation between a cannon's barrel length and its maximum effective range. 3. Naval expeditions in the Mediterranean during this century were primarily amphibious endeavors and a symbiotic relationship existed between defensive fortifications and galley fleets. The concluding chapters on the Battle of Lepanto (1571) offer Guilmartin's assessment of why the galley eventually declined and became obsolete in the Mediterranean. The first reason deals with the limitations of organic power and the law of diminishing returns as galleys and galeasses became larger. Galleys relied on oarsmen for its motive power and for much of the 16th century the galley's "speed under oar" was the most important consideration in ship design. For every proportionate increase in the size of the galley it required a disproportionate increase in the size of its ciurmi (collective oarsmen) to maintain the same burst speed of 7 knots and sustained speed of 3-4 knots. If ships required more oarsmen (sometimes peaking at 200-220 during the 1560s) then fleets also required far more economic investment in biscuit to maintain large expeditions. Unfortunately, these increases in the size of galleys occurred alongside the "price revolution" that witnessed the price of grain, biscuit, and other victuals skyrocket. Over time, Mediterranean powers could no longer afford the severe economic outlay to maintain its galleys and gradually transitioned to the use of mechanical energy (i.e. sails) that both reduced the number employed sailors and the cost of sustained, long-term expeditions. In the case of the Ottomans, their utter annihilation at Lepanto saw the demise of several thousand men skilled at the composite recurve bow, most of her skilled oficiales (or commanders), and several thousand Janissaries. The oficiales and archers were irreplaceable in the short-term because both possessed skill sets that were habitually learned art forms from an early age and not easily trained specialities. In sum, the broadside sailing ship and gunpowder did not directly cause the disappearance of the Mediterranean galley because, in Guilmartin's estimation, broadsides lacked the efficient "ship-killing weapons" until the late-eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Instead, the galley simply grew too big for its environment to continue sustaining it. This is an important work of naval history that is also well-written and accessible to all interested readers.
Guilmartin's Gunpowder and Galleys is one of the great works of naval history, and not only that, it is a great work of history, period. With his ability to read Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, and other languages usually beyond the ken of Western historians, Guilmartin has mined records throughout the Mediterranean to bring together information ranging from technology to economics to naval tactics as he elucidates why the Mediterranean galley was a highly successful warship. In Guilmartin's view, the galley was not an archaic holdover clung to by a recalcitrant tradition, but a viable and effective amphibious predator that filled a niche more effectively than competing types up until the late 18th century. He focusses principally on the 1500s and seeks to understand why the Battle of Lepanto was seen as such an important battle both at the time and in the centuries after, even though it did not achieve any sort of goal conventionally understood to be the purpose of naval warfare in the Mahanian sense. The Ottoman navy of the 16th century was the most powerful navy of its century, and fact generally unknown to Westerners. This work does not cover the Ottoman navy as an institution and remains tightly focussed on the galley and its relatives, but it carries significant implications to anyone who wants to understand the history of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Gunpowder and Galleys is an immensely absorbing work of history, culture and technology. It is very readable in spite of the complexities.
Excellent historical work that remains the favorite non-fiction book in my collection. Guilmartin does an great job weaving a narrative history of the 16th Century Mediterranean into his general framework that discusses the characteristics and evolution of naval warfare during the period. Highly recommended for those with an interest in Early Modern or Naval history.
Want to know why Lepanto was such a significant victory? This is the first book I have read that advances a convincing argument. Lots of technical details on galley construction, finance, manning, battle etc. I will have to get the revised edition at some point.