Sunday, August 9, 2015

Piracy, Galleys, and Sailing Ships

The greatest threat to Italy was piracy. Mediterranean pirates and privateers were both Christian and Muslim, and there was little difference between them in violence and cruelty; but Italians generally considered the Muslim pirates their major enemy. Barbarian regencies of Tripoli-in Libya-Tunis, and Algiers in North Africa were centers of piracy. In theory, they were dependencies of the Ottoman Empire, but the Sultan's authority was weak and Istanbul far away. The Uscocks, Croatian pirates, preyed upon Adriatic shipping, as their ports lay on the Dalmatian coast under Habsburg protection. Venetian and Turkish vessels were their primary targets. 

There was a difference between pirates and privateers. Privateers were formally permitted by a sovereign to fight against that sovereign's enemies. They could only attack vessels under an enemy flag. Pirates attacked everything, independently of flag. When captured, privateers were considered as prisoners of war; pirates could be killed or hanged. Death, however, was not enough to stop them. Northern African regencies needed piracy because it was their primary source of revenue. Their domestic economy was largely agricultural and few goods produced were exported. 

In fact, pillaging a vessel or a coastal town gave them money and goods to be sold for money, and, above all, slaves. Before steam power, the easiest and cheapest available manpower was the slave. Captured seamen and passengers, or peasants, fishermen, and citizens were carried to northern African and Ottoman ports to be sold. Wealthier captives were often ransomed. Many of the strongest slaves were not sold but used on galleys as oarsmen. Slavery substantially disappeared in Italy in the Middle Ages, but Muslim prisoners were used largely as oarsmen, or galley slaves. As the need for oarsmen became greater, Italian coastal states condemned their criminals to serve on the galleys as oarsmen, hence the word "galley" became synonymous with "prison" as well the term "bath"-the place where the slaves normally stayed-for "penal bath." 

Pirates had vessels set for their tasks. Their targets had to be taken by surprise. A coastal town had to be reached in spite of low waters, and the vessel had to be able to move as quickly as possible to escape as well as to reach an enemy. This meant small and light ships were generally employed for purposes of raiding. Moreover, light ships could move by oars no matter the weather, and the Mediterranean had less wind than the Atlantic. Sometimes the ships had an opposite wind or no wind at all. That's why the ancient galleys, for two thousand years, were propelled by sails and oars. A galley could be as fast as a sailing ship-as the Venetians tested-and it moved also without wind. Of course, it needed a lot of men-slaves, voluntary oarsmen, seamen, marine infantrymen, gunners-and this meant a high consumption of food and water, so that the ship had only a four-to-seven-day sea range. The Mediterranean, however, is relatively compact; its shores can be quickly reached to find water and fresh foods, thus galleys were the best choice. And galleys were integral parts of Italian navies until the French Revolution and Napoleonic era. They disappeared only after 1814, when the Royal Sardinian Navy abandoned them. As piracy was a persistent menace and the galley the only good weapon to fight it, all the Italian navies were primarily composed of galleys. Of course, many possessed sailing ships, too, but they were not as relevant as galleys in quantity and importance. Naval officers serving on galleys held a higher rank than those serving on vessels. 

Since the seventeenth century, Italian fleets were divided into Squadra delle Galere-literally being the Italian the word squadrone used only for cavalry, the "squad of galleys"-and the Squadra dei Vascelli-the "squad of vessels"-or, as the Venetians referred to them: the Light Squadron and the Heavy, or the Big, Squadron, also called "the Big Army," and the "the Light Army." The Heavy Squadron included all the square-sailed vessels; the Light one included rowing ships-galleys, galleasses, half galleys, and galliots-as well as the lateen-sailed vessels like schooners, tartans, and ketches. In all the Italian states, except Venice, the Light Squadron comprised the entire fleet and usually had no more than six galleys. 

If we consider Italy's long coasts, it was impossible to patrol blue waters to protect merchant traffic and the coast with so few ships. The Adriatic was generally safe. The Republic of Venice protected the northern Adriatic, her fleet was strong and, moreover, the Most Serene Republic had an agreement with Istanbul: No man-of-war under sultan's formal authority-which included Barbary pirates-was allowed to sail in the Adriatic. This agreement remained in effect until the fall of the republic in 1797. Venice maintained permanent naval squadrons protecting her commercial routes. The "Guardia in Candia," based in the capital of Crete, controlled eastern Mediterranean waters. The "Guardia in Golfo"-guard in the Gulf-at Corfu`, protected the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, at that time proudly called "the Gulf of Venice." 

Beyond the protection of Venice, the southern-Ionian and western Tyrrhenian- seas were open to piracy. Maltese, Neapolitan, Sicilian, Sardinian, Tuscan, Genoese, and papal fleets hardly totaled more than forty-five galleys. They had no centralized command, no coordination, and they had to protect 2,600 miles of coastline. This meant that in the best possible situation, using all the galleys at the same time, there could be no more than one galley every fifty-seven miles. In fact, when considering that normally a six-galley fleet had two galleys on patrol, two galleys just back or coming back to the port, and two galleys preparing to go out, every galley had to patrol 173 miles coastline, and none in blue waters. It was clearly impossible to stop pirates. The only way to reduce the threat consisted of land-based standing forces. That's why the Italian coast, from Nice in the northern Tyrrhenian Sea to the Gargano promontory in the southern Adriatic Sea-just out of Venetian waters-was filled with watchtowers. Every tower had cannons to fire against pirates and wood for a signal fire, to warn the towns and the villages of the approaching menace and to call infantry and cavalry from the castles in the interior. All of this, however, remained insufficient to stem the threat, and Italian coastal populations concentrated in the well-fortified port cities or escaped to the interior. 

Towns were built on the top of hills or mountains. Coastal routes were abandoned as well as the country near the sea. Marshes became larger and larger, especially from south of Pisa down to north of Naples, because no one drained the country as the Etruscans and Romans had. Mosquitoes increased and carried malaria-literally "naughty air" or "evil air"-and this disease, which was supposed to come from the country air, forced the people to concentrate in the cities, were malaria was not so terrible or did not exist at all.

Durazzo 1081

Byzantine Tagmata: The Roman Army at Dyrrhachium included Thracian and Macedonian Tagmata, which numbered about 5,000 men.

Battle of Dyrrhachium (October 18, 1081): 1,300 Norman cavalry under the Duke of Apulia Robert Guiscard, were initially repulsed by the Varangian Guards. The Varangian Guard were in turn routed by a counterattack to their flanks by Norman infantry, fled to the sanctuary of a nearby church which the Norman forces burnt down. The Norman knights then charged the Byzantine line again, and caused a widespread rout. First recorded instance of a successful and decisive 'shock' cavalry charge.

Dyrrhachium (Durazzo to Italians, Epidamnos to Greeks) was the capital of Illyria, and is modern Durres in Albania. Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemond besieged it in 1081 in the Norman attempt at Mediterranean expansion against Byzantium. Guiscard left Otranto with a fleet and army in May 1081. A Venetian fleet allied to the Byzantines to defeat the Normans in June, after the Normans suffered damage in a storm. Guiscard could not blockade from the sea as intended. The siege was an attempt by the Normans to gain safety within. The defence was led by George Palaeologus. The Normans built a belfry, countered by a wooden tower and later destroyed by fire. The defenders used catapults, pitch and Greek Fire. The Normans suffered illness and starvation. Alexius I Comnenus came to the relief. The battle was fought on 18 October. Against the odds the Normans won through using archers and cavalry against the Varangian Guard (including Anglo-Saxon exiles). Guiscard's wife Sigelgaita participated in the ensuing battle, brandishing a spear and helping to rally the troops. 

Alexius was wounded in the forehead but escaped to Ochrid. The Byzantines retreated and Dyrrhachium surrendered on 21 February 1082. Guiscard returned to Italy. Bohemond continued to Larissa where he was defeated by the Byzantines.

Oman, p. 164, reports in detail on this battle because he sees in it the last engagement for 300 years in which actual foot troops like those of Harold at Hastings, and not dismounted knights or simple militia or marksmen, played a role, the last battle between the Anglo-Saxon battle-axe and the Norman lance supported by the bow. 

Robert Guiscard had crossed the Adriatic and was besieging Dyrrhachium (Durazzo). Emperor Alexius moved up with a relief army that also included the Varangians who were in the service of Byzantium. Anna Komnena, 6: 6, describes these men who carried double-edged swords or battle-axes on their shoulders, as well as shields. She recounts that they dismounted from their horses and attacked the Normans in a closed formation. Initially, she reports, they had also thrown the Normans back, even though they did not wait until the mounted archers had worked the enemy over. But in this action they had become separated from the rest of the Byzantine army and were overcome by the Norman horsemen. 

This description does not correspond as closely to the conduct of the thanes at Hastings as it does to the ancient German wedge. For the thanes at Hastings sought to win in a purely defensive action, while the Varangians at Dyrrhachium attacked like the ancient Germans. 

But why did they dismount from their horses? The result shows that they were too bold in their attack. Perhaps it was only a question of insufficient cooperation with the other units of the Byzantine army. But since we are not clearly informed on this point and Anna Komnena is not such a reliable source, this battle can hardly be evaluated from the viewpoint of military history. 

The other sources, too, which report on this battle, particularly the Gesta Roberti Wis-cardi (Deeds of Robert Guiscard), Mon. Germ. SS., 9. 369 ff-, do not provide the answers to those questions.

Prince from 1098 through the First Crusade, the son of Robert Guiscard and Alberada. Anna Comnena described the impact on the Byzantine court (and herself) of the tall, muscular, stooping, blond Norman. He fought for his father against the Byzantines in the unsuccessful attack on Albania in 1081. His younger brother Roger received the Apulian lands, and Bohemond inherited little. On the First Crusade, leading the Normans from Sicily, he fought at Dorylaeum and Antioch. The author of the Gesta Francorum was probably in his retinue. Bohemond founded the principality of Antioch despite Byzantine claims, but by the Treaty of Devol in 1108 recognised Byzantine overlordship. He was captured by the Turks near Aleppo in 1100 and imprisoned in Anatolia until ransomed in 1103. He was defeated by the Turks at Harran in 1104. He returned to the west in 1106, seeking reinforcements, and married Constance daughter of Philip I of France. With a new force Bohemond besieged Durazzo from 1107 but failed to take it. He returned to Italy and died in Apulia. His nephew Tancred and then his own son Bohemond II succeeded to Antioch.

Emperor from 1081, restoring much imperial territory. He was emperor during the First Crusade and the hero of his daughter Anna Comnena's Alexiad. His wife was Irene. He commanded armies before becoming emperor and was an able diplomat. He succeeded through a coup against Nikephorus III. He faced attacks on Byzantine territory by the Italian Normans under Robert Guiscard, including an attempt on Durazzo that was held off. He defeated the Pechengs at Levunium. He employed Turkish mercenaries and allied with Venice, to whom he granted privileges. Alexius recovered territory in Europe. He rebuilt the navy, regaining Crete and Cyprus. He manoeuvred the Franks on the First Crusade through his territory and into Asia Minor. As a result of the Crusade's success he recovered much of Anatolia from the Turks. He received some recognition from the new crusading states. His son John II succeeded.