Ancient Naval Wars & Weapons

Essay by msd_writerUniversity, Bachelor'sA, July 2008

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Ancient Tactics and Weapons.

By about the 7th century BC specialized warships were being used in the Mediterranean. These oared galley-type vessels, with considerable operational and tactical mobility, would be the major warship type in this region for the next millennium. Galley warfare was essentially about boarding and entering, а land battle at sea in which enemy ships were taken in hand-to-hand combat. Other weapons could be mounted in the bows, such as projectors or Greek fire and, later, guns. The ship itself could be used as а weapon, although ramming was better directed at the oars of hostile ships to deny mobility rather than sinking the enemy outright. Galley battles were fought bow to bow, in line abreast, and could be large-scale events with hundreds of ships on each side. To be powerful on land meant being powerful at sea as well.

In the Orient, too, maritime power became more important.

'China must now', wrote one commentator in 1131, 'regard the Sea and the River as her Great Wall, and substitute warships for watch-towers.' Within а century China had warships whose armament included trebuchets firing gunpowder bombs, and paddle-wheel boats protected with iron plates.

In northern European waters а very different type of oared ship originated. These longships and knarrs were capable of longer voyages under sail. Their oarless merchant ship derivatives and other northern cargo vessels, such as the cog, also began to be used for war, fitted with both after castles and forecastles to give а height advantage for weapon projection and entering. The expense of maintaining а Mediterranean-style galley navy was beyond all but the richest states, and ships that could double as warships and merchant vessels were at а premium. The treasure ships of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), which dominated the Indian Ocean, were both...