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mhughes
08-16-2005, 11:47 PM
Howdy,

Maybe someone here can help me out.

The plot of my fantasy novel has seen fit to guide me into battles on the high seas. Man-o-wars and ballistas, swords and sorcery, ramming and amphibious landings. Obviously pre-cannon era. That puts me in a bit of a bind. I could read up Treasure Island or watch Pirates of the Carribean, again (great flick). But I'd like to get more in the mindset using something more relevant to the era.

Can anyone recommend books or even movies that might be able to help me out? I work in a library so I can usually get pretty much anything out there. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.

matt

alaskamatt17
08-17-2005, 12:54 AM
Does your library have a computerized search index? I'm not sure exactly what time period your story is set in, but maybe look up Vikings or Greeks. I know Greek naval warfare involved ramming each other's triremes with copper plated prows. I think the Romans did that, too. Also, in one of those old empires they used to throw baskets of venomous snakes onto the opposing ships. Is that awesome or what?

Vomaxx
08-17-2005, 01:36 AM
Your question is a little confusing; Treasure Island and Caribbean pirates definitely used cannon, and the term "man-o-war" is also applicable only to the gunpowder era. Ancient warships have names like penteconters, biremes, hemiolas, triremes, quadriremes, and quinqueremes. Oared galleys were used for ages, right through the 16th century (in the Mediterranean, with its calm waters, not out in the Atlantic, of course). Lepanto, 1571, was fought mainly by oared vessels although some had cannon.

The 7th through 15th centuries (approximately) feature almost no major sea battles, partly because nobody built very good ships for fighting; such battles as there were, were usually massive boarding actions. (The Byzantines, with Greek Fire, were the most formidable sailors.)

I think the internet can provide most of the information you'll need. Some of the standard books are "Oared Fighting Ships" by R.C Anderson; "The Ancient Mariners," by Lionel Casson, and "Greek Oared Ships 900-322 BC" by J.S. Morrison and R.J. Williams. Admiral W.L Rodgers has two volumes, "Greek and Roman Naval Warfare" and "Naval Warfare Under Oars". (These are a bit elderly; I am not familiar with more recent works if there are any.)

TheIT
08-17-2005, 02:51 AM
For fictional references, you might want to look up the Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester (sp?). Another reference would be the Belisarius series by David Drake and Eric Flint (begins with An Oblique Approach). The series is an alternate history in which the Roman Empire acquired knowledge of gunpowder. Tides of Victory has several sea battles, and I believe the one before it has them trying to figure out how to use primitive cannon and Greek fire weapons. Very interesting series, especially how they have to define tactics and strategy.

You said your tech was pre-gunpowder, but you've also mentioned magic and ballistas therefore you've got long-range weapons. Books discussing cannon tactics might be helpful if you adjust them to your world.

DaveKuzminski
08-17-2005, 04:05 AM
You might want to check out URL http://seafarer.netfirms.com/2/revenge.htm for the facts about the HMS Revenge which fought in a battle by itself against 53 Spanish ships.

Birol
08-17-2005, 07:54 AM
What about fire ships? When were those popular?

Euan H.
08-17-2005, 01:09 PM
Wikipedia has an article on naval warfare which contains a historical section:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_warfare

But basically, without cannon, you're going to be limited to: 1) grapple and board--this is what the Romans did, it turns sea battles into land battles; 2) ram and sink enemy ships--for which you're going to need lots of rowers; 3) try and use missile weapons (like ballistae etc.), which, given the appalling accuracy of any of these kinds of weapons, is not going to be all that effective; 4) give one side something like Greek Fire*, of which there's a picture below:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/f7/Greekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg/300px-Greekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Greekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg)

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_fire

DaveKuzminski
08-17-2005, 04:01 PM
Actually, some of those missile throwing weapons were accurate. Though they might not have hit a bull's eye on every release, they could reasonably hit within the same area consistently on repeat shots. Had that not been possible, those weapons would have been completely useless, especially when it came to sieges since it was repeat hits on the same general locations that would eventually cause a wall to crumble. Against a wooden ship with a top speed of only a few knots, it didn't take as many hits to seriously damage the hull, but you still had to know your weapon and have a good idea of your range so you wouldn't waste the ammo.

Speaking of which, many movies fail to show the limitations of logistics and that the trains that followed ancient armies generally carried spare ammunition in the form of thousands of arrows and spears. Otherwise, it wouldn't take long for an archer or spear thrower to use up what he carried. The same limitations apply to sea battles as well. If you're out of arrows, you can only board to sweep the enemy decks clear. Those supplies would limit the length of the battle since it was dangerous to walk around collecting replacements from what the enemy sent in return. Collecting arrows from the sea was clearly impractical.

Although ramming was a viable tactic, it left ships open to being similarly attacked from the flanks if they couldn't disengage their ramming prow from the ship they rammed. Also, ramming could inflict damage on your own ship even if the prow was reinforced.

mhughes
08-17-2005, 04:06 PM
alaskamatt17 - Catapulting snakes. Wouldn't work in my book but that's a heck of a scary thought.

Vomaxx - Thanks for all the book titles. I'll look those up today and see what they can tell me. I use the name man-o-war since I think it's recognizable to most folks. If I used something historically accurate like 'biremes', I'd probably get a blank stare. I'm not attached to the name so if I find something better, I'll go that route. And yes, Treasure Island and Pirates are in the cannon era which is why I was seeking something else. They're all I got at the moment.

TheIT, Dave, Birol, and Euan - Thanks for all the leads. I'll be checking to see if my library has those today. As luck would have it, the area I am in has a very strong Norweigen background. Betcha I could find quite a bit on the Vikings.

matt

Vomaxx
08-18-2005, 12:20 AM
What about fire ships? When were those popular?

Fire ships are usually mentioned in connection with the age of sail, since a fire ship is one you stuff with flammable material, set alight, and release (for the wind to take it to the enemy). You can't really do that with an oared ship. The English tried to burn the Spanish Armada that way (when it had reached port in Calais) after its famous trip up the Channel in 1588. (The Spanish cut their cables and escaped the fire ships)

DaveKuzminski
08-18-2005, 04:18 AM
However, without anchors, many of the Spanish ships encountered other problems and thus met their destruction.

If you want a more modern battle showing how determination and courage can shift the balance, you might want to read up on Taffy Three at URL http://historynet.com/wwii/blvalor_off_samar/index.html which has an account from one of the pilots with some facts about how uneven the battle was.

Euan H.
08-18-2005, 05:10 AM
Actually, some of those missile throwing weapons were accurate. Though they might not have hit a bull's eye on every release, they could reasonably hit within the same area consistently on repeat shots. Had that not been possible, those weapons would have been completely useless, especially when it came to sieges since it was repeat hits on the same general locations that would eventually cause a wall to crumble. .
Well, yes, but...

Hitting a stationary fortress from a level firing platform is one thing. Hitting a ship from a firing platform that's pitching up and down is quite another. Even with cannons--which were more accurate than torsion and slingshot weapons--ships had to get pretty damn close to be sure of hitting.

DaveKuzminski
08-18-2005, 08:01 PM
Well, yes, but...

Hitting a stationary fortress from a level firing platform is one thing. Hitting a ship from a firing platform that's pitching up and down is quite another. Even with cannons--which were more accurate than torsion and slingshot weapons--ships had to get pretty damn close to be sure of hitting.

Trajectories and aiming for cannon were developed from information gained from those earlier weapons.

Euan H.
08-19-2005, 07:17 AM
Trajectories and aiming for cannon were developed from information gained from those earlier weapons.
Yes. Doesn't mean you'd get accurate fire from the deck of a ship, though.

DaveKuzminski
08-19-2005, 04:03 PM
I think sea conditions would also have to be taken into account. If the water is too rough, you're not going to board, either. In fact, most of the accounts I've read about battles on land and sea, particularly those before 1900, did not appear to occur during storms or other similarly bad weather conditions. More often, those battles occurred in good weather simply because the leaders didn't want their forces contending with fighting the weather and the enemy.

However, many battles were turned by changes in the weather. Early winters could cut supply lines and force an army to retreat. A sudden storm could separate two ships battling each other or disperse a fleet such that a smaller force could then attack and win against an isolated element. A fog could hide an invading force permitting it to reach an objective before the enemy could react.

preyer
08-24-2005, 03:59 PM
'master and commander' is a great movie even if you're using canons. with canons, though, the tactic was to go for the young boys carrying powder to the canons. dangerous job, that. using magick throwers, you'd want to take out the enemy magician first as even a sinking ship won't necessarily stop their wizards from sinking yours before it goes down. another tactic is to go for the masts: a vessal without steering or power should be at your mercy, eh?

mhughes
08-24-2005, 07:11 PM
Thanks all for the responses. I've picked up a number of books from my library here involving sea power and naval combat. Definetly gave me a very clear picture of how to present this. Going to help out a lot. Thanks again.

matt

Higgins
09-08-2006, 10:16 PM
Howdy,

Maybe someone here can help me out.

The plot of my fantasy novel has seen fit to guide me into battles on the high seas. Man-o-wars and ballistas, swords and sorcery, ramming and amphibious landings. Obviously pre-cannon era. That puts me in a bit of a bind. I could read up Treasure Island or watch Pirates of the Carribean, again (great flick). But I'd like to get more in the mindset using something more relevant to the era.

Can anyone recommend books or even movies that might be able to help me out? I work in a library so I can usually get pretty much anything out there. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.

matt

I think it is in Livy where the Rhodian Fleet (allies at that point of Rome) has the Flu and they have to figure out a way to win a battle very quickly before they get too ill to move their sweeps (which may or may not be the right term for the big oars on a quinquereme)...so Check in Livy.

Also, the continuation of Ceasar's commentaries (these would be on the Civil war)...which are probably not by Ceasar has a great scene where a Rhodian Ship working with Ceasar in Alexandria disobeys Ceasar's direct order to disengage and sort of fools around and then single-handedly rips into the opposing (and pursuing) fleet.

The Ancient World was pretty impressed with sea battles...they were sort of the proverbial ultra-violence for them and they are moderately well narrated in the typical histories of the time such as Livy and Polybius.

I don't know the sources off hand for the Alexandrine "Successor States" such as Ptolemaic Egypt, but these had notoriously gigantic battlefleets...the extravagance of which was largely no longer fashionable by the time the Romans reached the eastern med.

edit: those would be Hellenistic successor states to Alexander's Empire (not "Alexandrine" in any particular sense)...

Vomaxx
09-09-2006, 12:29 AM
Rhodian ships are mentioned in Caesar's Alexandrian War ((sections 11, 13-15, and 25, which describe the fierce fighting in the harbor at Alexandria).

Section 11 describes Caesar coming to the rescue of a single Rhodian ship: "This vessel Caesar was obliged to succor, to prevent the disgrace of sustaining rough treatment in full view of the enemy; though, if any serious mischance should overtake the crew, he reckoned they would deserve it. Battle was joined, with hard fighting on the part of the Rhodians; and though in every fray they had excelled in seamanship and valor. on this present occasion above all they bore the whole brunt unflinchingly, lest it should seem their fault if any defeat were sustained. And so a highly successful action was fought. One enemy quadrireme wa captured, a second was sunk, and two stripped of all their marines; in addition a large number of combat troops was killed aboard the other vessels. If night had not put an end to the action, Caesar would have become master of the entire enemy fleet. This catastrophe utterly demoralized the enemy..."

LCL vol. 402 b Trans. A.G. Way

MadScientistMatt
09-09-2006, 08:47 PM
One of the few movies I've seen to depict a sea battle before gunpowder would be Ben-Hur. That one shows a bit of ramming and boarding type battles.

Magic, however, could change everything, particularly if there are long-range spells that have enough power to sink a ship. A fight between ships with long range magic would likely resemble a battle between World War I era dreadnoughts, with the ships trying to rain destruction down on each other as soon as their crew could see the enemy (or the enemy sailed into range, depending on whether the limit was the line of sight or the magic's range).

Vincent
09-09-2006, 09:37 PM
Read up on the battle of Salamis. 480 BC, between the Persians and the Greeks.

http://joseph_berrigan.tripod.com/id29.html

Though, back then, the battles were more coastal, rather than high seas.

dpaterso
09-10-2006, 01:31 AM
I recently read (the late, great) David Gemmell's two TROY books and it's played havoc with the sea battle scenes I was planning to write, he detailed everything so well that anything I happen to come up with seems like a form of plagiarism (albeit weaker, diluted, ineffectual by comparison). Serves me right, I should have known this would happen.

-Derek
My Web Page - shameless vampyre fiction & other shameless writings. (http://hometown.aol.co.uk/DPaterson57)
This is the crack team that foils my every plan? I am deeply shamed.

Alex Bravo
09-18-2006, 07:25 AM
Yes, Ben-Hur. That is one of my favorites.

Also, even though they had gun powder, the battle of Trafalgar might be something you'd be interested in because the British tried a tactic that had never been used before and it worked.

Popeyesays
09-18-2006, 07:38 AM
Yes, Ben-Hur. That is one of my favorites.

Also, even though they had gun powder, the battle of Trafalgar might be something you'd be interested in because the British tried a tactic that had never been used before and it worked.

Breaking the line in column?

Nelson himself had done just that at St. Vincentwhen he as a commodore allowed John Jervis's fleet to defeat the Spanish who outnumbered the British 27 ships to 15. He did that by throwing his three ship division into the Spaniards. In doing so he broke the line of battle just like he orchestrated at Trafalgar.

He also did the same thing at the Nile, though the French fleet was anchored in Aboukir Bay at the time. By allowing a division of his ships to go through the French line of anchored ships, his forces were able to 'double' the French and fire into the ships from both sides.

If you like Roman and Carthaginian battles at sea check out: http://www.hotzartworks.com/ (http://www.hotzartworks.com/). They sell card models of period galleys of various types and provide rules for play of the game. The models are large enough to allow 6mm lead soldiers to appear right on the ships for fighting out the boarding actions.

Regards,
Scott

Popeyesays
09-18-2006, 08:41 AM
Read up on the battle of Salamis. 480 BC, between the Persians and the Greeks.

http://joseph_berrigan.tripod.com/id29.html

Though, back then, the battles were more coastal, rather than high seas.

Battle of Lepanto--galleys AND gunpowder, the high water mark of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean and a clash with the assembled fleets of Christendom.

Miguel Cervantes was a seaman aboard one of the Spanish galleys, before he wrote Don Quixote

:e2steer: :e2drown:

Vincent
09-18-2006, 11:31 AM
Oh yeah, Lepanto, over 30,000 dead in just 5 hours of hell-on-water. It's a bit hard for me to comprehend was a confusing, horrific, awe-inspiring scene that must have been. Less how I imagine more modern battles, more like floating castles of wood crashing into each other, thousands of armoured infantry swarming from ship to ship, the sea filled with dead and dying galley slaves, as far as you could see.

Or how about just a few years later, 1588, the Spanish Armada. A lot less actual carnage, but interesting, I think, in what it tells us about the logistics of raising a fleet of war.

Jack_Roberts
09-19-2006, 09:37 PM
throw baskets of venomous snakes onto the opposing ships.

SNAKES ON A SHIP!

A prequel!

badducky
09-19-2006, 11:45 PM
Avast! 'Tis talk like a pirate day!

This be a fine thread for us scurvy dogs. I'll keelhaul the bilgerat that dares read this thread without an eyepatch and a smile!

ARR!