Archives For 16th Century

Battle of Diu

February 3, 2014 — Leave a comment
chaul

Diu Island
CC Image Courtesy of Vipul.Photography on Flickr

As the 1400s drew to a close, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama and his intrepid crew continued to push their voyages ever farther eastward. Desiring to secure glory and spices for their tiny nation, the Portuguese began to establish small outposts in India and along the East African coastline. Inevitably this led to clashes with the various powers already in the region. Egyptian, Ottoman, Indian warlords (specifically the Zamorin of Calicut) and even Venetian forces opposed Portuguese expansion as it threatened their monopolistic grip on the lucrative spice trade.

Slowly the conflict simmered and built towards a climactic battle which finally occurred on February 3, 1509 off the coast of Diu, an important port on the Indian coast. A fleet of 18 Portuguese warships along with ~1,900 troops sailed into the harbor of Diu where they were opposed by nearly a hundred Egyptian, Ottoman and Indian vessels. Despite being numerically inferior, the Portuguese warships were better equipped and more technologically advanced than the Egyptian, Ottoman and Indian dhows and galleys. Taking advantage of this technological superiority, the Portuguese used their artillery to pound the allied forces into submission. The Portuguese victory allowed the country to continue to expand its fledgling trade empire and its effects echo even today as Portuguese is spoken in Goa and other Indian ports.

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Mississippi

The Mississippi River is the fourth longest river in the world with a watershed encompassing all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces – 1.2 million square miles worth. 1,200,000 square miles is a lot of territory to cover and yet in his latest book, Old Man River, Paul Schneider provides readers with a sweeping overview of the river from its geological origins to the taming of the river by the modern US Army Corps of Engineers. Schneider serves up a veritable feast with an appetizer of geology, a second course of pre-historic and Indian tales, a main course of 19th and 20th century stories spiced with liberal helpings of Mike Fink, Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain and finished off with a dessert of modern events.

Interspersed throughout historical tales of floods, Indian raids and keelboats, Schneider weaves in his own odyssey on the Mississippi and her tributaries. From kayaking the Ohio alone to drifting down the Mississippi with his son, Schneider brings to life the various locales he visits. For those who have spent any amount of time living on the River, Schneider’s book will especially resonate as he perfectly captures the feelings and color of the River’s varying culture. Although a couple passages inadvertently come across as elitist and preachy, overall Old Man River is a beautiful ode to one of America’s defining geographic landmarks. For those looking to lazily drift from the breadbasket plains states past Mark Twain’s Hannibal, St. Louis’s Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium, the antebellum homes of Natchez, the bluffs of Vicksburg where the blood of men in blue and gray flowed and down to the Cajun culture of the Delta, Old Man River is a highly recommended read.

british warship

Mary Rose Museum & HMS Victory
CC Image Courtesy of Ian Stannard on Flickr

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the recovery of the 16th century English warship Mary Rose which sank on July 19, 1545 with nearly 500 officers and crew. Historians believe the ship was constructed around 1510 in Portsmouth and displaced 500 tons when it first entered service. The ship underwent two refits and during the second refit in 1536 the Mary Rose was strengthened and her displacement increased to 700 tons.

Mary Rose served the English Navy in wars against France and Scotland and it was during the Battle of Solent against a fleet of 200 French vessels that the Mary Rose was lost. Accounts differ as to the exact cause of the Mary Rose’s loss – the French believed they had sunk her while English accounts indicate that the ship most likely foundered due to poor seamanship by her crew.

Salvage efforts were launched immediately utilizing an age old technique used for recovery efforts the world over. Using two hulks and various winches, the salvors would straddle the ship with the two hulks, flood them, secure cables around the Mary Rose and then re-float the hulks. This process would be repeated until the ship reached water shallow enough where repairs could be made and the Mary Rose herself be re-floated. The salvors were unsuccessful in raising the ship and it remained hidden until 1965 when it was re-discovered by British diver Alexander McKee. The ship was finally recovered in 1982 and has been painstakingly preserved beneath a glassed-in drydock in Portsmouth. A permanent museum display is under construction and will be opened in early 2013. The museum is open to visitors during the transition period and visitors can also view Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory (not to be confused with Admiral Balchin’s HMS Victory) at the dockyard. More information can be found on the Mary Rose’s website.

 

gondola

Today, Venice is best known for its graceful gondolas and idyllic streets of water, however, for several centuries it was a powerful city-state which exerted economic and political control over a large swath of northern Italy and the Adriatic Sea. Perhaps the Republic of Venice’s greatest accomplishment was on October 7, 1571 when naval forces led by Venice’s Doge Sebastiano Venier defeated Ottoman forces at the Battle of Lepanto.

For nearly a hundred years the Ottomans had waged an off and on war against various Italian city-states and the Kingdom of Spain. Prompted by the capture of a Venetian colony on the island of Cyprus, the Venetians and their Christian allies assembled a force of 212 galleys and galleasses to launch a punitive expedition against the Ottomans and free the imprisoned colonists. The Christian and Ottoman fleets encountered one another in the Gulf of Patras on October 7th and immediately engaged in combat. Although outnumbering the Christian fleet by nearly 40 ships, the Ottoman forces were decimated by the superior guns and seamanship of the Christian fleet. The Christians captured approximately 130 ships and destroyed another 80 while losing only 50 of their own with 1 captured by the Ottomans. Additionally, the Ottomans suffered 20,000 casualties to the 7,500 lost by the Christian fleet and more than 10,000 imprisoned Christian rowers were freed from slavery.

The battle was one of the most significant naval victories in history and marked the high-water mark of the Ottoman Navy. No longer would Venice or any of her sister Italian city-states be existentially threatened by the Ottoman Empire. Venice reasserted her economic dominance of the region, however, changes in technology and trading routes eventually led to the city’s graceful dive into impotence. The city lost her independence in 1797 when Napoleon Bonaparte captured the city and she became a pawn in European geopolitics for the next 80 years until her incorporation into the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Today though, there are growing calls for Venetian independence amidst the Eurozone crisis and continuing Italian austerity.

The Battle of Lepanto has been honored by the naming of two ships in the Italian Navy after the battle. The Genoese commander of one wing of the Christian fleet, Admiral Andrea Doria, became one of Italy’s most famous naval heroes and is perhaps most associated with the wreck of his namesake, the Italian liner Andrea Doria, which sank after colliding with the Swedish ship Stockholm in 1956.