Historical Sketch of Naval Architecture

FROM the semi-barbarous epoch of the middle ages to the present century, which has seen the birth of steam navigation, the form and rig of vessels have undergone many modifications. We are about to give a rapid historical sketch of these, quoting, as far as possible, those types of naval architecture celebrated in preceding centuries. Still, we are hardly permitted to go back farther than the ninth century, where we find some certain ideas respecting the Scandinavian vessels. Before this period all is confusion, and leaves us full of uncertainty. We know well that the ancient Trireme gave birth to a sort of row-galleys known in the fifth century by the name of Dromons; but we have no positive details respecting the precise form of these vessels. In the sixth century, the Emperor Maurice, in a treatise on the military art, spoke of them as vessels particularly contrived for battle. Three hundred years later, the Emperor Leo, who wrote on the same subject, said that the dromon was long, and broad in proportion to its length, and that it carried on each side two banks of oars, one above the other, of twenty-five each; but nothing further to enlighten us. As for the Norman vessels from the ninth to the twelfth century, we know thedrakar (dragon), which was as much of a dragon as the ancient Pristis was a whale - that is to say, that at the summit of her prow rose a figure carved into a dragon, and that her form had something that resembled a serpent. All of the dragons were not of the same size. The dragon of Alaf Tryggrasson is spoken of in contemporary his tories as the giant of Scandinavian vessels.

Never was one seen larger, finer, or more imposing in bulk and decoration. She had thirty-four oars on each side. If the tradition is accurate, she must have been as long as the galleys of the sixteenth century. It was, it will be seen, a vessel of considerable importance; for galleys with twenty-six oars only were about one hundred and thirty feet long. The dragons were built to resist a sea more stormy than the Mediterranean. Consequently they had broad sides and a vast stern, so as to have a firm seat on the water. They were fiat bottomed, and drew very little water. Besides the draker, the Scandinavians had thesekkar, or serpent vessel, which had twenty benches of rowers. Its form differed little from that of the dragon. It was only shorter, shallower and narrower. All Norman vessels were alike in bow and stern. But some war vessels had a little building on the poop called the castle. This castle was a little embattled platform, where the archers and slingers were placed. It would be difficult to tell precisely what the internal arrangements of the Scandinavian vessels were. The smallest were not probably decked. As for the larger ones, they doubtless had a deck like the galleys and beneath this deck a hold, apportioned according to their wants, to rooms, magazines and stables for their horses. The Scandinavian vessels had only one mast, with a vane and four or five shrouds. The sail was square, attached to a yard, furnished with sheets at its lower angles, and managed by two braces that belayed aft. The yard had a halyard passing through a block at the mast head. As for the rudder, it consisted of two blades, large, crutch handled oars, near the stern, on the right, and also left of the vessel. The anchors of the Normans were like oars, but they did not have that cross-bar of wood we call the stock. In the twelfth century we see the galleys, according to Wenesalf, which were only little light dromons, built particularly for speed, and having only one tier of oars. The following is a textual passage from this writer relating to them: - 'What the ancients called liburnus, the moderns have named galley. It is a ship of no great depth, armed at the prow with a motionless piece of wood, vulgarly called calcar (spur), an instrument with which the galley pierces the enemy's ships that she strikes.' A diminutive of the galley was the galleon, which, being shorter and swifter, was better suited for discharging the Greek fire. For the rest, starting from this invention, the action of the shock of the calcar was by degrees replaced by the hand to hand struggle.

Among the galleys, which afterwards gave birth to the galea grossa, in assuming more capacity and more amplitude, some were manoeuvred by two oars to the bench, others three. It is even certain that, at a later period, in the sixteenth century, the strongest ones had as many as five oars, which appears incredible. The galleys possessed only one mast, which was stepped rather forward - that is, in the first third of the vessel.