It is hard, at first glance, to see just what a book dedicated to naval (actually, the ‘maritime’ of the title is a better fit than ‘naval’…) warfare in the Middle Ages would have to say. However, Stanton has done a good job of rounding out the subject, and presents it well.

He starts with an excellent introduction, which lays out a few things: First he talks of the Olympias, the modern recreation of the classical trireme, and things that will carry over to later galleys, such as the need for great amounts of fresh water for a crew operating for hours in an extremely enervating environment, namely about one metric ton of water for the crew of a trireme per day. Available cargo space says that about four days of water would be on board at best. This says much the need for any sort of galley fleet to have access to the shore for replenishing water.

There is then a discussion of how the classic trireme had become outmoded in this period, as ships became more robust (in the Mediterranean; they were always more solid in northern Europe to have a chance of surviving outside the relatively placid waters of an inland sea), and ramming was no longer sufficient to break hulls. I’m a little surprised that classical rams weren’t retained to break oars and the like, but it looks like warfare shifted to boarding actions and archery.

Overall, the book is broken into two major sections, one on the Mediterranean, and one on the North Sea, Baltic, and English Channel. Both are relatively chronological, but not exclusively so. And the subjects are indeed ‘maritime’ in nature; much of the book is really about various land-based wars, but they still have an important sea-based component. Some parts, like the conflicts between Genoa and Pisa are actually naval in character. And the War of the Sicilian Vespers is about land (control of Sicily), but much of the war was decided by naval actions in the best Mahanian tradition.

I found the book very informative, and while it informed me well on a few subjects I don’t have any real background in, I do recommend having a basic knowledge of European history in this period before going to something more specialized like this. I was also a bit annoyed by his constant giving of basic stats (generally length and beam) of various types of ships known to be used at various times and places, but only because that info is hard to place by itself. I would have appreciated a few diagrams showing some relative sizes and general layouts (for the ones we know…). That’s more the province of a naval encyclopedia, but it was hard to keep that generally useful info straight in a pure reading.