Okay, so, that’s all very depressing, makes you wonder why on earth you’d be a medievalist no doubt. Well, here’s one reason. While updating myself on the Fourth Crusade by reading Jonathan Phillips‘s excellent The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, I found something I never knew before. Stupidly I gave the book back to Cambridge UL before transcribing the relevant section, and the way the UL works, it won’t be back on the shelf yet. However, I find someone who clearly read the same book writing an article on Historynet.com which basically repeats the relevant text:
To complete their side of the bargain, the Venetians closed their entire commercial operations for a year — a demonstration of the massive effort required to build and equip a fleet of such a size. The ships were of three basic types: troop carriers, horse transports, and battle galleys…. The horse transports had specially designed slings to carry their precious cargo; once the ship drew close to shore, a door below the waterline could be opened to allow a fully armed and mounted knight to charge directly into battle — rather like a modern landing craft disgorging a tank.
I try and restrict my use of this term, but: dude! Why did no-one ever tell me the Fourth Crusade had Knight Landing Ships before? (And, research reveals, so did the Byzantines, as early as 960, so it’s on topic!) Seriously, you reenactment types, you should get on this, that’s a spectacle I’d cross the Atlantic for all right. And you might not have to do all the work yourselves: fruitless Googling for images turns up a guy who’s trying to make a film about the Fourth Crusade and has already started building a 23 ft model of one of these vessels to use in it, of which this seems to be the skeleton:
This is not the only reason to be a medievalist in this. There is also the fact that someone has done some work on this, and in particular the question of whether or not the door (or ‘horse-port’—y’see, what’s not to love about this?) was really below the waterline. Do we imagine these things beaching? It seems that we have to, or disbelieve Joinville. But dammit: I am in a field where people struggle to work out how people eight hundred years ago landed fully armed knights onto beaches from ships. If you don’t think that’s cool, er, what are you doing reading this?
Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constaninople (London 2004), which compares startlingly to his Defenders of the Holy Land, 1119-1187 (Oxford 1996) because, where that is dense and detailed and learned, this, while not lacking the learning, is nonetheless a page-turner. He has of course a great story to tell, but I knew how it ended already and I still stayed up late to finish the book. Seriously engaging writing style, and as I say, one much changed from the earlier book, which is still very useful. The detailed work on the ships that I found, meanwhile, is Lillian Ray Martin, “Horse and cargo handling on Medieval Mediterranean ships” in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology Vol. 31 (Oxford 2001), pp. 237-241, and has a few very fuzzy illustrations that weren’t worth breaking the copyright to reproduce here but might be better in hard copy.