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L’influence de la mer dans l’Histoire : quatrième table ronde

Textes et enregistrements audio des interventions sur : La guerre navale (Président : Philip de Souza) « Quel impact les guerres navales ouvertes ou larvées ont-elles sur l'essor des villes et des Etats maritimes ? »

Jean-Nicolas CORVISIER

Professeur d’histoire ancienne, Université d’Artois, France

Si tout navire peut être transformé en bateau de guerre, il n’est pas nécessairement apte à faire partie d’une flotte de guerre qui suppose au moins trois choses : une unité de conception dans l’emploi des navires liée à une volonté politique et à une identification parfaite des missions ; une unification minimale des types de navires et de leurs possibilités nautiques  afin de naviguer en groupe ; une unité d’utilisation et donc une tactique commune. La réalisation de cette triple condition se fit lentement entre le monde homérique et les guerres médiques.

Les navires de guerre homériques sont de types divers (noirs, creux, vermillonnés ou fins), ont 50 rameurs ou transportent 120 hommes, sans uniformité, et ne semblent pas dotés d’éperon. Leur utilisation militaire tient plus de la piraterie que de la guerre. On distingue déjà les bateaux ronds ou eikosoroi, pontés, et les bateaux longs, fins, à 20 ou 50 rameurs, au bordé à double courbure ou aux flancs profonds, souvent creux, soit partiellement pontés ; la quille est monoxyle, les membrures sont percées à la tarière, le bordé étant assemblé par ligature. Mais le navire construit par Ulysse est fait sur bordé premier et mortaisé. La source homérique offre donc un tableau composite.

La réalité archaïque reste difficile à cerner. L’archéologie prouve que les navires étaient conçus à partir du bordé, qu’il soit assemblé par l’entremise de tenons et mortaises ou par ligatures et que les membrures, peu nombreuses, étaient fixées par la suite (technique des bateaux cousus). C’est bien entre 850 et 750 qu’on commence à distinguer des bateaux longs sans plat bords continus, les ploia makra de Thucydide, à 20 ou 40 rameurs, et les navires marchands plus ronds, eikosoroi  à 20 rameurs et avec pont. Mais les bateaux grecs  sont encore peu spécialisés. Nombre de navires marchands sont encore armés d’un éperon jusqu’à la fin du VIe siècle. Mais la pentécontère, est relativement longue. Faite pour 50 rameurs, utilisée à la fois pour les explorations (les Phocéens au VIe s.), les expéditions coloniales et le commerce, avec sa poupe effilée et extrêmement relevée et sa proue dotée d’un éperon, même non pontée et à un seul rang de rameurs, elle permet le combat sur mer. Mais celui-ci reste limité faute de vitesse et de possibilités manœuvrières.

Au Géométrique Récent, entre 760 et 700, naît, par extension de la pentécontère, la dière, navire à deux rangs de rameurs superposés, le second étant placé directement sur la coque (cf. les céramiques) Plus solides, partiellement pontées, elles ont une force de propulsion plus grande tout en conservant une coque fine, mais doivent être fortement quillées, ce qui les rend plus lourdes. Elle permet mieux la guerre ; mais celle-ci n’est réellement pratiquée que plus tard. Aucune tactique navale claire n’est attestée avant la bataille de Ladè en 494 et seule Corinthe peut avoir eu une flotte de guerre permanente au début du VIe s. Peut-être navire marchand transformé, la samaina, créée au milieu du VIe s., est une dière, mais elle est fragile et inférieure au combat  aux véritables pentékontères  . Entre 550 et 530, la dière s’allonge, acquiert un éperon et près de 100 rameurs (céramiques). La trière n’apparaît que vers 550-525 (Wallinga).

S’il n’y a pas nécessairement de flottes de guerre nombreuses et permanentes entre 700 et 500, il y eut des batailles navales : Sybota en 664 et surtout Alalia en 535 où le combat se fit à l’éperon. C’est à Ladé, en 494 qu’on perçoit les premiers débuts de tactique (entraînement en file et prise de contact en colonne). Milet, Naxos, Phocée, Corinthe ou Samos ont mené une politique maritime à l’époque archaïque. Dans tous les cas, l’économique a préexisté au politique (cf. les Bacchiades à Corinthe) et la maîtrise de la mer restait souvent localisée à la région proche (les Cyclades pour Naxos). Les navires servaient à la colonisation ou à l’exploration et seulement en cas de nécessité à la guerre (Phocée).  On peut douter que Corinthe inventa la trière, et, si elle créa une sorte d’empire en contrôlant étroitement ses cités filles, elle ne paraît pas avoir possédé en permanence suffisamment de navires de guerre pour établir une thalassocratie. Ce n’est qu’avec Polycrate, à partir de 532, que Samos se dota d’une flotte de guerre permanente (100 pentécontères plus les samainai, qu’il utilisa comme un corsaire pillard) et d’installations portuaires à demeure. La politique maritime d’Egine ne fut qu’une politique de rapines à l’égard des peuples littoraux et, si elle trouva Athènes sur son chemin, celle-ci ne put s’y opposer efficacement qu’après la création d’une flotte de guerre permanente par Thémistocle, la construction des Longs Murs et la mise en place de l’Empire athénien.

Arrivés trop tard pour la colonisation, les Athéniens ne visèrent jamais à contrôler directement et uniquement le territoire mais à tenir l’espace et les voies de commerce, créant des clérouquies et non des colonies. Cette politique est perceptible de façon discontinue avec Solon à la fin du VIIe s. (mainmise sur Salamine et Sigée), Pisistrate au milieu du siècle suivant (Mainmise sur Délos ; Miltiade en Chersonnèse de Thrace), puis à l’époque clisthénienne (première clérouquie à Salamine, puis à Lemnos et Imbros).

Ces exemples purement grecs montrent a contrario que, pour constituer une véritable thalassocratie, il faut des points d’appui extérieurs, des installations à demeure, une flotte dont les vaisseaux ne soient pas seulement nombreux mais entretenus et renouvelés sans cesse ;  il faut surtout en avoir besoin, et donc qu’une politique extérieure suivie, qu’elle soit défensive ou offensive, exige la maîtrise de la mer sur un vaste espace, pour appuyer le contrôle de la terre ou pour appuyer sa prise de possession. Ce fut le cas de l’Empire Perse, dont l’expansion est continue dans le dernier tiers du VIe et au tout début du Ve siècle et qui devait contrôler la côte depuis l’Asie Mineure jusqu’en Syrie et, à partir de sa conquête par Cambyse, jusqu’en Egypte. Les Perses s’appuyèrent d’abord sur le savoir faire phénicien, mais durent aller plus loin. C’est alors que, en marge de leur lutte contre Amasis mais par le contact avec l’Egypte, se serait répandue la trière. Un prédécesseur d’Amasis, Nécos fils de Psammétique organisa début VIe siècle une flotte de guerre en Egypte et, selon certaines sources (Hérodote et Clément),  il aurait fait construire des trières — ou du moins les ancêtres des trières. Une flotte perse est en tout cas attestée à l’époque de Cambyse  (530-522), qui employa les navires  phéniciens, de Chypre et de Samos contre l’Egypte. Mais les Grecs adoptèrent eux aussi la trière. La mainmise de Darius (522-486) sur les Cyclades, Chypre et l’Hellespont explique la bataille de Ladé entre Perse et Grecs d’Asie Mineure et des îles. Le contact avec la Grèce péninsulaire n’était qu’une question de temps. L’échec final, celui de Salamine et de Platées, vient de ce que, pour la première fois, avait été créée en Grèce, à Athènes, par l’entremise de Thémistocle, une véritable flotte de guerre permanente, susceptible de rivaliser avec la flotte perse, et adaptée à un navire précis, la trière, dont les Athéniens, s’ils n’en sont pas les inventeurs, ont su percevoir les qualités et améliorer. 24 siècles avant Mahan, la conceptualisation du pouvoir maritime fut alors réalisée.

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John DOTSON

 Professeur émérite d’histoire médiévale, Université d’Illinois du Sud, Etats-Unis

 Genoa, Venice and War at Sea in the 13th and 14th Centuries

 For the better part of the 13th and 14th centuries Venice and Genoa were the leading maritime powers of the Mediterranean world. Tensions between the two centered on maritime commerce, especially the highly lucrative trade in luxury goods from the East. These goods entered the Mediterranean world through the Egyptian port of Alexandria, the ports of the Crusader States—known to Italians as Oltremare—and a few ports on the Black Sea. If a single power could dominate any one of these areas and the route from it, its wealth would be assured.

In practical terms, only the route from the Black Sea could possibly be dominated. A fleet based at Constantinople could effectively control movement between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Venice had long-standing commercial relationships with the Byzantine Empire, a position that only became more advantageous after the Golden Bull of 1082 exempted Venetians from most tariffs in the Empire. The route between Venice and Constantinople was the backbone of Venetian commercial greatness. For a time after the Fourth Crusade Venetian fleets, based in Constantinople, were in a dominant position on the Black Sea route.

Genoa was a comparative late-comer to the Levant Trade. During the First Crusade, in return for help in capturing coastal cities in Oltremare, both Genoa and Venice received quarters in those cities where they could maintain their own warehouses, churches, and institutions. Friction between the very competitive western maritime populations of those towns—primarily Venetians, Genoese, and Pisans—was inevitable. For over a century there was a kind of three-way balance of power in Oltremare but, by the middle of the 13th century, Pisa was clearly no longer a major power. Tensions between Venetians and Genoese flared. Rioting in Acre led Venice, in 1257, to send fourteen war galleys there with its annual trading fleet. After a siege of almost a year, they were able to drive the Genoese out of Acre. The Ligurians simply shifted the center of their activities to Tyre.

At first, hostilities were concentrated in the coastal cities and waters of Oltremare but soon spread along the sea routes. The technology of maritime transport and naval warfare of the time did not allow control of the sea as described by Alfred Thayer Mahan in his analysis of 18th century naval wars. The primary warship, the galley, packed large crews in a small hull, leaving minimal space for victuals and water. As a consequence, galleys had always to be near a land-based supply source and galley war was essentially amphibious. Even large sailing ships that could carry sufficient supplies sailed close to the coast because of the primitive state of navigation. Maritime traffic, both commercial and naval, followed predictable routes, facilitating interception by well-placed squadrons.

In the first Venetian-Genoese war, which lasted from 1257 to 1270, the Venetian navy was completely dominant in fleet actions. With the exception of the brilliant—or fantastically lucky—operation by Simone Grillo in 1264 which culminated in the famous Roccafortis incident, Genoese admiralship was timid and inept. Though the Genoese had some successes in commerce raiding, the Venetians were able to counter by providing heavy naval escorts for their merchant convoys. The most effective action by either side was diplomatic, not military. Genoa negotiated an alliance in 1261 with Michael Paleologus in which they assisted his recapture of Constantinople in return for trading privileges and a colony in Galata, across the Golden Horn from the city. By 1268, Michael had again allowed Venetians to reside and trade in the Empire but without their previous special status. Genoa had gained considerably, especially in the Bosphorus, but the situation was essentially stalemated. In 1270, Louis IX was able to broker a peace on the grounds that it would allow both maritime cities to support his proposed crusade.

The second Venetian-Genoese war (1294-99) was remarkable for a major technological development. This was the trireme galley with a 40% larger crew and a 300% greater cargo capacity than the earlier bireme galley. It developed in the western Mediterranean and was perfected by Genoese shipwrights. Triremes made their first appearance in the so-called Great Fleet of 1295 and first saw action in the Genoese fleet at the Battle of Curzola in 1298. Within a very few years the trireme had replaced the bireme as the premier fighting ship of Mediterranean fleets. Its increased carrying capacity also made it attractive as a safer way to transport high value cargoes such as cash, bullion, and the silks and spices from the East.

In the third war (1350-55) Genoa was able to survive against a Venetian-led coalition that ultimately included Aragon and Pisa while Genoa allied with the rising power of the Ottomans. This war placed enormous political strain on both cities. After being defeated at Alghero in Sardinia by a combined Aragonese-Venetian fleet, Genoa placed itself, for the first time, under Giovanni Visconti, Lord of Milan. Shortly after that, a Genoese fleet carried out a raid in the northern Adriatic and defeated a Venetian fleet in Greek waters. This latter incident played a part in the political upheaval at Venice that led to the deposition of Doge Marino Falier.

The last major war (1378-81) between the two cities was, again, brought about by a conflict over the Black Sea route. Venice began to establish a fortified base on the island of Tenedos, in a dominant position just south of the Hellespont. Genoa attempted, and almost succeeded, in eliminating its rival by a direct attack on Venice. In the end the effort came down to a grinding siege and counter siege of Chioggia at the southern end of the Venetian lagoon. The first recorded use of ship-borne gunpowder artillery occurred during this struggle. Genoese forces, trapped at Chioggia, were forced to surrender but the peace ultimately gave them their war aims, prohibiting the Venetians from fortifying Tenedos. The future in the Mediterranean, however, belonged not to the Italian cities but to the rising great powers of Spain, France, and the Ottoman Empire.

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Louise LEVATHES

Journaliste et historien, Washington D.C., Etats-Unis

The area that we know as modern China, vast lands north and south of the Yangzi River, were in fact brought together for the first time in the 3rd century BC by series of great sea battles fought off the coast and on China’s rivers involving at times 20,000-30,000 men and several thousand boats. In order for the northern people, the Qin and succeeding Han, to conquer the sea-faring people to the south, they needed to create a navy. The emperors supported what became a fury of activity building inventive, new boats, such as qiao chuan or bridge ships – fighting platforms for men and horses – and lou chuan, or castle ships, with long poles for attaching other ships. With these new craft, the northern people were finally able to conquer the various southern or Yi people, who had a long tradition of ship-building and seafaring and links to the early people of Indonesia and Oceania.

Union, however, did not end the tension between bei ren or northern people and nan ren or southern people. It still exists in China today, some 2,000 years later. The northern people originally spoke a Tibeto-Burman language that closely resembles modern Mandarin today; whereas the southern people were originally linguistically linked to future Khmers and Austronesians and southern dialects today – including Cantonese and Fukanese – are quite distinct from Mandarin. Whereas Bejing in the north is the center of power in China; the southern cities of Shanghai, Quanzhou, and or course Hong Kong today are the engines of trade and commerce and more oriented toward the outside world than the more insular northern cities. China’s sometimes schizophrenic attitude toward the outside world – openness which abruptly turns to insularity – is I think the legacy of its birth from two fundamentally very different peoples. A birth that would never have occurred without a ferocious naval battle.

Similarly, the Mongol conquest of China in the early 13th century necessitated the transition from the greatest land army the world had ever known until that time into the greatest navy the world had ever known. It took Genghiz Khan and his grandson Kubilai Khan 46 years to finally subdue the Southern Song empire and they could not have done it without the defection of over 3,000 opportunistic Song merchants with their boats and crews.  For over 200 years Chinese were forced to be a subject people in their own country. In terms of their usefulness in Mongol society, Confucians were ranked near the bottom, between prostitutes and beggars. Merchants, however, never highly regarded in traditional Chinese society, were suddenly elevated; and giant junks (which Marco Polo wrote about on his visit to the khan’s court) snatched the lucrative Indian Ocean spice trade from the Arabs. Merchants became so powerful in Yuan China that they confiscated tribute intended for the emperor and had their own armies that terrorized towns and local people.

When the Chinese finally did re-gained power in 1368 at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, one of the first things they did was to institute measures to keep merchants from every regaining such power again. The policies were called “guan du shang ban” (“government supervision, merchant operation”). The legacy of those policies remain in China today under the watchful eye of Beijing. It is why the democracy movement in Hong Kong is so threatening to China; fear of unfettered “merchant operation” is deeply engrained in Chinese culture. Give merchants too much freedom and power and they will undercut political authority and destabilize society.  Had the Mongols never defeated the Southern Song and created such an overbearing merchant class would things have evolved differently in China? It’s unclear.

Since my time is brief, I would like to just mention one other key naval battle that I believe has also had lasting influence on China --- and particularly on the development of most of the states of Southeast Asia.

During the first voyage of Admiral Zheng He 1405-07 in the early Ming Dynasty, an enormous sea battle was fought in the strategic Strait of Malacca between the Chinese navy and nest of pirates and thieves that lasted several months. The pirates had been disrupting trade in the Indian Ocean basin and, when they were finally defeated and its captains brought back to the emperor for punishment, trade flourished between east and west for over 30 years, protected by the powerful Chinese treasure fleets.

For China, this period of active trade meant an influx of wealth and goods into the empire that lead to, among other things, the completion of the great new Forbidden City Beijing. Medicines and medical texts came into China as well as new technology – eye glasses and the science of glass-blowing and a new, rich iron ore that was responsible for the remarkable blue glazes of Ming porcelains, the hallmark of the dynasty. And on the treasure ships were Chinese books and musical instruments and calendars instructing people in the Chinese way of life as well as Chinese silks and porcelains and lacquer ware and so to a greater and lesser degree all of the city-states in the Indian Ocean were influenced by this infusion of Chinese culture. The influence can still be seen today in the art, culture and religion of Southeast Asia. The seven voyages of Zheng He began a diaspora of Chinese abroad and Chinese communities sprang up everywhere – in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the Arabian Peninsula and the African coast. When the imperial monopoly on trade ended with the end of the voyages of the treasure fleet in the mid-15th century, these Chinese communities continued the lucrative Indian Ocean trade. The trade continues to this day.

The liaisons created during this period, particularly he partnership between the African states and China, remain strong today. China continues to get much-needed natural resources from Africa and in return China is heavily invested in bringing consumer good, roads, and schools to many parts of Africa. China’s trade with Africa has ballooned from $10 billion in 2000 to an estimated $200 billion today, overtaking the US as the continent’s largest trading partner.

Naval warfare, though rare in China’s history, has come at critical points with far-reaching consequences, particularly when war cleared the way for peace and enriched cultural and economic exchanges. Though China is again building up its navy and flexing its military muscles, economic and cultural ties, born of war many centuries ago, may this time be the ultimate deterrent for future wars.

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William MURRAY

Professeur d’histoire grecque / professeur d’histoire navale et militaire, Université de Floride du Sud / Académie navale, Etats-Unis

Although our task in this round table session is to discuss the impact of naval warfare on the development of maritime states and communities, I propose that we broaden the topic slightly to include “naval power” rather than simply “naval warfare.”  I make this suggestion because the term “naval power” is more inclusive, encompassing both violent confrontations, like naval warfare, and non-violent ones where only the threat of violence is present.  This dual nature of naval power existed in the ancient world as it exists today, and lies at the heart of what modern theorists call “forward presence” and “deterrence.”  If you agree, the question before us thus becomes: What impact did the possession of naval power (or lack of it) have on the development of maritime states and communities?

I suspect we will all agree that the impact was considerable.  Our goal, then, is to discuss the ways this was so. To this end, I suggest we consider the following question, namely, “What did the possession of naval power allow a state or community to do that it could not do without it?”  In the simplest of terms, I suppose the answer is something like this: The possession of naval power allows a state or community 1) to project power onto its neighbors (and this includes its friends, enemies, and neutral states), and 2) to prevent its neighbors from doing the same to itself or to its friends.

When I use the term “project power”, I mean the simple application of coercive force by a ship or group of ships and their crew members against an enemy or an enemy territory.  I must stress that I am not using the term as do those in the US Navy who coined it.  For them, “power projection” is one of the core capabilities of a modern naval force, and defines a navy’s ability to deliver power ashore without reliance on ports or airfields in the affected area.  This capability is made possible by modern warships, which are not at all like their ancient counterparts, and includes such actions as amphibious assault operations and the remote attack of targets ashore by cruise missiles, aircraft, or by other long range weapons.  Since I feel this term “power projection” is one that might be useful for our discussion, I have adapted it for our use in an ancient context by defining it as “the delivery of coercive force (or threat of same) from naval vessels or from shore bases supported by naval vessels.”  I do this with the blessings of my colleagues at the US Naval Academy.

With this in mind, let’s now return to my statement: “The possession of naval power allows a state or community 1) to project power onto its neighbors (and this includes its friends, enemies, and neutral states), and 2) to prevent its neighbors from projecting power onto itself or its friends.  How important these two actions are for a maritime state’s development depends upon the character of the state in question, and the character of that state’s friends and enemies.  Since my role is to help start a discussion, I suggest we first consider answering the fundamental question that lies behind what we want to know, and that is simply “what can states with naval power do that those without it could not do.”

For example, states possessing naval power might harass its enemies through piracy (Demetrius at Rhodes in 305) or prevent the import of food and supplies with a naval blockade (Athens at Sphakteria in 425) or a formal siege (Demetrius’ many naval sieges).  On the other hand, they might help their friends by running an enemy’s blockade (Hannibal the Rhodian at Lilybaeum, circa 249) or by trying to break a siege (Ptolemy’s unsuccessful attempt at Cyprian Salamis in 306).  They might transport an army to fight an overseas enemy (Alexander’s invasion of Asia Minor in 334), or lend logistical aid to an army campaigning along a coast or a river (Alexander’s Indus River fleet in 326).  They could use their naval power to send overseas messages, ensure the safe conduct of state emissaries like ambassadors or religious missions, or protect shipments of food, metals, or other valuable resources.  They might even use their power to coerce or awe others without the use of violence through a show of force (Demetrius’ naval display for Lysimachus at Soloi in 289).

If this approach fails to produce a productive discussion, we might turn to a second approach in which we make two separate lists: one including states or communities that possessed naval power, and another listing places that did not.  If we first consider the possessors of naval power, we can examine the nature of their power, their historical trajectories, the reasons why some were successful and some were not, and why some developed naval power for a time, and then gave it up.  The big states like Athens, Carthage and Rome provide good examples for this kind of discussion.

Surprisingly, places that never developed naval power, or that chose limited forms of naval power, or gave it up once they possessed it have much to tell us too.  Hellenic Arcadia, for example, was landlocked, while coastal regions like Italian Picenum or Umbria lacked natural harbors, so we shouldn’t expect naval power from them.  Still others like Rome’s naval allies (socii navales) provided auxiliary ships, but when their resources could not meet the demand for hulls during the First Punic War, served primarily as recruiting grounds for oarcrews to man Roman-built galleys.  Communities like Rhodes and Syracuse developed impressive naval traditions, but eventually gave way to more powerful states like Rome, sometimes willingly, and sometimes not.  Each place has something different to tell us. Since our goal is to find examples that will help us gauge the impact of naval power on those who had it, I suppose multiple approaches are best.  However we proceed, I look forward to the discussion.

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