Post 57: Corsair by Tim Severin

CoverTim Severin is perhaps best known for his attempts to recreate ancient voyages and journeys. He began in 1961 by following the path of Marco Polo on motorbike, before adding a slightly more traditional twist to later journeys by using authentic forms of transport. In 1976 he followed the alleged voyage of St Brendan and sailed from Ireland to North America in a replica of a currach (an old celtic craft made of a wooden frame covered in animal hides). There were others too: imitating Sinbad in an arabic Dhow, various Greek heroes in a Bronze Age galley. This sort of bold reenactment usually falls somewhere between serious history and stuff like the History Channel’s Deadliest Warrior, but it is interesting, entertaining and, more to the point, is not really what I’m going to talk about in this post.

Alongside all this, Tim Severin has begun to write historical fiction with a series on 11th century Vikings and one on 17th century barbary pirates. Corsair (the opening book in this latter series) works well enough as a stand alone tale, telling the story of 17 year old Hector Lynch from a small village in County Cork, Ireland. Lynch is the son of a minor Protestant* noble father and a Catholic spanish mother who is captured, along with his sister Elizabeth, by Barbary pirates in a raid on his village. As the corsairs leave the coast of Ireland their boats are scattered and the siblings are separated. The search for his sister then provides the great motivation for young Hector throughout the rest of the book.

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Post 21: “Robert and John Owyn … made thys bastard”

The Mary Rose Museum

Just a quick post here. I was down at the historic dockyard in Portsmouth at the weekend. They have some great tourist attractions there: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, The Mary Rose, harbour tours and about half a dozen museums – I got a season ticket and will certainly be back in the future. I just thought I’d post this photo from the Mary Rose Museum.

Bastard Sign

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Post 19: Pirates of Barbary

This book by Adrian Tinniswood (published by Vintage in 2010) tells the story of Barbary piracy, drawing heavily from a huge variety of sources. The book does generally follow a historical narrative from the sixteenth century up to the early nineteenth, but it does so as a series of snippets, or vignettes if I’m being fancy, on different topics, events or characters. There is a consistently light, entertaining tone to the book but at times it can also come across as a patchwork of material, loosely connected together. That’s not to say that the book wanders off topic too much – the title promises Barbary pirates and that’s pretty much what you get!

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Post 16: Buying a Viking Ship

Ship 1As a follow up to my post on the Viking exhibition at the British Museum – I just saw an article pointing out the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. There, for the measly price of £14,650, you can buy the Trýbekkur – a semi-authentically made ship of your own. Semi-authentic because it uses some genuine Viking tools and techniques, but also some mass production to keep costs affordable for the common Norse raider.

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Post 10: Venice: City of Fortune

How Venice won and lost a naval empire

City of FortuneThis book by Roger Crowley, published in 2011 by Faber and Faber, tells a narrative history of the Venetian overseas empire – so essentially a time span of ~1000 to ~1500 with the changing interactions with the dying Byzantine Empire, the rising Ottomans and the wars with the other Mediterranean trading powers. Crowley is a very good writer of narrative history, particularly in his field of Mediterranean naval warfare circa 1400. This book can in some ways be seen as a natural companion to 2005’s Constantinople: The Last Great Siege and to 2008’s Empires of the Sea. Those charted the fall of Constantinople and the ensuing battle for the remaining christian strongholds in Cyprus and Malta. This book on the other hand is a step backwards in time, giving the run up to those struggles from a Venetian perspective.

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