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Not my review! But still

H-Net Review | Pitassi, ‘Roman Warships’
by David Meadows ~ rogueclassicist

Michael Pitassi. Roman Warships. Woodbridge Boydell & Brewer,
2011. 191 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84383-610-0.

Reviewed by Alyssa Tavernia
Published on H-War (September, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Michael Pitassi's _Roman Warships_ provides a detailed overview of
the evolution and development of Roman warships spanning the life
cycle of Rome's empire. Through painstaking research of all available
artifacts, literature, and iconography, Pitassi pieces together a
structural and operational time line of the warships that Rome used
to service its vast territories over the centuries.

The book is divided into two main sections which create a clear
separation between Pitassi's general structural explanation of the
ancient ships in part 1 and the time line of ship types in part 2.
Part 1 of the text covers the interpretation of the sources and an
explanation of the ship fittings. The very first chapter, titled
"Sources," is an apologetic introduction to the extreme challenges
facing the author, given the lack of physical wrecks or further
detailed evidence that may have perhaps bridged the gap between
conjecture and solid facts. The reader is immediately aware that
Pitassi will be navigating through contemporary authors' vague
descriptions, stylized artwork, frescos, coinage, and disproportioned
reliefs and sculptures to find the framework for his overall
interpretation of these warships and their functions.

It is clear from Pitassi's available visual evidence that the remains
of Pompeii and Herculaneum play an important role in providing key
visual models of contemporary warships Rome employed. While stylized
at best, and suffering from each artist's interpretation, surviving
wall paintings and frescos nevertheless become very important
snapshots of the various sized warships of the era. No detail or lack
thereof goes unnoticed in these visual representations, and whenever
possible, contemporary sources such as Polybius, Livy, Tactitus, and
Pliny are used to strengthen conclusions derived from less than ideal

The balance of part 1 goes into great detail to describe the ship
fittings, and Pitassi makes every effort to explain each section of a
Roman warship in fascinating detail. Whether the reader is a scholar
of ancient navies or an undergraduate, this section will shed light
on the anatomy of the Roman warship, with form and function explained
and illustrated through technical drawings and color plates. Pitassi
does not overexplain or linger on areas that need only a short
explanation, such as anchors and awnings.

Part 2 dives headlong into the actual time line of the ships
themselves. Pitassi begins his account at 394 BC, where the first
recorded account of a Roman warship is described. A step-by-step
journey through Rome's time line gives the reader a historical
context in which vessels are meticulously placed in their time
period, based on his research and physical evidence. Drawings and
models are referenced in this section to add a further dimension to
the overall interpretation of what these Roman vessels may have
looked like and why. Functionality is clearly the basis of Pitassi's
analysis and formulations of design.

While Pitassi's warship time line deals almost exclusively with
maritime functions of each type of vessel during the Roman period, a
closer look at Roman military vessels integrated with Rome's overall
military operations might have expanded the reader's understanding
and awareness of the importance of these ships and the overall naval
branch of this ancient superpower. However, one only has to look to
Pitassi's previous book, _The Navies of Rome_, for this expanded

While the book details warships from every imaginable fitting and
dimension, it is void of much in the way of connecting the ships to
its crew, in terms of an operational structure on board or social
levels on land. On the other hand, the outcome of Pitassi's narrow
focus is his ability to successfully communicate the ebb and flow of
the evolution of these ships, which run a parallel course with Roman
expansion as well as its decline. No detail of any size ship has been
left out of consideration during this analysis.

_Roman Warships_ is a well-supported, focused sourcebook which
presents the overview, dissection, and chronology of Roman vessels in
the service of their military throughout the span of the republican
and imperial eras. This is not a purely scientific, deeply technical
reference book, but instead has been written in a way that is
comprehendible to a range of historians and students alike, with
little or no maritime knowledge required. It is an ideal introduction
to the overall collective history of the Roman warship.

Citation: Alyssa Tavernia. Review of Pitassi, Michael, _Roman
Warships_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. September, 2013.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

David Meadows ~ rogueclassicist | September 28, 2013 at 10:10 am | Categories: Reviews | URL:
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Thanks for flying with
This looks like a good read & with Christmas fast approaching I shall make sure to start dropping hints to family members as to possible gifts. I think the warfare aspects of the Roman navy from Carthaginian wars to Actium are well covered by previous publications, however they seem to concentrate on the Mediterranean, but from Actium they had no organized navies to defeat until the Vandals much later. I wonder if this book covers the river fleets like Rhine & Danube, British as well as Spanish fleet which the Vandals later confiscated, patrolling, supplying forts & transporting of troops, livestock, horses & feed across these rivers for punitive raids or patrols etc. but mainly keeping the army fed. Trajan's column shows some river craft as well as the pontoon bridge, but I can't find much information after that. If I could quote one example; How would the Roman navy organize the transfer of 5,500 Iazyges cavalry to Britain? 5,500 men & 11,000 horses,with probably 2 horses per man (maybe more in some cases), their wagons, belongings, weapons, armaments, saddles, horse tack, dependants as well as any livestock & feed? There must have been troops assigned to watch over the transfer as well. Would they subcontract out the transportation to local coastal traders or would they use ships from Rhine fleet? What sort of vessel & what was the capacity? Would they be sail boats or oared? A logistical nightmare for local planners no matter how you looked at it. I hope this book might supply some clues if not answers but due to lack of book reviews from Amazon site, thanks for posting this one.
Michael Kerr
Great, but why does it cost ninety dollars? I mean I love books of this type, but that sort of cost is pretty much the ultimate turn-off for me.
can anyone tell me what the difference is between this book and another by the same author called

The Roman Navy: Ships, Men & Warfare 380 BC - AD 475

This second book is much more reasonably priced but I wondered if it might be a condensed version of his Roman Ships and Roman Navy books.

Quote:can anyone tell me what the difference is between this book and another by the same author called The Roman Navy: Ships, Men & Warfare 380 BC - AD 475.
I haven't seen either book, but William Murray has reviewed both for the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Curiously, Roman Warships seems to be only half as long (191pp) as The Navies of Rome (348pp), although it's more expensive.

Quote:The Navies of Rome is a very traditional military history, viewing Roman history primarily through the lens of its navy and demonstrating amply how the Romans poured significant resources into the development, exercise and maintenance of naval power throughout the course of their history. The book is attractively produced with numerous clear illustrations and maps, plus helpful appendices which present lists of: Roman kings, dynasts and emperors; Roman navy personnel; suggested crew complements for various classes of warship; placenames used in the text with their Latin and modern equivalents; and nautical terms. A useful ‘General Chronology’ (pp.xv-xxvii) enables the reader to see in a few pages the main subjects treated by the text along with their dates. Generally well written and clear, the book is aimed at an audience which does not particularly care about footnotes and ancient sources. (...) Despite the book’s many positive features, I found that a number of characteristics lessened its overall value. My biggest complaint concerns the book’s failure to serve as a reliable guide to further study. The author of a book such as this, full of numerous facts and small details, must take special care to get the details right and to make all notes as helpful and accurate as possible. Otherwise, the final product lacks authority. Unfortunately, The Navies of Rome contains a high percentage of references which are essentially useless to a reader hoping to find the evidence behind the text. References to most ancient and modern sources are given without specifics, like page or section numbers, making it time-consuming to discover the origin of particular remarks. This might be excused, but when specifics are included, they are sometimes faulty. In my view, this shatters the reliability of a book which otherwise seems well researched.
As for Roman Warships,

Quote:In this new work (Roman Warships), Pitassi charts ‘the development and evolution’ of Roman warships, ‘interpreting the surviving evidence to reconstruct the ships as drawings and models’ and to explain how they worked and were used. The book is well illustrated with photographs, line-drawings, and plans, mostly by the author. (...) The true measure of a book that deals with a somewhat technical subject depends on the breadth of the author’s research, his ability to clarify complex topics, and above all, his careful attention to detail and accuracy. Unfortunately Roman Warships comes up short in some of these areas. While the author’s prose is clear enough, the book is not written to help its reader delve further into the subject. I refer here to the footnotes which include no page numbers for any of the secondary sources. This applies not only to the written evidence but also to the visual sources, which are just as important for a work like this. Pitassi needs to give more information about the artefacts he chooses to illustrate (such as accepted name, location, museum number, approximate date of manufacture, etc.) and point the interested reader to published photographs of items he mentions but does not illustrate. When he chooses to present line-drawings, he particularly needs to cite a reference to a published photograph. (... LONG SECTION ENUMERATING VARIOUS ERRORS ...) In conclusion, I would recommend this book to ancient-ship modellers who are interested to see how one man grappled with the ancient evidence related to different kinds of Roman warships and auxiliary craft. Although Roman Warships is not a ‘how to’ book for modellers, Pitassi clearly explains the reasons behind his design choices, his plans are clear, and his models are nicely illustrated in colour plates. Because so few books exist on this subject in English, I suspect that some will read the book out of curiosity. Indeed, Roman Warships presents some interesting ideas about Roman naval craft. As an accurate guide to the subject, however, introducing reliable terminology, presenting the evidence in all its complexity and providing helpful footnotes enabling further investigation, Roman Warships is unfortunately disappointing.

Hope some of that helps!
Thanks for posting the reviews. I was considering getting the book on ships but then I saw the author's book Roman Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare. Has anyone read this third book?