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wonderful Pyramids must have known their business pretty well a
thousand years before Noah built his Ark.

The Ark was built in Mesopotamia, less than five thousand years ago, to
save Noah from the flooded Euphrates. The shipwrights seem to have
built it like a barge or house-boat. If so, it must have been about
fifteen thousand tons, taking the length of the cubit in the Bible
story at eighteen inches. It was certainly not a ship, only some sort
of construction that simply floated about with the wind and current
till it ran aground. But Mesopotamia and the shores of the Persian
Gulf were great places for shipbuilding. They were once the home of
adventurers who had come West from southern Asia, and of the famous
Phoenicians, who went farther West to find a new seaboard home along
the shores of Asia Minor, just north of Palestine, where they were in
the shipping business three thousand years ago, about the time of the
early Kings of Israel.

These wonderful Phoenicians touch our interest to the very quick; for
they were not only the seamen hired by "Solomon in all his glory" but
they were also the founders of Carthage and the first oversea traders
with the Atlantic coasts of France and the British Isles. Their story
thus goes home to all who love the sea, the Bible, and Canada's two
Mother Lands. They had shipping on the Red Sea as well as on the
Mediterranean; and it was their Red Sea merchant vessels that coasted
Arabia and East Africa in the time of Solomon (1016-976 B.C.). They
also went round to Persia and probably to India. About 600 B.C. they
are said to have coasted round the whole of Africa, starting from the
Red Sea and coming back by Gibraltar. This took them more than two
years, as they used to sow wheat and wait on shore till the crop was
ripe. Long before this they had passed Gibraltar and settled the
colony of Tarshish, where they found silver in such abundance that "it
was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon." We do not know
whether it was "the ships of Tarshish and of the Isles" that first felt
the way north to France and England. But we do know that many
Phoenicians did trade with the French and British Celts, who probably
learnt in this way how to build ships of their own.




CHAPTER III

EAST AGAINST WEST

(480-146 B.C.)

For two thousand years Eastern fleets and armies tried to conquer
Europe. Sometimes hundreds of years would pass without an attack. But
the result was always the same - the triumph of West over East; and the
cause of each triumph was always the same - the sea-power of the West.
Without those Western navies the Europe and America we know today could
never have existed. There could have been no Greek civilization, no
Roman government, no British Empire, and no United States. First, the
Persians fought the Greeks at Salamis in 480 B.C. Then Carthage fought
Rome more than two hundred years later. Finally, the conquering Turks
were beaten by the Spaniards at Lepanto more than two thousand years
after Salamis, but not far from the same spot, Salamis being ten miles
from Athens and Lepanto a hundred.

Long before Salamis the Greeks had been founding colonies along the
Mediterranean, among them some on the Asiatic side of the Aegean Sea,
where the French and British fleets had so much to do during the
Gallipoli campaign of 1915 against the Turks and Germans. Meanwhile
the Persians had been fighting their way north-westwards till they had
reached the Aegean and conquered most of the Greeks and Phoenicians
there. Then the Greeks at Athens sent a fleet which landed an army
that burnt the city of Sardis, an outpost of Persian power. Thereupon
King Darius, friend of the Prophet Daniel, vowed vengeance on Athens,
and caused a trusty servant to whisper in his ear each day, "Master,
remember Athens!"

Now, the Persians were landsmen, with what was then the greatest army
in the world, but with a navy and a merchant fleet mostly manned by
conquered Phoenicians and Greek colonists, none of whom wanted to see
Greece itself destroyed. So when Darius met the Greeks at Marathon his
fleet and army did not form the same sort of United Service that the
British fleet and army form. He was beaten back to his ships and
retired to Asia Minor. But "Remember Athens!" was always in his mind.
So for ten years he and his son Xerxes prepared a vast armada against
which they thought no other force on earth could stand. But, like the
Spanish Armada against England two thousand years later, this Persian
host was very much stronger ashore than afloat. Its army was so vast
that it covered the country like a swarm of locusts. At the
world-famous pass of Thermopylae the Spartan king, Leonidas, waited for
the Persians. Xerxes sent a summons asking the Greeks to surrender
their arms. "Come and take them," said Leonidas. Then wave after wave
of Persians rushed to the attack, only to break against the dauntless
Greeks. At last a vile traitor told Xerxes of another pass (which the
Greeks had not men enough to hold, though it was on their flank). He
thus got the chance of forcing them either to retreat or be cut off.
Once through this pass the Persians overran the country; and all the
Spartans at Thermopylae died fighting to the last.

Only the Grecian fleet remained. It was vastly out-numbered by the
Persian fleet. But it was manned by patriots trained to fight on the
water; while the Persians themselves were nearly all landsmen, and so
had to depend on the Phoenicians and colonial Greek seamen, who were
none too eager for the fray. Seeing the Persians too densely massed
together on a narrow front the Greek commander, Themistocles, attacked
with equal skill and fury, rolled up the Persian front in confusion on
the mass behind, and won the battle that saved the Western World. The
Persians lost two hundred vessels against only forty Greek. But it was
not the mere loss of vessels, or even of this battle of Salamis itself,
that forced Xerxes to give up all hopes of conquest. The real reason
was his having lost the command of the sea. He knew that the
victorious Greeks could now beat the fighting ships escorting his
supply vessels coming overseas from Asia Minor, and that, without the
constant supplies of men, arms, food, and everything else an army
needs, his army itself must wither away.

Two hundred and twenty years later the sea-power of the Roman West beat
both the land- and sea-power of the Carthaginian East; and for the very
same reason. Carthage was an independent colony of Phoenicians which
had won an empire in the western Mediterranean by its sea-power. It
held a great part of Spain, the whole of Sardinia, most of Sicily, and
many other islands. The Romans saw that they would never be safe as
long as Carthage had the stronger navy; so they began to build one of
their own. They copied a Carthaginian war galley that had been
wrecked; and meanwhile taught their men to row on benches set up
ashore. This made the Carthaginians laugh and led them to expect an
easy victory. But the Romans were thorough in everything they did, and
they had the best trained soldiers in the world. They knew the
Carthaginians could handle war galleys better than they could
themselves; so they tried to give their soldiers the best possible
chance when once the galleys closed. They made a sort of drawbridge
that could be let down with a bang on the enemy boats and there held
fast by sharp iron spikes biting into the enemy decks. Then their
soldiers charged across and cleared everything before them.

[Illustration: ROMAN TRIREME - A vessel with three benches of oars]

The Carthaginians never recovered from this first fatal defeat at Mylae
in 260 B.C., though Carthage itself was not destroyed for more than a
century afterwards, and though Hannibal, one of the greatest soldiers
who ever lived, often beat the Romans in the meantime. All sorts of
reasons, many of them true enough in their way, are given for
Hannibal's final defeat. But sea-power, the first and greatest of all,
is commonly left out. His march round the shores of the western
Mediterranean and his invasion of Italy from across the Alps will
remain one of the wonders of war till the end of history. But the mere
fact that he had to go all the way round by land, instead of straight
across by water, was the real prime cause of his defeat. His forces
simply wore themselves out. Why? Look at the map and you will see
that he and his supplies had to go much farther by land than the Romans
and their supplies had to go by water because the Roman victory over
the Carthaginian fleet had made the shortest seaways safe for Romans
and very unsafe for Carthaginians. Then remember that carrying men and
supplies by sea is many times easier than carrying them by land; and
you get the perfect answer.




CHAPTER IV

CELTIC BRITAIN UNDER ROME

(55 B.C.-410 A.D.)

When Caesar was conquering the Celts of Western France he found that
one of their strongest tribes, the Veneti, had been joined by two
hundred and twenty vessels manned by their fellow-Celts from southern
Britain. The united fleets of the Celts were bigger than any Roman
force that Caesar could get afloat. Moreover, Caesar had nothing but
rowboats, which he was obliged to build on the spot; while the Celts
had real ships, which towered above his rowboats by a good ten feet.
But, after cutting the Celtic rigging with scythes lashed to poles, the
well-trained Roman soldiers made short work of the Celts. The Battle
of the Loire seems to have been the only big sea fight the Celts of
Britain ever fought. After this they left the sea to their invaders,
who thus had a great advantage over them ashore.

The fact is that the Celts of the southern seaports were the only ones
who understood shipbuilding, which they had learnt from the
Phoenicians, and the only ones who were civilized enough to unite among
themselves and with their fellow-Celts in what now is France but then
was Gaul. The rest were mere tribesmen under chiefs who were often
squabbling with one another, and who never formed anything like an
all-Celtic army. For most of them a navy was out of the question, as
they only used the light, open-work, basket-like coracles covered with
skins - about as useful for fighting the Romans at sea as bark canoes
would be against real men-of-war. The Roman conquest of Britain was
therefore made by the army, each conqueror, from Caesar on, winning
battles farther and farther north, until a fortified Roman wall was
built across the narrow neck of land between the Forth and Clyde.
Along these thirty-six miles the Romans kept guard against the Picts
and other Highland tribes.

The Roman fleet was of course used at all times to guard the seaways
between Britain and the rest of the Roman Empire, as well as to carry
supplies along the coast when the army was fighting near by. This gave
the Romans the usual immense advantage of sea-transport over
land-transport, never less than ten to one and often very much more.
The Romans could thus keep their army supplied with everything it
needed. The Celts could not. Eighteen hundred years after Caesar's
first landing in Britain, Wolfe, the victor of Quebec, noticed the same
immense advantage enjoyed by King George's army over Prince Charlie's,
owing to the same sort of difference in transport, King George's army
having a fleet to keep it well supplied, while Prince Charlie's had
nothing but slow and scanty land transport, sometimes more dead than
alive.

The only real fighting the Romans had to do afloat was against the
Norsemen, who sailed out of every harbour from Norway round to Flanders
and swooped down on every vessel or coast settlement they thought they
had a chance of taking. To keep these pirates in check Carausius was
made "Count of the Saxon Shore". It was a case of setting a thief to
catch a thief; for Carausius was a Fleming and a bit of a pirate
himself. He soon became so strong at sea that he not only kept the
other Norsemen off but began to set up as a king on his own account.
He seized Boulogne, harried the Roman shipping on the coasts of France,
and joined forces with those Franks whom the Romans had sent into the
Black Sea to check the Scythians and other wild tribes from the East.
The Franks were themselves Norsemen, who afterwards settled in Gaul and
became the forefathers of the modern French. So Rome was now
threatened by a naval league of hardy Norsemen, from the Black Sea,
through the Mediterranean, and all the way round to that "Saxon Shore"
of eastern Britain which was itself in danger from Norsemen living on
the other side of the North Sea. Once more, however, the Romans won
the day. The Emperor Constantius caught the Franks before they could
join Carausius and smashed their fleet near Gibraltar. He then went to
Gaul and made ready a fleet at the mouth of the Seine, near Le Havre,
which was a British base during the Great War against the Germans.
Meanwhile Carausius was killed by his second-in-command, Allectus, who
sailed from the Isle of Wight to attack Constantius, who himself sailed
for Britain at the very same time. A dense fog came on. The two
fleets never met. Constantius landed. Allectus then followed him
ashore and was beaten and killed in a purely land battle.

This was a little before the year 300; by which time the Roman Empire
was beginning to rot away, because the Romans were becoming softer and
fewer, and because they were hiring more and more strangers to fight
for them, instead of keeping up their own old breed of first-class
fighting men. By 410 Rome itself was in such danger that they took
their last ships and soldiers away from Celtic Britain, which at once
became the prey of the first good fighting men who came that way;
because the Celts, never united enough to make a proper army or navy of
their own, were now weaker than ever, after having had their country
defended by other people for the last four hundred years.




CHAPTER V

THE HARDY NORSEMAN

(449-1066)

The British Empire leads the whole world both in size and population.
It ended the Great War with the greatest of all the armies, the
greatest of all the navies, and the greatest of all the mercantile
marines. Better still, it not only did most towards keeping its
own - which is by far the oldest - freedom in the world, but it also did
most towards helping all its Allies to be free. There are many reasons
why we now enjoy these blessings. But there are three without which we
never could have had a single one. The first, of course, is sea-power.
But this itself depends on the second reason, which, in its turn,
depends upon the third. For we never could have won the greatest
sea-power unless we had bred the greatest race of seamen. And we never
could have bred the greatest race of seamen unless we ourselves had
been mostly bred from those hardy Norsemen who were both the terror and
the glory of the sea.

Many thousands of years ago, when the brown and yellow peoples of the
Far South-East were still groping their way about their steamy Asian
rivers and hot shores, a race of great, strong, fair-haired seamen was
growing in the North. This Nordic race is the one from which most
English-speaking people come, the one whose blood runs in the veins of
most first-class seamen to the present day, and the one whose
descendants have built up more oversea dominions, past and present,
than have been built by all the other races, put together, since the
world began.

To the sturdy Nordic stock belonged all who became famous as Vikings,
Berserkers, and Hardy Norsemen, as well as all the Anglo-Saxons, Jutes,
Danes, and Normans, from whom came most of the people that made the
British Empire and the United States. "Nordic" and "Norse" are,
therefore, much better, because much truer, words than "Anglo-Saxon",
which only names two of the five chief tribes from which most
English-speaking people come, and which is not nearly so true as
"Anglo-Norman" to describe the people, who, once formed in England,
spread over southern Scotland and parts of Ireland, and who have also
gone into every British, American, or foreign country that has ever
been connected with the sea.

When the early Nordics outgrew their first home beside the Baltic they
began sailing off to seek their fortune overseas. In course of time
they not only spread over the greater part of northern Europe but went
as far south as Italy and Spain, where the good effects of their
bracing blood have never been lost. They even left descendants among
the Berbers of North Africa; and, as we have learnt already, some of
them went as far east as the Black Sea. The Belgians, Dutch, and
Germans of Caesar's day were all Nordic. So were the Franks, from whom
France takes its name. The Nordic blood, of course, became more or
less mingled with that of the different peoples the Nordic tribes
subdued; and new blood coming in from outside made further changes
still. But the Nordic strain prevailed, as that of the conquerors,
even where the Nordic folk did not outnumber all the rest, as they
certainly did in Great Britain. The Franks, whose name meant "free
men", at last settled down with the Gauls, who outnumbered them; so
that the modern French are a blend of both. But the Gauls were the
best warriors of all the Celts: it took Caesar eight years to conquer
them. So we know that Frenchmen got their soldier blood from both
sides. We also know that they learnt a good deal of their civilization
from the Romans and passed it on to the empire-building Normans, who
brought more Nordic blood into France. The Normans in their turn
passed it on to the Anglo-Saxons, who, with the Jutes and Danes, form
the bulk, as the Normans form the backbone, of most English-speaking
folk within the British Empire. The Normans are thus the great bond of
union between the British Empire and the French. They are the
Franco-British kinsfolk of the sea.

We must not let the fact that Prussia borders on the North Sea and the
Baltic mislead us into mistaking the Prussians for the purest offspring
of the Nordic race. They are nothing of the kind. Some of the finest
Nordics did stay near their Baltic home. But these became Norwegians,
Swedes, and Danes; while nearly all the rest of the cream of this
mighty race went far afield. Its Franks went into France by land. Its
Normans went by sea. Others settled in Holland and Belgium and became
the Dutch and Flemings of today. But the mightiest host of hardy
Norsemen crossed the North Sea to settle in the British Isles; and from
this chosen home of merchant fleets and navies the Nordic British have
themselves gone forth as conquering settlers across the Seven Seas.

The Prussians are the least Nordic of all the Germans, and most Germans
are rather the milk than the cream of the Nordic race; for the cream
generally sought the sea, while the milk stayed on shore. The
Prussians have no really Nordic forefathers except the Teutonic
Knights, who killed off the Borussi or Old-Prussian savages, about
seven hundred years ago, and then settled the empty land with their
soldiers of fortune, camp-followers, hirelings, and serfs. These gangs
had been brought together, by force or the hope of booty, from anywhere
at all. The new Prussians were thus a pretty badly mixed lot; so the
Teutonic Knights hammered them into shape as the newer Prussians whom
Frederick the Great in the eighteenth century and Bismarck in the
nineteenth turned into a conquering horde. The Kaiser's newest
Prussians need no description here. We all know him and them; and what
became of both; and how it served them right.

The first of the hardy Norsemen to arrive in England with a regular
fleet and army were the two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, whom the Celts
employed to defend them against the wild Picts that were swarming down
from the north. The Picts once beaten, the Celts soon got into the
same troubles that beset every people who will not or can not fight for
themselves. More and more Norsemen kept coming to the Isle of Thanet,
the easternmost point of Kent, and disputes kept on growing between
them and the Celts over pay and food as well as over the division of
the spoils. The Norsemen claimed most of the spoil, because their
sword had won it. The Celts thought this unfair, because the country
was their own. It certainly was theirs at that time. But they had
driven out the people who had been there before them; so when they were
themselves driven out they suffered no more than what they once had
made these others suffer.

Presently the Norsemen turned their swords on the Celts and began a
conquest that went on from father to son till there were hardly any
Celts left in the British Isles outside of Wales, the Highlands of
Scotland, and the greater part of Ireland. Every place easily reached
from the sea fell into the hands of the Norsemen whenever they chose to
take it; for the Celts never even tried to have a navy. This, of
course, was the chief reason why they lost the war on land; because the
Norsemen, though fewer by far at first, could move men, arms, and
supplies ten times better than the Celts whenever the battlefields were
anywhere near the sea.

Islands, harbours, and navigable rivers were often held by the
Norsemen, even when the near-by country was filled with Celts. The
extreme north of Scotland, like the whole of the south, became Norse,
as did the northern islands of Orkney and Shetland. Scapa Flow, that
magnificent harbour in the Orkneys, was a stronghold of Norsemen many
centuries before their descendants manned the British Grand Fleet there
during the recent war. The Isle of Man was taken by Norsemen. Dublin,
Waterford, and other Irish cities were founded by them. They attacked
Wales from Anglessey; and, wherever they conquered, their armies were
based on the sea.

If you want to understand how the British Isles changed from a Celtic
to a Nordic land, how they became the centre of the British Empire, and
why they were the Mother Country from which the United States were
born, you must always view the question from the sea. Take the sea as
a whole, together with all that belongs to it - its islands, harbours,
shores, and navigable rivers. Then take the roving Norsemen as the
greatest seamen of the great seafaring Nordic race. Never mind the
confusing lists of tribes and kings on either side - the Jutes and
Anglo-Saxons, the Danes and Normans, on one side, and the Celts of
England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, on the other; nor yet the
different dates and places; but simply take a single bird's-eye view of
all the Seven Seas as one sea, of all the British Norsemen as one
Anglo-Norman folk, and of all the centuries from the fifth to the
twentieth as a single age; and then you can quite easily understand how
the empire of the sea has been won and held by the same strong
"Hardy-Norseman" hands these fifteen hundred years.

There is nothing to offend the Celts in this. They simply tried to do
what never can be done: that is, they tried to hold a sea-girt country
with nothing but an army, while their enemy had an army and a fleet.
They fought well enough in the past on many a stricken field to save
any race's honour; and none who know the glorious deeds of the really
Celtic Highland, Welsh, or Irish regiments can fail to admire them now.
But this book is about seamen and the sea, and how they have changed
the fate of landsmen and the land. So we must tell the plain truth
about the Anglo-Norman seamen without whom there could be no British
Empire and no United States. The English-speaking peoples owe a great
deal to the Celts; and there is Celtic blood in a good many who are of
mostly Nordic stock. But the British Empire and the American Republic
were founded and are led more by Anglo-Normans than even Anglo-Normans
know. For the Anglo-Normans include not only the English and their
descendants overseas but many who are called Scotch and Irish, because,
though of Anglo-Norman blood, they or their forefathers were born in
Scotland or Ireland. Soldiers and sailors like Wellington, Kitchener,
and Beatty are as Anglo-Norman by descent as Marlborough, Nelson, and
Drake, though all three were born in Ireland. They are no more Irish
Celts than the English-speaking people in the Province of Quebec are
French-Canadians. They might have been as good or better if born Irish
Celts or French-Canadians. But that is not the point. The point is
simply a fact without which we cannot understand our history; and it is


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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 2 of 19)