In Medieval Maritime Warfare, Dr. Charles D. Stanton has concisely presented a tour of a topic that has received short shrift thus far in maritime history. Dr. Stanton is a career naval officer and airline pilot and his studies of medieval Mediterranean history at Cambridge, in combination with his work as a military historian, have made him quite knowledgable about medieval maritime warfare.
In this book, Dr. Stanton rightly presents the fall of Rome as a turning point of all history, but especially in regard to maritime history. The power vacuum left in the wake of Rome's death and the widespread geographic reach of the empire during its life leave the modern historian with a difficult task. The medieval world was full of various regional rulers and bit part players in the struggle for supremacy, and the sometimes confusing interaction and relation between the medieval powers stretched over continents for a thousand years.
Dr. Stanton has–thankfully–managed to write a fairly concise history of medieval maritime warfare that does not succumb to the common flaw present in many examinations of medieval history: a predilection to verbosity that still manages to leave the reader confused by myopic details that leave the big picture unclear.
The book is organized into 10 chapters, the first 6 focused on Southern Europe (the Mediterranean and Black Seas), with the last 4 focused on Northern Europe (the English Channel, and the North and Baltic Seas). This organization works well because it uses specific battles or conflicts as focal points to bring an era of medieval warfare into focus. For instance, the discussion of "Norman Naval Expansion in the Central Mediterranean" during the 11th century concludes with a detailed discussion of the Battle of Corfu. This format allows a close look at maritime warfare tactics used by various cultures at different periods, while simultaneously still including a look at the broad context of the development of maritime warfare throughout medieval history.
Another strength of the book is that, into the broad picture Dr. Stanton deftly weaves smaller details about nautical architecture, navigation techniques, arms and warfare tactics, and other important but little discussed points. The development of maritime technology and even the social and living conditions of the men who would have crewed these medieval ships are also discussed.
All in all, the book is great overview of the development of medieval maritime warfare in the various regions of Europe. Sixty illustrations and maps also help the reader visualize some of the battles and discussions of nautical architecture.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining a good overview of maritime warfare in medieval Europe, along with some more specific details related to such a discussion. The reader should, however, be aware that this book looks only at maritime warfare and related topics, so a discussion of maritime trade and/or exploration is to be looked for elsewhere. In addition, this book does cover 1000 years of history, so any reader looking for lengthy discussions of a certain battle or culture would do well to look for a more focused discussion. Such a focus is not, however, Dr. Stanton's stated aim in Medieval Maritime Warfare, and he has certainly hit the bullseye of his target: a concise, well-written and illuminating jaunt through the development of medieval maritime warfare.