The ship loomed large in the medieval world and mind. Whether cruising upriver laden with grain, or cresting the high seas bristling with guns, ships symbolized power and promise, strength and safety, crusade and conquest. Both upstream and downstream, inland and offshore, ships of every size and shape provided a vital means of travel, transport and trade, linking villages and cities, land and sea, countries and continents. Focusing on manuscript illuminations - drawn mainly from the British Library's unparalled collection - marine archaeologist Joe Flatman traces the changing shape of ships in European life and culture from the 11th to 16th centuries. It was a period of unprecedented technological progress: within just a few centuries, the Viking rowboat evolved into the multi-decked, full-rigged carrack.Despite such rapid advance, many marine miniatures reflect the technological realities with surprising accuracy. To unravel the realities - and equally illuminating myths - of the maritime world, Flatman first explores its multi-layered symbolism, essentially Christian, but rooted in pagan culture.
Analysing positive and negative symbols, he highlights a recurrent dichotomy between life-giving freshwater and death-dealing saltwater, reflected in sharply contrasting scenes. Turning to the realities, Flatman examines the extraordinary advances in shipping and naval warfare, alongside an expanding maritime culture with distinct 'marine zones', graphically illustrated by many fascinating glimpses of seafaring society at work and play. Vividly brought to life with 150 diverse images, "Ships and Shipping in Medieval Manuscripts" paints a vibrant picture of maritime life during an era of unprecedented expansion.
Dr Joe Flatman is a lecturer in Archaeology at University College, London and the County Archaeologist of Surrey. His previous publications include The Illuminated Ark: Interrogating Evidence from Manuscript Illuminations and Archaeological Remains for Medieval Vessels (Oxford, 2007).