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Transitions in Medieval Mediterranean Shipbuilding: A Reconstruction of the Nave Quadra of the Michael of Rhodes Manuscript

Vincent N. Valenti
Thesis: August 2009
Chair: Castro
Nautical Archaeology Program

The subject of shipbuilding in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages is an integral aspect of the maritime history of this region. Characterized primarily by a fundamental shift in shipbuilding techniques, this phase also included significant developments in other seafaring practices. Yet, unlike the preceding Byzantine era, there is a very limited body of archaeological evidence available for study which can be utilized to illustrate these changes. Therefore, one must turn to alternative sources of information regarding the construction of ships in the Mediterranean, such as iconography and literary evidence. Perhaps the most informative and useful example of the latter is the group of nautically-themed treatises and manuscripts composed between the 14th and 16th centuries. The earliest of these to describe ship construction in any detail is the 1434 manuscript of Michael of Rhodes, which will serve as the main subject of study for this thesis. The primary purpose of this research is to propose a reconstruction of the nave quadra described in the manuscript, though this will be preceded by explanations of several topics pertinent to ship construction in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. The discussion of such fundamental issues, like the transition from shell-based to frame- based construction and the concept of recording and conveying these processes in a didactic manner, is essential in providing a basis for this study. Once this foundation has been established, it will then be possible to present the reconstruction of the nave quadra of the Michael of Rhodes manuscript. With this background information laid out, the significance of both the manuscript and the nave quadra in the broader context of medieval seafaring in the Mediterranean should be discernable. In addition to the proposed reconstruction, this task of elucidating key aspects such as the transition from one construction technique to another and the compilation of written material on this subject will be essential to providing as comprehensive a picture of medieval seafaring in the Mediterranean as possible.

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