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🎧🚣‍♂️ Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley

Not a Book Report

I enjoy reflecting on the movies, TV, books and other media that I consume. I’m notoriously sentimental. This series documents the books that I read. These aren’t reviews or recommendations. Just a list. For me. Mostly so that I can page through what I read, where I was, and when.

Why did I read it?

I live in Portugal, a country obsessed with its own naval heritage. I recently ran the city’s half marathon. While training for it, I passed the monument to the explorers and the maritime defense tower. The race started on the Vasco de Gama bridge. When I walked to the doctor a few weeks ago, I passed a mural that connects the country’s sailing age to its modern navy as a recruitment tool. This place loves boats.

I had an earlier naval history phase. When I was at The University of Texas I briefly worked as the research assistant for Professor Lance Bertelsen, who covers 18th Century British literature in addition to other fields and I spent some time working through British ship logs from that time period. The work focused much more on the voyages of James Cook.

What I lacked was any understanding about how Portuguese naval history connects to the story of the country, and region, today. So I went out and found some material.

What is it?

Category Value
Title Empires of the Sea
Author Roger Crowley
Narrator John Lee
Year Published 2008
Format Audiobook (Audible)
Length 11 Hours 18 Minutes

How did I read it?

Category Value
Date Started September 25, 2023
Date Finished October 8, 2023
Places Read Half Marathon Training, Lisbon Half Marathon

Notes - No Spoilers

  • Maybe this is different for Europeans, but I don’t think Americans have any concept of how advanced and powerful the Ottoman Empire was.
  • Fascinating to watch how the Crusades continued to echo for centuries whether through places like Rhodes or orders like the Knights of St John.
  • The military technology of the time seems to be “one fit in the modern era, one fit in the medieval” - naval battles with cannons on boats with oars, artillery batteries alongside knights in armor, miners armed with explosives burrowing trenches while hiding from arrows.
  • We think of the United States as a melting pot as if we invented the idea. The Mediterranean five centuries ago would make us look homogenous.
  • Similar to the eras of military technology, I enjoyed how rationally selfish so many of the commanders of the time were. Too early for standing armies and modern nation states, but a little too late for total fealty to a monarch, the admirals and city states were as motivated by cashing out and avoiding conflict as modern companies can be.
  • Even the Pope struggled to get the job done most of the time. The only time they could rally around the Cross were moments of genuine existential crisis. Most of the time each group just sought out their own self interest.
  • The Ottoman Empire makes for an interesting counterpoint to the fragmentation of the Holy League. Highly centralized and diverse (military and court leaders in some cases were deliberately from the converted children of Christians captured during raids).
  • Incredible how much the fortunes of the Ottoman Empire relative to the Christian west began to be determined by the exploration of the New World and the trade routes with India and Southeast Asia that just sailed around the old Silk Road. Would be a fun alternative history to explore where the Ottomans used their eastern coast and corsair expertise to extract some control over that trade.
  • Likewise, most of the allegiances were still loosely royalty-driven but hobbled by nationalist cracks. Spanish and Sicilian soldiers fighting together because of some royal marriages, geographically separated by an enemy state (France), somewhat suspicious of each other.
  • Venice of the time sure comes across as a bunch of shifty weasels.

Published Oct 8, 2023

Austinite in Lisbon. VP of Product at Cloudflare.