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Advancement of Ship Building in the Ancient Time : From Mountain to the Sea

written by: Raunekk • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 2/12/2010

Wars are usually destructive but might have a silver lining in their cloud. This article describes and lists down the factors that lead to the European wars and how these wars helped in the development of ship building and naval architecture.

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    In the previous article we learnt how naval architecture was brought down from the mountains and how it was put to use. How the concept of metacentre was developed and how the proliferation of naval architecture took place as a result of French revolution. At the end we saw how British found itself as the naval super power. In this article we will go a bit deeper as to what were the factors that lead to these revolutions and wars and simultaneously how naval architecture received a new dimension.

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    The European war story

    Though Britain was the naval super power at that time there were other countries also that were not equally competent but still were giving Britain a tough time. The chief among them were Spain and France. France was supposed to be known as the land power and Britain was known as Sea power. Along with Spain and France there was Netherlands that was also competing at the same level. All the three, .i.e. Spain, France and Netherlands were vying for the same “sea power” title. France in spite of its land power couldn’t put it to use because Britain was a country that if had to be conquered could be done only through the sea ways. For these reason, France started increasing its naval fleets using naval architecture in its ship building. Spain and Netherlands also followed France’s example and started increasing its fleet. This movement increased the use of naval architecture in ship building.

    During that time, France, Spain and Netherlands were busy building ships; Britain was doing the same but in a different way. Britain used to convince the weaker states to form allies with it to fight against France and Spain. It helped the weaker states in building their ships, simultaneously increasing its own fleet. This period of ship building gave a solid impetus for the proliferation and usage of systematic ship building concepts.

    Wars, formation of allies and switching sides kept on going on for many years between the prominent powerful states. This continued until British Navies defeated France in a major war. The French navy stared declining from that point onwards. But France didn’t give up. It started building it navies with better and more number of ships. It also formed allies with states with equivalent power. This reestablishing period gave a terrific momentum to the ship building industry and especially to naval architecture, in France.

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    The merchant ships story

    From the start almost all the states in Europe used to carry out its trade by means of sea. There were many independent ship owners and ship builders in the whole of Europe. But by 1600 few state government companies dominated the ocean trade. The British East India Company and Dutch Verenigde Oostindische compagnie (United East Indies Company or VOC) were the two prominent and rival companies. In late 1600’s a French Company, East Indies Company also came to being. Now these companies due to increasing rivalry started waging wars on each other. For this reason they started asking help from the state navies. State navy was happy to help and share its load. Due to this a special type of integration started developing between the naval officers and the merchant officers. The state navy stated giving full authority to the merchant ships to carry on trade as well as wars. Thus all the merchant ships started carrying heavy machinery onboard. The companies used to fight for the acquisition of trade routes, prominent ports and also for acquiring trade contracts and clients.

    The company owners due to their newly acquired power started putting abundant money in ship building and ship theory. They were in the process of continuously increasing their fleet. There was a time when the merchant fleet of states was larger or almost double in size than the state navy. This investment of money and channelising of the resources in the development of ship building and ship theory rose naval architecture to a different height.

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    Rest of the Europe


    Spain was a state that kept changing sides. Due to a defeat faced during a major battle, the naval industry had started declining. Its major enemy was France with whom it kept on fighting wars for a couple of years. Then in 1600s it formed allies with Britain and Netherlands and fought against France. For this war it had increased the size of its fleet by adding more ships and by learning new concepts. It started taking help from various countries to increase its ship building technology. Many Britain navy expatriates helped France for this purpose. It is known that later it started taking help from France itself and eventually changed sides and fought a war against the same states which it had made allies in the past. Spain was defeated.


    This state had a pretty slow development in the field of naval architecture and ship building. It was probably because it was on continuous wars with Sweden. Thought later it paced up its development by putting more of its people and cadets in learning ship building, by sending it constructers to shipyards in other states and also luring investors to put more money in ship building.


    This state had a rather consistent development in naval architecture. It used to have constant battles with Russia and Denmark. Its Navy attempted to make standard designs and improve its knowledge of ship building. But due to continuous wars and loss of resources it couldn’t make that extra effort to revolutionize its ship building industry.

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    Ship and Science : The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution by Larrie D. Ferreiro