By Sarah Arenson
TROPIS Symposia Proceedings, Vol.2 (1987)
Introduction: Our knowledge of ship construction in the Middle Ages has been widened considerably since underwater archaeology became a scientific discipline. Nevertheless, the data supplied by wrecks and other material evidence, such as illustrations, coins and seals, are hardly matched by the written sources, as is the case also regarding ship construction in the ancient world. Only in the later Middle Ages, from the 15th century on, may we start to rely on written material. In the case of warships, the situation is almost the reverse. While very few ancient and medieval warships have been discovered and studied, the historical documentation is much more plentiful than in the case of merchantmen.
On the grounds of existing data for Mediterranean shipping, there are many questions we could not even hope to answer with any certainty: How much did it cost to build a ship? How long did it take? What were the relative costs of labour and materials? How many people were involved and in what capacities?