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A lot has been said about the greatest docks and shipyards in history, from the ancient shipyards of Athens, Carthage and Rome to the more modern sites of Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands but none of these has changed the world quite as significantly as the Venetian arsenal. The Venetian Arsenal, first started as a small project of the Venetian state in 1104. Its purpose was to cheaply and efficiently service the state owned Galleys used to protect the interests of Venice's key source of income through trade. The Arsenal grew with the republic to not just become the worlds most impressive shipyard but in general largest industrial complex too. Its importance is paramount to the history of the world and has had a greater effect on your life than you would likely realise.


While Venice had a huge amount of shipyards, and was known in its early history For supplying the Crusaders with ships, due to its unique position and ability of craftsmen none even came close to the power or prestige of the Arsenal. During the height of the Arsenal in the 1550s-60s the Shipyard had over 16,000 employees, with over 1200 master shipwrights, 1000 master caulkers and around 100 master oarmakers. Other crafts included foundry workers, sail makers and rope spinners that you would associate with any shipyard. The cost to Venice of the Arsenal during this period was over 150,000 ducats a year, to put this into perspective the Venetians paid around 200,000 ducats for the purchase of the island of Corfu. Resources were drawn for the running of the Arsenal from all over Venice, with timbers being drawn mostly from the woodlands owned by the Facility in the Montello foothills in treviso, this woodland was for exclusive use for the Arsenal. The Arsenal played such an important part of Venetian life time was kept to the clocks of the Arsenal and it took up about 15% the total land space of Venice and being in one of the positions of power with sway in the Arsenal was one of the most prestigious political jobs you could get, especially to become one of the Lords of the Arsenal.

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The construction of the Arsenal started in 1104 and for a time it remained a small enterprise of the Venetian state. The initial functions were to make a small income for the state and secure the Venetian mercantile fleet a reliable place to come and have repairs done, the owners of the ships would then be able to do what they do best and venture into the world to trade. The original Arsenal saw its first expansion in the 1200s, then for a Further 200 years The arsenal Expanded larger and larger to meet the demands of the Republic, In all there were numerous updating programs and 6 major upgrades during the time of the republic, in response to scale, scope and technological needs. The Main expansions were Formation of the Arsenal Vecchio around 1224-1304, Then in 1304-1322 the main rope manufactury was constructed. In 1325 the first huge expansion happened, the construction of the Arsenal Nuovo, this was the project that lead the Arsenal to really become the powerhouse we see historically, the complex almost tripled in size over the space of a year, bringing huge importance to the Arsenal and making it the largest state enterprise of Venice. The formation of the Arsenal Nuovo was of such significance that the next major upgrade wasn't constructed for over 100 years, when they began work on the section that became known as The Arsenal Nuovoissima, which added another section increasing the complex to twice what it was before, the main need for this expansion was to deal with the increased threat of the growing Ottoman empire, following the fall of Constantinople 20 years previous. The Arsenal then saw the building of a row of sheds splitting off the Arsenal Nuovo and Nuovissima around 1508. The last major upgrades happened in 1535-40 with the expansion of the specialist area specifically designed for constructing Galleass, with the last expansion being in 1620 as part of the continual modernisation process through the 1600s bringing it up to speed with modern technology.

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The full list of expansions are available here:
http://arsenalofvenice.weebly.com/history-of-the-arsenale.html

Thanks to the continual investment, improvements and concentration of resources the Arsenal prospered with the Venetian Lagoon allowing the Arsenal to be built in a safe place, away from the potential raids by both land and sea which left it in a rather unique place to expand to its potential away from harm, unlike most of the Venetian shipyards situated on the island of Lido. To amalgamate this geographical safety advantage the Venetian Government completely encircled the Arsenal, safe from any possible aggressive force, and also securely tucked away from prying eyes and spies. The Arsenal became such a huge part of Naval dominance it was copied by Venice's greatest rivals, first the Arsenal at Genoa was constructed, then the Ottomans constructed their own version on the coast of Gallipoli neither of which really managed the same level of prestige that can be attributed to the Arsenal of Venice. The Arsenal was even mentioned in Dante's inferno.

The Arsenal was set up in a system that used dry and wet sheds to ultimately construct multiple vessels at a time at its height The Arsenal was allegedly able to construct a ship a day, but this is largely due to the way the Shipyard used interchangeable and standardised parts, which was one of the major technologies it gave the world, it was practising this method as early as the 1350s. The arsenal often contained the parts to fully construct between 100-200 ships at any time, although a large portion of these parts were kept as spares for existing ship maintenance. A more realistic estimate would be that during peak operations the Shipyard could produce a completely new ship from scratch in between 1-2 weeks. While other major shipyards like the ones in Chatham and Portsmouth would struggle to see a new ship sooner than 6 months, showing the staggering production capacity of the Arsenal. To put it into further context the peak production of the Arsenal in the 1550-60s wasn't ever reached in the pre industrial period and was only eclipsed by the great factories during the industrial revolution, with no shipyard on the planet meeting a higher output until 1909.

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When it comes to ships, the some of major contributions of the Arsenal include:
The Light Galley of the 1350s
The War Galley of 1486

The Galleon
The Scaloccio of the 1500s.
The Quinquereme resurrection in 1524
The Lepanto Galeass 1560s
The Galleass of 1654 (The first scientifically designed ship of the modern period)
The Galleass of 1690
San Lorenzo Zustinian Class 1690
Leon Trionfante Class 1716
The Ultimate Galleass 1724
The 1780 Fregata Grossa (The first real Battle Cruiser, Improved to form the Fama Class)
Cerere Class (which then resulted in the 44 cannoni Class)

The Galleass of 1654 is particularly important. The increased pressure from the Ottoman Empire forced Venice to start thinking more technologically to maintain its sea advantage against the much larger and more resourceful Turks. This pressure forced the Venetians into looking more scientifically at the developments of ships in the ancient world, most notably the Quinqueremes of Rome, Egypt and Carthage. This lead onto technical arrangements of rowing benches but also spurred investigations to lines and theories of ancient maritime warfare. This was combined with the new developments during the renaissance and contemporary sciences. This work was undertaken by some big names in Venetian Maritime history, the most well known of which is Galileo, who completed his apprenticeship in naval architecture in the closing stages of the 17th Century, Galileo maintained friendship and worked closely with his friends who later became prominent Lords of the Arsenal, together their work resulted in the Galeass of 1654, which was so groundbreaking the design wasn't really topped until the Ultimate Galleass of 1724. This work also laid the foundations for the French architects of the 18th century who continued where the Venetians left off, using the same methods to construct their Atlantic fleets, although Venetians still kept their huge advantage when it came to Galleys. While Venice constructed its first Atlantic style ship of the line in 1666 they were playing catch up, 24 years Later they Launched the San Lorenzo Zustinian, which was a return to form at the top table of naval design. After San Lorenzo Zustinian The Arsenal's lowered resources from the decline of the Venetian Empire started to show, while still significant in Galeass design the time of galleys had mostly passed and No significant designs really appeared until Angelo Emo's reforms which changed the focus of Venetian design to hard hitting shock ships, this resulted in a focus on two fairly open ratings of ships Fregata Grossa and Fregata Leggara, Fregata Leggara was filled with heavy corvettes, the largest of which was armed with 34 guns although The Fregata Grossa rating is potentially more interesting, started by the 1780 class but what really made it was the ship La Fama, Angelo Emo's flag ship. These ships were the fantastic swan songs of Venice they worked in a similar way as the frigates of 100 years later, and took the same combat role as the modern Battle Cruiser.

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A List of some of the other Advancements Venetian Arsenal gives us are:
The Bombard Cannon
Standardised Interchangeable Parts
The Production Line
The Basis for Modern Ballistics
The Birth of Modern Science
Social Security
Division and specialisation of Labour
A basis for modern trade
The modern State Navy

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If anyone wants to know more I will gladly talk more, especially about specific details. Thank you for Reading :)

Edited by Fluffy Fishy
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Brilliant essay thanks for posting it.

 

Wow , That was awesome , Thank You for posting  :D

You guys are welcome :) I can pick out plenty more information should you want to know, if there is something specific you would like to hear more about I will see about writing some more so please do ask.

Edited by Fluffy Fishy

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