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Naval personnel (recruitment and training)


Subject History » Military History

Key-Topics navy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631168485.1994.x


Throughout history, until a quite recent date, navies have encountered difficulties over the recruitment of personnel. The requirement for crews exceeded the capacity of seafaring communities to supply them, and the harshness of life on board aroused a profound aversion for naval service. In order to compensate for inadequate numbers of volunteers, all navies have had to have recourse to systems of more or less compulsory enrolment and to a whole range of expedients. In Mediterranean countries, such difficulties became apparent in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. But, contrary to a belief that has been slow to die, the galley crews consisted, in fact, of free men, whether citizens doing a spell of service or mercenaries. Navies resorted to using slaves in exceptional circumstances only. In addition, they were normally given their freedom before being taken aboard. There is a particularly clear illustration of this point in fifth-and fourth-century Athens, at a period when the very life of the city was dependent on the sea. The triremes were manned by free men. It fell, however, entirely to citizens of the poorest classes ( thetes ) to make up the crews, since they had insufficient money to be able to buy the expensive equipment of the hoplites. From Pericles’ time, as one aspect of a vast social policy which was regarded as the best bulwark of democracy, the oarsmen even began ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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