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The Sun King at Sea

The Sun King at Sea, aims to unsettle a standard picture of art and power during Louis XIV’s reign. Focusing on France’s Mediterranean coast rather than the capital, we examine royal efforts to build a robust galley fleet inspired by ancient conquerors and medieval crusaders and partly powered by esclaves turcs. These rowers, captured or purchased from Islamic lands, occupied the most technically demanding positions at the oar. From a royal perspective, their subjection made galleys into effective sea machines for fighting infidels while countering criticisms about France’s longstanding alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Galleys, however, were not only a top-down production orchestrated by the Crown. In this talk we look closely at a late seventeenth-century shipbuilding manual produced by naval officers in Marseille, which makes a case for the ongoing importance of galleys and enslaved rowers as important manifestations of Mediterranean dominance, chivalric honor and Catholic devotion.


Gillian Weiss is a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. A scholar of France and the Mediterranean world during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and

eighteenth centuries, she is the author – with Meredith Martin – of The Sun King at Sea: Maritime Art and Galley Slavery in Louis XIV’s France (Getty Research Institute, 2022). Her previous publications include Captives and Corsairs: France and Slavery in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Stanford University Press, 2011; translated into French by Anacharsis in 2014). She is currently writing a book entitled The Money Launderer’s Daughter: A Sephardic Woman and a Slave Rumor in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean.

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