It may be difficult to believe that a peace-promoting government like the Vatican once had a navy of its own. It may also tax the imagination to accept the fact that this navy actually engaged in a shooting war, recruiting manpower from the local parish and training officers and crews in the art of combat afloat. Although it was not a large force at any time, this navy did more than its share to keep the peace in the Mediterranean Sea for about 1000 years. In its time it rescued hundreds of thousands of Christians from slavery, convoyed merchantmen, guarded the coast against barbaric invasions, and sent expeditions to the relief of Christian settlements in the Holy Land.
The beginning of the Papal Navy can be traced back to the 8th century A.D. and it remained a power, in its modest way, until about the middle of the 19th century. Throughout its entire history, the navy of the Pope fought but one enemy, the Mohammedan—traditional foe of Christianity. During these centuries, this fight was a siege of continuous warfare abating only for the time that it took for the invading barbarians to assemble new fleets to replace those sunk or lost in conflict.