A bireme is an ancient oared warship galley with two decks of oars. Biremes were long vessels built for military purposes and could achieve relatively high speed. It was modified from the penteconter , a ship that had only one set of oars on each side, the bireme having two sets of oars on each side. The bireme was twice the triaconter's length and height, and thus employed rowers. Biremes were galleys , galleasses , dromons , and small pleasure crafts pamphyles. The next development, the trireme , keeping the length of the bireme, added a tier to the height, the rowers being thus increased to

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A galley is a type of ship that is propelled mainly by rowing. The galley is characterized by its long, slender hull, shallow draft , and low freeboard clearance between sea and railing. Virtually all types of galleys had sails that could be used in favorable winds, but human effort was always the primary method of propulsion.

This allowed galleys to navigate independently of winds and currents. The galley originated among the seafaring civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea in the late second millennium BC and remained in use in various forms until the early 19th century in warfare , trade , and piracy. Galleys were the warships used by the early Mediterranean naval powers, including the Greeks , Illyrians , Phoenicians , and Romans. They remained the dominant types of vessels used for war and piracy in the Mediterranean Sea until the last decades of the 16th century.

As warships, galleys carried various types of weapons throughout their long existence, including rams , catapults , and cannons , but also relied on their large crews to overpower enemy vessels in boarding actions. They were the first ships to effectively use heavy cannons as anti-ship weapons. As highly efficient gun platforms, they forced changes in the design of medieval seaside fortresses as well as refinement of sailing warships.

The zenith of galley usage in warfare came in the late 16th century with battles like that at Lepanto in , one of the largest naval battles ever fought. By the 17th century, however, sailing ships and hybrid ships like the xebec displaced galleys in naval warfare.

They were the most common warships in the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Ages, and later saw limited use in the Caribbean , the Philippines , and the Indian Ocean in the early modern period , mostly as patrol craft to combat pirates. From the midth century galleys were in intermittent use in the Baltic Sea , with its short distances and extensive archipelagoes. There was a minor revival of galley warfare in the 18th century in the wars among Russia , Sweden , and Denmark.

The term "galley" derives from the Medieval Greek galea , a smaller version of the dromon , the prime warship of the Byzantine navy. Before that, particularly in antiquity, there was a wide variety of terms used for different types of galleys. In modern historical literature, "galley" is occasionally used as a general term for various types of oared vessels larger than boats, though the "true" galley is defined as the ships belonging to the Mediterranean tradition.

Ancient galleys were named according to the number of oars, the number of banks of oars or lines of rowers. The terms are based on contemporary language use combined with more recent compounds of Greek and Latin words.

A monoreme has one bank of oars, a bireme two, and a trireme three. Since the maximum banks of oars was three, any expansion above that did not refer to additional banks of oars, but of additional rowers for every oar. For simplicity, they have by many modern scholars been referred to as "fives", "sixes", "eights", "elevens", etc. Anything above six or seven rows of rowers was not common, though even a very exceptional " forty " is attested in contemporary source.

Any galley with more than three or four lines of rowers is often referred to as a "polyreme". Archaeologist Lionel Casson has used the term "galley" to describe all North European shipping in the Early and High Middle Ages , including Viking merchants and even their famous longships , though this is rare.

Many of them were similar to birlinns , close relatives of longship types like the snekkja. By the 14th century, they were replaced with balingers in southern Britain while longship-type " Irish galleys " remained in use throughout the Middle Ages in northern Britain. Medieval and early modern galleys used a different terminology from their ancient predecessors. Names were based on the changing designs that evolved after the ancient rowing schemes were forgotten.

Among the most important is the Byzantine dromon , the predecessor to the Italian galea sottila. This was the first step toward the final form of the Mediterranean war galley. As galleys became an integral part of an advanced, early modern system of warfare and state administration, they were divided into a number of ranked grades based on the size of the vessel and the number of its crew.

The most basic types were the following: large commander "lantern galleys", half-galleys, galiots , fustas , brigantines , and fregatas. Naval historian Jan Glete has described as a sort of predecessor of the later rating system of the Royal Navy and other sailing fleets in Northern Europe.

The French navy and the British Royal Navy built a series of "galley frigates" from c. In North America, during American Revolutionary War and other wars with France and Britain, the early US Navy and other navies built vessels that were called "galleys" or " row galleys ", though they were actually brigantines or Baltic gunboats. Among the earliest known watercraft were canoes made from hollowed-out logs, the earliest ancestors of galleys.

Their narrow hulls required them to be paddled in a fixed sitting position facing forward, a less efficient form of propulsion than rowing with proper oars , facing backward. Seagoing paddled craft have been attested by finds of terracotta sculptures and lead models in the region of the Aegean Sea from the 3rd millennium BC.

However, archaeologists believe that the Stone Age colonization of islands in the Mediterranean around 8, BC required fairly large, seaworthy vessels that were paddled and possibly even equipped with sails. Under the rule of pharaoh Pepi I — BC these vessels were used to transport troops to raid settlements along the Levantine coast and to ship back slaves and timber.

The best depictions found so far have been small, highly stylized images on seals which depict crescent-shape vessels equipped with one mast and banks of oars. Colorful frescoes on the Minoan settlement on Santorini c. Some of these are rowed, but others are paddled with men laboriously bent over the railings. This has been interpreted as a possible ritual reenactment of more ancient types of vessels, alluding to a time before rowing was invented, but little is otherwise known about the use and design of Minoan ships.

In the earliest days of the galley, there was no clear distinction between ships of trade and war other than their actual usage. River boats plied the waterways of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom — BC and seagoing galley-like vessels were recorded bringing back luxuries from across the Red Sea in the reign of pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Fitting rams to the bows of vessels sometime around the 8th century BC resulted in a distinct split in the design of warships, and set trade vessels apart, at least when it came to use in naval warfare. The Phoenicians used galleys for transports that were less elongated, carried fewer oars and relied more on sails. Carthaginian galley wrecks found off Sicily that date to the 3rd or 2nd century BC had a length to breadth ratio of , proportions that fell between the of sailing merchant ships and the or of war galleys.

Merchant galleys in the ancient Mediterranean were intended as carriers of valuable cargo or perishable goods that needed to be moved as safely and quickly as possible. The first Greek galleys appeared around the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.

In the epic poem, the Iliad , set in the 12th century BC, galleys with a single row of oarsmen were used primarily to transport soldiers to and from various land battles. It is the first known engagement between organized armed forces, using sea vessels as weapons of war, though primarily as fighting platforms. It was distinguished by being fought against an anchored fleet close to shore with land-based archer support.

The first true Mediterranean galleys usually had between 15 and 25 pairs of oars and were called triaconters or penteconters , literally "thirty-" and "fifty-oared", respectively. Not long after they appeared, a third row of oars was added by the addition to a bireme of an outrigger , a projecting construction that gave more room for the projecting oars. The Romans later called this design the triremis , trireme , the name it is today best known under.

It has been hypothesized that early types of triremes existed as early as BC, but the earliest conclusive literary reference dates to BC. Triaconters were still used, but only for scouting and express dispatches. The earliest use for galleys in warfare was to ferry fighters from one place to another, and until the middle of the 2nd millennium BC had no real distinction from merchant freighters.

Around the 14th century BC, the first dedicated fighting ships were developed, sleeker and with cleaner lines than the bulkier merchants. They were used for raiding, capturing merchants and for dispatches.

Maritime classicist historian Lionel Casson used the example of Homer 's works to show that seaborne raiding was considered a common and legitimate occupation among ancient maritime peoples. The later Athenian historian Thucydides described it as having been "without stigma" before his time. The development of the ram sometime before the 8th century BC changed the nature of naval warfare, which had until then been a matter of boarding and hand-to-hand fighting.

With a heavy projection at the foot of the bow , sheathed with metal, usually bronze , a ship could incapacitate an enemy ship by punching a hole in its planking. The relative speed and nimbleness of ships became important, since a slower ship could be outmaneuvered and disabled by a faster one.

The earliest designs had only one row of rowers that sat in undecked hulls, rowing against tholes , or oarports, that were placed directly along the railings. The practical upper limit for wooden constructions fast and maneuverable enough for warfare was around 25—30 oars per side.

By adding another level of oars, a development that occurred no later than c. The emergence of more advanced states and intensified competition between them spurred on the development of advanced galleys with multiple banks of rowers.

During the middle of the first millennium BC, the Mediterranean powers developed successively larger and more complex vessels, the most advanced being the classical trireme with up to rowers. The trireme was an advanced ship that was expensive to build and to maintain due its large crew. By the 5th century, advanced war galleys had been developed that required sizable states with an advanced economy to build and maintain.

It was associated with the latest in warship technology around the 4th century BC and could only be employed by an advanced state with an advanced economy and administration. They required considerable skill to row and oarsmen were mostly free citizens who had years of experience at the oar. As civilizations around the Mediterranean grew in size and complexity, both their navies and the galleys that made up their numbers became successively larger.

The basic design of two or three rows of oars remained the same, but more rowers were added to each oar. The exact reasons are not known, but are believed to have been caused by addition of more troops and the use of more advanced ranged weapons on ships, such as catapults.

The size of the new naval forces also made it difficult to find enough skilled rowers for the one-man-per-oar system of the earliest triremes. With more than one man per oar, a single rower could set the pace for the others to follow, meaning that more unskilled rowers could be employed.

The successor states of Alexander the Great 's empire built galleys that were like triremes or biremes in oar layout, but manned with additional rowers for each oar. The ruler Dionysius I of Syracuse ca. Ptolemy II —46 BC is known to have built a large fleet of very large galleys with several experimental designs rowed by everything from 12 up to 40 rows of rowers, though most of these are considered to have been quite impractical.

Fleets with large galleys were put in action in conflicts such as the Punic Wars — BC between the Roman Republic and Carthage , which included massive naval battles with hundreds of vessels and tens of thousands of soldiers, seamen, and rowers. Most of the surviving documentary evidence comes from Greek and Roman shipping, though it is likely that merchant galleys all over the Mediterranean were highly similar.

In Greek they were referred to as histiokopos "sail-oar-er" to reflect that they relied on both types of propulsion. In Latin they were called actuaria navis "ship that moves" , stressing that they were capable of making progress regardless of weather conditions. As an example of the speed and reliability, during an instance of the famous " Carthago delenda est " speech, Cato the Elder demonstrated the close proximity of the Roman arch enemy Carthage by displaying a fresh fig to his audience that he claimed had been picked in North Africa only three days past.

Other cargoes carried by galleys were honey, cheese, meat, and live animals intended for gladiator combat. The Romans had several types of merchant galleys that specialized in various tasks, out of which the actuaria with up to 50 rowers was the most versatile, including the phaselus lit.

Many of these designs continued to be used until the Middle Ages. After Augustus' victory at Actium, most of the Roman fleet was dismantled and burned. The Roman civil wars were fought mostly by land forces, and from the s until the 4th century AD, no major fleet actions were recorded.

During this time, most of the galley crews were disbanded or employed for entertainment purposes in mock battles or in handling the sail-like sun-screens in the larger Roman arenas. What fleets remained were treated as auxiliaries of the land forces, and galley crewmen themselves called themselves milites , "soldiers", rather than nautae , "sailors".

The Roman galley fleets were turned into provincial patrol forces that were smaller and relied largely on liburnians , compact biremes with 25 pairs of oars.


Bireme & Galley - Naval Warfare, Egypt to Lepanto

A galley is a type of ship that is propelled mainly by rowing. The galley is characterized by its long, slender hull, shallow draft , and low freeboard clearance between sea and railing. Virtually all types of galleys had sails that could be used in favorable winds, but human effort was always the primary method of propulsion. This allowed galleys to navigate independently of winds and currents. The galley originated among the seafaring civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea in the late second millennium BC and remained in use in various forms until the early 19th century in warfare , trade , and piracy. Galleys were the warships used by the early Mediterranean naval powers, including the Greeks , Illyrians , Phoenicians , and Romans.





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