CONSTANS Constantine the Great son Roman Coin Labarum Galley Phoenix i33360

CONSTANS Constantine the Great son Roman Coin Labarum Galley Phoenix i33360

Item: i33360   Authentic Ancient Coin of:

Constans - Roman Emperor: 337-350 A.D. - Bronze AE3 18mm (1.41 grams) Thessalonica mint: 348-351 A.D. Reference: RIC 109 (VIII, Thessalonica) DN CONSTANS PF AVG - Diademed, draped and cuirassed bust right. FEL TEMP REPARATIO Exe: TESB - Constans standing left on galley, holding Phoenix on globe and labarum tipped with the Chi-Rho (MONOGRAM of CHRIST); Victory seated to right, steering.

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Labarum of Constantine I, displaying the "Chi-Rho" symbol above.

The labarum  was a vexillum (military standard) that displayed the "Chi-Rho" symbol ☧ , formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ"  — Chi and Rho . It was first used by the Roman emperor Constantine I . Since the vexillum consisted of a flag suspended from the crossbar of a cross, it was ideally suited to symbolize the crucifixion of Christ .

Later usage has sometimes regarded the terms "labarum" and "Chi-Rho" as synonyms. Ancient sources, however, draw an unambiguous distinction between the two.


Beyond its derivation from Latin labarum, the etymology of the word is unclear. Some derive it from Latin /labāre/ 'to totter, to waver' (in the sense of the "waving" of a flag in the breeze) or laureum [vexillum] ("laurel standard").[3] According to the Real Academia Española , the related lábaro is also derived from Latin labărum but offers no further derivation from within Latin, as does the Oxford English Dictionary.[5] An origin as a loan into Latin from a Celtic language or Basque has also been postulated. There is a traditional Basque symbol called the lauburu ; though the name is only attested from the 19th century onwards the motif occurs in engravings dating as early as the 2nd century AD.[7]

Vision of Constantine

A coin of Constantine (c.337) showing a depiction of his labarum spearing a serpent.

On the evening of October 27, 312, with his army preparing for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge , the emperor Constantine I claimed to have had a vision which led him to believe he was fighting under the protection of the Christian God .

Lactantius states that, in the night before the battle, Constantine was commanded in a dream to "delineate the heavenly sign on the shields of his soldiers". He obeyed and marked the shields with a sign "denoting Christ". Lactantius describes that sign as a "staurogram", or a Latin cross with its upper end rounded in a P-like fashion, rather than the better known Chi-Rho sign described by Eusebius of Caesarea . Thus, it had both the form of a cross and the monogram of Christ's name from the formed letters "X" and "P", the first letters of Christ's name in Greek.

From Eusebius, two accounts of a battle survive. The first, shorter one in the Ecclesiastical History leaves no doubt that God helped Constantine but doesn't mention any vision. In his later Life of Constantine, Eusebius gives a detailed account of a vision and stresses that he had heard the story from the emperor himself. According to this version, Constantine with his army was marching somewhere (Eusebius doesn't specify the actual location of the event, but it clearly isn't in the camp at Rome) when he looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα . The traditionally employed Latin translation of the Greek is in hoc signo vinces — literally "In this sign, you will conquer." However, a direct translation from the original Greek text of Eusebius into English gives the phrase "By this, conquer!"[9]

At first he was unsure of the meaning of the apparition, but the following night he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign against his enemies. Eusebius then continues to describe the labarum, the military standard used by Constantine in his later wars against Licinius , showing the Chi-Rho sign.[10]

Those two accounts can hardly be reconciled with each other, though they have been merged in popular notion into Constantine seeing the Chi-Rho sign on the evening before the battle. Both authors agree that the sign was not readily understandable as denoting Christ, which corresponds with the fact that there is no certain evidence of the use of the letters chi and rho as a Christian sign before Constantine. Its first appearance is on a Constantinian silver coin from c. 317, which proves that Constantine did use the sign at that time, though not very prominently.[11] He made extensive use of the Chi-Rho and the labarum only later in the conflict with Licinius.

The vision has been interpreted in a solar context (e.g. as a solar halo phenomenon), which would have been reshaped to fit with the Christian beliefs of the later Constantine.

An alternate explanation of the intersecting celestial symbol has been advanced by George Latura, which claims that Plato's visible god in Timaeus is in fact the intersection of the Milky Way and the Zodiacal Light, a rare apparition important to pagan beliefs that Christian bishops reinvented as a Christian symbol.[12]

Eusebius' description of the labarum

"A Description of the Standard of the Cross, which the Romans now call the Labarum." "Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner."

"The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies."[13]

Iconographic career under Constantine

Coin of Vetranio , a soldier is holding two labara. Interestingly they differ from the labarum of Constantine in having the Chi-Rho depicted on the cloth rather than above it, and in having their staves decorated with phalerae as were earlier Roman military unit standards. The emperor Honorius holding a variant of the labarum - the Latin phrase on the cloth means "In the name of Christ [rendered by the Greek letters XPI] be ever victorious."

Among a number of standards depicted on the Arch of Constantine , which was erected, largely with fragments from older monuments, just three years after the battle, the labarum does not appear. A grand opportunity for just the kind of political propaganda that the Arch otherwise was expressly built to present was missed. That is if Eusebius' oath-confirmed account of Constantine's sudden, vision-induced, conversion can be trusted. Many historians have argued that in the early years after the battle the emperor had not yet decided to give clear public support to Christianity, whether from a lack of personal faith or because of fear of religious friction. The arch's inscription does say that the Emperor had saved the res publica INSTINCTV DIVINITATIS MENTIS MAGNITVDINE ("by greatness of mind and by instinct [or impulse] of divinity"). As with his predecessors, sun symbolism – interpreted as representing Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) or Helios , Apollo or Mithras – is inscribed on his coinage, but in 325 and thereafter the coinage ceases to be explicitly pagan, and Sol Invictus disappears. In his Historia Ecclesiae Eusebius further reports that, after his victorious entry into Rome, Constantine had a statue of himself erected, "holding the sign of the Savior [the cross] in his right hand." There are no other reports to confirm such a monument.

Whether Constantine was the first Christian emperor supporting a peaceful transition to Christianity during his rule, or an undecided pagan believer until middle age, strongly influenced in his political-religious decisions by his Christian mother St. Helena , is still in dispute among historians.

As for the labarum itself, there is little evidence for its use before 317.[14] In the course of Constantine's second war against Licinius in 324, the latter developed a superstitious dread of Constantine's standard. During the attack of Constantine's troops at the Battle of Adrianople the guard of the labarum standard were directed to move it to any part of the field where his soldiers seemed to be faltering. The appearance of this talismanic object appeared to embolden Constantine's troops and dismay those of Licinius.[15] At the final battle of the war, the Battle of Chrysopolis , Licinius, though prominently displaying the images of Rome's pagan pantheon on his own battle line, forbade his troops from actively attacking the labarum, or even looking at it directly.[16]

Constantine felt that both Licinius and Arius were agents of Satan, and associated them with the serpent described in the Book of Revelation (12:9).[17] Constantine represented Licinius as a snake on his coins.[18]

Eusebius stated that in addition to the singular labarum of Constantine, other similar standards (labara) were issued to the Roman army. This is confirmed by the two labara depicted being held by a soldier on a coin of Vetranio (illustrated) dating from 350.

Later usage

Modern ecclesiastical labara (Southern Germany). The emperor Constantine Monomachos (centre panel of a Byzantine enamelled crown) holding a miniature labarum

Constans (Latin: Flavius Julius Constans Augustus) (c.323–350) was Roman Emperor from 337 to 350. He defeated his brother Constantine II in 340, but anger in the army over his personal life and preference for his barbarian bodyguards led the general Magnentius to rebel, resulting in the assassination of Constans in 350.


Constans was the third and youngest son of Constantine the Great and Fausta , his father's second wife. He was educated at the court of his father at Constantinople under the tutelage of the poet Aemilius Magnus Arborius . On 25 December 333, Constantine I elevated Constans to the rank of Caesar at Constantinople . Constans became engaged to Olympias , the daughter of the Praetorian Prefect Ablabius , but the marriage never came to pass.With Constantine’s death in 337, Constans and his two brothers, Constantine II and Constantius II , divided the Roman world between themselves and disposed of virtually all relatives who could possibly have a claim to the throne.The army proclaimed them Augusti on September 9, 337. Almost immediately, Constans was required to deal with a Sarmatian invasion in late 337, over whom he won a resounding victory.

Division of the Roman Empire among the Caesars appointed by Constantine I : from left to right, the territories of Constantine II , Constans, Dalmatius and Constantius II . After the death of Constantine I (May 337), this was the formal division of the Empire, until Dalmatius was killed and his territory divided between Constans and Constantius.

Constans was initially under the guardianship of Constantine II. The original settlement assigned Constans the praetorian prefectures of Italy and Africa .[6] Constans was unhappy with this division, so the brothers met at Viminacium in 338 to revise the boundaries.[6] Constans managed to extract the prefecture of Illyricum and the diocese of Thrace ,[6] provinces that were originally to be ruled by his cousin Dalmatius , as per Constantine I’s proposed division after his death.[5] Constantine II soon complained that he had not received the amount of territory that was his due as the eldest son.[7]

Annoyed that Constans had received Thrace and Macedonia after the death of Dalmatius, Constantine demanded that Constans hand over the African provinces, which he agreed to do in order to maintain a fragile peace.[7][8] Soon, however, they began quarreling over which parts of the African provinces belonged to Carthage , and thus Constantine, and which belonged to Italy , and therefore Constans.[9] This led to growing tensions between the two brothers, which were only heightened by Constans finally coming of age and Constantine refusing to give up his guardianship. In 340 Constantine II invaded Italy.[8] Constans, at that time in Dacia , detached and sent a select and disciplined body of his Illyrian troops, stating that he would follow them in person with the remainder of his forces.[7] Constantine was eventually trapped at Aquileia , where he died, leaving Constans to inherit all of his brother’s former territories – Hispania , Britannia and Gaul .[4]

Constans began his reign in an energetic fashion.[4] In 341-42, he led a successful campaign against the Franks , and in the early months of 343 he visited Britain .[3] The source for this visit, Julius Firmicus Maternus , does not provide a reason, but the quick movement and the danger involved in crossing the channel in the dangerous winter months suggests it was in response to a military emergency, possibly to repel the Picts and Scots .[3]

Regarding religion, Constans was tolerant of Judaism but promulgated an edict banning pagan sacrifices in 341.[3] He suppressed Donatism in Africa and supported Nicene orthodoxy against Arianism , which was championed by his brother Constantius. Although Constans called the Council of Sardica in 343 to settle the conflict,[10] it was a complete failure,[11] and by 346 the two emperors were on the point of open warfare over the dispute.[12] The conflict was only resolved by an interim agreement which allowed each emperor to support their preferred clergy within their own spheres of influence.[12]


In the final years of his reign, Constans developed a reputation for cruelty and misrule. Dominated by favourites and openly preferring his select bodyguard, he lost the support of the legions who were also offended by his homosexuality. In 350, the general Magnentius declared himself emperor at Augustodunum with the support of the troops on the Rhine frontier, and later the western provinces of the Empire. Constans was enjoying himself nearby when he was notified of the elevation of Magnentius. Lacking any support beyond his immediate household, he was forced to flee for his life. As he was trying to reach either Italy or Spain, supporters of Magnentius cornered him in a fortification in Vicus Helena (now Elne) in the Pyrenees , southwestern Gaul , where he was killed after seeking sanctuary in a temple.

The phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird that originated in Persian mythology , ancient Phoenician mythology (according to Sanchuniathon ), Chinese mythology , Egyptian religion and later Greek mythology .

A phoenix is a mythical bird that is a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1,000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (Greek for sun-city). It is said that the bird's cry is that of a beautiful song. In very few stories they are able to change into people.

The Roman poet Ovid wrote the following about the phoenix:

Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.

French author Voltaire thus described the phoenix:

It was of the size of an eagle, but its eyes were as mild and tender as those of the eagle are fierce and threatening. Its beak was the color of a rose, and seemed to resemble, in some measure, the beautiful mouth of Formosante. Its neck resembled all the colors of the rainbow, but more brilliant and lively. A thousand shades of gold glistened on its plumage. Its feet seemed a mixture of purple and silver; and the tail of those beautiful birds which were afterwards fixed to the car of Juno, did not come near the beauty of its tail.

The Chi Rho is one of the earliest christograms used by Christians. It is formed by superimposing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ ( Greek  : "Χριστός" ), chi = ch and rho = r, in such a way to produce the monogram . The Chi-Rho symbol was also used by pagan Greek scribes to mark, in the margin, a particularly valuable or relevant passage; the combined letters Chi and Rho standing for chrēston, meaning "good."

Although not technically a cross, the Chi Rho invokes the crucifixion of Jesus as well as symbolizing his status as the Christ. There is early evidence of the Chi Rho symbol on Christian Rings of the third century.

The labarum (Greek: λάβαρον) was a vexillum (military standard) that displayed the "Chi-Rho" symbol, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Χριστός) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ). It was first used by the Roman emperor Constantine I . Since the vexillum consisted of a flag suspended from the crossbar of a cross, it was ideally suited to symbolize crucifixion . The Chi-Rho symbol was also used by Greek scribes to mark, in the margin, a particularly valuable or relevant passage; the combined letters Chi and Rho standing for chrēston, meaning "good."

A galley is a type of ship propelled by rowers that originated in the Mediterranean region and was used for warfare , trade and piracy from the first millennium BC. Galleys dominated naval warfare in the Mediterranean Sea from the 8th century BC until development of advanced sailing warships in the 17th century. Galleys fought in the wars of Assyria , ancient Phoenicia , Greece , Carthage and Rome until the 4th century AD. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire galleys formed the mainstay of the Byzantine navy and other navies of successors of the Roman Empire, as well as new Muslim navies. Medieval Mediterranean states, notably the Italian maritime republics, including Venice , Pisa , and Genoa , relied on them as the primary warships of their fleets until the late 16th century, when they were displaced by broadside sailing warships. Galleys continued to be applied in minor roles in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea even after the invention of steam propelled ships in the early 19th century.

The galley engagements at Actium and Lepanto are among the greatest naval battles in history.

Definition and terminology

The term "galley" derives from the medieval Greek galea, a type of small Byzantine galley.[1] The origin of the Greek word is unclear but could possibly be related to galeos, "dog-fish; small shark".[2] The term has been attested in English from c. 1300[3] and has been used in most European languages from around 1500 as a general term for oared war vessels, especially those used in the Mediterranean from the late Middle Ages and onwards.[4]

It is only since the 16th century that a unified galley concept has been in use. Before that, and 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 oared vessels, though the "true" galley is defined as the ships belonging to the Mediterranean tradition.[5] Archaeologist Lionel Casson has on occasion used "galley" to describe all North European shipping in the early and high Middle Ages, including Viking merchants and even their famous longships .[6]

In the late 18th century, the "galley" was in some contexts used to describe oared gun-armed vessels which did not fit into the category of the classic Mediterranean-type galleys. During the American Revolutionary War and the wars against France and Britain the US Navy built vessels that were described as "row galleys" or simply "galleys", though they actually were variants of brigantines or Baltic gunboats .[7] The description was more a characterization of their military role, and partially due to technicalities in the administration and naval financing.[8]


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 forwards, a less efficient form of propulsion than rowing with proper oars, facing backwards. Sea-going 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 8,000 BC required fairly large, seaworthy vessels that were paddled and possibly even equipped with sails.[9] The first evidence of more complex craft that are considered to prototypes for later galleys comes from Ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom (c. 2700-2200 BC). Under the rule of pharaoh Pepi I (2332-2283 BC) these vessels were used to transport troops to raid settlements along the Levantine coast and to ship back slaves and timber.[10] During the reign of Hatshepsut (c. 1479-57 BC), Egyptian galleys traded in luxuries on the Red Sea with the enigmatic Land of Punt , as recorded on wall paintings at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari .[11]

Assyrian warship, a bireme with pointed bow. 700 BC

Shipbuilders, probably Phoenician , a seafaring people who lived on the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, were the first to create the two-level galley that would be widely known under its Greek name, biērēs, or bireme .[12] Even though the Phoenicians were among the most important naval civilizations in early Antiquity , little detailed evidence have been found concerning the types of ships they used. 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. 1600 BC) show more detailed pictures of vessels with ceremonial tents on deck in a procession. 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.[13]

Military history

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.[14] The first recorded naval battle, the battle of the Delta between Egyptian forces under Ramesses III and the enigmatic alliance known as the Sea Peoples , occurred as early as 1175 BC. 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.[15]

A reconstruction of an ancient Greek galley squadron based on images of modern replica Olympias

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 render an enemy galley useless by breaking its side planking. The relative speed and nimbleness of ships became important, since a slower ship could be outmaneuvered and disabled by a faster one. Early designs had only one row of rowers that sat in undecked hulls, rowing against tholes , or oarports, 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. 750 BC, the galley could be made shorter with as many rowers, while making them strong enough to be effective ramming weapons.[16]

Early galleys usually had between 15 and 30 pairs of oars and were called triaconters or penteconters , literally "thirty-" and "fifty-oared", respectively. By the 8th century BC, the Phoenecians had added a second row of oars to these ships, creating the bireme. Soon after, a third row of oars was added by the addition of an outrigger to the hull of a bireme, a projecting construction that allowed for more room for the projecting oars. These new galleys were called triērēs ("three-fitted") in Greek. 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 in 701 BC, but the earliest positive literary reference dates to 542 BC.[17] According to the Greek historian Herodotos , the first ramming action occurred in 535 BC when 60 Phocaean penteconters fought 120 Etruscan and Carthaginian ships. On this occasion it was described as an innovation that allowed Phocaeans to defeat a larger force.[18]

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 170 rowers. Triremes fought several important engagements in the naval battles of the Greco-Persian Wars (502–449 BC) and the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), including the battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC, which sealed the defeat of the Athenian Empire by Sparta and her allies. 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 a sizeable state with an advanced economy and administration. They required considerable skill to row and oarsmen were mostly free citizens that had a lifetime of experience at the oar.[19]

Greeks and Phoenicians

Early Greek vessels had few navigational tools. Most ancient and medieval shipping remained in sight of the coast for ease of navigation, safety, trading opportunities, and coastal currents and winds that could be used to work against and around prevailing winds. It was more important for galleys than sailing ships to remain near the coast because they needed more frequent re-supply of fresh water for their large, sweating, crews and were more vulnerable to storms. Unlike ships primarily dependent on sails, they could use small bays and beaches as harbors, travel up rivers, operate in water only a meter or so deep, and be dragged overland to be launched on lakes, or other branches of the sea. This made them suitable for launching attacks on land. In antiquity a famous portage was the diolkos of Corinth. In 429 BC (Thucydides 2.56.2), and probably earlier (Herodotus 6.48.2, 7.21.2, 7.97), galleys were adapted to carry horses to provide cavalry support to troops also landed by galleys.

The compass did not come into use for navigation until the 13th century AD, and sextants , octants , accurate marine chronometers , and the mathematics required to determine longitude and latitude were developed much later. Ancient sailors navigated by the sun and the prevailing wind[citation needed]. By the first millennium BC they had started using the stars to navigate at night. By 500 BC they had the sounding lead (Herodotus 2.5).

Galleys were hauled out of the water whenever possible to keep them dry, light and fast and free from worm, rot and seaweed. Galleys were usually overwintered in ship sheds which left distinctive archeological remains.[20] There is evidence that the hulls of the Punic wrecks were sheathed in lead.

Building an efficient galley posed technical problems. The faster a ship travels, the more energy it uses. Through a process of trial and error, the unireme or monoreme — a galley with one row of oars on each side — reached the peak of its development in the penteconter , about 38 m long, with 25 oarsmen on each side. It could reach 9 knots (18 km/h), only a knot or so slower than modern rowed racing-boats. To maintain the strength of such a long craft tensioned cables were fitted from the bow to the stern; this provided rigidity without adding weight. This technique kept the joints of the hull under compression - tighter, and more waterproof. The tension in the modern trireme replica anti-hogging cables was 300 kN (Morrison p198).

Hellenistic era and rise of the Republic

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.[21]

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. 432–367 BC) is credited with pioneering the "five" and "six", meaning five or six rows of rowers plying two or three rows of oars. Ptolemy II (283-46 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 (246-146) between the Roman republic and Carthage , which included massive naval battles with hundreds of vessels and tens of thousands of soldiers, seamen and rowers.[22]

Roman Imperial era Depictions of two compact liburnians used by the Romans in their campaigns against the Dacians in the early 2nd century AD; reliefs from Trajan's Column , c. 113 AD.

The battle of Actium in 31 BC between the forces of Augustus and Mark Antony marked the peak of the Roman fleet arm. 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 160s 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".[23] Instead, 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. These were named after an Illyrian tribe known by Romans for their sea roving practices, and these smaller craft were based on, or inspired by, their vessels of choice. The liburnians and other small galleys patrolled the rivers of continental Europe and reached as far as the Baltic, where they were used to fight local uprisings and assist in checking foreign invasions. The Romans maintained numerous bases around the empire: along the rivers of Central Europe, chains of forts along the northern European coasts and the British Isles, Mesopotamia and North Africa, including Trabzon , Vienna, Belgrade, Dover, Seleucia and Alexandria . Few actual galley battles in the provinces are found in records, but one action in 70 AD at the uncertain location of the "Island of the Batavians" during the Batavian Rebellion was noted, and featured a trireme as the Roman flagship.[24] The last provincial fleet, the classis Britannica, was reduced by the late 200s, though there was a minor upswing under the rule of Constantine (272–337). His rule also saw the final major naval battle of the Roman Empire, the battle of Adrianople of 324. Some time after Adrianople, the classical trireme fell out of use, and was eventually forgotten.[25]

Middle Ages A 13th century war galley depicted in a Byzantine-style fresco.

Late medieval maritime warfare was divided in two distinct regions. In the Mediterranean galleys were used for raiding along coasts, and in the constant fighting for naval bases. In the Atlantic and Baltic there was greater focus on sailing ships that were used mostly for troop transport, with galleys providing fighting support.[26] Galleys were still widely used in the north and were the most numerous warships used by Mediterranean powers with interests in the north, especially the French and Iberian kingdoms.[27] A transition from galley to sailing vessels as the most common types of warships began in the high Middle Ages (c. 11th century). Large high-sided sailing ships had always been formidable obstacles for galleys. To low-freeboard oared vessels, the bulkier sailing ships like the carrack and the cog acted almost like floating fortresses, being difficult to board and even harder to capture. Galleys remained useful as warships throughout the Middle Ages since they had the ability to maneuver in a way that sailing vessels of the time were completely incapable of. Sailing ships of the time had only one mast, usually with just one large square sail, which made them cumbersome to steer and virtually impossible to sail in the wind direction. This allowed the galleys great freedom of movement along coasts for raiding and landing troops.[28]

In the eastern Mediterranean, the Byzantine Empire struggled with the incursion from invading Muslim Arabs from the 7th century, leading to fierce competition, a buildup of fleet, and war galleys of increasing size. Soon after conquering Egypt and the Levant, the Arab rulers built ships highly similar to Byzantine dromons with the help of local Coptic shipwrights former Byzantine naval bases.[29] By the 9th century, the struggle between the Byzantines and Arabs had turned the Eastern Mediterranean into a no man's land for merchant activity. In the 820s Crete was captured by Andalusian Muslims displaced by a failed revolt against the Emirate of Cordoba , turning the island into a base for (galley) attacks on Christian shipping until the island was recaptured by the Byzantines in 960.[30]

In the western Mediterranean and Atlantic, the division of the Carolingian Empire in the late 9th century brought on a period of instability, meaning increased piracy and raiding in the Mediterranean, particularly by newly-arrived Muslim invaders. The situation was worsened by raiding Scandinavian Vikings who used longships , vessels that in many ways were very close to galleys in design and functionality and also employed similar tactics. To counter the threat, local rulers began to build large oared vessels, some with up to 30 pairs of oars, that were larger, faster and with higher sides than Viking ships.[31] Scandinavian expansion, including incursions into the Mediterranean and attacks on both Muslim Iberia and even Constantinople itself, subsided by the mid-11th century. By this time, greater stability in merchant traffic was achieved by the emergence of Christian kingdoms such as those of France, Hungary and Poland. Around the same time, Italian port towns and city states, like Venice , Pisa and Amalfi , rose on the fringes of the Byzantine Empire as it struggled with eastern threats.[32]

During the 13th and 14th century, the galley evolved into a design that was to remain essentially the same until it was phased out in the early 19th century. The new type of galley descended from the ships used by Byzantine and Muslim fleets in the early Middle Ages. These were the mainstay of all Christian powers until the 14th century, including the great maritime republics of Genoa and Venice, the Papacy, the Hospitallers, Aragon and Castile, as well as by various pirates and corsairs . The overall term used for these types of vessels was gallee sottili ("slender galleys"). The later Ottoman navy used similar designs, but they were generally faster under sail, and smaller, but slower under oars.[33] Galley designs were intended solely for close action with hand-held weapons and projectile weapons like bows and crossbows. In the 13th century the Iberian kingdom of Aragon built several fleet of galleys with high castles, manned with Catalan crossbowman, and regularly defeated numerically superior Angevin forces.[34]

During the 14th century, galleys began to be equipped with cannons of various sizes, mostly smaller ones at first, but also larger bombardas on vessels belonging to Alfonso V of Aragon .

The transition to sailing ships

As early as 1304 the type of ship required by the Danish defence organization changed from galley to cog , a flat-bottomed sailing ship.[35]

During the early 15th century, sailing ships began to dominate naval warfare in northern waters. While the galley still remained the primary warship in southern waters, a similar transition had begun also among the Mediterranean powers. A Castilian naval raid on the island of Jersey in 1405 became the first recorded battle battle where a Mediterranean power employed a naval force consisting mostly of cogs or nefs , rather than the oared-powered galleys. The battle of Gibraltar between Castile and Portugal in 1476 was another important sign of change; it was the first recorded battle where the primary combatants were full-rigged ships armed with wrought-iron guns on the upper decks and in the waists, foretelling of the slow decline of the war galley.[36]

Early modern period Painting of the battle of Haarlemmermeer of 1573 by Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom . Note the use of small sailing vessels and galleys on both sides.

From around 1450, three major naval powers established a dominance over different parts of the Mediterranean using galleys as their primary weapons at sea: the Ottomans in the east, Venice in the center and Habsburg Spain in the west.[37] The core of their fleets were concentrated in the three major, wholly dependable naval bases in the Mediterranean: Constantinople , Venice and Barcelona .[38] Naval warfare in the 16th century Mediterranean was fought mostly on a smaller scale, with raiding and minor actions dominating. Only three truly major fleet engagements were actually fought in the 16th century: the battles of Preveza in 1538, Djerba in 1560 and Lepanto in 1571. Lepanto became the last large all-galley battle ever, and was also one of the largest battle in terms of participants anywhere in early modern Europe before the Napoleonic Wars .[39]

Occasionally the Mediterranean powers employed galley forces for conflicts outside of the Mediterranean. Spain sent galley squadrons to the Netherlands during the later stages of the Eighty Years' War which successfully operated against Dutch forces in the enclosed, shallow coastal waters. From the late 1560s, galleys were also used to transport silver to Genoese bankers to finance Spanish troops against the Dutch uprising.[40] Galleasses and galleys were part of an invasion force of over 16,000 men that conquered the Azores in 1583. Around 2,000 galley rowers were on board ships of the famous 1588 Spanish Armada , though few of these actually made it to the battle itself.[41] Outside of European and Middle Eastern waters, Spain built galleys to deal with pirates and privateers in both the Caribbean and the Philippines.[42] Ottoman galleys contested the Portuguese intrusion in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century, but failed against the high-sided, massive Portuguese carracks in open waters.[43]

Galleys had been synonymous with warships in the Mediterranean for at least 2,000 years, and continued to fulfill that role with the invention of gunpowder and heavy artillery. Though early 20th century historians often dismissed the galleys as hopelessly outclassed with the first introduction of naval artillery on sailing ships,[44] it was the galley that was favored by the introduction of heavy naval guns. Galleys were a more "mature" technology with long-established tactics and traditions of supporting social institutions and naval organizations. In combination with the intensified conflicts this led to a substantial increase in the size of galley fleets from c. 1520-80, above all in the Mediterranean, but also in other European theatres.[45] Galleys and similar oared vessels remained uncontested as the most effective gun-armed warships in theory until the 1560s, and in practice for a few decades more, and were actually considered a grave risk to sailing warships.[46] They could effectively fight other galleys, attack sailing ships in calm weather or in unfavorable winds (or deny them action if needed) and act as floating siege batteries. They were also unequaled in their amphibious capabilities, even at extended ranges, as exemplified by French interventions as far north as Scotland in the mid-16th century.[47]

Heavy artillery on galleys was mounted in the bow which fit conveniently with the long-standing tactical tradition of attacking head-on and bow-first. The ordnance on galleys was heavy from its introduction in the 1480s, and capable of quickly demolishing the high, thin medieval stone walls that still prevailed in the 16th century. This temporarily upended the strength of older seaside fortresses, which had to be rebuilt to cope with gunpowder weapons. The addition of guns also improved the amphibious abilities of galleys as they could assault supported with heavy firepower, and could be even more effectively defended when beached stern-first.[48] An accumulation and generalizing of bronze cannons and small firearms in the Mediterranean during the 16th century increased the cost of warfare, but also made those dependent on them more resilient to manpower losses. Older ranged weapons, like bows or even crossbows, required considerable skill to handle, sometimes a lifetime of practice, while gunpowder weapons required considerable less training to use successfully.[49] According to a highly influential study by military historian John F. Guilmartin, this transition in warfare, along with the introduction of much cheaper cast iron guns in the 1580s, proved the "death knell" for the war galley as a significant military vessel.[50] Gunpowder weapons began to displace men as the fighting power of armed forces, making individual soldiers more deadly and effective. As offensive weapons, firearms could be stored for years with minimal maintenance and did not require the expenses associated with soldiers. Manpower could thus be exchanged for capital investments, something which benefited sailing vessels that were already far more economical in their use of manpower. It also served to increase their strategic range and to out-compete galleys as fighting ships.[51]

The North The Galley Subtle, one of the very few Mediterranean-style galleys employed by the English. Illustration from the Anthony Roll , c. 1546.

Oared vessels remained in use in northern waters for a long time, though in subordinate role and in particular circumstances. During the Dutch Revolt (1566–1609) against the Habsburg empire, both the Spanish and Dutch (including those who remained loyal to the Habsburgs) employed galleys in amphibious operations in shallow waters where deep-draft sailing vessels could not enter.[52] In the Italian Wars , French galleys brought up from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic posed a serious threat to the early English Tudor navy during coastal operations. The response came in the building of a considerable fleet of oared vessels, including hybrids with a complete three-masted rig, as well as a Mediterranean-style galleys (that were even attempted to be manned with convicts and slaves).[53] Under king Henry VIII , the English navy used several kinds of vessels that were adapted to local needs. English galliasses (very different from the Mediterranean vessel of of the same name ) were employed to cover the flanks of larger naval forces while pinnaces and rowbarges were used for scouting or even as a backup for the longboats and tenders for the larger sailing ships.[54]

While galleys were too vulnerable to be used in large numbers in the open waters of the Atlantic, they were well-suited for use in much of the Baltic Sea by Denmark, Sweden, Russia and some of the Central European powers with ports on the southern coast. There were two types of naval battlegrounds in the Baltic. One was the open sea, suitable for large sailing fleets; the other was the coastal areas and especially the chain of small islands and archipelagos that ran almost uninterrupted from Stockholm to the Gulf of Finland. In these areas, conditions were often too calm, cramped and shallow for sailing ships, but they were excellent for galleys and other oared vessels.[55] Galleys of the Mediterranean type were first introduced in the Baltic Sea around the mid-16th century as competition between the Scandinavian states of Denmark and Sweden intensified. The Swedish galley fleet was the largest outside of the Mediterranean, and served as an auxiliary branch of the army. Very little is known about the design of Baltic galleys, except that they were overall smaller than in the Mediterranean and they were rowed by army soldiers rather than convicts or slaves.[56]

Mediterranean decline

Atlantic style warfare based on heavily armed sailing ships began to change the nature of naval warfare in the Mediterranean in the 17th century. In 1616, a small squadron of five galleons and a patache was used to cruise the eastern Mediterranean and defeated a fleet of fifty five galleys at the battle of Cape Celidonia . By 1650, war galleys were used primarily in the wars between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in their struggle for strategic island and coastal trading bases and until the 1720s by France and Spain but for largely amphibious and cruising operation, not for large fleet battles. Even a purely Mediterranean power like Venice began to construct sail only warships in the latter part of the century. Christian and Muslim corsairs had been using galleys in sea roving and in support of the major powers in times of war, but largely replaced them with xebecs , various sail/oar hybrids, and a few remaining light galleys in the early 17th century.[57] Spain still waged classical amphibious galley warfare in the 1640s by supplying troops in Tarragona in its war against France.[58] No large all galley battles were fought after the gigantic clash at Lepanto in 1571, and galleys were mostly used as cruisers or for supporting sailing warships as a rearguard in fleet actions, similar to the duties performed by frigates outside of the Mediterranean.[57] They could assist damaged ships out of the line, but generally only in very calm weather, as was the case at the battle of Malaga in 1704.[59]

For small states and principalities as well as groups of private merchants, galleys were more affordable than large and complex sailing warships, and were used as defense against piracy.[60] The largest galley fleets in the 17th century were operated by the two major Mediterranean powers, France and Spain . France had by the 1650s become the most powerful state in Europe, and expanded its galley forces under the rule of the absolutist "Sun King" Louis XIV . In the 1690s the French Galley Corps reached its all-time peak with more than 50 vessels manned by over 15,000 men and officers, becoming the largest galley in the world at the time.[61] Though there was intense rivalry between France and Spain, not a single galley battle occurred between the two great powers, and virtually no battles between other nations either.[62] During the War of the Spanish Succession , French galleys were involved in actions against Antwerp and Harwich ,[52] but due to the intricacies of alliance politics there were never any Franco-Spanish galley clashes. In the first half of the 18th century, the other major naval powers in North Africa, the Order of Saint John and the Papal States all cut down drastically on their galley forces.[63] Despite the lack of action, the French Galley Corps received vast resources (20-25% of the French naval expenditures) during the last decades of the 17th centuries and was maintained as a functional fighting force right up until its abolishment in 1748. Its primary function became to symbolize the prestige of Louis XIV's hard-line absolutist ambitions by patrolling the Mediterranean to force ships of other states to salute the King's banner, convoying ambassadors and cardinals, and obediently participating in naval parades and royal pageantry.[64]

The last recorded battle in the Mediterranean where galleys played a significant part was at Matapan in 1717, between the Ottomans and Venice and its allies, though they had little influence on the final outcome. Few large-scale naval battles were fought in the Mediterranean throughout most of the remainder of the 18th century. The Tuscan galley fleet was dismantled around 1718, Naples had only four old vessels by 1734 and the French Galley Corps had ceased to exist as an independent arm in 1748. Venice, the Papal States and the Knights of Malta were the only state fleets that maintained galleys, though in nothing like their previous quantities.[65] By 1790, there were less than 50 galleys in service among all the Mediterranean powers, half of which belonged to Venice.[66]

Baltic revival The second battle of Svensksund in 1790 between the Swedish and Russian navies was the last major naval battle between forces that included large numbers of galleys and other oared vessels.

Galleys were introduced to the Baltic Sea in the 16th century but the details of their designs are lacking due to the absence of records. They might have been built in a more regional style, but the only known depiction from the time shows a typical Mediterranean vessel. There is conclusive evidence that Denmark became the first Baltic power to build classic Mediterranean-style galleys in the 1660s, though they proved to be generally too large to be useful for use in the shallow waters of the Baltic archipelagos. Sweden and especially Russia began to launch galleys and various rowed vessels in great numbers during the Great Northern War in the first two decades of the 18th century.[67] Sweden was late in the game when it came to building an effective oared fighting fleet while the Russian galley forces under tsar Peter I developed into a supporting arm for the sailing navy, as well as a well-functioning auxiliary of the army which infiltrated and conducted numerous raids on the eastern Swedish coast in the 1710s.[68]

Sweden and Russia became the two main competitors for Baltic dominance in the 18th century, and built the largest galley fleets in the world at the time. They were used for amphibious operations in Russo-Swedish wars of 1741-43 and 1788-90 . The last galleys ever constructed were built in 1796 by Russia, and remained in service well into the 19th century, but saw little action.[69] The last time galleys were deployed in action was when the Russian navy attacked Åbo (Turku) in 1854 as part of the Crimean War .[70]


In the earliest days of the galley, there was no clear distinction between galleys of trade and war other than their actual usage. River boats plied the waterways of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BC) and sea-going galley-like vessels were recorded bringing back luxuries from across the Red Sea in the reign of pharaoh Hatshepsu (c. 1479-1457). 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 6:1, proportions that fell between the 4:1 of sailing merchant ships and the 8:1 or 10:1 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.[71]

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") in Latin, 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 was 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. "bean pod") for passanger transport and the lembus, a small-scale express carrier. Many of these designs continued to be used until the Middle Ages.[72]

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the early centuries AD, the old Mediterranean economy collapsed and the volume of trade went down drastically. Its eastern successor, the Byzantine Empire , neglected to revive overland trade routes but was dependent on keeping the sea lanes open to keep the empire together. Bulk trade fell around 600-750 while the luxury trade increased. Galleys remained in service, but were profitable mainly in the luxury trade, which set off their high maintenance cost.[73] In the 10th century, there was a sharp increase in piracy which resulted in larger ships with more numerous crews. These were mostly built by the growing city-states of Italy which were emerging as the dominant sea powers, including Venice , Genoa and Pisa. Inheriting the Byzantine ship designs, the new merchant galleys were similar dromons , but without any heavy weapons and both faster and wider. They could be manned by crews of up to 1,000 men and were employed in both trade and warfare. A further boost to the development of the large merchant galleys was the upswing in Western European pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land[74]

In Northern Europe, Viking longships and their derivations, knarrs , dominated trading and shipping, though developed separately from the Mediterranean galley tradition. In the South galleys continued to be useful for trade even as sailing vessels evolved more efficient hulls and rigging; since they could hug the shoreline and make steady progress when winds failed, they were highly reliable. The zenith in the design of merchant galleys came with the state-owned great galleys of the Venetian Republic , first built in the 1290s. These were used to carry the lucrative trade in luxuries from the east such as spices, silks and gems. They were in all respects larger than contemporary war galleys (up to 46 m) and had a deeper draft, with more room for cargo (140-250 t). With a full complement of rowers ranging from 150 to 180 men, all available to defend the ship from attack, they were also very safe modes of travel. This attracted a business of carrying affluent pilgrims to the Holy Land, a trip that could be accomplished in as little 29 days on the route Venice-Jaffa, despite landfalls for rest and watering or for respite from rough weather.[75]

From the first half of the 14th century the Venetian galere da mercato ("merchantman galleys") were being built in the shipyards of the state-run Arsenal as "a combination of state enterprise and private association, the latter being a kind of consortium of export merchants", as Fernand Braudel described them.[76] The ships sailed in convoy, defended by archers and slingsmen (ballestieri) aboard, and later carrying cannons. In Genoa , the other major maritime power of the time, galleys and ships in general were more produced by smaller private ventures.

In the 14th and 15th centuries merchant galleys traded high-value goods and carried passengers. Major routes in the time of the early Crusades carried the pilgrim traffic to the Holy Land. Later routes linked ports around the Mediterranean, between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea (a grain trade soon squeezed off by the Turkish capture of Constantinople, 1453) and between the Mediterranean and Bruges — where the first Genoese galley arrived at Sluys in 1277, the first Venetian galere in 1314— and Southampton . Although primarily sailing vessels, they used oars to enter and leave many trading ports of call, the most effective way of entering and leaving the Lagoon of Venice . The Venetian galera, beginning at 100 tons and built as large as 300, was not the largest merchantman of its day, when the Genoese carrack of the 15th century might exceed 1000 tons.[77] In 1447, for instance, Florentine galleys planned to call at 14 ports on their way to and from Alexandria.[78] The availability of oars enabled these ships to navigate close to the shore where they could exploit land and sea breezes and coastal currents, to work reliable and comparatively fast passages against the prevailing wind. The large crews also provided protection against piracy. These ships were very seaworthy; a Florentine great galley left Southampton on 23 February 1430 and returned to its port at Pisa in 32 days. They were so safe that merchandise was often not insured (Mallet). These ships increased in size during this period, and were the template from which the galleass developed.


Illustration of an Egyptian rowed ship of c. 1250 BC. Due to a lack of a proper keel , the vessel has a truss , a thick cable along its length, to prevent it from losing its shape.

Galleys have since their first appearance in ancient times been intended as highly maneuverable vessels, independent of winds by being rowed, and usually with a focus on speed under oars. The profile has therefore been that of a markedly elongated hull with a ratio of breadth to length at the waterline of at least 1:5, and in the case of ancient Mediterranean galleys as much as 1:10 with a small draught, the measurement of how much of a ship's structure that is submerged under water. To make it possible to efficiently row the vessels, the freeboard , the height of the railing to the surface of the water, was by necessity kept low. This gave oarsmen enough leverage to row efficiently, but at the expense of seaworthiness. These design characteristics made the galley fast and maneuverable, but more vulnerable to rough weather.

On the funerary monument of the Egyptian king Sahure (2487–2475 BC) in Abusir , there are relief images of vessels with a marked sheer (the curvature along its length) and seven pairs of oars along its side, a number that was likely to have been merely symbolical, and steering oars in the stern. They have one mast, all lowered and vertical posts at stem and stern, with the front decorated with an Eye of Horus , the first example of such a decoration. It was later used by other Mediterranean cultures to decorate sea going craft in the belief that it helped to guide the ship safely to its destination. These early galleys apparently lacked a keel meaning they lacked stiffness along their length. Therefore they had large cables connecting stem and stern resting on massive crutches on deck. They were held in tension to avoid hogging , or bending the ship's construction upwards in the middle, while at sea.[10] In the 15th century BC, Egyptian galleys were still depicted with the distinctive extreme sheer, but had by then developed the distinctive forward-curving stern decorations with ornaments in the shape of lotus flowers .[79] They had possibly developed a primitive type of keel, but still retained the large cables intended to prevent hogging.[11]

The design of the earliest oared vessels is mostly unknown and highly conjectural. They likely used a mortise construction, but were sewn together rather than pinned together with nails and dowels. Being completely open, they were rowed (or even paddled) from the open deck, and likely had "ram entries", projections from the bow lowered the resistance of moving through water, making them slightly more hydrodynamic. The first true galleys, the triaconters ("thirty-oarers") and penteconters ("fifty-oarers") were developed from these early designs and set the standard for the larger designs tha

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