Medieval Sailing Ships

Medieval Sailing Ships that traversed the seas between 3000BC-1500AD had significant impacts in shaping the history of civilization of mankind. They came in different shapes, forms and sizes and bore different names depending on the origin. Some types of medieval ships include; The Galley (Greek), The Cog (Northern European), The Nef (French), long ship (Scandinavian) Bireme and Tireme (Roman, Turk, and Venetian). The design of these ships was a demonstration of how highly specialized they were at sea (Morrison, 2005).

The galley is an ancient Greek and Phoenician ship that is traced back to the 3000 BC. The method of propulsion of the ship was by the use of human oarsmen. These ships played a major part in the major wars in history determining the victory since nations that had them had an edge over the other. Their design comprised of a sail and either side of the ship had a single file of oarsmen. The sails of the galley were square-rigged. This availed the ship the maneuverability and the speed it required at sea. The early galleys were devoid of navigational tools such as compasses which were employed in the 13th century. They were therefore compelled to sail not deep into the high seas but at a distance in which the shore was in sight. Due to limited capacities, the close distance to the shore facilitated their ease in replenishing their supplies from nearby land. They were less dependant on sail like the ships that were later developed and could even sail in water as shallow was 1 meter. Their vulnerability to high seas was due to their relative small size that was a blessing in disguise. This is because the galleys could be transported on land by dragging and launched on other water bodies such as lakes for onslaught purposes in the case of warfare. The ram was developed in 800B.C as an attack tool that was added to the galley. It would be used to run into another ship for the purpose of breaking it into two. This changed the landscape of naval warfare making it more violent. Galleys that had the ram were called the Penteconter. Before the Penteconter, naval warfare involved two aspects: boarding and combat that was predominantly hand-to-hand. Pentecnoters measured 38m long, had 25orasmen on either side and had cruising speeds of 9knkots/18km/hr. By 429B.C they had been modified to give provision for the transportation of a calvary and horses. Galleys were also easy to drag out of water in order to avert the growth of sea weed, development of rot and to loose water so that they stay light ( Pryor,2004).

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Biremes and Tiremes are types of galleys that dates back between the 7th and 6th century B.C. There was a heavy Phoenecian influence in the built of these ships. The modification entailed the addition of a secondary row or oars to the preexisting one making it two file of oarsmen on either side. The third row was added to form tireremes that came into existence and were hired by Persians in from the Pheoencians. They were instrumental to the Persian victory over the Athenians in the 490B.C battle of Marathon. The tireremes orchestrated the expansion of the Persian empire to include Greece in the 5th century. They were also involved in the Peloponnesian War of 431 – 404 BC. The Battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC was a fully fledge tireremse fleet war that cemented the vanquishing of the Athenian empire by the skilled Spartans. They were used Alexander the great’s successors in their conquests between (322 – 281 BC . This time with platforms that supported artillery, bigger in size and with better maneuvers. They varied from quineremes to sexieremes.. They were put less into use with the unification of the Roman empire. These galleys were defeated by 80 double row vessels oared by 30 men in a balle of battle of the Hellespont 324 BC where 200 trieremes were used. By 79 AD with only a handful of quadrieremes in their fleet ( Pryor,2004).

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In northern Europe, galleys were employed primarily for warfare and transport within the maritime territory . This can be exemplified by the Lords of the Isles in Scotland between the 1263 and 1500. These type of galleys were known as long ships that had square sails and . Their files of oars were akin to the Norse predecessors which were also medieval European design of galleys. By the 14ht century, the modification of the galleys entailed the use of a stern rudder in lieu of the rowing oars. Between this century and the 15th century, galleys were built to serve as merchant vessels. They were used to ferry high-cost equipment and offer transport to the populace. This led to the use of The Nef and the cog ship to bolster the grain transpired between the Black and the Mediterranean seas. The round ship was used at this time by Christian crusaders to spread Christianity they also served to open market opportunities for Italian merchants. The round ships were gradually phased out in the 15th century and substituted by the Carrack; another design of the galley that had more room for people and cargo (Morrison, 2005).

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