1 The oared fighting ship of the Mediterranean dating from about 3000 bc, and lasting into the 18th century. Originally propelled by oars arranged on a single level, galleys were developed with oars arranged in banks, or different levels, known as biremes (two banks) and triremes (three banks). Galleys are mentioned in ancient writings with more banks of oars than three—quadreremes, quinqueremes, and in fact up to seventeen banks—but obviously this cannot refer to banks of oars, and some other method of classification must have been adopted, though no records exist of the methods today. In multibank galleys, up to the trireme, the length of oars differed according to the bank on which they were mounted, and it is generally thought that the length of oar in the upper bank was about 4.3 metres (14 ft), in the middle bank about 3.2 metres (10 ft 6 in.), and in the lower bank 2.3 metres (7 ft 6 in.). The number of rowers in each bank also varied, and in a typical Greek trireme with an overall length of about 39 metres (130 ft) and a beam of between 5 and 6 metres (18–19 ft), there would be 31 oars each side in the upper bank (known as thranites), and 27 oars each side in the middle (zygotes) and lower (thalamites) banks.
The weapon of the galley was the ram, and from the 16th century guns were mounted on a platform in the bows, but they could not be trained and had to fire only directly ahead.
The galley was basically an unstable vessel, suitable only for use in calm waters. They were capable of sailing before the wind and had one or two masts, depending on their length, carrying in their early days one square sail on each mast but lateen sails in later periods of their existence. Masts and sails were used only for passage-making and were always lowered and stowed away before action, to ensure that the great manoeuvrability given by the oars was always available in battle. A trireme, with all three banks of oars operating, was estimated to be capable of a speed of between 8 and 9 knots, but only for a short period depending on the stamina and strength of the rowers. The last naval action in which Mediterranean galleys took part was fought in 1717; in the Baltic, galleys were still employed as warships as late as the Russo-Swedish War of 1809. See also galliot; warfare at sea.
2 (a) An open rowing boat, with six or eight oars, used largely by customs officers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the British Navy by press gangs visiting ships afloat in search of recruits. (b) A warship's boat, originally clinker built but more recently of carvel construction, rowing six oars and usually reserved for the use of the captain. Two masts, carrying lateen or lug sails, could be stepped for sailing.
3 The ship's kitchen, sometimes also called the caboose in smaller merchant vessels.