Military and maritime technology in the second half of the 16th century
WeaponsSeveral historians have stressed the role of artillery, particularly heavy one, in the transformation of the correlation of powers from the mid-15th century onwards. The victory of the western forces at Lepanto has been explained by emphasizing the Venetian -mostly- superiority in artillery. It seems, however, that it was the Venetians themselves who first provided this explanation, as they wanted to benefit from the glory and the profits from the victory. Yet, they failed to mention that their artillery was handled mainly by mercenaries and men who belonged to the Spanish army. The Ottomans, on the other hand, placed more importance on tactics, whereas their men, mostly the janissaries, were used to fighting on horseback, using mainly bows, and were fit for amphibious operations.
Galley“the perfect galley should capture precisely the attributes of a graceful young woman, whose every aspect should manifest swiftness, vivacity and extreme agility” Cristoforo de Canal, Venetian Commander of the Adriatic, 1562
Maritime technology had not evolved dramatically in the centuries which elapsed since the Greek trireme of the 5th century B.C. Ships were mainly moving using the power of wind and men, namely rowers. The need to incorporate artillery in war ships started gradually to generate modifications in the design of ships. In galleys, for example, the bow had to be flatter in order to fit the cannon, whereas on the other hand the stern had to be heavier in order to balance the weight of the cannon in the front. Simultaneously more and more importance was paid to the decoration both of the ships and of the artillery they carried, in an effort to impress not only the enemy but also the crew, who hence felt proud of the ship they manned and defended with their lives. However, the galley became a basic type of war ship until the appearance of steamships in the 19th century. Its major advantage was that it could approach the shores and distance itself from it in a short time, thus offering the possibility to carry out land operations as well (by debarking the soldiers it carried). It was a ship with low drought and a narrow hull, quite unstable and easy to overturn, but flexible and capable of flanking larger ships (mainly galeasses and galleons) relatively easy and hit them with the cannons of its bow or stern, while avoiding their fire, as their cannons were placed higher than the hull of a galley. An average Ottoman galley was manned with 150-170 rowers, 50-75 soldiers, about 30 sailors and about 15 officers.
Another advantage was that the galleys were fast to build (thus many of them were constructed only when a naval clash was visible in the nearby future), and also easy to come ashore for spending the winter or undergoing repair. This prolongued their lives in relation to the larger and heavier ships, which rotted fast in the water. A consequence thereof was the low cost for their maintenance, as there was no need for the crews to remain aboard. Venetian galleys were in several aspects different from that of the Ottomans. The latters' main advantage was their light sails which offered them higher speed when sailing. In order to facilitate navigation and steering under heavy winds, the largest galleys bore a second, square sail on a bow mast, shorter and slightly slant. Gradually this developed into a proper second mast. Ottoman hulls were broader and usually lighter, as the Ottomans avoided carrying heavy artillery and many cannons. The motion power, when not sailing or accomplishing manoevres, was the rowers. An average galley had 24 to 26 rows of rowers on each side and three men on each oar. There were two systems, the singl-oared one (a scallochio) with one oar per rower, or the double-oared one (alla sensile) with one oar per bench of rowers . Quite often a combination of both systems was used on the same ship. The paintings representing he naval battle of Lepanto depict only single-oared ships, but this is not accurate and realistic. The largest galley at the time of the battle of Lepanto was Don Juan's flagship, referred to as “La Real” (i.e. the royal ship). In the Maritime Museum of Barcelona an exact copy of it has been constructed; according to estimates, it weighed 237 tons when empty, it required 290 rowers, it carried 300 mariners and solders and the daily consumption of its men in food and water approached two tons in weight.