For many centuries the galley was the principal means of maritime transport in the Mediterranean. It was a long, narrow ship, adapted to the particularities of this semi-internal sea. It was propelled by sail and, above all, by oar, thanks to the efforts of the oarsmen, the mixed group of rowers (known in Catalan as “galiots”), made up by prisoners of war, slaves or convicts who served their sentences on board ship in extreme living conditions.
Apart from the oarsmen, there were also sailors on board (in charge of carrying out manoeuvres) and soldiers (those who fought from the ship and tried to board enemy vessels) as well as officers.
Galleys were used until well into the eighteenth century, although their use by then was more ceremonial than functional.
Hundreds of galleys were built at the Royal Dockyards. Particularly noteworthy are the Royal Galley, flagship of the Christian fleet in the Battle of Lepanto, and the four Catalan Galleys.
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