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Though we said a great deal in the text about the quantity and quality of artillery available in the Mediterranean for naval use during the second half of the sixteenth century, we touched only briefly on the early development of artillery armament aboard galleys. Here we will briefly describe the early use of artillery mounted on galleys in order to lay a factual foundation for our treatment in the text of more fundamental issues. We will also give some idea of the rate at which the use of effective ordnance aboard galleys spread. In addition, we will describe in some detail just how the artillery armament on war galleys was mounted. Finally, we will sum up the little that we know about the armament of the smaller oared raiding craft on whose activities so much depended.

Evidence of gunpowder-weapons carried on galleys, apparently for use ashore, can be traced back as far as the fourteenth century. It is unlikely, however, that effective heavy ordnance was commonly mounted on galleys for use afloat until after the middle of the fifteenth century. In contrast to the problems which delayed the introduction of effective heavy ordnance aboard broadside sailing ships, this was probably more a matter of economics than of technology. The large and unwieldy removable powder chambers of wrought-iron breech-loading bombards, the first heavy artillery to be used at sea, must have been considerably easier to deal with on the open bow of a galley than in the crowded confines of a gundeck. More important, a single shot from the main centerline bow gun was usually all that was needed and often all that was possible in a galley fight. Heavy wrought-iron ordnance was evidently simply too expensive, too scarce, and too vitally useful in siege warfare to be used to any extent on ordinary galleys until very late in the fifteenth century.

Our evidence for the mounting of effective heavy ordnance on western galleys in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries is sparse. The Real of Alfonso the Magnanimous of Aragon mounted ‘two bombards’ in 1481, one of the earliest examples of artillery mounted on a galley of which we are aware.1 The fact that two bombards are mentioned rather than one or three suggests that they were either mounted asymetrically — evidence of a shortage of artillery — or that neither was large enough to require a centerline bow mounting. In 1506 the Real of Ferdinand of Aragon mounted ‘a large bombard of iron of 43 quintales [about 4,360 pounds], two cerbatanas, and a pasavolante’, all of which fired stone shot.2 Once again, the clearly asymetrical nature of the armament suggests a shortage; still, the weight of metal carried is impressive. The ‘large bombard’, surely centerline mounted, was some 20 per cent lighter than the full cannons of cast bronze preferred as main centerline bow guns on Spanish galleys some three decades later, but probably fired a considerably larger projectile, perhaps as heavy as 80 pounds. The cerbatanas probably weighed in the neighborhood of 2,500 pounds and fired a ball of about 25 pounds, while the pasavolante probably weighed around 1,500 pounds at most and fired a ball of no more than 10 or 12 pounds.3

 As we shall see, stone-throwing cannon, with their advantages of light weight and small bulk in proportion to the weight and size of the projectile thrown, were to vanish almost completely from Spanish galleys in the next three decades, almost surely victims of the rising wage-price spiral and the rampant inflation which began to grip Spain at about this time.

Our evidence for the levels of armament aboard eastern galleys during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries is equally sparse, but relates to ordinary galleys and gives us valuable information concerning the methods of mounting. A German woodcut of 1486 giving a panoramic view of the port of Venice clearly shows two war galleys (in the absence of elaborately decorated sterns or distinctive banners they must have been ordinary galleys), each carrying a large wrought-iron bombard mounted rigidly in wooden balks as a centerline bow gun.4 No additional armament is shown; but this is not necessarily conclusive since the galleys appear to be laid up for repairs and small swivel pieces would probably have been dismounted and taken ashore. The Venetian woodcut of the battle of Zonchio in 1499 which we referred to in our discussion of broadside sailing ship tactics shows all of the Turkish galleys with a single large swivel piece of wrought iron mounted on a heavy vertical post at the center of the prow.5 Though the simplified manner of depiction leaves open the likelihood that this piece is representative of several such cannon mounted at the bow, this still suggests that a lighter standard of armament prevailed aboard Turkish galleys than Venetian ones at the very beginning of the sixteenth century.

We can only speculate about the standards of armament aboard ordinary western galleys during the first three decades of the sixteenth century based upon the little that we know about the armament of reales and capitanas. We have already related the forward firing armament of Antonio Filippino Doria’s Capitana in 1528: a ‘basilisk’, two medios cañones, two sacres and two falconetes.6 These pieces probably corresponded in weight and size of ball to the categorization given in the text with the possible exception of the ‘basilisk’. Though the basilisk may have been a long piece of wrought iron, it was more likely a full cannon of cast bronze. In either case it probably threw a cast-iron projectile of about 40 pounds. Interestingly, the Real used by Charles V en route to Italy in 1529 is said to have carried ‘abundant arquebusiery and musketry’, but the only piece of heavy ordnance mentioned by our source is a single full cannon of bronze, presumably centerline mounted.7

Our knowledge of the armament carried by at least Spanish galleys from 1530 on is much more comprehensive. Two dockyard requisitions listing the items required for outfitting to ordinary galleys of 24 banks on the stocks of Barcelona in 1530 have survived to give us a fairly comprehensive idea of the standard of armament which was considered desirable and presumably attainable at that date.8 This included a ‘main centerline bow gun’ (probably, from what we know of later usage, a full cannon by definition) flanked by a pair of sacres. The main centerline gun was certainly on a recoiling mount and the sacres were probably mounted on sliding carriages as well (see Fig. 19). These three main deck pieces were interspersed between four heavy vertical posts on which were mounted swivel guns. A pair of medios canñones (half cannons) were mounted on the innermost pair of posts. These medios canñones were probably (though by no means certainly) bronze muzzleloaders of the type shown in Pieter Breughel the Elder’s engraving of the bow of a galley and were probably bored for about a four-pound stone ball, though they ordinarily fired scattershot in battle.9 On the second pair of vertical posts and on a third, smaller, pair of vertical posts outboard of them (these are also shown in the Breughel engraving) were mounted esmeriles. These were breechloaders, probably of bronze, weighing about 400 pounds and with a bore diameter of about an inch to an inch and a half. At about the twelfth bank back on the starboard side, where a rowing bench was customarily omitted to provide storage space for the skiff, a medio canñon was mounted. A similar piece was mounted in the space provided for the cookstove at about the eighteenth bank back on the port side. The poop was armed with eight esmeriles and two morteretes (short breechloading swivel pieces weighing perhaps 150 pounds and designed exclusively to throw scattershot) on post mounts. Two additional morteretes were intended ‘for the prow’, though just where they were to be mounted is unclear. If ordinary Spanish galleys were provided with an arrumbada by 1530 these morteretes were probably mounted atop it; but on balance it seems unlikely that this was the case.

The mounting of the ordnance on sixteenth-century Mediterranean war galleys

Fig. 19 The mounting of the ordnance on sixteenth-century Mediterranean war galleys

  Not drawn to scale, but the maximum width of the ordinary galleys depicted here was about 24 feet across the rowing frame.


 (a) Venetian galley, ca. 1486. Armed with a single rigidly mounted bombard, probably of cast bronze, though possibly of wrought iron, and a breechloader. Spanish galleys of this period were, in some cases at least, more heavily armed, although the Venetians were probably the first to standardize on the provision of a heavy centerline bow gun for their ordinary galleys. It is probable that galleys of all the Mediterranean nations carried at least some wrought-iron breechloading swivel pieces of the verso type by this time; but we cannot be certain where or how they were mounted.

 (b) Genoese, Sicilian or Neapolitan galley, ca. 1535. A Spanish galley would have been similarly armed at a somewhat earlier date. The deck pieces shown represent a 30-40 pdr full cannon weighing at least 5,500 lb, two 7-10 pdr sacres weighing perhaps 1,800 lb each. The addition of one or two 15-18 pdr pedreros weighing about 1,200 lb would have made this an unusually heavily armed ordinary galley for 1535 (though assymetrical armament combinations were not uncommon, pedreros were relatively rare on the galleys of Spain’s possessions by this time). The swivel pieces shown would have been typical for the galleys of Spain at an earlier date or for those of Sicily, Genoa and Naples in 1535. Working from the centerline out, a pair of half cannons (medios cañones), bronze muzzleloaders weighing about 800 lb each, an esmeril (starboard) weighing perhaps 200 lb and three versos, old wrought-iron breechloaders weighing about 150 lb each.

 (c) Venetian galley, ca. 1571. Armed with a 52-55 pdr cannone weighing some 5,500 lb, two 12 pdr aspidi weighing about 1,200 lb and a pair of 5-6 pdr falconetti weighing perhaps 900 lb, this would be representative of the Venetian galleys which fought at Lepanto. A galley of this type would have carried a substantial swivel armament of perhaps eight bombardelli (bronze breechloaders similar to Spanish morteretes) and eight to ten Moschetti (bronze pieces similar to a Spanish esmeril, but muzzleloaders); but inasmuch as the way in which they were mounted is unclear, we have omitted them. Ottoman galleys of the same period would have been similarly armed (though the individual pieces would have weighed a bit more relative to their projectile weight) and would have had a generally similar appearance. In place of the temporary fighting structure shown here (the longitudinal planks were removable), Muslim galleys seem to have had a lower permanent structure which covered a smaller area, leaving the breeches of the cannon exposed.

 (d) Spanish galley, ca. 1571. Note that the ‘spur’ has been cut off, as in the case of Don Juan’s celebrated order at Lepanto, to allow the main centerline piece to depress fully. The arrumbada has not been barricaded with planking and cordage. The pieces shown represent a 40-50 pdr full cannon weighing about 5,000-6,000 lb, a pair of 7-13 pdr sacres weighing 1,500-1,800 lb each and a pedrero (starboard) firing an 18-20 lb ball and weighing about 1,200-1,500 lb, plus a half sacre (port) weighing around 1,000 lb and firing a 4-5 lb ball. The swivel pieces atop the arrumbada are, from left to right, a bronze breechloading morterete, a bronze verso, two more morteretes, a bronze breechloading esmeril, another verse and another morterete. A lantern galley would have had an additional pair of flanking deck pieces, perhaps another pedrero and another half sacre, or perhaps two more half sacres.

By 1536 the actual armament carried by Spanish galleys had surpassed the desired level of 1530 and the armament of the galleys of the Italian client states of Spain had almost exactly equalled it, suggesting a rapid increase in available artillery during this period. This is shown by the inventory of armament of the galleys of Spain, Sicily, Antonio Doria, Monaco and Terranova which we have already cited.10 In addition, the desired armament of Spanish galleys, as examination of the most heavily armed of the galleys of Spain shows, had expanded to include a pair of half culverins flanking the main centerline bow gun in addition to the pair of sacres. This desired standard of armament, however, was far from being fully realized. Of the thirteen galleys of Spain included in the 1536 inventory only eight had both a pair of half culverins and a pair of sacres. Two more had their pair of half culverins, but one of these had only a single sacre and one had none. An additional galley of Spain had no half culverins, but mounted three sacres forward. These examples suggest an inability to achieve a desired standard, indicative of a shortage of ordnance. Even more indicative of this presumed shortage is the fact, already noted in the text, that one of the galleys of Spain mounted only swivel pieces in addition to the main centerline bow gun.

But the strengths shown by the 1536 inventory should be noted as well. Three of the galleys of Spain including Don Álvaro de Bazan’s Capitana would have rated as lantern galleys twenty or even thirty years later. Each of these had no less than three pairs of deck-mounted cannon flanking the main centerline bow gun: Bazan’s Capitana had two half culverins, three sacres and a pedrero (significantly, the only pedrero noted), the second galley had a pair of half sacres in addition to its half culverins and sacres, and the third had no less than four half culverins plus the usual pair of sacres.

Certain peculiarities in the quantity and apparent location of the secondary armament aboard the galleys of Spain suggest that the arrumbada, as shown on the Flemish tapestries depicting Charles V’s conquest of Tunis in 1535, was a feature of most, if not all, Spanish galleys by 1536. If this theory is correct, then the arrumbada was ideally armed with eight morteretes or the equivalent, though four were generally settled for and many galleys had even less. There is no suggestion — and it must be emphasized that our theory rests solely on the fact that the items in the armament inventory were listed in order of their physical placement on the galley — that the galleys of Sicily and of Spain’s lesser Italian client states had an arrumbada at this time, though they were to acquire one shortly.

Finally, the squadron of twenty-three galleys covered by the Spanish inventory of 1536 appears to have carried a modest siege train of two half culverins and two sacres. This stands in sharp contrast to the siege train of ‘up to thirty-four pieces of bronze ... for battery on land and for the breaching of castles’ carried by Khaireddin Barbarossa’s squadron of 51 galleys two years earlier.11 This difference would appear to have been an accurate reflection of Spain’s essentially defensive strategic preoccupations and the Ottoman Empire’s basically offensive strategic posture. Of equal interest, the same source tells us that none of the 51 galleys except Barbarossa’s capitana carried cannon designed to ‘throw iron’, but that they carried only pedreros. This, even if only an accurate generalization, gives us an indication of the timing of the impact of the wage-price spiral which ultimately undercut the tactical advantages of the pedrero through out the Mediterranean: we know that only 17 pedreros were counted among 390 Muslim cannon captured at Lepanto.

Little of a more specific nature can be said about the ordnance carried by Ottoman galleys during the early 1500s. The ‘standard’ armament of a main centerline bow gun (bas  topu), four large swivel pieces (darbezen) and eight smaller ones (prangi) which Haydar Alpagut gives us for a kadirga (ordinary galley) must date from the beginning of the century; but we cannot be sure of the date.12 Cristoforo da Canal, writing around 1540, considered an iron-throwing 52-pound cannon to be a ‘typical’ main centerline bow gun for an Ottoman galley.13 The main centerline bow guns of Ottoman galleys appear by this time to have been flanked by two deck pieces (sayka topu) which were roughly equivalent to sacres in total weight, but probably threw a somewhat larger projectile.

The tendency toward a lighter, but relatively more effective, artillery armament aboard eastern galleys during the first decades of the sixteenth century which our evidence seems to suggest is specifically confirmed for ordinary Venetian galleys by Cristoforo da Canal’s proposed ‘standard’ armament of 1540.14 In the light of his military experience and political sagacity the armament which he proposed was probably not far from attainable reality. It was centered around a 52-pound culverin for the main centerline bow gun, flanked by two twelve-pound sacres. These three cannon would have thrown almost exactly the same combined weight of ball as the full cannon, two half culverins and two sacres on one of Bazan’s better armed galleys of 1536, but would have weighed much less. The secondary armament was to consist of four three-pound falconetti, almost surely swivel mounted on the four heavy vertical posts at the bow, six bombardelle (probably similar to Spanish morteretes) and eight moschetti (similar to the Spanish esmeriles).

Our knowledge of the armament of ordinary galleys from the middle of the sixteenth century on is fairly complete and was dealt with in the text. But our knowledge of the armament carried by the smaller raiding craft is deficient because of a lack of sources. This is unfortunate since a number of basic questions relating to the viability of the Mediterranean system of warfare at sea at any given point in time can be answered only through a comparative evaluation of the armament of oared raiding craft principally galiots and bergantins — and that of the merchant craft which were their prey.

We know from the record of Muslim raiding craft captured by forces under the command of Don Álvaro de Bazan that, at least during the 1560s, 70s, and 80s, Muslim galiots of eighteen rowing banks and above carried a centerline cannon large enough to ‘count’ (probably larger than a sacre) and that smaller galiots and bergantins did not.15 This is confirmed by a Spanish report of 1561 concerning the four galiots of the Pasa of Vélez in North Africa.16 Of the four galiots, the Pasa’s capitana of 21 banks carried a main centerline bow gun of ‘38 quintales’; the patrona, also of 21 banks, carried a centerline piece which was only slightly smaller; the third galiot, of eighteen banks, carried a piece of ‘25 quintales’, and the fourth galiot, of seventeen banks, carried no artillery at all. The two largest galiots thus carried a centerline piece equivalent to a small full cannon or a very large half culverin, very respectable armament indeed, while the third carried a piece as large as a half culverin. No flanking pieces or swivel guns are mentioned and, from the nature of the report, there probably were none, the Muslim fighting men relying upon their muskets and bows (which are mentioned) for covering fire in the assault.

By contrast, we know that a Spanish galiot of at least nineteen or twenty banks stationed off La Goleta in 1546 carried a sacre weighing 2,140 pounds, two half sacres of unspecified weight, and four bronze verses with two chambers each.17 Though too much could be made of such scattered data, this suggests that eastern and Muslim galiots, like eastern galleys, carried about the same total weight of artillery as their western equivalents or perhaps a bit less, but carried it in a smaller number of relatively lighter pieces with larger bore diameters.

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1Olesa Muñido, La Organización Naval, vol. I (Madrid, 1968), p. 280.

2Olesa Muñido, La Organización Naval, vol. I, p. 281.

3These estimated weights and ball sizes are my own, extrapolated from Olesa Muñido’s figures, La Organización Naval, vol. I, p. 312.

4The woodcut is by Erhardus Reeuwich from Breydenbach, Opusculum Santarum Peragrinationum (1486), reproduced in Albert Skira (ed.), Venice (New York, 1956), p. 10.

5Jacket illustration.

6In a letter from Paulo Giovio to Pope Clement VI in Diarii Marino Sanuto (Venice, 1897), vol. XLVI, fol. 666-7.

7Olesa Muñido, La Organización Naval, vol. I, p. 313.

8Colección Sanz de Barutell (Simancas), Articulo 3, vol. I, dto. 25, 26, fol. 87-9.

9Reproduced by Björn Landström, The Ship (New York, 1961), p.130. Breughel’s galley,   intended to depict a Portuguese galley of 1565, has no arrumbada. It therefore probably  represents in fact either an eastern galley, a western galley of an earlier period or, just possibly,  a galiot.

10See above, p. 230. This is from the Colección Sanz de Barutell (Simancas), Articulo 4, vol. 1,  dto. 42, fol. 121-7.

11Colección Sanz de Barutell (Simancas), Articulo 6, dto. to, fol. 41-2.

12Denizde Türkiye (Istanbul, 1937), P. 625.

13Cited by Olesa Muñido, La Organización Naval, vol. I, p. 318.

14From da Canal’s Della Milizia Maritima, cited by Olesa Muñido, La Organización Naval, vol. I, p. 322.

15Colección Navarrete, vol. x, dto. 7, fol. 48.

16Colección Sanz de Barutell (Simancas), Articulo 6, dto. 45, fol. 117-18. This is from a Spaniard  who had been captured, served as a galley slave on the Pasa’s galiots, and then escaped.

17Colección Sanz de Barutell (Simancas), Articulo 4, vol. I, dto. 138, fol. 421.