Venetian galley warfare
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13 Terms used in Mediterranean Galley Warfare

While studying for a research paper about medieval and early modern galley warfare, like the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, I’ve come across some interesting historical naval terms, all of which an author of realistic fantasy might find useful. I came across these terms in Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the Sixteenth Century by John Francis Guilmartin Jr, 1974, Great Britain, Cambridge University Press. Note: I have left out a host of terms for different cannons and seagoing vessels for these will be listed in upcoming posts.

list of naval warfare terms

  1. arráez – (Spanish singular noun, plural is arráezes) a Muslim ship captain. Spain and the Ottoman Empire were at daggers drawn during the sixteenth century. Arráezes were highly skilled and respected across the Mediterranean. When the rare victory occurred, Spaniards would capture them as prizes.
  2. buenas boyas – (Spanish plural noun) free oarsmen, or oarsmen in good volition.
  3. presidio – (Spanish singular noun) a fortified military settlement, ofttimes important for coastal victualing of galleys in prolonged sieges abroad.
  4. azab – (Ottoman Turkish singular noun) an irregular light infantryman, ofttimes used as oarsmen in smaller vessels to maximize fighting men in siege and boarding actions.
  5. ciurmi – (Venetian noun) rowing gang.
  6. guerre de course (French noun) “war of the chase” meaning commerce raiding or chevauchée at sea.
  7. forzati  – (Spanish plural noun, singular is forzado) slaves or captured criminals used as oarsmen on a galley. They could be rented out to allies for 35 ducats per annum.
  8. gente de cualidad – (Maltese plural noun) “embarking gentlemen” or Knights of St. John providing military service on a galley.
  9. ghazi – (Ottoman Turkish singular noun) a Muslim pirate or mercenary who raids and plunders non-Muslims in honor of Allah.
  10. huomini di spada / scapoli (two Venetian plural nouns with the same meaning) “men of the sword” or foreign mercenaries hired for service on galleys, sometimes used as oarsmen like the Ottoman azab to enhance galley effectiveness during siege and boarding actions.
  11. maryol – (Ottomon Turkish adjective) a maryol oarsman was a salaried Christian oarsman volunteering his services on a Muslim galley.
  12. sipahi – (Ottoman Turkish singular noun) a fully armored mounted archer or cavalryman, used as composite recurve bowmen in galley warfare, ofttimes covering the actions of boarding and raiding parties with volleys of arrows.
  13. timar (Ottoman Turkish singular noun) a fief; land granted for military service, which ofttimes included service on a galley. A timariot, the holder of the timar, was called upon during war just like a feudal knighthence timariot sipahi.

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