Large seagoing vessel propelled primarily by oars. The Egyptians, Cretans, and other ancient peoples used sail-equipped galleys for war and commerce. The Phoenicians apparently introduced the bireme (c. 700 BC), which had two banks of oars staggered on either side. The Greeks first built the trireme c. 500 BC. War galleys would cruise in columns and would engage the enemy as a line abreast. A galley would close with the enemy at the bow, which was equipped with a ram, grappling irons, and missile-hurling devices. Invention of the lateen (fore-and-aft) sail and the stern rudder rendered the galley obsolete for commerce, but its greater maneuverability maintained its military importance into the 16th century. See also longship.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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