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"Question about oars on a Renaissance Galley" Topic

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350 hits since 19 May 2018
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Comments or corrections?

TBeyer Supporting Member of TMP19 May 2018 1:40 p.m. PST

After reading a book on the battle of Lepanto, I had some questions on the oars, I have been looking online without much luck and any help would be appreciated:
1. How long was an oar, and how much did they weigh? The length/weight may depend on which tier they were on, how many rowers per oar, etc. but I am just looking for a rough idea.
2. How were the oars shipped when not in use (for example under sail)? If the oar passed thru a hole in the side, or some type of outrigger, was it possible to pull them completely out and somehow stack them inside the ship? Or were they just pulled as far in as possible, or locked in the most raised position possible (with the end of the oar as far out of the water as possible)?
Thank you!

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP19 May 2018 2:25 p.m. PST

Without looking up my references I can't give you specifics but some general points.

Oars varied in length & weight depending on the size of the vessel and the type of oar system (one man per oar or multiple manned oars). Generally they seem to have been heavier and sturdier than ancient oars.

By the Renaissance multi-level oar systems had mostly been superseded (except in some late Byzantine Dromons) by sets arranged on the same level.

For a short period oars could be shipped inboard enough to fix them beneath the benches but, for longer periods under sail, they would be brought completely within the hull and laid along the benches.

Phillius Supporting Member of TMP19 May 2018 6:07 p.m. PST

Warfare under Oars by W L Rodgers is the book you need to read.

attilathepun47 Inactive Member19 May 2018 11:00 p.m. PST

The Venetians retained the system of one man pulling one oar longer than other states, but this called for more highly skilled oarsmen, thus they were freemen, rather than slaves or convicts (and, therefore, more expensive). By this period they were all seated at one level, side-by-side on angled benches, but with the oars working through slightly staggered sets of thole pins. It appears that the Venetian system was usually limited to 3 men per bench. This rowing system was, I think, called "a sensile or a zensile."

Other states placed their less skilled slaves or convicts also sitting next to each other on one bench, but all pulling the same oar (the "a scaloccio" system, though I may not have the correct spelling). The number per oar varied with the size of the galley. I believe that I recall reading that up to seven could pull a single oar, but that five was about the most that could be employed without considerable loss of efficiency, due to the excessively long stroke for the inboard end of the bench.

None of the Renaissance-era galleys worked their oars through ports in the side of the hull. The thole pins were placed on the "apostis" or outrigger on each side of the hull, which moved the fulcrum of the oars outboard of the hull proper. The exception would be the large galleass type; their higher sides made ports necessary to keep the oars low enough to not require excessive length or trying to row at too steep an angle.

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