The term galley can refer to any ship propelled primarily by man-power, using oars. Most galleys also use masts and sails as a secondary means of propulsion.
Various types of galleys dominated naval warfare in the Mediterranean from the time of Homer to the development of effective naval gunnery around the 15th and 16th centuries. Galleys fought in the wars of ancient Persia, Greece, Carthage and Rome until the 4th century. After the fall of the Roman Empire, galleys saw continued, if somewhat reduced, use by the Byzantine Empire and other successors, as well as by the new Muslim states. Medieval Mediterranean states (notably the Italian maritime republics like Venice, Pisa, Genoa) revived the use of galleys from the 14th century until the ocean-going man of war rendered them obsolete. The Battle of Lepanto (1571) proved one of the largest naval battles in which the galley played the principal part. Galleys continued in mainstream use until the introduction of the broadside sailing ship into the Mediterranean in the 17th Century and then continued to function in minor and auxiliary roles until the advent of steam propulsion.
Pirate Galley article: Wikipedia contributors (2006). Galley. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:18, May 6, 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Galley&oldid=49590105.
A variation of this ancient, long and lean design was used widely by the Barbary corsairs in the Mediterranean during the 1500's and following. Its main form of power came not from sails, but from up to 30 oars rowed by several men apiece below the flush deck, although there was one or more masts rigged with lateen sails to take advantage of any occasional winds. The pirate galley captains concentrated first on manpower to overtake the prey, then if necessary, on the gun power of several cannon in the bow to assault, and finally on the large number of 100 or more marines or pirates to overpower the other crew. Because its narrow hull design could be rather unstable at times, ramming a ship was not practical as it was with galleys of earlier date.
The Adventure Galley was made in England for Captain William Kidd in 1695. In addition to 46 oars were its three masts of square sails, 34 guns, and nearly 300-ton weight, making it more like a frigate than a corsair galley.
See also our page about all pirate ships.