Operating costs - Galley vs. Caravel

May 2019
429
Earth
Let's say we're talking merchant (not military) vessels of similar tonnage from each class sailing the Mediterranean region around the first half of the 16th century: does anyone have historical information which could help indicate how the operating costs of these two vessels would stack up against each other?

I'm not nearly familiar enough with sailing ships of this period to know how expensive similarly sized vessels of these two classes would have been to operate. My only thoughts are that galleys, being primarily propelled by oars, would require less skilled mariners (riggers in particular) to operate them than a caravel, thus potentially reducing wage costs (especially if you were using forced labour for the rowers, although I don't know if merchant vessels of the period did this). But since more space below decks on a galley would be taken up by benches for the rowers, my assumption would be that caravels would have more storage capacity and thus be able to carry larger cargoes which might balance out the operating costs better.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,108
MD, USA
I'd be surprised if there were any substantial merchant galleys at all! You may not consider rowers to be as skilled as sailors, but that's a huge number of men to feed, much less pay (assuming they aren't slaves, which is a whole 'nother bundle of problems). Galleys don't have nearly enough hold space for cargo.

No, ANY sailing vessel is going to be much more profitable. Big empty hold for cargo and maybe a dozen crew, low overhead costs with vastly greater potential for profit.

You might be thinking of *military* ships with big crews, but those are mostly for working the guns (or boarders, earlier on). Merchant ships could operate with surprisingly small crews.

Matthew
 
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Tercios Espanoles

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
6,735
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
Merchant galleys operated well into the 17th century in northern Europe. They were known variously as the galley, merchant galley, galley-frigate or galley-ship. Captain Kidd's Adventure was a galley-frigate. They were primarily sailing vessels, but had finer lines than other vessels of the same size to permit them to be rowed. Certainly this would negatively affect hold space, but they had their uses, especially in shallow Dutch waters or other treacherous coasts.

I know nothing about their operating costs.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
5,095
Dispargum
Sailing ships were always more cost effective than rowing ships. The main attraction of oars in the Mediterranean was that the winds were fickle and frequently blew in the wrong directions. The decision to use one or the other probably wasn't driven by cost. If it was possible to use a sailing ship, use sails. If the only way to get there in a reasonable time was to row, then use an oared ship.
 
May 2019
429
Earth
A bit of info on the economics of Venetian merchant galleys:

"Merchant galleys of the type that had carried precious goods for Venice since the early part of the fourteenth century were costly and safe, because of their large crews. But with continued improvements in the design of ships and rigging ... merchant galleys ceased to be economical. In 1513 the Venetian government recognized this fact by permitting round ships to load spices and other goods previously reserved for the merchant galleys of the muda. As a result, transport costs (not charges, necessarily) sank to about one-third their former level ... Old-fashioned merchant galleys were not abandoned at once; but when they lost their legal monopoly of the spice trade they lost their economic raison d'être and became unprofitable. The last muda sailed to Alexandria in 1535; thereafter Venice, like the rest of the world, depended solely on round ships, privately owned, for carrying trade goods."
source: 'Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797' by William H. McNeill, University of Chicago Press (1974), pg. 128
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
8,117
Cornwall
Galleys sound expensive to me. Delicate oars and loads of men to feed - no food, no rowing power! Even if they are chained to the benches.
 
May 2019
429
Earth
The main thing that seems to have made galleys profitable as merchantmen for late-medieval Venice was the fact that they had a monopoly over the movement of high value goods (spices). The book I cited earlier mentioned that, prior to 1513, round ships had often been charged with carrying more mundane and less profitable cargoes like wheat, cotton, salt, etc. I guess this goes to show that galleys were probably only worthwhile as merchant ships when they could fit a very niche role. I have to wonder what sort of round ships Venice was using to replace their merchant galleys. Did caravels see use with them or any of the other Italian states, or were they mostly a Portuguese/Spanish thing during this period?
 
Mar 2012
1,239
Magdeburg
Even with slavery sailing ships are cheaper. In a sailing shio you need maybe several slaves of them to do labor or manual work, in a rowing ship you need to feed them all.
 
May 2019
429
Earth
Even with slavery sailing ships are cheaper. In a sailing shio you need maybe several slaves of them to do labor or manual work, in a rowing ship you need to feed them all.
Slaves aren't the kind of people I'd trust to do rigging work on a sailing ship. That's not a job as simple as pulling oars to the beat of a drum. Riggers and other professional mariners require pay in addition to food, slaves only need food. Yes, it's true you can run a sailing ship with fewer crew than a fully oared one, I just didn't know enough about the economics of this period to say whether the labour costs on a sailing ship would balance out against the free cost of galley slaves. Apparently it more than did though, since Venice decided to start swapping out merchant galleys for more cost-effective sailing ships.